Discover the truth about Australia: Inside Tips from a Livability Expert
This post will show you what living in Australia is like.
- Things to do
- and more!
Let’s check out Australia!
I actually made many Australian friends while living in South Korea for ten years. So, I had some idea of what to expect before living there. For example, many were eager to share that only 20% of the population is descended from convicts.
Australia is an anomaly. It’s the largest island in the world, and the only island that’s a continent. It’s also the driest continent in the world, so the hot summers are more bearable.
Most of the population lives on the east coast, which covers large cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The center of the country is mostly unpopulated due to the harsh environment. It’s so vast and uncharted that undiscovered tribes have been encountered up until the 1980s.
Most of the country is laid-back and casual, except for the larger cities. Melbourne is similar to San Francisco and Sydney resembles Los Angeles in some parts.
I made the mistake of driving through Melbourne in rush hour traffic before getting used to driving on the left. I didn’t visit Canberra, because according to the locals, that’s where you go to die.
I also didn’t make it to the west coast, since I heard mostly negative things besides it having Quokkas.
If you’ve ever been to Orange Country, California, you’ll have some idea of what Australia is like.
I’ve made a helpful chart to illustrate the main differences:
Read on to find out more about this unique place.
This post is based on my experiences as an off-white westerner who has been living abroad since 2006. How you’re treated depends on who you are, how you behave and which street you’re on. Experiences may vary.
Australia has been inhabited by Aboriginal peoples for at least 60,000 years. Their rock art is the oldest continuous art form in the world. There were many tribes with different characteristics depending on the area they inhabited. Some passed down their history orally in the form of songs. There’s even a flood myth that lines up with historical record.
The first penal colony was formed in what’s now New South Wales in 1788. The convicts had the choice of death or lifetime imprisonment on Australia.
A third of the prisoners originated from Ireland, since they were often tried in English courts. Ned Kelly was a notable Irish Australian convict who escaped into the bush and fought the law.
Around 20% of convicts were female and many were simply guilty of being poor.
After the first few waves of convicts, the British sent free folk to colonize the land. Prisoners would often work for the free settlers, and were sometimes freed themselves after serving their sentence.
The first settlers had a hard time farming due to the challenging environment of Australia. They had to request more supplies from neighboring islands to survive.
Contrary to popular belief, seizing of the land from the Aboriginals was not peaceful. Much like how things happened in the Americas, there was intense violence and turmoil. Small pox was the deadliest weapon the British brought, which decimated the local population.
Australia had a gold rush in 1851 that attracted an influx of people and accelerated their independence.
The penal colony was originally formed to be a self-governing dominion in the British Empire. But, it wasn’t until 1901 that the six colonies joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia.
Australians served in both World Wars. They even had a large rumble with U.S. troops stationed there called the Battle of Brisbane, which started because of tensions over local women and segregation by U.S. troops.
Living conditions in Australia
- Weather is mild except for summers, which are hot and dry. It can get up to 40 degrees Celsius in some areas.
- Internet leaves a lot to be desired for a developed country, but it’s fast enough to get some light work done online. Free WIFI is hard to find, even at some cafes, probably because it’s so expensive. Public libraries are great places to work in Australia.
- Transportation is very good around most of the country. You can take a bus or train from the suburbs to Brisbane for a reasonable price. I only rented a car for the Great Ocean road trip and got around for months without one. Uber is also available and pretty handy sometimes.
- Safety was not a problem for me. I didn’t really go to dodgy places, besides West End in Brisbane.
- Water is safe to drink out of the tap.
- Sanitation quality is high in the areas I lived in.
- Groceries are above average and there’s a lot of variety. There were many Asian grocery stores that carried pretty much everything I wanted to cook. Large grocery chains provide decent value for money. Quality and value tended to be better outside of city centres.
Seasons are reversed, so summer happens December to March and winter is from June to August. Summers get pretty hot nowadays and temps reach 40 degrees Celsius on some days. I like hot weather, but it was so mind-numbing in Brisbane in January, I couldn’t think straight on a few days. It’s a dry heat, so you don’t sweat too much.
Australians love to work on their tans. There are numerous dermatology clinics that screen for skin cancer.
I felt very safe the entire time, even in the West End of Brisbane. There are drug addicts and alcoholics as you’d expect in a major city, but they kept to themselves mostly.
Australians consented to strict gun control laws after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. So, you just need to watch out for eggings.
Life can be leisurely in Australia. There are numerous parks and green spaces. While in Europe you’ll get impressive sculptures from the 18th century, in Australia you’ll see magnificent birds and wildlife. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Brisbane by public ferry, and having coffee at the Queensland Art Gallery surrounded by Water Dragons and Ibis. You don’t need to spend much money if you bring a picnic basket for a BBQ as the locals do.
I also enjoyed going to the beach in the center of Brisbane, which was free on some days.
Pokeys are local gambling joints that are named after the video poker machines they hold, among other things. You’ll see older people gambling away their pensions and occasionally asking for money nearby. Some of the people begging for money were better dressed than me, so I didn’t feel bad about not giving them any. I was tempted to ask a few of them for change to be honest.
They have massive liquor stores like Dan Murphy’s and staff that actually give you recommendations. After traveling for so long, I was stuck in the habit of looking up reviews on my phone. The local staff teased me for doing this. It’s all in good fun there and taking yourself too seriously is frowned upon.
Australia is a must for nature lovers. I was shocked to see Ibis birds, affectionately known as “bin chickens” walking around. They’re similar to the ones that the ancient Egyptians worshipped.
You’ll also see Eastern Water Dragons casually sunning themselves everywhere and occasionally waving at you (this means piss off in their language).
My favorite part of Australia was sitting on my balcony and watching the diverse species of birds and bats flying around at sunset. There were at least 10 you can observe, even in the suburbs. The Gullah was my favorite, a large white parrot that travels in big flocks, and makes loud but entertaining sounds.
Sadly, I didn’t encounter any local fauna intent on killing me. No drop bear sightings either. There were some massive orb weaver spiders on webs that kept to themselves. Magpies swoop during mating season, but I wasn’t there during that time.
Driving across the country is a pleasant experience, once you get used to doing it on the left. There are parts that resemble the English countryside with diary farms and quaint cottages.
Australia doesn’t have much in the way of landmarks, but everything is well presented and organized. Even something seemingly dull like the Otway Lighthouse explained its history and significance in a compelling way.
Housing is built well in Brisbane. I stayed in a brand new apartment in Brisbane CBD and it had a pool and BBQ area on the roof. I also stayed in an apartment/hotel in a suburb that was very quiet with a nice balcony where I could enjoy the sunset.
The housing prices ranged from $1,500 in a local neighborhood to $2,700 a month in the CBD.
Australian food is fresh, high-quality and well-presented, but bland and expensive.
Many dishes are made by smashing the prominent ingredient. For example, smashed avo, smashed peas and smashed potatoes.
They love burgers that are stacked so high you can’t take a bite without unhinging your jaw.
I had the best meals at Eritrean and Greek restaurants. I also had some good New Zealand style meals at a local café.
Don’t try eating Mexican food there. Buy cilantro, avocados(very affordable) and lime at the store, and bring the spices from elsewhere. They don’t have a large enough Hispanic community to do it right.
Coffee is better on average than what you’ll find the states, provided you’re a fan of acidity. Australians tend to be proud of the fact that Starbucks failed in their country.
Australia excels at bars and speakeasies. I went to some really cool ones all over the place, even though I was trying to cut back on drinking.
People are pretty casual and relaxed outside large cities. They can be very career-oriented and driven in Sydney and Melbourne.
I’ve made many Australian friends during my travels, which says a lot about them in general. They’re pretty open and friendly. Some are prone to the casual racism that normally exists on islands, but are very inclusive and generally happy to mix with anyone.
Australians love a good time and I enjoy interacting with them. Taking yourself too seriously is frowned upon, as it should be. They’re definitely on my wavelength.
There’s a good amount of diversity too, which is always welcome.
You can find most ethnicities, even natives. It was nice to see aboriginals inside major cities. Where I’m from, you’ll rarely encounter the original inhabitants of the land outside of reservations.
Cost of living
Cost of living in Australia is pretty high. Fortunately, the quality of most things is high as well.
I spent the most on housing in Brisbane CBD out of 20 countries, but found a place for a decent price in the suburbs after.
$2,500 USD to $4,000 USD a month to live a comfortable middle-class life.
Lot’s of greenery, exotic animals strutting about and highways
Birds sounds and highway noise
Wet pavement, BBQ, coffee and chlorine
Things to do
Take a drive on the Great Ocean Road and see Koalas everywhere.
Enjoy Eritrean cuisine.
Go to the beach in the center of a city in Brisbane.
Take public transport to explore cities.
Go feed Kangaroos and Emus at one of their many nature reserves.
Drink a lot at one of their many watering holes.
Difficulty: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ (2/10)
Well-organized and safe. You won’t have much trouble getting around and finding things.
Live: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)
Australia is a highly livable place, but prices can be prohibitive.
Visit: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ (5/10)
Australia has well-developed tourism infrastructure, but not so much to see in terms of landmarks and most are spread out.
Did we miss anything?
Australia is a good place to live, but not the most exciting trip if you’re from a western country.
Let us know your Australia tips below!