A Few Miscellaneous Observations About Australia
06 September 2012 | Australia
(sorry no pictures, just observations)
I preface these remarks with the understanding that they are observations based on our experience of a small part of a big country; only from Mackay to Darwin or the state of Queensland and the Northern Territory.
First and foremost is that the people we encountered were all very nice and helpful. We have countless stories of people going out of their way to help us in any way they could.
The county side and vegetation reminds me of the hill country in Central Texas, but more exotic and tropical with some unique and beautiful sites.
Australia is a very expensive place. The cost of living there must exceed NY, CA, or most any other location. A few examples, in the US one does not pay for a small packet of ketchup for your French fries at a fast food restaurant like MacDonald's. However, in Australia, you are charged from $.50 to $2.00 for the same size small packet of "tomato sauce". And yes, I said tomato sauce. They don't have ketchup in Australia. They use a very sweet tomato sauce instead of ketchup.
The rest of the retail goods and services in Australia are equally expensive. Most anything we wanted to buy cost 2-3 times the price for the same product or service in the US. Some explain that the high cost of living here is due to an economic boom (aka bubble) spawned by huge mining export revenues. Australia has abundant mineral and coal fields and is exporting these resources to China and other countries in a major way. At one of the smaller ports we passed, more than 100 cargo ships per day where filled with coal bound for places like China. And that was just one of many such ports around the country. Because of the demand for people to support the mining and related industries, salaries are substantially higher than the US for many blue collar jobs. The starting salary for a miner is $150,000/year. The wait staffs in restaurants are paid $20+/hour base salary. People in engineering and other skilled trades are very respected for their skills and make very comfortable wages compared to the US. The high wages apparently fuel the high prices and high cost of living. So high in fact, that they have eliminated the use of the penny. A nickel is the lowest monetary denomination and the total cost of your bill is rounded up to the nearest nickel. Purchase anything with a credit card and a 1.5% surcharged is added on top of a foreign currency exchange fee added by your credit card company. This can be as much as 10%.
In Australia, you can buy many mixed drinks in a can in the mini market. The even have a Dark and Stormy in a can.
Though Australians speak English, in some parts of the country, one needs an interpreter to translate. Not just because the strong accents found in the northern part of the country can sound like a language unlike anything you have ever heard, but also because many items have different names than the US. They generally do not pronounce R's, much like a Bostonian accent. For example, the town of Cairns is pronounced "Cans" and here is pronounce "hea". Well "hea" is one for you... Wangi Falls, a place w visited, is pronounced "One Guy Falls". No matter what you are trying to communicate, there are very common, almost standard statements and words for every conversation. "G'day mate. How ya going? Ya, ya, ya. I reckon so. No worries. Cheers mate!" Say these words in every conversation and do it with a smile and you are speaking Australian pretty well. At least until you have to ask about an item with different name, for example, a crescent wrench is a "shifter". A silly person is a "Dag". Friends seeing a lot of each other are said to be "in each other's pockets". Raisins are called "Saltanas". A small bottle of beer is called a "stubby".
By the way, Australians don't drink Fosters beer. At least the Australians I encountered didn't like it. Once I was in a grocery store and picked up a 6 pack of Fosters and an Australian came over and suggested that I put the Fosters away and suggested several other brands that he called "real Australian beers for real Australians". I get the sense that Australians like their beer and take pride in it.
Australia has 20 million people and about the size of US. 90% of the people live within 100 km of the coast. I did not see a major highway that spanned the middle of the continent from east to west. The Northern Territory (NT) is not yet a state. Many in the territory seem to oppose statehood. NT and other locations are remote from the major metropolitan areas in the south east part of the country where most products are made or imported. It is typical for a store in Queensland or NT to be out of items and have to order them from Sydney and delivery usually takes a week. Everyone is used to that level of availability of goods.
Of all the countries we have visited, Australia is the country most like the States. The differences are special and fun. The best part is the friendliness and hospitality of the Australians. And it is hard to find a better cruising destination in the world than the Whitsunday Islands.