FAQ Australia: Everything to Know Before You Go

We answer your most frequently asked questions, from spotting kangaroos to watching out for drop bears, here's what you need to know.

Photo © iStock

When you land in Australia, don't expect to see a kangaroo until you leave the concrete jungle and head into the bush. You didn’t really expect to see Aussies riding them down the main streets, did you?

This is just one preconceptions of Australia that many travelers arrive with. Here are a few other facts to clear up.

Where Are the Kangaroos?

Roos have not assimilated to inner-city life. They’re rural animals and enjoy the countryside and coast of Australia. Get away from the inner-city and you’ll see them, but probably not in the way you want to. They’re notorious for bounding in front of fast-moving vehicles on country roads and highways. Hitting one will definitely end your trip, or worse if it comes through the windscreen.

Kangaroos generally sleep during the heat of the day and go foraging in the evening. They’re most active at dusk and dawn. Depending on the type of kangaroo, they can be found in forests, rainforests, woodlands and coastal areas.

Should You Climb Uluru?

First of all, Ayers Rock is the Anglicised name for what is traditionally known as Uluru. In 2017, the traditional owners of Uluru decided to stop all climbing, with a ban coming into effect in October 2019. This is a sacred place for the Indigenous people, and it's particularly important to respect their cultural site by not climbing it. Instead, take a walk around the rock, or enjoy the views from afar at sunrise or sunset.

What is a School Zone?

Special speed limited traffic zones on roads close to schools. Operating hours differ from state to state, but generally an hour or two before school time and an hour after (2:30pm–4pm in Sydney, for example). The set speed limits differ from state to state too, 40km/h in most states, except South Australia where it’s 25km/h. 

Fines are huge, and many school zones have speed cameras, which will capture your registration/license plate and send you a hefty fine in the mail.

What’s an RBT?

Random Breath Testing. Police set up RBT checkpoints in safe areas by the side of the road, pulling over cars at random and using a breathalyzer to do a blood alcohol reading on the driver. If the driver blows more than .05 blood alcohol content, they're busted.

Figuring out how many drinks gets you to .05 will depend on your size and gender. For the average man, it’s about two standard drinks in one hour, and one more an hour every hour will keep you there.

Fines are extremely harsh (but drink driving is a bad idea, so the fine fits the crime). You may also lose your driving license, or in extreme cases, be jailed. If you cause a crash while over .05 you are not insured and could be sued for the costs.

How Long Does it Take to Drive From Melbourne to Cairns?

If you drive 10 hours a day over four days, without sightseeing, you'll get there. But, these are long, demanding hours to drive, and who would want to do that road trip without stopping off along the way? Instead, give yourself 14 days to enjoy quick stop-offs along the way – still not long enough!

There are some people who left Melbourne in 1999 and still haven’t made it to Cairns. They live in Byron Bay. Therein lies the problem – there are so many great places to stop and enjoy along the way, you shouldn't be rushing this road trip.

Is There a Tipping Culture in Australia?

Tipping is not expected in Australia. Wait staff get paid a reasonable living wage rather than needing to rely on tips to, you know, eat and stuff.

Aussies only tip if they've received really good service. On that topic, customer service is a bit different here and reflects our laid-back egalitarian nature (in other words it’s pretty crap). But you can most certainly expect your waiter to call you “mate”.

How Many Species of Deadly Snakes Are There in Australia? 

There are heaps – 20 of the world’s top 25 deadly snakes, to be exact. Approximately 3,000 people are bitten by a snake each year, resulting in about 500 hospital admissions. Around half of snake bites occur when someone accidentally steps on one. So, if you wear enclosed shoes in the bush, watch where you step, carry a torch at night and make lots of noise, snakes are extremely timid and will get out of your way if they hear or feel you coming.

How Many Types of Spider Are There in Australia?

Hundreds, including some of the most deadly in the world. The ones you’re most likely to encounter are the Red Back and the Funnel Web. Since the introduction of anti-venom in the 1970s, no one has died from a bite.

The really enormous, tarantula-like spiders you may find in a house are Huntsmen. They’re ferocious looking but totally harmless to humans. They eat other insects, so they're actually doing you a favor.

These critters are part of nature. Don't mess with nature. If you see a crocodile, shark, snake, or spider, just leave it alone.

What’s a Doona?

A duvet, or quilt. A bed covering with pockets stuffed with down, feathers or synthetic material for warmth. Ideal for those cold winters in Australia's south.

What’s a B-Double?

A B-Double is a freight truck, consisting of a prime mover and two connected trailers. They can be up to 85 ft long (26 meters).

Australia has the heaviest legal on-road trains in the world, up to 200 tonnes. So the B-double is not the biggest truck on the road. On some inter-state highways, you’ll find a triple road train, prime mover and three trailers connected by two dolly converters. These beasts can be more than 175 ft long (53 meters)! Try passing that at 110km/h on a single-lane country road without pooping yourself!

What’s a Stobie Pole?

It’s an electricity or street light pole in South Australia. The rest of the country makes them out of timber, so they’re pretty harsh on anything that runs into one at speed. In South Australia, they are made out of two metal girders with concrete in between – that really puts a dent in the fender!

What’s a Kylie?

Yes, “what is” not “who is”. A kylie is the Aboriginal name for a boomerang which is used for fishing.

What’s a Rissole?

The Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) operates social clubs for serving and ex-soldiers, where they can meet over a beer and have a chat. Ordinary members of the public can join for a fee. RSL clubs generally use the proceeds from extensive poker machine gambling to subsidize the cost of beer, alcohol and food.

Clubs vary in size, from quaint suburban local to Vegas-like monuments. A few have concert venues, where live music acts perform.

Surf Life Saving clubs serve the same purpose in Queensland. In Victoria, the Aussie Rules Footy teams have associated clubs, but you don’t get them much in Western Australia.

Rissole is Aussie slang for RSL. Coincidentally, rissoles are a common item on the food menu.

What's a Drop Bear?

If we gave that one away, you'd have no reason to travel to Australia. We've got to leave something to the imagination!

2 Comments

  • Louise said

    You can sometimes see kangaroos at the town's local golf course at dusk. I think that bit about the headlights on the road is a bit suss, kangaroos use their own tracks, sometimes they need to cross a road, also because of water runoff there are often green pickings by the side of the road.

  • Susan said

    Saw loads of roos in a friend's back yard and at a meditation retreat where we could get within a meter of them. Wish I could post the pictures. Stay away from zoos.

Add a Comment
Couple eating food with chopsticks and smiling

Win a destination
do-over for 2

Enter now