…until you go there for the first time.
What comes to your mind when you think about Australia? Would it be like most of the people Sydney, surfing and kangaroos? These are the most common of the many clichés about this island, and if some of them are true (yes there are a lot of surfers on the Australian beaches) there’s so much we don’t know about this country so far away from almost everywhere else in the world. Here are a few facts that you might not be aware of about Australia!
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The Australian capital is…
It’s not Sydney, it’s not Melbourne: yes it’s Canberra! Ok that was an easy one to begin this list and you might already know it, but what else can you tell about Canberra ?
It was created from scratch in the early 20th century as a compromise between the two main Australian cities, which makes it one of the most remote capitals in the world. Almost 300kms away from Sydney, more than 600kms away from Melbourne, it’s not even directly on the highway linking them but 60kms further South! With a bit more than 400,000 inhabitants it’s only the 8th biggest city in Australia. Once you arrive there, it doesn’t feel like entering the capital of the country: it looks more like a huge park with museums, official buildings, a lake and some houses in between. It’s very green, very quiet and very empty. Not a place I would recommend to people looking for action…
Kangaroos are not everywhere
That’s probably the most inaccurate thing people believe about Australia. No, you will not bump into kangaroos all the time and no, kids don’t ride them to go to school, even in the outback! It’s actually not so easy to see them, even if they’re supposed to be around 50 million in the country, as compared to only 23 million of humans!
To be honest, the reality is even worse than that. The chances are very high that the first kangaroo you’ll ever see… will be a dead one. When they see a vehicle coming towards them, far away on the long straight outback roads, they usually think that the best way to escape is to jump on the road. And that’s how so many get killed by road trains (these giant trucks with 3 or 4 trailers), with their bodies staying on the side of the road until someone removes them. Yes, it’s disgusting and sad. I saw around 15 dead ones before I saw my first living kangaroo…
The current Prime Minister is Malcolm Turnbull
Unless you live in Australia, you probably haven’t heard much about him and this article will not help you: I’d rather like to tell you about two of his predecessors.
The first one, Bob Hawke, was Prime Minister between 1983 and 1991, but he’s also famous for a very unexpected skill: in 1956, he set a new world record for beer drinking with downing 1.4 liter in 11 seconds. Maybe the reason for his political success in a country where beer consumption per capita is one of the highest in the world (according to a 2012 study)!
The destiny of Harold Holt, elected in 1966 is much more tragical. In December 1967, he went swimming on a beach near Melbourne and disappeared. His body was never found. A curious way to die for the most important person of the country!
It’s not always warm
Would you consider taking a scarf in your backpack before going to Australia? Well if you go to Melbourne during the winter you probably should. Between June and August it can get very cold in the South; also in Sydney or Adelaide, the temperatures will often drop below 10 or 12 °C during the cold months. You can even go skiing in the Alpine National Park, a couple hours away from Melbourne! Not what you expected, right?
You might argue that it’s only in the South; it’s probably always warm in the desert. Wrong! In the middle of the winter, the temperatures barely reach 20°C in Uluru in the so called red center, and it’s freezing during the night.
Only the North of Australia (Darwin or Cairns) will stay warm during the whole year, but with a huge inconvenience: the wet season in the summer between October and April, with a lot of rain and a very high humidity level. Finally, the best compromise would be in Brisbane, with almost 3,000 hours of sunshine during the whole year and temperatures never dropping much below 20°C!
Fear jellyfishes more than sharks…
A study published in the Guardian detailed the chances you have to get attacked by a shark in Australia, and as they concluded, it’s safe to say that “if you spend your entire life on dry land, your chances of being attacked […] are precisely zero”. More seriously, even if you’re a scuba diver or a surfer spending a lot of time in the water, it’s very unlikely to get killed by a shark. Personally, I’m much more afraid of jellyfishes.
There’s a few different types of them in Australia: the one on the right for example is called the blue bottle (also known as the Portuguese man o’war). It’s toxic and dangerous even when it’s stranded on the beach, but not as much as the deadliest one: the box jellyfish. Even if you might survive to their stings, their venom is exceptionnally painful and they will leave horrible injuries on your skin. They are transparent in the water and can be found on the Australian coast during the summer months, so be very careful before you go swimming!
…and snakes more than spiders…
There was no death recorded from a spider bite since 1979 (an antivenom exists for every dangerous species, including the famous red back), while the 10 most poisonous snakes in the world are all native of Australia. The most dangerous one, the taipan, could kill more than 100 human adults with the venom contained in just one bite! Luckily, it’s quite rare to meet any; in one year, I personally only saw one snake, and it was during a crocodile tour on the Daintree River in North Queensland. Reassured?
…but your worse enemies: flies!
Australian flies are more annoying than any other animals in the country. They are very different from the flies you can find in Europe: it seems that they exist for a single mission, making humans go crazy. They will not just buzz around you: they will land on you, everywhere, including on your face, in your eyes, in your ears or next to your mouth. I even swallowed a few ones by accident. Not a very pleasant feeling…
A single fly with this behavior would be very annoying. But they are never alone, especially during the summer… In the outback they are everywhere, from the first ray of light in the morning until sunset. Luckily they are less present in big cities. I’ll never forget this hike to Mount Bruce in Western Australia where all of us carried 200 flies on our backpacks… Forget everything about spiders, snakes or crocodiles: flies are the real enemies!
The fake Uluru
Did you know that there was a second big red rock in the middle of the Australian desert? If Uluru didn’t exist, maybe this other rock would be famous and people would come from far away to take pictures of it, instead there’s just a ridiculously small lookout next to the road and nothing else. That’s the destiny of Mount Conner, always being forgotten in the shadow of his famous neighbor.
To be honest, it’s not as spectacular as Uluru and it’s impossible to mistake the one for the other. Impossible? Well… That brings me to a story that my guide told me when I was on a tour in the area. Once, a group of British backpackers were driving from Alice Springs to see Uluru. They saw Mount Conner, thought they were at the right spot, stopped their car, took pictures… and drove straight back. They never saw the real one, apart from one girl who realised her mistake and later booked the same tour that I did myself. The other guys probably still describe Mount Conner as Uluru when they show their pictures to their friends back home.
Australia is full of places with weird names
That’s a thing about Australia: so many places have strange, absurd or sometimes ridiculous names. During my travels in this country I’ve been to cities called Tom Price, Tin Can Bay, Broome, Denmark, Seventeen-Seventy, Penguin or Iron Knob, not to mention the complicated and funny aboriginal names: Wagga Wagga, Waranmbool, Murwillumbah, Millaa Millaa, Nar Nar Goon… and so much more!
It’s not only towns. Natural places have also been given weird names, especially mountains. Some examples? Mount Remarkable, Mount Warning, Mount Disappointment, Chinaman’s Hat, Eggs and Bacon Bay, Wineglass Bay, Break-Me-Neck Hill, Remarkable Cave… My personnal favourite: Mount Nameless in Western Australia. If the genius who gave it that name had kids, I’d be really curious to know what he called them!
If you have more examples, share them in the comments!
You can shake the hand of a prince
In Western Australia, around 600kms north of Perth, you can find a land more or less the size of Hong Kong called the Principality of Hutt River. Here, after a fight against the Western Australia government over agriculture quotas, Leonard Casley and his wife Shirley decided to secede from Australia: on the 21st of April 1970 they created the Principality of Hutt River and became the first Prince and Princess of this new province.
47 years later, even though they have had a lot of complications (they even declared war to Australia during 3 days in 1977! More explanations on their website), the principality is still alive and now recognized by the Western Australia government. They have their own money (Hutt River dollars), post office, flag and anthem, and you can even get a visa or a stamp on your passport! Sadly Princess Shirley died in 2013 and a few months ago at the age of 92 Prince Leonard decided to quit his functions; his very friendly son Graeme is now the second Prince of Hutt River. If you decide to camp there for one night (only 5$ per person), he will explain to you in person everything about this strange and welcoming place – you can even become a non-resident citizen, like 10,000 people from everywhere around the world already did. An unexpected but very nice stop if you’re travelling on the West Coast!
Australia is huge… like REALLY huge
Ok, you probably know that Australia is one of the biggest countries in the world, but here are some facts to help you realise how extremely large it is:
-Australia is bigger than Europe;
-It’s more or less the same distance between Cairns and Perth than between Estonia and Portugal, or Los Angeles and Toronto;
-One of the longest straight roads in the world links South and Western Australia: 146.6kms without a turn.
-This road is part of the Nullarbor Drive, 1400kms of absolutely nothing between Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia. Nothing but… the world longest golf course! If you want to practice your swing during this boring drive, you’ll find a hole at every roadhouse on the way;
-Perth is the most isolated city in the world with more than one million of inhabitants. It’s actually closer to Indonesia than to Sydney or Melbourne!
-The biggest Australian private property is just a little bit smaller than Belgium;
After one year in Australia, I can tell you that driving many hours in a row to get from one point to another will never be a problem anymore!
Do you know more weird facts about Australia? Share them in the comments!