Landing in Australia can be a culture shock, for sure. For starters, even the friendly welcome at the Customs desk can be unnerving to those who come from countries where procedures can be somewhat different! However, there are countless examples of crazy Australian customs that even a well-seasoned traveller will find amusing, confusing or maybe even downright bizarre.
If a person doesn’t know what it means, they might literally bring a plate – an empty plate – to a casual gathering. Feeling that to ask for an explanation may be awkward, they muddle through and take a plate each along. What it actually means is to make a plate of food to share with the others at the gathering. Still, even that can be confounding to people from some cultures because it would be unthinkable to ask guests to bring food!
Here in Australia, it’s not unusual and in fact, even without being asked, guests will bring a cake, a fruit platter, cheese and crackers or perhaps a watermelon to slice for all to enjoy. If you are asked to “bring a plate”, you can ask the person if there is anything particular they’d like you to bring. Or, you can take along a favourite food from your culture to share.
When an Australian befriends someone new, they will often create an instant nickname for them. David becomes “Davo”, Michael becomes “Mick” and Sharon becomes “Shazza”.
It’s a way of showing acceptance; to be given a nickname so soon is quite an honour and should make you feel part of the group.
If you are uncomfortable with the name, let your new friend know and perhaps they can choose something more acceptable to you.
If you happen to see a car decorated with tinsel and fake reindeer antlers, you can be pretty sure it’s almost Christmas. Or, if you see cars with the Australian flag affixed somehow, it’s probably around Australia Day.
Depending on the season, you might see various colour combinations applied to the car in a range of ways such as with pompoms, ribbons or flags. The AFL Grand Final or the State of Origin rugby league series is the reason.
Australians love to show their enthusiasm by decorating their cars and driving them all over town in the course of their day.
Many of the craziest Australian customs revolve around sports. One of the funnier ones is that at some major sporting events, you may see groups of spectators in the crowd all dressed in a similar costume. This is a way of honouring a special player or elder of the game.
When it comes to cricket, ‘The Richies’ dress in a grey suit, including tie, and wear a grey wig. They also carry a fake microphone. This is all in honour of the late Richie Benaud, a former cricketer who played for Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.
Later in life, he was a highly respected commentator of the sport and sadly, passed away in April, 2015. There is even a website for The Richies to tell you how to be a part of the excitement.
Yes, you read that right. Famously held on Australia Day (26th January), cockroach races have to be one of the craziest Australian customs! Usually hosted at a pub, it is a gambling activity upon which punters choose a cockroach by its name and place bets.
At the beginning of the race, the cockroaches, which had been kept in glass bottles, are released onto the 6-metre ring and the winner is the first to reach the finish line. At most events, the proceeds are donated to charity. To add to the humour, the races are touted as “the greatest gathering of thoroughbred cockroaches in the world”, though of course, no such breeding has taken place!
The name alone makes tourists wonder what on earth we’re talking about. ‘Thongs’, in most parts of the world, are G-strings, but in Australia, they are a form of casual footwear, otherwise known as ‘flip flops’ elsewhere.
Thong throwing is a fun and casual event that is usually held as a contest on Australia Day. There are rules to follow and competition can be as fierce as any Olympic final! The New South Wales town of Armidale holds the Guinness World Record for the highest number of people throwing a thong at the same time.
In a tradition that started as a fundraiser for local community organisations – and remains so even now – the great Aussie ‘sausage sizzle’ has become synonymous with many stores.
At the entrance to the store, but just outside it, a temporary gazebo is erected and provides shelter for the gas barbecue and a serving table.
Customers pay for a single sausage on a single slice of white bread and can add ketchup, barbecue sauce and mustard as they like. Sausage sizzles are also popular on election days. They are set up at polling booths so that voters can enjoy the popular snack before or after placing their vote.
Australia is one of the few places in the world where you can eat the natural emblem, the kangaroo. (Mind you, South Africans also eat their springbok.) While it might seem odd, it’s no different than eating sheep, cows or pigs.
Kangaroos may be cuddly – emphasis on “may” – and they make fantastic photo opportunities, but because they are wild-harvested, they are considered a high-protein, low-fat alternative to farmed meats.
One check of a local supermarket should yield a couple of kangaroo meat products such as ‘Kanga Bangas’ (kangaroo sausages), kangaroo steaks or kangaroo mince (ground meat).
Australia can indeed be a very interesting place. This list of the craziest Australian customs has probably convinced you of that, even if you’re reading it from somewhere else in the world.
What matters is that it’s all in fun and if you ever have the opportunity to be invited to participate, it’s a wonderful way of being a part of the Aussie spirit.