Visit Australia Without Traveling Twenty-four Hours

G’day, mates!

            Did you know that the Outback is home to the largest herd of feral camels in the world, 600,000 and doubling every eight years?  Or that the children in Australia jump for joy over chocolate bilbies at Easter?  Do you know what the Vegemite sandwich is that the man from Down Under offers in the Men at Work song?

            I wonder how an island the size of the continental US can get lost.  It is a rare day indeed when a story out of Australia makes it to the American news.  What are they doing in that country, and why don’t we hear about it unless it has to do with Russell Crowe or chomping shark teeth?

            A long time ago, I met a man from Down Under, in Brussels, just like the song.  I learned a little about a country I had never considered much before.  I haven’t been there, but recently decided to follow a heroine’s trip to Sydney.  I sorted through the resources, which are plentiful when you know where to look.  I now feel like I’ve been to the city, but can’t quite remember the details, like I enjoyed too many pubs during my stay.  I’d like to share the research on this fascinating country in case you’d like to visit there without losing a whole day as you cross the international dateline, and another twenty-four hours or more on airline travel.

            Aussies (pronounced Ozzies) nicknamed Australia the Lucky Country, and it must be to enjoy such a distance from world politics.  The Australians seem pretty content to keep politics and news amongst their countrymen, though they are a great blend of nationalities.  The Commonwealth of Australia was first settled in 1788 with people from Britain, sent for stealing bread to feed their families, or more serious offenses.  But that was a long time ago, so let’s put it in the past, as the Aussie’s have. 

            The people of Oz (another nickname, and these giant blokes usually seem as happy as the munchkins in the movie, but four times as tall) speak with accents generally adored by Americans.  Traces of British inflections remain, but the vowel sounds are more drawn out and leisurely, followed with cheerful assurances of “No worries, mate.”  For an earful and more of Aussie dialogue and strine or slang, listen to the radio live through the Internet.  My two favorites are miles apart in location and content.  Visit ABC Gold and Tweed Coasts  or FM 104.7 Canberra.

            Keep in mind that their east coast is fifteen hours ahead of the US Central Time Zone.  They are already in tomorrow as you are reading this.  When we are tucking into bed, they are taking afternoon tea with bikkies.  (Consult Cooking the Australian Way for Aussie tucker.)  Australia is huge and has three time zones itself.  When I started research for my story, I consulted a road map, so infrequently used that the library made a special tag to loan it to me.  It took a few disbelieving checks of the scale to comprehend the vast distances between cities.  Seeing flight times throughout the country also helped convince me that Australia is ginormous.  For local maps, consult Whereis.Com with a specific address in mind.  I also consulted Streetwise Sydney and Berndtson and Berndtson’s Sydney Map.

            So you might wonder too how a huge continent can be misplaced by the world.  Aussies are generally known to be very laid back, dinkum blokes, interested in shouting mates to coldies, gardening their land to perfection, and above all, playing sports!  Cricket, Rugby, and Australian Rules Football are almost guaranteed to start a conversation.  They import what they need, love the outdoors, and cater to tourists, which are not numerous enough to fill up all the extraordinary places to see.  Here you’ll find the Great Barrier Reef, lush mountains in Victoria, and of course, the Opera House in Sydney Harbour with full sails.  Read more about Aussie social life in Culture Smart: Australia, and Australia, The Culture.

            No doubt, the length of the flight and cost keep many from exploring Australia in person.  It really isn’t another America with cuter accents.  Since the country has been an island for millions of years, it contains an incredible variety of very specifically evolved animals, plants and land formations, including Urulu (also known as Ayers Rock.)  The aboriginal people, indigenous to Australia, have always been a great mystery to the white population.  The Australian government is currently struggling to find balance between the diverse cultures.  I recommend researching this issue in more detail if choosing to set a story in Oz.

            My research started at the library, which fell short on Australia paraphernalia.  I made up the difference with a strategic visit to  A mix of guide books proved helpful, as some have copious lovely pictures (Eyewitness Travel Guides and Insight Guides) while others contain only descriptions (Frommer’s,) equally useful if not more so in certain instances.  Websites complement the content, too many to list.  The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb has a website that shows a picture of each stage of the adventure while travel blogs and reviews provide obscure details and amusing anecdotes that help place the reader in the experience and ground the story in the foreign country.  I found many, many photos of Sydney in Google Images.  Finding very specific places, such as the interior of the restaurant Bennelong located behind glass walls in the Opera House, proved no problem. 

            The most amazing discovery was the live Sydney Harbour webcam located in the historic district, the Rocks.  You can control the camera for two minutes at a time, as if standing in that location.  You need to do this even if you aren’t writing a story on Sydney!  You can watch the ferry taxi docking at Circular Quay as it happens, half the world away.  This boggles my mind!  A few websites offer 360 degrees of rotating view, like the University of Sydney, instructive on Aussie landscaping and architecture.

            A few films worth viewing have made it out of the Lucky Country.  Muriel’s Wedding contains footage in Sydney and a small town in Australia as it follows a woman transcending insecurity and deception as she separates from her dysfunctional family. 

            If you can tolerate the cliché dialogue and plot, Our Lips are Sealed , starring the Olson twins, is worth a Bo Peep for extensive scenery downtown and in the Sydney suburbs.  Kangaroo Jack shows how barren and red the Outback really is.  The movie is kind of silly, so focus on Jerry O’Connell and the scenery.  For a historical perspective of one woman’s struggle to establish her worth as a person after leaving a sheep farm in the Outback, watch The Road From CoorainAustralia, a video from Rand McNally & Company, presents an overview of the continent.

            Certain books gave me heaps of help.  I highly recommend reading In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson.  This witty account of the author’s thorough exploration of all things Aussie made me burst out laughing over and over.  The sensitive and fascinating story offers the respect due a land of awesome beauty and contradictions, and a gregarious group of people.  Waltzing the Magpies describes an American’s eventful year in Oz, raising a family in a different land.  It contains numerous useful details.

I also consulted Sydney for condensed facts on the city, as well as informative photos.  Another notable book is From Australia with Love, an occasionally depressing but useful account of the history of romance novels in the country.  Fiction titles set in Oz are Three Wishes and Her Playboy challenge.  I found them informative on Aussie humor and dialogue, and amusing stories to boot!

            Help can turn up in unexpected places, giving details to ground your writing.  In the mail I received a flyer with a picture and description of Aussie wine and cheese.  Just this weekend I happened to ask an Aussie tourist in New York City how to find the Empire State Building.  And he knew!  I asked a few questions about Sydney since he happened to live in the city.  I visited chat rooms on Aussie websites and printed up pages of slang.  Some of it is unbelievably funny, or maybe I’m just easily amused by hearing “He’s as proud as a rat with a gold tooth.” 

            Researching Australia proved a great adventure that made me laugh and smile just as the people of the country are apt to do.  My most-used resource was Google.  I tapped on the keys whenever I had any type of question.  The Internet let me lasso that big, ancient continent and pull it in close for a squizz.  I found it lovelier than I ever imagined.

            Now, set off on you own walkabout, whistling Waltzing Matilda as you discover the little-known facts about Australia that will ground your story in the charming land of Oz.



_____.  (1992).  Australia.  Video.  San Ramon, Calif. : International Video Network.

_____.  (2003).  Kangeroo Jack.  Video.  Burbank, CA : Warner Home Video.

_____.  (1994).  Muriel’s Wedding.  Video.  Burbank, Calif.: Miramax Home


_____.  (2000).  Our Lips Are Sealed.  Santa Monica, CA : MGM Home Entertainment.

_____.  (2002).  The Road from Coorain. Video.  Boston: WGBH Boston Video.

_____.  (1995).  Streetwise Sydney.  Streetwise Maps, Inc.

_____.  (2005).  Sydney.  Berndston & Berndtson.


Bryson, Bill.  (2000).  In a Sunburned Country.  New York: Broadway Books.

Flesch, Juliet.  (2004).  From Australia with Love.  A History of Modern Australian

Popular Romance Novels.  Fremantle, Australia: Curtin University Books.

Germaine, Elizabeth, & Burckhardt, Ann L.  (2004).  Cooking the Australian Way. 

Minneapolis, MN.  Lerner Publications Company.

Godwin, John.  (1993).  Frommer’s Sydney ’93-’94.  New York: Prentice Hall Travel.

Hannay, Barbara.  Her Playboy Challenge.  (2003).  Great Britain: Mills & Boon.

Kalman, Bobbie.  (2003).  Australia. The Culture.  New York: Crabtree Publishing


Moriarty, Liane.  (2004). Three Wishes. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

O’Connor, Siobhan, project ed.  (2003). Eyewitness Travel Guides Sydney.  London: 

Dorling Kindersley.

Penney, Barry.  (2004).  Culture Smart!  Australia.  A Quick Guide to Customs and

Etiquette.  Great Britain: Kuperard.

Pickering, Sam.  (2004). Waltzing the Magpies Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan 


Pike, Jeffrey, & Bell, Brian, ed.  (2002).  Insight Guides  Australia.  Singapore: Insight Print Services (Pte) Ltd.

Steele, Philip.  (2004).  Sydney.  Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library.


Click here for a unique explanation of Vegemite.



 Copyright 2005.  Originally appeared in Rumpled Sheets, May 2005, Publication of the Missouri Romance Writers of America.  Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for right to reprint.