Tell Me Everything You Can About Traveling To Australia

As you may know, in October I shall bore a hole through the center of the Earth and I will emerge like a gopher in the city of Brisbane, Australia —

*receives a note*

Ah, apparently I will instead of taking something called a “plane.”

Whatever. I’m getting there somehow.

And, once there, I will be a guest of honor at the wonderful-sounding GenreCon.

I do not yet know the full dates for travel yet.

But I’m pondering exactly how I should handle this trip. Like, should I try to do a small tour of Australia? Even if it’s a one-bookstore pit-stop?

Should I just wander amok? I can’t be gone too long, lest I leave my wife alone with the Wolverine Tornado that is our darling toddler, B-Dub, King Adorbz of Adorbzville.

The subject header tells all — anybody who is in Australia or who has been there should tell me everything you know about it. Open your brain with this hammer. Spill out all knowledge so that I may sup on it. Jet lag! Phone! Food! Travel within the country! Things to do! Things to see! Things to avoid! Drop bears! Hell-spiders! Venomous sommeliers and toxin-producing travel agents! Koala plagues! Slang terms! Beer! Also, beer! Bookstores! Publishers! WHATEVER HELP IT’S LIKE AN ALIEN LAND THAT LOOKS LIKE AMERICA BUT IS ACTUALLY BIZARRO-AMERICA.

Thanks in advance!

(Oh, and the “crowdsourcing essentials” posts will be back next week — I’ve got a very awesome helper tallying up the lists so I’ll have some reporting to do.)



  • There is only one rule with Australian wildlife: If it can bite, or has big claws, don’t touch it.

    Australian’s aren’t born with the knowledge of what spider, snake, lizard or ant is going to give us hives (or death), we just leave all the bastards alone and they in turn ignore us.

    All cute furry mammals look nice to pat, but again, don’t go there. Wombats are angry mo-fos, koala’s will claw your face off without gum leaf drugs, and kangaroos, while generally chill, have been known to lean back on their tails and give a good, solid donkey kick. The heat makes us all a little bothered, you can’t blame them.

  • Generally speaking, Australians don’t flock to Brisbane. Sydney is a much better tourist destination because it’s so Goddamn pretty with the harbour and its beaches. Having said that, I moved from my home town of Sydney two years ago after discovering what a great, friendly, vibey city Melbourne is. As far as quality of life goes, Melbourne really does have it over other Australian cities.

    Some of the flight times between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne seem to be exagerated above. It’s about an hour and a half Brisbane to Sydney. About two and a half hours Brisbane to Melbourne.

    If you have the time and you are in Brisbane and you can’t make it south, I’d recommend heading north. The Daintree/Cape Tribulation areas are stunning, a real experience. You could also hire a car and do a road trip down to Byron Bay. It’s probably a two hour drive each way. And if you do go to Byron I highly recommend a day trip inland to Nimbin. That place is seriously like being on another planet. Police turn a blind eye to drugs there and the characters you meet will blow your mind. It’s totally safe, just a really strange, alternative place.

    And remember that we drive on the opposite side of the road here.

    People bang on about how friendly we Australians are but I really found Americans to be friendlier (visited NYC and SF a couple of years ago), although I found a big difference between Melburnians and Sydney-siders with Melbourne being a friendlier city.

    Whatever you end up doing, I hope you enjoy it here.

  • Hi Chuck. I have lived in Sydney for the last three years and here are some things that I learned as an American living abroad.

    1. Everything is pronounced phonetically here. For example, a jalapeno is pronounced /JOW-la-pino/ and basil is /BA-sell/.

    2. If you need some Tylenol at all during the trip, the brand Panadol is the same thing (or the store brand of paracetamol).

    3. You won’t find antibiotic ointment here. It’s prescription. If you need something like that and don’t want to visit the doctor, you will be better off using something else like peroxide or antiseptic cream.

    4. What everyone else said about poisonous stuff… absolutely true. Don’t touch anything that looks like a spider, snake, or animal of any kind unless you are told it’s okay by the owner or keeper. Just don’t. Save yourself the headache.

    5. The coffee here is fantastic. There are a couple of brands of coffee that are just out of this world great. To name a few; Toby’s Estate, Lavazza, North Queensland Gold, Vittoria, Illy, Cafe Aurora, etc. Stay away from Gloria Jean’s if you want good coffee. They are very similar to Starbucks in the US and won’t give you the proper cafe experience.

    6. The ordering of coffee here is different too. There are of course your normal types; espresso, cappuccino, and latte. But you won’t find grande or vente sizes. They are in cup or mug sizes. There is also; short blacks, long blacks, flat whites, vienna coffee, and mocha coffee’s. Here’s a pretty good explanation of these: and

    7. There is plenty of choice as far as food stuff goes. You can even get decent Mexican food sometimes (Mad Mex comes to mind which is like Chipotle Mexican Grill in the US). Don’t just stick with the major chains however. Go visit the smaller shops and you’ll get a good sampling of what is on offer.

    8. Wear sunscreen. Nuff said.

    9. The people are fantastic. It may take some time to get used to the slang but that’s okay. I think someone already mentioned that “how are you going?” is the same as “how are you doing?”. Another one that got me was boot. A boot is a trunk of a car. A ring is an asshole, not a wedding band. A ripper is a way of saying fantastic as in, “It was a real ripper!” Here’s an interesting story on Aussie slang:

    10. Everything is shortened here when people talk. Examples include; macca’s (McDonald’s), sambo (sandwich), brekky (breakfast), sunny’s (sunglasses), etc. If you keep that in mind, you may be able to understand just about 99% of what is said to you. 🙂

    It’s a great country and I hope you enjoy your stay.

  • Hook up with John Birmingham. He’s one of your co-speakers at the convention. I think his blog is cheeseburgergothic … sorry I can’t flick u the link. Stupid phone is built to frustrate anyone with fingers. Anyway, I think birmo’s personality would be right up your alley.

  • If you end up in Sydney (which is really worth it) but have a craving for mountain vistas, bush walks and water falls, head up to the Blue Mountains. One and a half hour drive to Katoomba or two hours on the train. I like Byron Bay too, the beach no town which has become too touristy. Some of the other nearby towns are nicer like Bangalow, mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads.

  • Does this mean sir shall no longer be requiring the services of my geobathysphere? One should remind him that the deposit can not be returned. The complimentary goats are, of course, sirs to keep.

  • The land of Australia’s haven for all
    Manner of creatures that creep, fly or crawl.
    They’ll haunt you by day and devour you by night –
    In Australia, even the butterflies bite!

    Have fun. No worries.


  • Sydney is my favourite city in the world. If you can make it there you won’t be disappointed.
    If you plan to head up north instead, the Port Douglas/Daintree area is lovely. You’d probably fly into Cairns (pronounced Cannes BTW) but personally I wouldn’t spend much time there. Also for several months a year (Nov – Mar) you shouldn’t swim off North Queensland’s coast due to a nasty box jellyfish infestation.

  • 5-year veteran expat in Sydney here. Permit me to share some insights:

    – The flight to Sydney is unspeakably long. It really doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, it will still take you a significant part of your life to get here that you will never get back. If at all possible, do not fly a US-based airline, as they are still unclear on the meaning of “food” and the bastards have started charging for booze in coach on international flights. If you’re going to be uncomfortable for 14 hours, you may as well be drunk or unconscious.

    – Speaking of drinking, there is a remarkably good variety of beer and wine in Australia. Under no circumstances ask for a Fosters, the idea of advertising Fosters overseas when it’s not actually sold in Australia is one of the best long cons this country has devised. VB and Tooheys are the Coors and Budweiser of Australia, XXXX is the Hamms of Brisbane. “Goon” is cheap wine in a box and will destroy you in the most entertaining way possible, as well as garner you many friends.

    – Through a freak of physics, sunshine in Australia is the equivalent of a sadistic 5-year-old holding a magnifying glass over you. Do not wear anything less than SPF 30 on a sunny day. If you are prone to sunburn, do not wear flammable synthetic clothing.

    – Swear words are used more often than commas. Use them liberally and people will appreciate you as one of their own.

    – If you’re going to tour different cities, here’s a quick breakdown:
    Sydney: The Australian version of LA; it’s where all the famous people and places are, and everyone there knows it. Everything about the place is annoyingly pretty.
    Melbourne: Australia’s San Francisco, complete with aggressively schizophrenic weather and even more volatile trendiness. The food and coffee is fantastic; breakfast is a competitive sport.
    Brisbane: Beach city without a beach. Hard to be uptight when it’s always shorts weather. A little ways down the coast is the Gold Coast, which is where everyone goes for bachelor parties and regret.
    Adelaide: You’re getting off the beaten path as tourist destinations go. The pace is slower, the wine is cheaper, and she shops close earlier.
    Perth: New money territory with all the mining companies calling it home, so there’s plenty of friendly people out to have a good time but not quite sure how. Again, a much slower pace than the other coast.

    – The danger of imminent death from everything is no joke, even some of the birds here are essentially ridiculous-looking velociraptors. However it’s impossible to live under the expectation that you could die by putting your hand in the silverware drawer, so Australians have championed the attitude of belligerent nonchalance. When you could die at any moment by anything from a tiny spider to a shark to standing too close to an Irishman on a sunny day, the Australians have decided to say, “Fuck it, good day for a beer.”

    Enjoy your stay.

  • Whatever you do, do not drink Fosters, VB, West End or XXXX (especially XXXX). Go for James Squire, Little Creatures, Fat Yak or Whale Ale if you want nice beer. Coopers is also acceptable if you’re cheap.

  • Being pissed or getting pissed has nothing to do with anger unless you’re a bogan and or you drink Bundaberg ‘Bundy’ Rum. Both mean being drunk. Being or getting pissed off is the Oz way of putting it if you’re all bent out of shape.

    ‘Blow it out your arse’ is the colloquial form of ‘Thanks, but I won’t be heeding your advice’.
    ‘Get fucked!’ either means ‘Really? I didn’t know that!’ or … ummm … well, get fucked.
    All Australians know the Miranda warning but almost none know it doesn’t apply here.
    ‘Shiffer’ is short for ‘shit for brains’. Whoever says this to you wants to be mates.
    Mates are a step down from friends and not necessarily someone you bump uglies with.

  • So you may have noticed already, Melbournians have a bit of a complex about asserting that they live in the best city in Australia. There is a pretty aggressive rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne on this score, but the Melbournians tend to take it more personally (we’re PRACTICALLY EUROPE we’re so cultured and the food is so amazing and we’re so arty). Do you have the phrase ‘chip on your shoulder’? That’s Melbournians if you ever dare suggest they don’t live in a city as good as Paris.

    As a resident of neither, I’d say Sydney is the better tourist destination if only because it’s much more visually spectacular with the harbour and the bridge and the opera house, etc. Plus it’s closer to Brisbane. If you do go there with B-Dub, Taronga Zoo is well worth a visit as it’s a beautiful zoo and set on the harbour so located in about the best possible spot in the city. But both cities have a lot to offer.

    Having said that, if you’re only here for a short stay (1 week or less) I wouldn’t bother leaving Queensland. There’s so much you can see up there so why add extra travel to your journey? Brisbane’s a nice city, much more laid back than Sydney or Melbourne. Everyone has done a good job of describing good places to go there but if I could throw my two cents in, I’d say go to Fraser Island. It doesn’t require the travelling that you’d need to go up to the Whitsundays or other far North locations, but it’s amazing. It’s the largest sand island in the world, it has freshwater lakes so pure and perfect that you can drink out of them (actually you can float down this creek from one lake down to the beach with water that’s hundreds of years old and the cleanest, most delicious water you can imagine, with your mouth open drinking it as you go, which sounds ridiculous but is really, really fun), you can go 4WDing on huge beaches, there are dingoes roaming freely (don’t feed or pat them though), and the centre is beautiful rainforest. You can do a day trip out there and see a lot.

    Some of the tips here are…well I won’t say bogus, but borderline at best. You CAN root for a team (the other meaning is less common). Mars and Nestle still own the majority of the chocolate bars. Our TVs are full of American shows so there’s not much slang you could use that we won’t recognise and understand. You don’t need to coo over Prince George, even if we STILL haven’t managed to make it to a republic (though by October we will, alas, almost certainly have newly elected a conservative monarchist straight out of the 1950s so who knows?). Your hire car does come with insurance (and you can pay extra to remove the excess–which you’d call a deductible–as well if you’re paranoid).

    Unfortunately I’d say Australians, while pretty laid back, are less friendly than Americans — oh, which reminds me, expect MUCH WORSE service in every context. I couldn’t believe how excellent people in service industries are in the States. Here, no tipping, and the service you get is just a direct reflection of the personality of the person giving it, so you’ll get everything from lovely to belligerent arse. Sorry about that. Oh, and don’t feed emus, even at nature parks. They’re not evil and deadly but they are bloody annoying and once you feed them they’ll follow you forever (they can keep pace with cars at lowish speeds and they’ll stick their creepy neck in your window and all).

    We do do good coffee — stay away from big chains unless you want a taste of home. If you normally take milk (or cream, whatever, you crazy Americans) I’d recommend a flat white. If B-Dub is coming, ABC2 is the kids channel, with plenty of good programs (Play School screens at 9.30, 3.00 and 4.30 weekdays and is kind of our national kids’ program!). Our icecream isn’t as good as yours, sorry. If it rains, we don’t use umbrellas that much – we just walk fast. Oh, and you’re going in swooping season, so watch out for magpies (black and white birds), as they will attack you to ‘protect their nests’ even if you’re just innocently walking somewhere vaguely near their tree. I’m actually not sure whether they’re a real problem in Brisbane but here in Canberra you take a stick with you if you go walking in spring. Buy something by Lynley Dodd, Mem Fox or Pamela Allen for B-Dub and something by Jennifer Fallon for you. Watch an episode of Rake.

    Oh, and no-one is kidding about the suncream.

    Have a blast!


  • Sorry, missed the part of your post about going without wife and kid. In that case, ignore comments about Play School unless you really like kids’ programs (hey you might, who am I to judge?).

    Oh and pissed still means angry. It just ALSO means drunk. See what I mean about most of your slang working here?

  • Hiya Chuck. I actually live in Brisbane so it’s likely I’ll be going to Genre Con. At that time of the year all I can say is dress for warm weather, expect humidity, sunscreen and water are your best friends and don’t fret about drop bears. They’re lazy bastards in the ‘spring/summer/hot season’.
    In Brisbane/Brisvegas/Brisbania specifically there’s a few things you should hit up.

    – If you’re traveling by public transport for Valhalla’s sake get a freaking Go-Card for yourself and anyone else going with you. Get them at News agencies. Public transport is expensive enough with one of those cards and it’s a 20% increase if you’re gonna buy paper tickets. (FYI, the public is as pissed off about the fare prices as you’re going to be.)

    – There’s a farmers market every Wednesday in Treasury Square right in front of the Treasury Casino. Go there for delicious foods of many kinds from Fresh fruit, amazing sweet and savory popcorn and German sausages and stuffed mushrooms. 😀

    – Queen St Mall is across the Street from those markets and has shops, shops and more shops. Visit the Myer Center and marvel at the fact there used to be a roller coaster on the top level. Unfortunately, it has since been replaced with Cinemas.

    – Coffee Club is good for coffee. Avoid Gloria Jeans and Zaraffas.

    – If you’d prefer Tea there’s three places in the city that does tea. The Tea Center, T2 and T-Licious in Southbank. Go to T-Licious. It’s homier and has better service.

    – As a matter of fact, take the time to go visit Southbank and bring something you can swim in. Across the river from the city itself, (It’s actually a ways down fro the State Library, just walk to the Cultural Center and then keep walking) it’s got some nice grassy spaces, a man made beach and a few other swimming areas, plus BBQ zones, play grounds, restaurants and all that jazz. On the Weekends they have markets of their own and that’s just the Parklands. There’s more On Grey St and Little Stanley street including a cheap as hell cinema with QLD’s sole IMAX sized screen. Good for families. Seriously. It’s a huge relaxing park with swimming pools.

    – May as well visit the Museum, Gallery and GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) as well. At least at the Museum we have a display of native critters including a handy dandy display of spiders for ease of recognition.

    – Never forget sunscreen ever. If you think you’ve put on enough, put on some more.

    – Don’t feed the Ibis. Just chase them away. They’re a pest and no one likes them.

    – Riding the City Cats (The on water public transport) is fun but optional. The waiting times are a pain but it’s a good way to see whats on the river and a great way to get from the Victoria Bridge (the Bridge that Connects the Cultural Center and the City CBD) to Eagle St, where they have more markets on the Weekends and some Excellent Pubs.

    – Roma St parklands and the City Botanical Gardens are worth a visit. Roma St has garden displays, more BBQ areas and a whole lot and paths to walk on. On the maybe downside, you may get cosplayers on the weekend. The Botanical Gardens are more sedate but still nice to chill out in.

    – We have proper Botanical Gardens and a Planetarium and it’s a bus trip from the city. Worth visiting them as well.

    – We do get swooping Magpies and they are an issue. Just get something that you can swing on a lanyard over your head and you should be okay.

    – Book store wise I’d advise you to Look up and visit Pulp Fiction in Anzac Plaza. They be Good People. Good to the local authors and just nice blokes.

    – Enjoy the buskers. We’ve got some crazy ones and some awesome ones.

    – Brisbane is very relaxed as a city. You’ll get some wankers and asshats but generally we’re very easy going and fairly friendly. Don’t be shy about asking for directions.

    -While we do have theme parks on the Gold Coast… Don’t say there once it gets dark. Really. Just don’t.

    Hope you have fun when you get here and good luck!

  • I done bought my Genrecon membership weeks ago.

    As an ex-pat American in Brisbane, I’d recommend you do one thing at least: have a drink at the Bowery. Get there before 8 PM, which is when it gets crowded. It’s a cocktail bar that does OLD SCHOOL cocktails; the place hearkens back to the pre-speakeasy era. The bartenders are astoundingly knowledgeable and very friendly. And of course, the booze is beyond outstanding.

    Have a meat pie. Doesn’t matter where, but I don’t recommend the ones you get in 7-11s (you can get far better ones with only a little bit more effort).

    Also, custard comes in cartons and liter jugs here. It is a sign of true and serious civilisation. I may or may not have once bought one of these cartons and scarfed it BECAUSE I COULD.

    Sunscreen. It’s been said, but I say it again ’cause it’s important.

    Panadol or Nurofen = painkiller. I’ve seen Advil on the shelves, but Nurofen does the trick, no problem.

    Because you’ll be in Brisbane, note that cheerios here do not, by default, refer to the breakfast cereal. They are actually little sausages, about thumb-size. I suffered no end of confusion, and then mockery, when gaming with friends after the first few months when the GM said “oh, right, I owe you guys come cheerios, let me get the tomato sauce [ketchup!] and put some water to boil.”

    As above: tomato sauce = ketchup. You’ll be understood if you ask for ketchup, but be prepared for funny looks if you ask for tomato sauce on your pasta.

    Someone above has mentioned Mexican food, but as a Mexican American who grew up eating the real thing, proper Mexican food is hard to find. Tuckeria does a pretty decent job of it, as does Guzman y Gomez, which is where I go when I’m feeling homesick and want some tacos.

    That said, the Greek food is just outstanding, as is the Italian.

    The woord root as a verb. Americans know it as a synonym for “cheer” or “support” in a sports context. Here, it refers to conjugal activities. Though it can also describe a state of exhaustion: “I’m bloody rooted, mate!”

    Lemonade here means Sprite or 7-Up. Fair warning.

    The State Library of Queensland (where GenreCon is taking place) is actually in a pretty nice precinct, up by the river. Museums, the library itself, and — though I avoid it at all costs — the Brisbane Eye. Also, Southbank! It’s a cool little beach! Actually, ideal for B-Dub. And a covered bougainvillea walkway! If you have some time and aren’t averse to walking, you can cross the river to the Queen Street Mall, which is all right but not much different from any city shopping area. However, right nearby is King George Square and the Museum of Brisbane, housed in the old City Hall building. Just underwent renovation. May still be undergoing some.

    Someone mentioned magpies. It’s not a drop-bear sort of joke; they’re the size of US ravens and are very … adamant about protecting their nests during nesting season. A newspaper is minimal, but can be used to shield yourself and swat at the bird to discourage it.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that Brisbane is a country town in the middle of the agonizing process of becoming a city. If adolescence is hard on a human being, it’s worse on a municipal entity.

  • August 23, 2013 at 4:57 AM // Reply

    I lived and worked in Australia (Brisbane and Sydney) for about 15 years but have been let out early on good behaviour.

    Don’t believe what Australians say about themselves – they only pretend to be laid back and ultra friendly. They are total rule Nazis and will stab you in the back as soon as look at you if they think it might somehow benefit them. Australia grew from a penal colony and their genetic consciousness has never forgotten it.

    So saying it is a fun place to play – just don’t touch anything because it might bite, sting or peck you to death. To help make up for it the alcohol is generally pretty good.

    The coffee (in Brisbane) is not – unless you like milk-based coffees then you are pretty much okay anywhere but stay away from short or long blacks (types of coffee) – Brisbane does not know how to make black coffee.

    Pulp Fiction in Brisbane is a great book shop and Galaxy Books in Sydney is an even better one – and Sydney knows how to make black coffee.

    If you do get to Sydney and want to hang out in a shopping mall (just in case you have never seen one before) Pitt Street is the place to head to although the Queen Victoria Building is pretty cool – just be aware they do tend to hide the shops inside big buildings or underground in some parts of central Sydney.

    Having a wander through The Rocks and around the Quay is an absolute must. You can almost hear the women being raped and murdered as they were brought ashore (read Sydney’s history – read Brisbane’s history too and see how they poisoned, hunted and murdered all of the indigenous people – actually I would fully recommend reading up all about Australia’s blood-filled history – it will add a whole ‘nother dimension to your visit there and might even spawn a lot of new thinking/material for you. It was a brutal, brutal place with an unforgiving climate and with what must have seemed outlandish and fiendish wildlife – some of the native creatures calls sound like screaming).

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