What does Australia look like through foreign eyes? I spent six weeks in the country during my trip around the world. Here are my first impressions of Australia.

Australia seems to have tons of stereotypes about it. Perhaps the national marketing companies have done a good job – after all, just mentioning Australia generates tons of strong mental images. There’s Crocodile Dundee with his thick accent. Aboriginals with their didgeridoos. Kangaroos with their boxing glov… hold on a moment, who put the boxing gloves on the kangaroo?

Anyway, you got the point.

Simply put, Australia is one-of-a-kind. It’s a Western society not located in the west with unique wildlife and culture. Besides that, Australia is also a great travelling destination with tons of things to see and surprising amount of variety. There’s more than just kangaroos and BBQs in the Lucky Country.

Tourists at Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

Tourists at Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

Darwin – My First Impressions

My first stop in Australia was Darwin, the northernmost city of the continent. Darwin is a tropical town with two seasons – the extremely hot rain season and the still-too-hot dry season. With just 130,000 residents, Darwin is not a huge city. The main sights can be seen in a few days.

Right after my arrival, there were two things that I quickly noticed about Darwin. First: massive roads and buildings. After six months in Southeast Asia, everything seemed big and expensive. Things were built on a large scale, and the city was clearly meant to be explored on wheels, not on foot.

The second thing I noticed? Sadly, that was the situation with Aboriginals.

My impressions of Australia. Aboriginal rock art at Kakadu National Park.

Aboriginal rock art at Kakadu National Park

To put it short, the indigenous people of Australia are not doing too well these days. After years of inhumane treatment by the white conquerors, many Aboriginal communities are now dealing with tons of problems like unemployment, alcoholism and drug abuse. The inequality was all too clear in Darwin, where all the homeless people on the street were Aboriginals.

Not all the Aboriginals of Australia are doing so badly, but Darwin is an extreme example of the problems. Around one third of the Northern Territory’s population are Aboriginal Australians, and the issues are probably concentrated on the Darwin, which is the capital of the territory.

Of course, Australia is not the only country with similar problems. Indigenous people have been mistreated all over the world – even my home country Finland can be ashamed of the way we’ve treated the Sami people, our indigenous people of Northern Europe.

The Aboriginal hobos (is there an English term for hobos that’s not offensive?) of Darwin also reminded me of the gypsies I’ve seen in Central and Eastern Europe. Both groups are mostly ignored by other, more well-off people who walk the same streets.

Oh man, how did this post turn all too depressing so quickly? Okay, let’s switch the subject to cute animals.

Cute Australian animals. A wallaby in Taronga Zoo, Sydney.

A wallaby in Taronga Zoo, Sydney.

Cute Animals and Other Wild Things

Australia’s wildlife is awesome! There’s koalas, kangaroos, wallabis, dolphins and tons of spectacular birds. Even the most ordinary city birds seem to have the full spectrum of a rainbow on their feathers. Many of the critters and snakes seem to be able to kill you, but never mind that. The creatures of Australia are unique and beautiful.

Three Sisters at Blue Mountains.

Three Sisters at Blue Mountains

Red and green, the main colours of Australia.

Red and green, the main colours of Australia.

Australia is a huge country with surprising variety in the landscape. People who know very little about Australia might think the country’s only full of dry wilderness. In reality, there’s mountains, deserts and rainforests. I was in Australia in the end of Autumn, and the difference in climate between the chilly south and the hot north was huge.

There’s definitely plenty of nature to marvel, as the continent is not very densely populated. Distances are long, which might explain why Australians seem to be obsessed about their cars. It’s easy to understand how this country gave birth to the Mad Max franchise.

Now that we’ve had a small dose of nature and cute animals, wed can head back to society.

Yet another shot of the Sydney Opera House.

Yet another shot of the Sydney Opera House.

The Cities and the People of Australia

After Darwin, I spent a lot of time in the southern areas of Australia. Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney – I liked the cities more than I had expected. The public transport was usually free in the city center, and there were lots of free museums and galleries to experience. The big cities have their big city problems like drug addicts on the street, but walking around after dark felt safe in general.

Australians have a small talk culture that can take visitors by surprise. After all, you never know when a worker at a restaurant or local shop will ask you how was your day or how you’re doing, so you need to always be ready to react. Once a Subway worker asked about my day between choosing my cheese and salad – as if getting all the questions right in Subway wasn’t hard enough already!

Anzac Hill plaque

A plaque at the Anzac Hill of Alice Springs honors fallen Australian peacekeepers in Afghanistan – and keeps the end date of the conflict open.

A close-up shot of the texture of Sydney Opera House.

A close-up shot of the Sydney Opera House. Makes me think of 1950s bathrooms.

It was interesting how few of the people I got to know were actually born in Australia. The country is full of expats and young travellers with working visas. Even those born in the country have very diverse backgrounds – for example, there are strong Chinese communities in the cities.

It’s a bit surprising that a country with such tight immigration laws has so much immigration. Then again, with such a high supply of foreign workforce, Australia can afford to be picky.

Grose Valley, Blue Mountains

Grose Valley, Blue Mountains

My First Impressions of Australia

I originally meant to stay in Australia for a few weeks. In the end, I spent almost six weeks in the country, and there would have still been many interesting places to see.

After Southeast Asia, I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy Australia that much – after all, arriving in a Western country after all the cultures of Asia might have been a bit boring. I was also worried about the high prices of Australia.

I had to adjust my way of travel a bit, as I started to eat much less in restaurants and mainly switched to microwave meals. Australian food is not always very healthy and vegetables can be expensive, so my diet was definitely not as good is Australia. However, the high prices were my only major issues with the country. Everything else left me with very positive first impression of Australia.

Although Australia is expensive, it was still worth the trip and I’m really glad I stayed in the country longer than I had intended. Australia might leave your wallet empty, but it will also fill your heart with joy.