Inside Melbourne: What the Travel Books Don’t Tell You

It’s been seven months since I moved to Melbourne (seven months already!) and I’m fairly settled now. In some ways, it was easy as Melbourne and Toronto are pretty similar cities. But there were some things I had to learn and adjust to along the way. Here’s my run-down of some of the thing I discovered that no one told me and that never gets written about in travel books.

Drive-thru liquor stores (called bottle shops) are a thing and they look like this and this — because drinking and driving should always be encouraged (I’m kidding, of course). Walmart, however, is not a thing. In fact, there aren’t really any big box stores that sell everything the way Walmart does so you have to go to different stores to get groceries (Coles or Woolworths), cleaning supplies (Big W or the grocery store), organizational supplies (Officeworks or The Reject Shop) and outdoor supplies (Bunnings). There is Ikea though, because Ikea is everywhere. Burger King is also down under but goes by the name Hungry Jacks. And The Reject Shop is essentially the same as Dollarama.

‘How ya goin’?’ is Aussie for ‘how are you doing?’ and people really do say ‘mate’ all the time, particularly tradies (what blue collar workers are called here). ‘Avro’ means afternoon, ‘brekky’ is breakfast and ‘milk bar’ is a convenience store. There are countless other slangs and phrases that I can’t remember at the moment (perhaps I’ll edit them in later), but as a rule of thumb, Australians abbreviate words wherever possible.

Gas (or petrol) is EXPENSIVE. The price at our local station is currently 139.9 cents/litre. At the time of writing this, the average cost in Toronto was 111.9 cents/litre. Luckily, the transit system is cheap and extensive. I can take a train into the city, hop on and off transit as much as I like, and the daily rate is just $8.20.

I knew Australians drove on the other side of the road, but I didn’t realize this meant road etiquette is reversed as well. The ‘slow’ lane is the right lane and the left lane is the passing lane. The same rules apply on an escalator — stand on the left and pass on the right. And also on the sidewalk — generally you keep to the left.

Speed limits are vigorously enforced here so it’s best to keep within the limit. Highways have speed cameras attached to bridges and signs to catch any driver going more than 4 km/h above the limit. Some roads space out two cameras to track your average speed between them, eliminating the ability to slow down when you spot a camera and then instantly speed up. Vehicles fixed with cameras are also sometimes parked at the side of the road to catch unsuspecting drivers.

Pavlova is the dessert of choice for most special occasions, especially Christmas and Easter. It’s not my favourite, but I suppose it is refreshing on a hot Christmas day. Australians and New Zealanders often argue over the origin of this dessert, each claiming to be the creator. Kiwis used to have the edge on this debate, arguing they first invented the dessert in the 1920s in honour of Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, after she paid the country a visit. However, new-ish ‘research’ suggests it’s actually a German invention. The debate continues…

Human Rights
One cultural difference I’ve noticed is that Australians tends to have more traditional, conservative values than I previously thought. This fact is highlighted through the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. Australia is one of few Western countries where same-sex marriage is not legal (illustrated on this map where the countries coloured blue have legalized it). Unfortunately, it does not seem this basic right will be granted anytime soon, with former tennis great, Margaret Court, taking a very public stance against same-sex marriage and politicians constantly circling the issue without taking any definitive action.

Gambling is incredibly prevalent. Pokies (poker or slot machines) and TABs (venues for racing and sports betting) are everywhere. Ads for Sportsbet (a popular online bookmaker) air during every commercial break during a sporting event. It’s a pretty sad sight when I walk past the local TAB as I head to Woolworths to pick up some groceries (they’re in the same shopping plaza) — it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, it’s always full of men staring at the screens, tracking their bets. It’s actually a national problem. Australia has more poker machines per person than any other country in the world and Australians lose more money on gambling than any other country. 

Interestingly, there was recently an unexpected Canadian connection to this gambling epidemic. Sportsbet released an ad promoting their new Android app featuring disgraced Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson. He was featured ‘putting the roid in Android’. Clearly in poor taste, the ad has since been banned, but if you’re curious, it can still be viewed here, at least for now.