Unless you are actively trying to offend someone, it is unlikely that a traveller will insult or offend an Australian out of cultural ignorance.
Australian addressing patterns are usually familiar. It is acceptable and normal to use first names in all situations, even with people several years older than you. Many Australians like to use and give nicknames – even to new acquaintances. It is likely that such a name indicates that you are considered a friend and as such would rarely be condescending.
In Australia, it is generally acceptable to wear revealing clothing. Bikinis and swimming costumes are accepted on the beach, usually also at the kiosk on the other side of the beach. It is normal to wear at least a shirt and shoes before moving on. On most beaches, sunbathing is actually topless. Almost all women wear a top when walking in or near the water. There are a few beaches with optional clothing (topless), usually a little further away from residential areas. G-string bikinis (more commonly called thong bikinis in Australia, as thongs refer to tap shoes) are appropriate for all beaches and some outdoor pools for both women and men, although they are not as common as regular beachwear. Some outdoor pools have “high standards” for women.
Cover up a little more when visiting places of worship such as churches. In hot weather, casual clothing such as T-shirts and shorts predominate, except in formal situations. Business attire, on the other hand, is a long-sleeved shirt, tie and long trousers for men, even in very hot weather.
Using stereotypical Australian expressions can be seen as an attempt to mock rather than communicate. If you are successful, you may even be able to crack a smile.
Australians often belittle themselves; however, it is impolite to agree with a self-deprecating remark. Bragging about one’s achievements is rarely well received.
Most Australians are happy to help a lost traveller find their way, but many city dwellers assume that someone saying “excuse me” is asking them for money and may pass them by. Looking lost, holding a map in your hand, looking like a backpacker or getting to your destination quickly will probably help.
The Australian Aborigines probably came to Australia 50,000 years ago and now number more than half a million people. They have suffered significant discrimination over the years since Europeans took their traditional lands, and sensitivity must be shown at all times. Aboriginal people are in fact from many different “nations”, with different cultures and identities, speaking up to 250 different languages before the Europeans came.
Many areas of the indigenous territory are freely accessible. For some areas there is an Aboriginal request not to enter and you can choose whether or not to comply with this request. An example of an Aboriginal request is to climb Uluru (Ayers Rock). There is no law against climbing this rock (except in heat, rain or wind), but the local indigenous communities (the Anangu) ask that you do not climb it. Uluru is of great spiritual importance to the Anangu. The Anangu feel responsible if someone is killed or injured on their land (as has happened many times while climbing) and ask tourists not to endanger themselves by climbing. However, as many people who travel to Uluru climb, you will certainly not be alone if you choose to do so.
Some Aboriginal areas require approval or permission, and some areas are protected and access to them is illegal. It is advisable to check before planning a trip off the beaten track. Permits are usually only a formality for areas that are visited regularly or if you have another activity in the area you are travelling through. Often it is simply an agreement to respect the land you are travelling on as Aboriginal land. Some Aboriginal land councils make them available online.
If you must refer to race, the politically correct term is ‘indigenous Australians’. Aboriginal people generally agree, and there is no harm in referring to sacred sites and land as Aboriginal sites or Aboriginal land. Avoid using Aboriginal or Indigenous to refer to a person, as some people see a negative connotation in these words. The abbreviation “Abo” is deeply offensive and should never be used. The word “Native” is also offensive.
Other aspects to consider when dealing with Indigenous Australians include
- Australia Day is regarded by many Aborigines as Invasion Day.
- It is better not to mention the name of a deceased person to an Aboriginal Australian. Although Aboriginal customs vary, it is best to avoid any possibility of offence.
- Permission to photograph an indigenous person must always be obtained, but especially in the most remote areas like Arnhem Land. There is an old belief among them that the flash of a camera would steal their souls.
Gay and lesbian travelers
In Australia, the age of consent is set at 16 in all states except Tasmania and South Australia, where it is 17. Queensland prohibits “sodomy” for those under 18, but generally supports homosexuality. Although a strong majority of Australians support the legalization of same-sex marriage, current law does not yet allow it. Nonetheless, Australia officially recognizes a “de facto relationship” for same-sex couples equal to that of heterosexual couples – there is a special interdependent visa as a gay counterpart to the traditional marriage-based migration route.
Attitudes towards homosexuality are similar to those in most Western countries. Although central Sydney is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, caution is still advised in conservative, rural areas, especially in rural Queensland and the Northern Territory. Australia has banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and you may have legal options if you are discriminated against.
Sydney is Australia’s gay capital and hosts one of the world’s most famous gay pride festivals, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, every February and March. The festival culminates in a huge parade through Sydney’s city centre, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators. Alice Springs celebrates the Alice Is Wonderland Festival, a gay and lesbian pride festival held in late April/early May. In Melbourne, an annual “Pride Walk” takes place on the first Sunday in February.