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AUSTRALIA – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Australia Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. Australia is an island, surrounded by water. It is located on the smallest continent in the world. Australia has a very dramatic landscape. The country is famous for its “outback,” the remote lands of the interior. The desert outback covers most of the interior. It is too hot, dry and barren to support many people. Eastern Australia has large areas of grasslands, used primarily for sheep and cattle ranches. Australia also has some mountainous areas and plateaus scattered throughout the country. The Blue Mountains, on the south-eastern end of Australia, get their name from the blue haze caused by oil droplets given off from the eucalyptus trees. As an island, Australia also has many beautiful coastal beaches. Over 70% of Australians now live in cities or towns. Most of this population lives on the eastern and southern coasts, and around Perth in the west.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II.

In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy. It boasted one of the OECD’s fastest growing economies during the 1990’s, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980’s. Long-term concerns include pollution, particularly depletion of the ozone layer, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.

THE PEOPLE

Australia is a product of a unique blend of established traditions and new influences. The country’s original inhabitants, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are the custodians of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultural traditions. They have been living in Australia for at least 40 000 years and possibly up to 60 000 years. The rest of Australia’s people are migrants or descendants of migrants who have arrived in Australia from about 200 countries since Great Britain established the first European settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Dress is informal and relaxed on most occasions. Smart casual clothes are acceptable at most restaurants and nightspots. Men are generally not expected to wear suits and ties, except in a few of the top formal bars and restaurants in major cities. The Australian love of life shows in our culture.  Whether spent appreciating the arts or exploring the great outdoors, leisure time is an important aspect of Australian life.

LANGUAGE

While it’s common knowledge that Australians speak English, Australia also has a unique colloquial language that can confuse visitors when they first hear it.  From ‘fair dinkum’ to ‘cobber’, our colloquial language is common throughout the land.  Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up!

GOVERNMENT

Democratic, federal-state system recognizing the British monarch as sovereign. Head of Government: Prime Minister.  Chief of State: Queen of Australia Elizabeth II since 1952.

TIME ZONE

Australia spans three time zones:

  • Northeast/southeast:(New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Australia Capital Territory, Queensland) GMT + 10
  • Central: (South Australia and Northern Territory) GMT + 9.5
  • West: (Western Australia) GMT + 8.

Australian states except the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland have daylight saving time (DST) during the summer months.

ELECTRICITY

The electrical current in Australia is 220-240 volts, AC 50Hz. The Australian three-pin power outlet is different from some other countries so you may need an adapter. If your appliances are 110V, you may need a voltage converter. Universal outlets for 240V or 110V shavers are usually found in leading hotels.

 CLIMATE

Australia’s seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere. From Christmas on the beach to mid-winter in July, Australia’s climate is typically mild in comparison with the extremes that exist in both Europe and North America. The seasons: Spring: September-November; Summer: December-February; Autumn (Fall): March-May; Winter: June-August.

Australia also features a diverse range of climatic zones from the tropical regions of the north, the arid expanses of the interior and the temperate regions of the south. It’s worth noting that the temperate regions have all four seasons, while those in the tropical zone have only two (summer ‘wet’ and winter ‘dry’).  The Australian landmass is relatively arid with 80% of the country having a median rainfall of less than 600 mm per year and 20% having less than 300 mm (the average is 450 mm).  Temperature ranges can also be substantial with highs recorded over 122˚F and lows well below zero. Minimum temperatures, however, are typically not as low as those recorded in other continents.

This is mainly because of Australia’s relatively low latitude and lack of high mountains.  Australia also experiences many of nature’s more extreme phenomena from droughts, floods and tropical cyclones, to severe storms and bushfires. It is highly recommended that you seek climatic information on the regions of Australia you will be visiting.

Clothes to Wear:

Lightweights during summer months with warmer clothes needed during the cooler winter period throughout most of the southern states. Lightweight cottons and linens all year in the central/northern states with warm clothes only for cooler winter evenings and early mornings. Sunglasses, sunhats and sunblock lotion are recommended year round in the north and during the summer months in the south.

 LOGISTICS

Entry & Exit Requirements:

U.S. citizens are required to have a valid U.S. passport to enter Australia and must enter with an Australian visa or, if eligible, through the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). The ETA is an electronic label-free visa and allows tourists and business travelers a stay of up to three months. You can obtain the ETA for a small service fee. Airlines and many travel agents in the United States are also able to apply for ETAs on behalf of travelers. If you overstay your ETA or any other visa, even for short periods, you may be subject to exclusion, detention, and removal by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. You can find more information about the ETA, other visas, and entry requirements from the Embassy of Australia at 1601 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC  20036, via the Australian Visa Information Service at 905-280-1437end_of_the_skype_highlighting (toll charges to Canada apply) or the Australian Embassy home page.

Please take the time to tell the Embassy or Consulate about your trip beforehand. If you check in, they can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.

Embassy & High Commission Locations:

 

Embassy of the United States in Australia

Moonah Place, Yarralumla, Canberra ACT 2600

Tel: (61-2) 6214-5600

Fax: (61-2) 6273-3191

http://canberra.usembassy.gov/

High Commission of Canada in Australia

Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra ACT 2600

Tel: (02) 6270 4000
end_of_the_skype_highlightingFax: (02) 6270 4081

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/australia-australie/

Health:

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/.  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Banks and Currency:

Australian Dollar (AUD; symbol A$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of A$100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of A$2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10 and 5 cents.

Exchange facilities are available for all incoming and outgoing flights at all international airports in Australia. International-class hotels will exchange major currencies for guests. It is recommended that visitors change money at the airport or at city banks.

Major credit cards are accepted. Use may be restricted in small towns and outback areas, as is ATM availability.

Travelers’ Checks are widely accepted in major currencies at banks or large hotels. However, some banks may charge a fee for cashing travelers’ checks. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take travelers’ checks in a major currency.

The import and export of local and foreign currency is unrestricted. Amounts over USD 10,000 or equivalent must be declared.

Banking Hours: Mon-Thurs 09:30am-4pm, Fri 09:30am-5pm. These hours may vary slightly throughout the country.

Communication:

Country code: 61.

Mobile Telephone: Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is good in and around populated areas; access in some of the more isolated, outback and rural areas is limited. US handsets are not compatible. Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting.

Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

Internet: Available throughout Australia. Internet cafes are prevalent in all capital cities and tourist towns, and individual hotels may also provide facilities. Wi-Fi access is increasing in cities and is mainly found in hotels, bars and cafes.

There are post offices in all the main towns of every state. Stamps are often available at hotel and motel reception areas and selected newsagents.
Post office hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; some post office are also open Sat 9am-12pm.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food and Drink:

Seafood is an integral part of the cuisine scene in all its shelled and scaled forms. Production of organic foods is increasing and available in the cities and larger towns. There are fine dining restaurants throughout the larger cities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney, while regional food markets and increasing numbers of food festivals across the states are a great way to sample local produce. ‘Bush tucker’ is food from Australia’s endemic flora and fauna and can be lean and quite delicious; kangaroo meat in particular is growing in popularity since being made legal to trade to eat only in the past two decades. Barbecues and outside dining in parks and public spaces are also popular dining options.

Expect to come across both self-service eateries and restaurants with table service. Bistros, cafés, family-style restaurants and pub lunches offer good food at reasonable prices. Most restaurants and hotels are licensed to serve alcohol. Some restaurants allow guests to bring their own alcohol and are called ‘BYO’ restaurants. Licensing hours in public bars are Mon-Sat 10am-10pm, but most pubs are open until 12am; Sunday hours vary. Restaurants, clubs and hotel lounges have more flexible hours.

National specialities:

  • Sydney rock oysters
  • Barramundi (freshwater fish)
  • Moreton Bay bugs (a shellfish)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Kangaroo.

National drinks:

  • Australian wine, especially Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and Margaret River
  • Australian beer, including Coopers, Cascade, James Squire, Little Creatures and Matilda Bay.

The major vineyards (wineries) are outside Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide.

The largest single wine-growing region is in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, two hours’ drive from Adelaide, where high-quality red and white wines are produced.

Shopping:

Special purchases include excellent local wines; wool, clothing, leather and sheepskin products; precious or semi-precious stones; and modern art sculpture and paintings. Surfing products are also a big buy around coastal towns and resorts. Indigenous artworks and artefacts are prolific in some parts of the country and paintings, boomerangs, didgeridoos and other objects are on view and for sale in Darwin, Alice Springs and the state capitals; many depict stories from Australian Aboriginal mythology. Ensure you are purchasing an authentic item, however, as much so-called Aboriginal art is fake, consisting of designs ripped off from the real artists. The best places to buy are outlets supported or owned by Aboriginal communities.
The country’s national gemstone, the opal, makes beautiful jewellery and the best places to buy are at or near opal mining towns such as Coober Pedy in South Australia. Towns like Broome in Western Australia grew on the back of pearl diving, and cultured pearls are still sold in large quantities.

Shopping hours: Opening hours for most stores in the cities are Mon-Fri 9am-05:30pm, Sat 9am-5pm. Late-night shopping is available on Friday to 9pm in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Darwin. Late-night shopping is available on Thursday at the same times in Sydney, Canberra and Perth. Major stores in some states are open Sun 10am-4pm. Most supermarkets are open until 8pm, and are sometimes 24-hour. Corner stores, restaurants and snack bars are open in most cities until well into the night.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Tipping is according to personal preference. It is not as common as it is in Europe and America nor is a service charge added to the bill in restaurants.  10% for food and drink waiters is usual in top-quality restaurants, but is optional elsewhere.  If you feel your coach driver and tour guide provided excellent service, we can recommend tipping US$1-$2 per person per day for driver and US$5 per person per day for guide, equivalent in local currency.

LAUNDRY

Most hotels will arrange affordable laundry services for guests.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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