Toxic Custard Workshop FilesGuide to Australia

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Culture

I'm a seriously misplaced Australian (currently living in Virginia) & I'm trying to find some 'Australian' Christmas Carols. I know they're out there but do you know that you get roughly 18,000 choices if you type Australian Christmas Carol into a search engine? sigh... - Kathy, USA

Aussie "12 Days Of Christmas"

Aussie Kids Christmas Album

Salvation Army Spirit Of Christmas CD

It seems that many northern hemisphereans are somewhat puzzled by the whole concept of Christmas in Australia. December being the start of summer just doesn't seem right to them. Those of us who grew up with it, however, are used to it. Christmas to me is sitting with the family by the beach, or in the garden, maybe having a game of backyard cricket, quite possibly sweltering in the heat, and stuffing yourself on roast chicken and/or turkey.

It's for these reasons that one of my favourite quotes, and one which I tend to append to my e-mails through most of December, is this one:

"We can't replicate an Australian Christmas over here. It's too cold. Sometimes it snows. You can hear sleigh bells. Nah, it's not like Christmas at all." - Lee Tulloch in New York, The Age, 22/12/99

[Paralympic Becky. This is not a joke.]As for Australian carols, it all depends on what kind of thing you're looking for. There seems to be no shortage of ocker beer-swilling strine-singing-type carols with gratuitous Australian content inserted into them. After all, what more could you want than Jingle Bells with the words wombat, roo, gum tree and galah strategically placed within? Actually it sounds to me like the kind of thing that would be almost unbearable after one listen, but maybe that's just me.

Then there's the more subtle stuff, along the lines of Paul Kelly's "How To Make Gravy", which has become something of a modern classic in Australian Christmas songs - well, at least if you ask the right people. This is music that can capture the spirit of Christmas in Australia. That particular song originally appeared on the annual Spirit Of Christmas charity CD, and with profits going to the Salvation Army, if you're looking for a CD of Christmas songs, it could be the kind of purchase to give you a warm inner glow for more than one reason.

To pick yourself up a copy, you can head over to Myer or Grace Brothers - or if overseas, it can be ordered from the MyerDirect web site. (And joy of joys, you can pick up a Paralympic Becky doll while you're there!)

What do other Australians think of Russell Crowe as an actor and his band TOFOG (Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts)? - Anonymous American

Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunts Oh well, Russ, you know he's just SO CUTE isn't he. Whoops, sorry, thought I was a teenage girl for a moment there.

We keep hearing rumours about how Russ is just your average guy, even though he's turned into something of a megastar. How he just wanders into pubs, enjoys a few drinks with the locals, and wanders out again. How he's desperately trying to find a way of getting Vic Bitter in America. And how he was at the Paul Kelly concert in Sydney last week, trying to be inconspicuous.

And as for TOFOG? I suspect it's a set-up for the American market. Otherwise it'd be called Ten Odd Metres Of Grunts! Actually, no, it's a good name. Problem is, I haven't heard of any of their music. If I get the chance, I'll have a listen.

How do Australians celebrate birthdays? - Ryan, USA

  Well, first the person having the birthday is stripped naked and covered in Vegemite, then tied to the back of one of those really big kangaroos that hang around the main street, which bounces around the town while we all sing "Waltzing Matilda".

No, actually, that's a load of rubbish that I just made up. In fact we give presents, have birthday parties, cakes, blow out candles. The kids' parties typically have party games, music and sweets. The adults' parties typically have alcohol, music and more alcohol.

Do Australians sing the Christmas carol "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas"? Just thought I'd ask, what with Christmas falling in the summer over there and all. - Pat, Canada
 

Santa, spotted recently going bush at Lakeside, Victoria
Yes, we do. It's quite a curious thing really, but despite the dry, hot, sunny Christmas weather we get here, we still use the same old songs, about dashing through the snow, sleigh bells, reindeer, all that kind of thing.

Perhaps it's time to write some new Christmas songs, especially designed for those of us in the southern hemisphere. Something about strolling through the sand, playing cricket on the beach, grabbing a couple of coldies from the fridge and brushing away the flies. That kind of thing.

I might just finish up at this point with one of my favourite Christmas quotes, something I drag out every year around Christmas for my e-mail signature:

"We can't replicate an Australian Christmas over here. It's too cold. Sometimes it snows. You can hear sleigh bells. Nah, it's not like Christmas at all." - Lee Tulloch in New York, The Age, 22/12/99

My friend and I are making a simple tutorial for kids and are looking for simple customs/traditions related to particular cultures and continents, like the tea ceremony in Japan. Doesn't have to be complicated, but hopefully unique, something to make them appreciate Australia. (The closest we've found is this: 'The traditional greeting among members of the Maori tribe is to rub noses.' Certainly unique, but we're hoping for a little more than that). :) - Anonymous
Links:

Aboriginal Research Project

Melbourne Cup: The race that stops a nation

AFL - Australian Football League

Okay, there's a couple of things you need to know before you give your tutorial. One is that Maoris are not one tribe, they are lots. Another is that Maoris traditionally live in New Zealand, which is a completely different country to Australia. Okay, so they may be geographically close to each other one a global scale... and the flags may be very similar.. but they are quite definitely different countries.

But no matter. At least Australia was spelt correctly, which is more than can be said for a lot of submissions to this page.

As for Australian customs and traditions, a few that spring to mind of the indigenous population include:

Customs and traditions that the greater Australian population indulge in include:

  • "The Race That Stops A Nation" - the Melbourne Cup
  • Australian rules football
  • a day at the cricket
  • the meat pie

Reader suggestions have included:

  • The barbecue, and in particular, men gathering around the barbecue, women gathering in the kitchen
  • Mowing the front lawn
  • Standard greetings such as "G'daymatehowyagoing?" and "Howareya?"
  • Lawn bowls, and all the associated paraphernalia
  • Saying "There you go!"
  • When not fully understanding something, nodding slightly and saying "rriiiiiiigggghhhhtt"
  • Aboriginal smoking ceremony
  • Tall poppy syndrome
  • Not knowing the words to the national anthem
  • Sporting rivalry (especially with New Zealand)
  • The great overseas experience
  • ANZAC Day
  • Shotgunning a Tim Tam
I'm told that in Oz, the Queen's birthday is a national holiday (as it bloody well should be!) My question is this: Is it actually celebrated on her actual birthday, April 21st, or is some other day picked out, the way we Yankees celebrate George Washington's birthday not on the actual day, but on "President's Day"? What day do you lot get off work? - Bob, USA
Links:

Royals

Republicans

Oh dear, who let the Monarchist in here?! Why does an American know the Queen was born on April 21st when Australians would have absolutely no idea?

"Happy birthday dear Liz
Happy birthday your Maj
Happy birthday Lizzy Baby
Happy birthday Ma'am".

The Queen's Birthday isn't actually on the Queen's birthday, moves around from year to year to keep it on a Monday, and it's not celebrated in every state, so you were misinformed, so there!

It's also not aligned with the current monarch's birthday, but is roughly the date of Queen Victoria's birthday. So when Liz finally abdicates or karks it and Charles gets to wear the big shiny hat, the holiday will still be called the Queen's Birthday.

In every state except Western Australia, in 2000 it's celebrated on 12 June. In WA they have Foundation Day a week earlier, and so they celebrate the Queen's Birthday in September instead. New Zealand celebrates the Queen's Birthday on the 5th of June.

Meanwhile the Brits remain quietly bemused by the whole thing, since apart from a few civil servants, they don't celebrate the Queen's birthday with a holiday at all!

Thanks to feedback from readers for some corrections made to this answer.

My calendar has several holidays listed on it from Australia. Australia Day (January 26) and Canberra Day (March 20) are fairly self-explanatory, but what are Anzac Day (April 25) and Waitangi Day (February 6)? - Sunita, USA
Links:

Gallipoli

RSL: Anzac Day

Waitangi Treaty

For those that don't know, Australia Day commemorates the landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, which was the start of the first permanent white settlement in Australia. Captain Arthur Phillip hoisted a British Flag, which apparently in those days was all that was needed to claim possession of an entire country.

I'm not really familiar with Canberra Day, but I'm going to guess that it commemorates the naming of Canberra, on March 12th 1913. Apparently alternative names suggested included Marsupiala, Eucalypta and Kookemuroo! Presumably these were rejected because nobody would have been able to take the Australian federal government seriously if they were based in Marsupiala. (Not that we take them very seriously anyway.)

Waitangi Day is a New Zealand holiday, not observed in Australia, except possibly by New Zealanders, and if this is the case, they don't appear to make a lot of fuss about it. I have no idea what it means, but I'm sure some knowledgeable Kiwis will write in and let me know.

And they have: it commemorates the signing of the Waitangi Treaty on 6th February 1840 between the native Maoris and the British, which should have squared up the whole European settlement thing, but which of course didn't...

And so we come to ANZAC Day, which is observed both in Australia and New Zealand. ANZAC is an acronym standing for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the day commemorates the landing of ANZAC forces at Gallipoli in Turkey on this day in 1915. This bloody battle of World War I was something of a turning point in Australian military history, and is remembered in services around the country, and at Gallipoli itself, by both Turks and Australians and others.

For further information, the easiest way might be to mosey on down to your local video shop and look for "Gallipoli", one of Mel Gibson's early movies.

I have heard from lots of people that a lot of people in Australia never wear shoes. Is this true? Because I love going barefoot and most stores and eateries in USA are opposed to this and people here view you as dirty or unkempt if you go everywhere barefoot.? - Jaime, USA
Links:

Myer

David Jones

 

You dirty unkempt person! I'm afraid it sounds like another myth about Australians that has made it across the ocean - maybe the people you've spoken to were from the Barefoot Society or something.

The vast majority of Australians (at least in the cities, and heck, that's where the vast majority of Australians live) don't leave the house without some kind of footwear on. In fact, I'd bet it's so rare that most retail establishments probably don't have a rule about it, though I'd welcome any comments from anybody who has tried to go into Myer or DJ's and found otherwise.

In the remoter parts of Australia, bare feet may be more common, but the fact is, city streets are dangerous places. Litter, while not exactly abounding, is common enough in the cities, and most people would consider the risks of broken glass or other feetal hazards to be too much. Besides which, in summer the pavement is WAY too hot.

  • Reader opinion seems to indicate that those who choose to shop without shoes encounter no resistance. Pubs and bars may be a different matter.
Is there any truth to this statement - Basic humour is staple in Australia while in England and America, it competes with the more sophisticated - such as wit and style? - Stone2, Australia
Links:

Try searching Alta Vista for Australian humour...

Bullshit!

My guess is that whoever said that doesn't know a lot about the humour of any of those countries. One only has to look as far as John Clarke (Australia), Benny Hill (UK) and ummm... whoever was behind Married With Children (USA) to realise that it's a gross generalisation.

I was listening to the news on my way to work this morning and heard a report that Australian officials had found a 3 mile long engraving of an Aborigine in the Outback. Apparently this tremendously huge drawing in the ground even came complete with a 750 ft. long representation of "manhood." My question is, have you heard of this news? If so, is there any follow up as to who spent the considerable time and energy to complete the project? - Tony Lottis, Seattle, USA
Marree Man (from The Age, 30/7/98) There's a lot of controversy about this figure, known as Marree Man. Nobody seems to know just how this thing got there. Evidently nobody noticed when it was being made (it is comparatively new), and nobody has claimed responsibility.

It's even more puzzling because you would need a serious amount of earthmoving equipment to do it. Tractors, ploughs, bulldozers, that sort of thing. And some kind of location instruments (probably GPS or something similar) to make sure the figure came out right.

The only clue so far was an anonymous fax sent to the Adelaide media, which because of the language used, was suspected to have been written by an American.

The local Aborigines who own the land are not pleased by its existence. Which is fair enough, it's kind of like somebody coming along and spray-painting on your back fence. Interesting to look at perhaps, but not what you hand in mind.

At least nobody's suggested it was aliens.

Well, the holiday season is here. What does the average Australian do to celebrate the coming of the New Year? - Mark, USA
  It usually involves a fair amount of alcohol. Other common ingredients for New Year's celebrations are counting down the seconds until midnight, fireworks, perhaps some dancing, and depending on how drunk you get, a bit of a lie down afterwards.

My own New Year involved going over to my sister's place where we could watch the fireworks from her upstairs flat which overlooks the city, a few drinks and other merrymaking with friends, counting down the seconds and lighting some sparklers at midnight, then heading home on the 1am train - which was a bit of a party in itself.

Of course, because Australia is closer to the left hand side of the International Dateline (New Zealand is even closer), we tend to do all this stuff many hours before our fellow humans in Europe and the Americas get around to it.

Here in the Northeast of the US, we often hold up our brethren to ridicule, mostly Southerners. Who gets made fun of the most in OZ? - Mike in Philadelphia
  In no particular order, Americans, Queenslanders, Tasmanians, and New Zealanders. Plus anybody in Canberra, obviously.

And people in Sydney make fun of Melburnians, people in Melbourne make fun of Sydneysiders.

And we all make fun of ourselves on a regular basis.

Every Australian I know (and I do know quite a few) is funny, or at the very least, quite pleasantly amusing. Why is this?- Bonni Hall, USA
  Yes, it's true, Australians are funny. We are a naturally funny race. Because we live in a funny country, where people talk funny, have funny animals, drink funny beers, eat funny foods, and are generally a barrel of laughs all day.

To research this question, I spoke to the some experts at the blatantly fictious Faculty Of Comedic Studies at Prankster University. They're currently working on an all encompassing Australian Humour Hystery (it's like a history but much, much funnier.)

When asked why they thought why Australians were so funny, head of the Faculty Doctor Stan "The Man" "Bananaskin" Serious gave an extremely long, superfluous, inexplicably complex and dangerous answer to the effect that he didn't know.

And neither do I.

I'm in the Radio business, and was wondering if the radio is like that of England, with like a BBC government owned, or like here in America where it is a free-for-all system based on selling advertising to pay the bills? - Brian Stoll, USA
Related sites:

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

We've got a bit of both and some of neither.

Firstly we've got the government funded stations, run by the ABC (which is like the BBC, but less British and more Australian) and SBS (which is like the ABC, but with less money and more varieties of languages). The ABC and SBS run three or four radio networks in most capital cities, about half that in country areas, as well as a TV network apiece.

Some of their radio networks (like Triple J, and their metropolitan talk stations) quite a few people listen to, and others (like Parliamentary Radio), most people would only listen to under threat of torture.

Then there's the commercial stations. There's tons of these, some organised into networks, playing just about anything, as long as it sells. They're supported by what sometimes seems like endless advertising. (Is it just me, or does a "full half hour of commercial-free music" always come surrounded in twenty minutes of ads?)

There's also a few community stations, broadcasting such minority things as country music, weird heavy metal, ethnic community news and anything else that a few dozen people who've got access to the broadcast equipment find interesting.

We are having a fund-raising party with an Australian theme. What fabulous (and free or cheap) ideas can you give us to make it really fun?- Anonymous
  Well, I don't know about making it really fun, but here's a few ideas to give it an Australian theme.
  • have a barbecue. For that authentic Australian suburban feel, cook snags (sausages) on it, put them in a slice of bread with some sauce (tomato ketchup) and/or bits of onion and charge a dollar each. Presto, instant Sausage Sizzle!
  • get in some Vegemite, spread it thinly on toast and dare people to taste it.
  • one word: beer. And some other words: Fosters, XXXX, Tooheys, VB, Coldies, maybe even some Bundy Rum...
  • run the "Crocodile Dundee" movies. And perhaps "Evil Angels"/"A Cry In The Dark", "Priscilla", that sort of thing. You could also try "Until The End Of The World" - and try and guess which of the minor characters is better known as "Flacco". (Note, Yahoo Serious does not qualify. We don't know who he was, we don't know where he went, we didn't really like his movies.)
  • make it a fancy dress party. Get people to dress like the Monty Python Bruces, or Paul Hogan, or life-savers.
  • get the Yothu Yindi and Midnight Oil pumping!
When I last visited Melbourne, (Flinders Street station to be exact) I saw all these people with large slipper like sheep skin shoes. What are these called? Is this an underground cult fashion? I noticed the walk in these were accompanied by a unique shuffle and you could hear the drag across the pavement. Please explain. - Lolak
  These are commonly known as "ug boots", and I'm wearing a pair right now actually. Although these could loosely be described as fashionable amongst some sectors of the population, the vast majority of Australians wouldn't be seen dead in a pair outside the house. To most, they are no more than nice warm slippers.

In terms of shoe evolution, ug boots are closely related to thongs. Both are generally worn for slobbing about in; the thong in summer, the ug boot in winter. Great for taking out the garbage, getting in the paper, that sort of thing.

The shuffle and drag noises accompanied by the ug boots are probably related to the low self esteem of people who can't afford anything nicer than ug boots to wear in public.

In the U.S.A. the Christmas and New Year cards all have wintery scenes or trains or snowy decorated trees in the middle of forests with presents underneath for the woodchucks and deer. What pictures are on the Christmas and New Year cards in Australia? - Sunita Bhatia, Delaware
Related TCWF:

A Toxic Custard Christmas

Christmas in Australia is something of an oddity. While the bulk of the songs talk about reindeer, sleds and snow, most of the country is enjoying warm to hot to extremely - hot - gee - I - wish - my - shorts - were - air - conditioned weather. For the most part, we still get all the same snowy songs, snowy TV specials and snowy Christmas cards.

However, there are increasing numbers of Christmas cards which have an Australian twist to their pictorial content. A few days ago I remembered I hadn't sent any cards to my friends yet, including some who had already sent me cards - so I had to send one back out of embarrassment.

So I picked up a packet of cards, which featured Santa in various Australian settings, such as down the beach with a surf-board under his arm, patting various cliched local animals, enjoying an ice-cream, that sort of thing. After a while they get a bit tiresome, but they always keep the northern hemisphere relatives amused.

When I was a kid, some seriously deranged friends swore blind that in Australia, Father Christmas uses a milk van to deliver the presents, since the sleigh wouldn't work quite so well. I don't remember if this theory included the flying reindeer or not.

On the subject of cards, here's my Christmas advice to you: when you buy packs of cards and have some left over, make sure next year you don't send anybody the same card again. You never know, they might remember. If they're really sneaky, they might even keep them and compare next year..

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Toxic Custard Workshop Files Toxic Custard Guide to Australia

Copyrightę1996-2001 Daniel Bowen. Questions remain the property of their authors.