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There are plenty of well-known differences between Australia and the UK: the weather, the scenery, the amount of snags that get thrown on the barbie… But there are also many differences that no one really talks about. Those funny little everyday things that you just get used to and don’t really think about.
If you haven’t been to Australia or you’ve only visited the tourist areas, you probably haven’t spent much time out in suburbia. Since becoming a house sitter in Oz I’ve got to know day-to-day life in the suburbs pretty well, and I’ve noticed a fair few differences between Australia and the UK.
These definitely aren’t deal breakers if you’re deciding whether to move to Australia or not, just utterly random things that you wouldn’t know unless you’ve lived here!
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This doesn’t just apply to the suburbs, but it’s something to be aware of if you move here. I’d actually spent a whole year at university in Brisbane and a further few months travelling Oz on a gap year before I realised Australia had jaywalking laws.
Unlike the UK, where you are free to cross the road whenever you decide it’s safe, green man or no green man, Australia is a little stricter. I discovered this quite unceremoniously one day in Cairns whilst scurrying across a clear junction on the red man, when a police car appeared from nowhere, blasted out a big “bwoop bwoop” siren and yelled, “Stop jaywalking!” Oops!
2. Lack of Pavements
For a country with jaywalking laws there sure is a lack of pavements to walk on. No matter which city I’ve been in, once you’re out in the suburbs it’s quite common for people’s front lawns to continue all the way down to the road. I never have a clue whether I’m trespassing or not!
Also – pointless fact – when they do have pavements here the slabs are enormous! At least four times bigger than in the UK. Less edges to trip over I guess!
3. Lack of Street Lights
Another difference between Australia and the UK is that lamp posts are really far apart out here. If you’re walking home after dark you often have to pass through areas of complete darkness. Combining this with the lack of pavements meant that I had some really interesting jogs last winter, leaping on and off roads and over tree roots in the pitch black! Pretty sure I resembled Phoebe from Friends with my arms and legs flinging madly all over the place!
Oh, and I believe they’re called light poles over here rather than lamp posts!
4. Abundance of Level Crossings
Another one of the differences between Australia and the UK is the amount of level crossings. While the UK does have them, it’s more usual to cross trainlines via bridges and underpasses. In Australian cities you frequently walk right across the tracks, often with no barrier at all. One of my friends in Perth thought it was hilarious how vigilant I was about crossing the trainlines! Railway safety, everyone – seriously!
5. Mail Boxes
Australian houses don’t have letter boxes on their front doors like UK homes do; they have freestanding mail boxes in the front garden, next to the pavement – if a pavement even exists, that is!
I thought this was an American thing, but when I mentioned it to my Finnish friend she looked very puzzled and asked what English homes have instead. I got a very withered look and a head shake when I explained it the only way I could think of: “We have a hole in the front door.” That’s normal – isn’t it?
6. Newspaper Delivery
You know in American films when the paper boy cycles along the road, throwing rolled up newspapers into residents’ gardens in a carefree manner? That happens in Australia! Newspapers are rolled up, wrapped in either a plastic bag or cling film, and chucked vaguely towards people’s properties. I recently witnessed a guy delivering them by throwing them as hard as he could towards the pavements on both sides of him whilst slowly riding a motorbike.
Different to in the UK where newspapers are folded in half and pushed through letterboxes, causing all the flyers to scatter all over your porch. And a much more exciting way to start the day, going on an al fresco treasure hunt and traipsing around your front garden in your dressing gown, searching for said paper under wet foliage etc.
7. Bin Collection
One thing I’ve noticed in Australia is that after the bins have been emptied they are often left rather haphazardly around the neighbourhood, and even lying on their side in the roads. I genuinely had one leaning up against my car once. (Quick update – I’ve just witnessed my first live bin collection and a mechanical arm comes out of the lorry, grabs the bin, tips it into the dump then throws the bin back on the ground. Hence why they fall all over the place. No collectors are walking alongside the lorry sorting stuff out the carnage like in the UK)
When I happened to be in Wollongong on bin day last year at least half the bins were left open and lying on their sides! I had to clear the road before I could drive away! If that happened in the UK residents would be in uproar. The local newspapers would not be able to open their doors for the sacks of complaint letters sent by the over sixties. There would be placards and marches and probably pensioners chaining themselves to dust bins. Outrageous!
8. Where are All the Cats?
It was after I started house and pet sitting in Australia that I realised how rarely I’d seen cats wandering the streets in residential areas. It’s very common in the UK to pass curious kitties staring at you from front gardens or coming over to say hello; in Australia it’s quite rare.
Even though it’s not the law to keep cats indoors here, this is something Australian wildlife officials have requested in order to protect native animals. I’ve looked after quite a few indoor cats over here whereas most cat owners I know in England let them run free.
9. Why are All the Dogs on Leads?
Unlike British parks, where the primary purpose for most visitors is to have a place to let your dog run wild and free like a lunatic, Australian parks are much more people orientated (possibly something to do with all the picnics, sports and general activity that the good weather allows). There are strict rules on which parks you can and can’t let your dog off the lead, and some have on and off leash zones and even time periods.
One dog owner told me their local park ranger is an ex-police officer who hides in the bushes to catch people breaking the rules and fine them! She once jumped out at her and accused her of not picking up her dog’s poo, even though she was already pulling out a plastic bag! Also, whereas British parks tend to edge onto people’s back gardens, Australian parks are often next to roadsides so a bit more dangerous for wandering doggies with no road sense.
10. Giant Spider Webs
*WARNING: This is the last of my differences between Australia and the UK, so if you are truly terrified of spiders you may want to stop reading now and open something more amusing like my descent into madness when I migrated to Australia!
The common and non-lethal golden silk orb-weaver has striped legs specialised for weaving, and is renowned for building impressive webs. I do a lot of dog walking and it’s not a case of don’t look down but don’t look up as these huge webs tend to span high between tree branches, sometimes containing multiple spiders in a horrifying canopy!
I know Australia is famous for its deadly spiders, and I genuinely have friends who don’t want to come here because of it, but it’s actually not as bad as people think. You really aren’t brushing off venomous red backs or clearing funnel webs off your pillows day-to-day, or hopefully ever. But one thing I have noticed in greener suburbs is the amount of enormous spiderwebs out in the gardens.
That’s it for all my funny little suburban differences between Australia and the UK. If you’re thinking of moving here and are trying to decide where to live, check out the following blog posts:
For more differences between Australia and the UK, here’s my comparison of university life in Brisbane compared to Sheffield in the UK, based on my exchange year to the University of Queensland.
What differences have you noticed between Australia and your home country?