Australia cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Australia is an accepting, diverse society with people from many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Therefore when visiting for the first time, it is essential not to assume anything about a person’s culture, heritage or background. Australians are fairly informal so greetings are casual and relaxed. You can expect to be greeted by first name with a friendly handshake, a happy face and a warm smile. Direct eye contact will usually make a good first impression as this demonstrates confidence, respect and openness.
Most topics of discussion are acceptable within reason as Australians are genuine and quite grounded. Safe and neutral topics include professional experience, family, sports, place of origin and travel experiences, given they are known for travelling to every corner of the world. Conversations focusing on politics, religion or sexuality should usually be avoided on the first meeting. Australians appreciate people who are modest, humble, self-deprecating and genuine.
Australians are not shy; they are outgoing and enjoy meeting new people. As friendships develop, you may find that your friends ascribe you a nickname, which is quite common in Australia and is a form of endearment. Australians have a wonderful sense of humour which can sometimes include sarcasm. The Australian sense of irony may be difficult to grasp at first but over time is a trait that one gets accustomed to. The Australian accent and use of ‘slang’ may also be confusing (see below), but if there is ever anything that is unclear, directness will not offend.
Like Canadians, Australians also love discussing the weather, sports, politics, public transportation, and world events. The main difference here is that conversations about weather will mainly be about how hot it is, rather than how much it snowed or what the wind chill factor is! Aussies love their Aussie Rules Football, cricket, and can get quite excited about an annual horse race called the Melbourne Cup.
The larger Australian cities are quite multicultural so you can expect to meet a wide variety of people and this has helped to expand the different kinds of discussion topics one can have. One thing that is very interesting about Australians is that they are curious and very quick to pick up on difference – that is to say if you have an accent that is different from an Australian accent, or if your name is different from that of a traditional Anglo-Saxon name, etc., on a first encounter, you will always be asked about it. "Where are you from?" "What does your name mean?" "How are you spending your time in Aus?" Etc.
Australia is one of the very few cultures in which humour is pervasive, even in a business context. Not only is humour acceptable in all situations, it is expected.Australians are generally laid back, open and direct in their style of communication. They are less formal and less politically correct but tend to put directness before diplomacy and therefore can come across as quite blunt on occasions. Directness is cherished in Australia and failure to say what you mean, and mean what you say, can be mistaken for evasiveness and even hypocrisy. They are usually quite direct in expressing their point of view and expect others to do likewise. However, overconfidence can often be misconstrued as bragging and can provoke a very negative response. Australians do not like to give the impression that they are better than others.
The thumbs-up gesture can be interpreted by some as rude. To indicate approval or agreement, it is more common to make a circle with the thumb and forefinger with the other fingers extended. Using modest gestures to articulate and express ideas and concepts is a common practice in all realms of communication.
A firm, friendly handshake with a warm smile is the customary greeting. Women friends may hug and kiss when greeting each other. Between men, a quick pat on the back is considered normal if they are close friends. Being respectful of personal space when talking to people is the expected norm. Queuing is an important etiquette. Never barge in or jump into a line. Always go politely to the end and wait your turn.
Australians use a lot of slang in their daily communications and it can be difficult to pick up on their meanings right away. Many words are abbreviated and can be incomprehensible at first encounter:
- Arvo – afternoon
- Uni - University
- Darl – pronounced "Daaaahl", short for "Darling"
- Servo – Service station (gas station)
- Reso – Restaurant reservation
- Firies - Firefighters
- Brekkie – Breakfast
- Chook – Chicken
- Maccas - "McDonalds" (the fast food restaurant)
- Esky - "Eskimo" - a brand name of insulated coolers whose name has become ubiquitous to refer to all kinds of coolers
- Ta – Thank you
- Tradie - Tradesman
Aussies also have a lot of their own ways of referring to things and their own sayings and turns of phrases which can be quite charming, but also difficult to catch on to at first. Some of my favourites are:
- How you goin'? - How are you doing?
- She'll be right – everything will be alright
- Battler – someone who's very strong, strong willed
- Capsicum – Pepper, as in "I'd like a pizza with mushrooms and capsicum please"
- Bottle Shop – Store to by beer and liquor
- Thongs – Flip flops
- Woop woop – an isolated place ("he lives out in the middle of Woop Woop!"
- Budgie smuggler – Speedo style bathing suits for men
Generally speaking, Australians are quite direct in their communication style and don't have the same need to be diplomatic or politically correct as Canadians or Americans. It can be a bit confronting at first, but something that one gets used to.
In terms of non-verbal communications, Australians do use hand gestures when speaking, and personal space is valued, quite similar to Canadians and Americans. In a work environment, it is acceptable and expected to shake hands on arrival and departure, and in a social context among friends and family, Aussies tend to kiss on the cheek (a single kiss on the cheek) or briefly hug hello and goodbye.
Display of emotion
Australians are extroverted, they display their emotions openly and honestly with a laid back ‘laissez-faire’ attitude. Displaying affection publicly is acceptable but within reason; observe locals and how they react to them if you are not sure. Public displays of anger and other volatile emotional outbursts are not commonly acceptable. An exception would be at sporting events and as long as there is no provocation to violence, they are generally well tolerated in that context. As a general rule, Australians are quite direct and expressive in their emotional makeup.
Yes, Australians generally tend to be an open bunch and are very open with their likes and dislikes. Some could even say that they are more direct than Canadians are used to. People can be quite friendly and will speak, joke, and interact with strangers out in public (for example, on public transportation or in cafes) in a way that some Canadians may not be used to. Public displays of affection – holding hands, casual kisses - are not problematic but LGBTQ communities do need to be aware that homophobia still exists in Australian society. In terms of anger and other emotions, while Australians can be very open about what makes them angry or what displeases them, it is not common to find people fighting our shouting at each other in public and this can turn some heads.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Incorporate Australia, people tend to dress rather conservatively in business environments. Dark suits, white shirts and ties for men and either skirts or trousers for women are the standard business attire at work. More informal attire is often preferred if when working outside the major cities. Australia has a very hot climate for much of the year and especially in summer. During summer, the business jacket can be removed. Try to avoid excessive jewellery and accessories which may be viewed as too 'flashy' and therefore unprofessional. The business dress code is often also dependent on the industry, with banking and finance being the most conservative. A large number of organizations follow ‘casual Fridays’, when employees can dress less formally, however they still adhere to certain rules which avoid jeans, shorts, singlets and flip-flops. If uncertain about the dress code in a new context, it is better to err on the side of conservatism.
In a business context, most people operate on a first name basis, and do not use formal titles when speaking. Regular working hours are usually from 9:00am-17:30pm with an hour lunch break. Working overtime is not uncommon and results in Australia being amongst those countries with longer working hours. Deadlines are set and adhered to quite stringently. Late submissions or tardy project deliverables will be deemed as a lack of professionalism and could create a negative impression. Despite being known for their laid-back lifestyle, Australians are usually firm and direct business people, valuing punctuality, time management, and a strong work ethic. All aspects of time management are taken seriously in corporate Australia. Deadlines, punctuality, absenteeism and productivity are monitored closely and measured.
This is all very dependent on the workplace. For example, a financial institution will be much more formal, in terms of both dress and how colleagues interact, than a non-profit organization. In general, the workplace environments are more casual and informal than in Canada and colleagues often will socialize and develop friendships for each other.
Social events are important in most offices. For example, the Melbourne Cup (a horse race) is almost a public holiday in Australia and most offices stop work and organize parties where everyone wears fancy dress (fascinators!), drinks wine and has cheese and crackers while betting on the horse race.
While social interactions at the workplace are relatively casual, meeting objectives and deadlines are adhered to quite strongly and it is important to work with colleagues and senior managers in an effective and efficient manner in order to accomplish your goals.
Preferred managerial qualities
Australian managers are not expected to think themselves in any way superior to their staff; people just have different roles and responsibilities. Differences are minimized and hierarchy is not displayed openly. Therefore, an authoritarian style of management will be poorly received and may provoke hostility in the workplace. Pragmatism is seen as a key attribute. Efficiency, expertise and capabilities are deemed more important than the niceties of protocol or hierarchy. Take note of irony from the higher ranks as this will help to set boundaries and establish equality in the business relationship. It is critical to express one’s ideas and opinions within the team as this allows for a more collaborative and diverse approach to the issues at hand.
In general, managers who are well-respected tend to be people who communicate well with their staff, share information, and who have empathy for their employees and colleagues. As Australians are a fairly direct bunch, staff will be clear on how they perceive their managers, both positively and negatively.
Hierarchy and decision-making
In keeping with the Australian direct style of communication, debates between senior and junior executives may appear as confrontational and occasionally acrimonious to “outsiders”. However, they rarely are. This style of interaction is merely viewed as the most effective way of attaining the end goal and a sign of a fully committed, professional approach. Management usually will make the final decision but encourages and embraces an inclusive and collaborative approach. This, in turn, fosters an open expression of ideas and opinions amongst staff willing to contribute and offer solution. It is usually safe to speak up as management encourages open lines of communication in an effort to provide constructive criticism and improve workplace efficiencies.
How hierarchy and decision-making are perceived is very dependent on the industry and sector. For example, more formal sectors such as banking, the legal sector, etc. have strict emphasis on maintaining hierarchy and respecting this hierarchy in the workforce, whereas sectors such as the education and non-profit sectors are less formal in their approach. Not only is it acceptable for staff to reach out to their immediate supervisors for answers to questions and for feedback on their performance, it is expected. Not doing so would be perceived as lacking initiative and not being interested in improving one’s performance.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Australia is known as a multicultural society, a melting pot that encompasses nations and cultures from all over the world. The common values of Australian society aim to include tolerance and understanding towards people regardless of gender, race, class, religion or ethnicity. Basically, Australians want to be treated equally and promote fairness.Some key values that reflect the Australian way of life include:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of religion
- Equality regardless of sex, marital status, religion, nationality, disability or sexual preference
- A 'fair go' (equal opportunity) for all and support for the underdog.
In most practical ways, Australia is an egalitarian society in that there are no formal class distinctions. There is no segregation between people of different incomes or backgrounds and everyone is free to live where they like, attend university and adhere to the religion of their choice and determine their own career path.
Men and women are treated equally in Australia. Women make up nearly 50% of the workforce and most women remain in the workplace after marriage and many after they’ve had children. Australia has seen significant progress in eliminating gender-based discrimination but there is still disparity in gender equality, financial remuneration between men and women, and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. However, in Australia there is an impetus for public and private sector to address gender-based discrimination in the workplace – through national legislation and its enforcement, affirmative action measures, provisions for paid parental leave and flexible work and oversight institutions.
A century ago, ninety-six per cent of Australians identified as Christian and religion was a prominent factor of civic life. However, things have changed significantly since then. Although Christianity remains the dominant belief system in Australia, its civic voice has faded significantly. Extensive immigration has made Australia one of the most religiously diverse societies in the world. Almost all faiths are represented, with significant numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Hindus. Many indigenous Australians have embraced Christianity, often as a result of their contact with missionaries and missions. During the latter part of the 20th century religious diversity grew substantially, as did the number of people without religion. The workplace accommodates this array of diversity within its Australian workforce.
Even if Australia is a wealthy country that prides itself on being egalitarian, it does not mean the country is immune from a global widening of the gap between rich and poor. The three main social classes are the working class, the middle class, and the upper class, but the boundaries between these groups are a matter of debate. Despite a refusal to talk about real class politics in the media, the class struggle is alive and well in Australia and low-level class war is a daily reality for many workers. A substantial number of people live below the poverty line. Australia is increasingly shifting toward an information economy that relies on a high-skill base. Thus, as is the case globally, the workers most at risk of unemployment or underemployment are laborers, factory workers as well as those who learn their skills on the job. Highly skilled managers, medical practitioners, teachers, computer professionals, and electricians have the most job security.
Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world. Almost one in four Australian residents were born outside of Australia and many more are first or second generation Australians including children and grandchildren of recently arrived migrants and refugees. These wide varieties of backgrounds, together with the culture of Indigenous Australians who have lived on the continent for more than 50,000 years, have helped create a uniquely Australian identity and spirit. The general society is quite tolerant and embraces the diversity of its immigrants resulting in a myriad of accepted social values, mores and norms. The workplace reflects this melting pot and by and large is enhanced by the differing views and paradigms that coexist. Workplace diversity is embraced and encouraged, especially by large public and private sector organizations.
Australia is still a very young country and is not very far removed from the time when European settlers battled the land, wildlife, and Indigenous Australians in order to carve out space for themselves. As a result, there are still hints of sexist and racist tendencies which pop up every now and then.
Generally speaking, there is the assumption that men and women are to be treated equally, particularly in the workplace. There are still patriarchal tendencies which exist. For example, there is still a significant salary-gap between men and women, and women still experience sexual harassment in the workplace. There have been some positive advances, however, as Australia has just recently implemented paid parental leave, although this is still not as generous as what is found in Ontario and Quebec.
Similar to Canada, the idea of class is not one that rises to the top. Often in Australian culture and most Australians would initially say that they think they have moved towards a "class-blind" society. But as Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, class and poverty issues are often at the forefront of political and economic dialogs, possibly even during conversations at the workplace.
Australia has traditionally considered itself to be an Anglican country. There are many churches around the country, and some Australians do practice. However, on the whole religion is not at the forefront of many discussions or interactions among people. Australia as a whole is fairly secular. The impact of Australia's religious past, though, is felt in the workplace as most major public holidays revolve around the Christian calendar and Christian holidays (Easter, Christmas, etc.).
For many years, the Australian government encouraged immigration only from European and certain Middle Eastern countries. Immigration from Asia and other continents only began in earnest in the 1970s. As a result, Australia is still developing into a multicultural country and is experiencing growing pains. Non-white travellers/immigrants to Australia may experience situations where they experience rudeness or poor service from Australians, or at times even hostility, especially outside the main urban centres. People from all over the world are travelling or moving to Australia these days, so the country will continue to change and adapt.
Australians are very direct in their business approach and mind-set so it is not essential to foster close personal relationships prior to launching business initiatives or dealings. Time and efficiency are of the utmost importance when conducting business meetings. Australians appreciate modesty and honesty over an aggressive approach. To impress a colleague or a client, “wow” them with new ideas and innovation. Competence and ability are key traits that are valued above all else. If you find yourself challenged to a controversial discussion during a business meeting, it is nothing personal. Australians find debates entertaining and will initiate them. Due to the collaborative culture, the decision making process involves top management consulting subordinates which will be slower than usual. Patience is very much appreciated. The good news is that Australians do not find it hard to say ‘no’, so the answer will be clear and straightforward.
It's not necessary to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before working together. However, most Australians do tend to take a bit of time to exchange pleasantries, ask about the previous evening/weekend, in order to build trust and demonstrate an openness to working together.
Privileges and favouritism
Corporate policies and HR laws frown upon nepotism and favouritism in the workforce and there is a strong sense of fair play within Australia when it comes to hiring and promoting. However, given Australia’s digital world, social media and the growing shortage of labor in certain industries, personal recommendations, and having connections and/or a network are important for finding out about job opportunities. The hiring process is normally strictly based on qualifications and competency. The appearance of fairness and winning on merit is expected. It is common to socialise with your workmates but this does not automatically equate to favouritism or perks when climbing the corporate ladder. The same principle applies for gift giving. This is not part of the Australian business culture and can often be misinterpreted as bribery.
Australians value openness and fairness, so it is not likely that a colleague or employee would expect any special consideration based on a personal relationship. While colleagues may interact and socialize with each other during the work day and even during their own time, there is no expectation that personal relationships will result in any different treatment.
Conflicts in the workplace
Australians are open and willing to enter into direct discussions to mend a difficult situation. Direct questions, more often than not, give direct answers. Most people are prepared to talk out differences of opinion with another colleague, although it largely depends on the nature of the issue and how contentious it is. Always approach directly and using discretion, preferably in a neutral place to avoid a scene. It is important to address matters early on and to be clear about the issue in the proper environment. If all else fails, Australians will normally escalate matters to their direct supervisor.
Australians themselves are quite direct and upfront, so it won't be regarded negatively if you approach a colleague directly with a work-related problem. However, it is important to do this privately in order to allow both parties to feel comfortable enough to have an open discussion.
Motivating local colleagues
Australia has a high cost of living. Add to that a workforce with a very strong work ethic, and it is no surprise that money is an important motivator to perform well. However, non-financial factors play an increasingly prominent role in influencing employee motivation and engagement. Overwhelmingly, the most important factor cited by Australian workers is being treated with respect at work, followed by the importance of quality leadership, work-life balance, job satisfaction, advancement opportunities and recognition. When in a leadership role, it is particularly important to consider how to leverage the non-financial factors in order to boost motivation and engagement from your Australian colleagues.
Most Australians take a great deal of pride in what they do for a living and would generally be motivated to work hard by such incentives as a competitive salary, benefits, fair and equitable work conditions, valuing of their work through recognition, etc.
Recommended books, films & foods
To help you learn more, here are some suggestions to familiarize yourself with current topics.
Underpinning the vast wilderness and thriving cities of contemporary Australia is a profoundly complex national identity, which has been filtered through a history of conquest and colonization. Understanding this mass of contradictions is a difficult task, both for locals and outsiders, and these works of fiction and non-fiction are a vital starting point for understanding contemporary Australia.
- Donald Horne- The Lucky Country
- Patrick White – Voss
- Peter Carey – True History of the Kelly Gang
- Joan Lindsay – Picnic at Hanging Rock
- Ruth Park – The Harp in the South
- Bill Bryson – Down Under- which was published as ‘In a Sunburned Country’ in Nth America
- Bruce Chatwin – The Songlines
- John Pilger – A Secret Country
- Nicholas Shakespeare – In Tasmania
- Robert Hughes – The Fatal Shore
Known for the outback, its vibrant cities and beautiful beaches, Australia makes an impressive backdrop for many visual arts. While it has one of the world’s most active film industries, many casual cinema goers may be hard pressed to think beyond Crocodile Dundee or Mad Max when trying to think of Australian movies. To rectify this, here are 10 Australian movies that you should add to your viewing list (in no specific order):
- Story of Kelly Gang
- The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
- A Cry in the Dark (Evil Angels)
- Picnic at Hanging Rock
- Young Einstein
- The Castle
- Samson and Delilah (2009)
- The Babadook
- Rabbit Proof Fence
- The Man from Snowy River
The "Australian Broadcasting Corporation" (ABC), is a public broadcaster modeled after The BBC. It has no affiliation with the American ABC that's owned by Disney. Here is a sample list of Australian telly shows that span the genre spectrum as follows:
- A Country Practice
- Blue Heelers
- Home and Away
- Kath and Kim
- Mcleods Daughters
- The Paul Hogan Show
- Skippy the bush kangaroo
Australians love their icons.Whether it's the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, a meat pie at the footy, Kylie Minogue in a disco club or vegemite on toast, we are not ones to shy away from tradition. Music has also played a huge part in shaping the Australian culture and are a few iconic Aussie songs:
- True Blue- John Williamson
- Down Under- Men at Work
- Still Call Australia Home- Peter Allen
- Khe Sanh- Cold Chisel
- Great Southern Land- Icehouse
- Beds Are Burning- Midnight Oil
Australian chefs are known worldwide for their "fusion cuisine," a blending of European cooking traditions with Asian flavors and products. Nevertheless, certain foods are recognized as national emblems, including Vegemite (a yeast extract spread on toast), Milo (a powdered base for chocolate milk drinks), Anzac biscuits (oat biscuits sent to soldiers in World War I), Tim Tams (chocolate biscuit), lamingtons (chocolate sponge cake) and damper (a wheat flour-based loaf traditionally cooked in the ashes of a fire by settlers).
Australia is not renowned for its traditional cuisine of meat pies and fish and chips. While Australians were long known as tea drinkers, coffee and wine have become increasingly popular.
If you prefer a gourmet meal, you will find phenomenal, authentic international cuisine thanks to the number and variety of cultures that coexist within Australia. Get to know your local foodies and they will guide you towards good value for money and tasty cuisine in French, Italian, Lebanese, Brazilian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese and the list goes on. Enjoy!
Books to read
Bryce Courtenay is a prolific current Australian author. He has written many books, including Four Fires, and Solomon's Song.
David Malouf: Harland's Half Acre, Remembering Babylon.
The Castle – a family's tale to save their home from being expropriated.
Rabbit Proof Fence – The story of Aboriginal sisters who try to escape their residential school and return home to their family.
Bran Nue Dae – An Australian Aboriginal teenager on a road trip – loads of adventures!
Interestingly enough, you don't need to purchase a cable TV package in Australia to get great television. All the main channels can be accessed over the air and as a result, you can watch some great Australian TV. I loved watching ABC (the Australian version of CBC) and SBS as they had amazing shows. Favourites included Rove, and comedians Hamish and Andy.
Australia has its own prolific music scene and the best thing to do to get a sense of it is to wander around all the music festivals that take place in spring and summer.
Due to its proximity with Asia, Australia has a love affair with Thai, Singaporean and Malaysian cuisines. British roots of European Australians are also evident by such very British foods as meat pies, and fish and chips. Don't be surprised to find either beets or a fried egg (or both!) on your patty when ordering a hamburger. With Italian and Greek immigrants having brought barista coffee culture to Australia decades ago, the country now has one of the best coffee cultures in the world. Amazing cafes with great coffee can be found on almost every urban street corner; although this also means that Australia has its own very specific coffee vocabulary. See here for help in deciphering. You'll also find delicious Turkish, Lebanese, and Italian foods everywhere.
To truly learn about any culture and understand the contextual nuances, one has to be fully immersed within that country and experience the local culture. Make it a point to go out and talk to people, make friends and experience their vibe and surroundings. Travel out of the city to experience the outback and learn about Aboriginal heritage, traditions and history. Listening to the radio (ABC), reading newspapers (Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian), enjoying the thriving arts scene, festivals and exploring the diverse ethnic pockets within each city that are also purveyors of culture are useful means to understand the culture and relate to people.
Australians are known around the world as lovers of the great outdoors and they are known to have a passionate sporting culture. Much of the Australian life-style revolves around embracing the outdoors and sports. Australians like to relax actively by bush-walking, skiing, surfing, sailing, swimming, or any other activity that takes them into the sun and open air including their backyards around barbeques and the beach. In summer, cricket and tennis are the dominant sports and in the winter months, the sport of football becomes an obsession. The use of the term "football” varies in different parts of Australia. In New South Wales and Queensland, football means rugby league or rugby union, and in the rest of country the term refers to Australian Rules football.
Travelling around the country is the best way to learn more about Australia's culture and people. From hiking around Tasmania's vast forests, to restaurant hopping in Melbourne, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, splashing around the Whitsunday Islands, to wine tasting in the Hunter Valley, hiking the Blue Mountains, to marveling at the wonder that is Uluru, Australia is a beautiful country that one can only love by exploring.
Australian culture is founded on stories of battlers, bushrangers, brave soldiers, sporting heroes, working heroes and migrants. It's all about a fair go according to the national anthem.
The Australian National heroes are an integral part of Australia's history and culture and they represent the nation's identity. Some of the famous national heroes of Australia are Daniel Henry Deniehy, Ned Kelly, Henry Lawson, “Banjo” Paterson and Jack Lang.
Find the top 50 most influential Australians. They have been integral in making the country a unique and special place. They can be political leaders, war heroes, sports stars, indigenous icons, business moguls, battlers, or those who refused to deny their dreams.
World War II veterans are quite revered in Australia, as is anyone who challenges the status quo, such as Ned Kelley, the Australian combination of Billy the Kid and Robin Hood.
Shared historical events with Canada
Australia and Canada have many commonalities that have been developed over a long shared history. Canada and Australia share a similar colonial past as members of the British Empire. Australian laws, political structures and traditions have much in common and have developed on similar paths over the years. Throughout their relationship, the two countries cooperated, fighting side by side in the wars of the 20th century and working together to build important multilateral institutions like the modern Commonwealth and the United Nations. Despite geographic distance, the relationship is still healthy and highly productive. Both are Commonwealth nations and have the Queen of England as their Head of State. The two countries control the majority of the world's uranium reserves. The have a very large immigrant population, have low density populations, have an official policy of multiculturalism. Both countries have a rich exchange between families and tourists, academics and students, artists and performers, politicians and governments, contributing to the enjoyment of strong multifaceted bilateral relations. Interestingly, both countries are consistently ranked in the top five best countries to live in the world.
Australia and Canada don't have many shared historical events, but they do have some similar history and cultural experiences, such as being former British colonies, having the Queen as head of state, experiencing waves of immigration and managing the challenge of developing a multi-cultural society, and dealing with the inequitable treatment of Aboriginal populations and the resulting trauma, poverty, and substance abuse that arises from such treatment. Ultimately, both the similarities and differences between Canada and Australia helps forge important bonds.
I have prepared a list of stereotypes of Australians and provided a Canadian counterpart to help explain their impact. These are not my opinion, simply examples to help illustrate the impact of stereotyping.
- Aussies: are loud, extroverted, humorous and heavy drinkers
- Canucks: are prim and proper, polite and conservative
- Aussies: say ‘‘crikey’
- Canucks: say ‘eh’
- Aussies: Believe Canadians drive on the wrong side of the road
- Canucks: Believe Australians drive on the wrong side of the road
- Aussies: Believe you should look out for your mates.
- Canucks: Believe that is the government's job.
- Aussies: Dislike being mistaken for Brits when abroad.
- Canucks: Are rather indignant about being mistaken for Americans when abroad.
- Canucks: Endure bitterly cold winters and are proud of it.
- Aussies: Don't understand what inclement weather means.
- Canucks: Drink ok-tasting beer.
- Aussies: Drink anything with alcohol in it.
- Canucks: Will jabber on incessantly about hockey, hockey, hockey, and how they beat the Americans twice in Major League Baseball.
- Aussies: Will jabber on incessantly about how they beat the Brits in every sport they played them in.
Canadians and Australians have more similarities than differences, although Canadians can sometimes view Australians as Barbie loving surfers or beach bums. While it's true that Australians love a good time (so do Canadians!) they are also quite dedicated and hard working.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter is an Australian who was born in Sydney to parents who emigrated from India in the early 1960’s. As was the case in Canada at that time, Australia had an open door policy to attract young professionals from all over the world. My parents were given an option to emigrate to either Australia or Canada and both chose Australia as their home. I was raised and educated in Sydney, the country's largest city located on the east coast of Australia. I continued my higher education, completing a Bachelor of Architecture (Hons) Degree at the University of Newcastle in NSW, approximately 200 km north of Sydney. I spent an additional eight years living and working as an Architect in Sydney before falling in love and marrying a Canadian. We married in Sydney but the mutual decision was to relocate to Canada. We have a five year old son with dual citizenship and we continue to live and work in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. I am fortunate enough to return back to Australia on an annual basis to visit family and friends. Over the past 10 years I have also assisted with intercultural training provided to Government of Canada employees prior to their assignments in Australia.
Mitra Manouchehrian is an international development professional specializing in international public health and health promotion initiatives. Mitra first became involved in international development through a placement with Canadian Crossroads International and their partner organization in Togo, a community micro-finance organization interested in expanding their HIV/AIDS prevention activities. Upon returning to Toronto, she worked in programming at CCI, followed by a stint in the Far North province of Cameroon with VSO to identify training needs of PLHIV associations. Mitra then pursued a Master’s degree in International Public Health at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Mitra is currently a Program Manager with Plan International Canada, managing grants financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria in west and southern Africa. Her role includes working to create enabling environments where complex partnerships between key stakeholders such as local communities, community leaders, and local and national governmental bodies can flourish. The goals of these partnerships are to ensure the work of countries, Plan International, and the Global Fund is scaled up to meet national and international disease reduction targets, ultimately improving the health and well-being of children and their families.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.