We Asked Americans What They Know About Australia
"Australia... is that the one with the water? It has a lot of water doesn’t it?"
All images by the author
Crocodile Dundee came out in 1986 and informed a whole generation of Americans that Australia existed, with maybe some other stuff about croc hunting, shrimp barbecuing, and yep, that’s about it.
But that was 32 years ago. Back before Tony Abbott ate an onion and our expat community living in the States swelled by 19.3 percent. So surely America’s awareness of Australians and Australian culture has improved, right?
I went and tried to find out. I walked all around New York, a city with over 8,000 Australians, and asked New Yorkers what they’ve heard about Australia. I think I must have asked about 60 people, and these were some of the best answers I got.
VICE: Hey Randy, can you tell me what you know about Australia?
Randy: There’s crocodiles and Crocodile Dundee. There’s also the Sydney Opera House and I imagine San Francisco is similar to Sydney. I get [Australia] mixed with New Zealand. I mean, I know the difference but it’s just next door, right? I don’t know if the culture is similar or you get along though. And for whatever reason, I love your prime minister. He spoke his mind to our president, and he didn’t back down. I like that.
You seem to actually know a lot about Australia.
Well, that’s because I read and unlike a lot of people in this country, I’m not an idiot.
Are there any somewhat romantic ideas about Australia that you like, but don’t know if are true or not?
I like the whole lore of the Australian Cowboy. I think of it as a rough life, but there’s a stark beauty, a lot like Texas, where there’s a lot of rolling hills and it’s hot.
What about Australian foods? What do you think we eat?
Well I’ve had the meat pies, and they’re good, but I just don’t know of any Australian restaurants. When I think of Australian cuisine, nothing comes to mind.
What else comes to mind?
We’re forgetting the 800-pound Gorilla in the room though, which is the Aborigines and slaughtering them. That’s what I think of when I think of Australia. I find the indigenous culture fascinating because they seem to be into mysticism, like the Dreamtime for example. I don’t know a lot about it, but I find that interesting.
What’s the general attitude Americans have towards Australians?
I don’t think anyone in this country has any negative feelings towards Australia but I don’t know if anyone in this country has any strong feelings either. You keep a low profile, there’s a great distance and there’s just not enough of you here.
What have you heard about Australia?
It’s a tricky thing to say because you only ever hear really positive or negative things. I’ve heard about the abbreviations of things, like "Maccas." I still, to this day, love it how you guys call truck "utes." I heard that and lost my shit.
What about the negative things?
I’ve heard and seen a lot. I travel a lot, so I’ve spent the better part of the last few years backpacking and I’ve met a lot of Australians. You guys have a massive travel culture, being right by Asia. I’ve seen more problems with Australians and each other, and other people than anyone else.
As in culturally more violent?
Yeah, Australians seem more ready for violence. There’s a lot of fights and a lot of over-drinking. I’ve heard from friends that’s it’s a normal thing for people to go out and then just fight each other. I also saw the commercials for the “coward punch.” America is a violent culture, but we’ve never had anything like that.
Oh, and I imagine there’s a lot of ketamine in Australia because the majority of ketamine addicts I’ve met are Australians.
So you know a fair amount, but growing up in America, what did you hear about Australia? Was there anything about us as people that surprised you?
We only knew about Australia as this un-livable other planet. Now, I imagine living there is very coastal, like living in Florida. But before I travelled, I just thought it was Tatooine but with deadlier animals.
Hey Innocent, what do you know about Australia?
Sports and the beach. Cricket, rugby, football, and I knew you guys had the best beaches and the best coffee around. That was when I got to New York 10 years ago and before I started to have Australian friends.
Now that you know Australians, what do you think of them?
They’re friendly, but keep to themselves so it’s hard to know what they’re thinking about. I’ve got friends from Brisbane, and they’re super laid back but competitive about sports. Outside of that they’re just super friendly. Australians are also really sarcastic, which is something New Yorkers aren’t. New Yorker’s don’t get sarcasm at all.
What have you heard about the place itself?
I’ve heard if you’re a New Yorker, you’d love to live in Melbourne because it’s a similar way of life. The nightlife and the food. Sydney is only for tourists. I’ve also heard Perth has amazing beaches but there’s nothing there. I’ve also heard you guys have beautiful women but everyone in New York knows that. I work in retail and met a lot of Australian women. They’re jovial and cute and they’ve always got the best tans and they’re just nice to be around. Especially compared to the New Zealanders I’ve met.
What do you think of New Zealanders?
New Zealanders are really in your face about certain issues. Really loud people, outspoken and just like “I’m from New Zealand. Notice me.” Australians are only outspoken when they have to be. The thing about Australians is you have to ask them the right questions and they’ll tell you everything. Australians are very curious people.
Hey Joe, tell me what you know about Australia.
I don’t know too much about Australia at all. My CTO at work is Australian, but that’s the only relation I have to Australia at the moment.
Was there anything you heard about Australia when you were growing up?
I heard things like there’s a lot of beaches, a lot of open land and a lot of wildlife. Actually, I heard the wildlife is really crazy. Like, there’s a lot of dangerous animals everywhere in Australia. I’m not sure how true it is though. I imagine everything else like the food you eat and what you’re like is pretty similar to us but that’s only assumptions.
Do you have any ideas as to why there isn’t much to know about Australia?
For me to learn a lot about someone’s culture, I need to meet and get to know someone from that culture. I personally don’t know that many Australians in New York, so I just don’t know what it’s actually like.
Ayla, 24 and Cameron, 26
Hey guys, can you tell me what you know about Australia?
Ayla: I just watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special. I had no idea about Tasmania and how small it was, which I thought was interesting to learn. I watched The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet, so I know some Australian things happened there. I feel like most things I know about Australia are only from shows.
So what’s that idea you have of Australia?
Ayla: I’m not sure exactly. I saw a guy recently do stand up in Australia. He was Pakistani and talked about his experience of racism in the country as a Muslim, and it wasn’t something I realised [would happen]. It sounds like a pretty white place.
Cameron: That’s one of the big things I took away from it—the relationship with indigenous people is very similar to our relationship with people of colour. A lot of those issues translated the same way.
Back home, there’s an idea that people in America are only exposed to Australian stereotypes. So I’m curious, what was your idea of Australians?
Cameron: Oh, it was only stereotypes. Steve Irwin was the earliest introduction I had to Australia, and for a while that was really it. I realised at a young age it’s a large country in a large space with different people, but until then—I just thought it was all that. And boomerangs and kangaroos.
Why do Americans, or New Yorkers, not know much about Australia?
Ayla: I don’t think it’s something specifically Australian. It’s any country. It’s more of a comment on us rather than Australia.
Cameron: I’d say Australia definitely has the most friendly of the stereotypes, but if you asked this question about any African nations, people would have a worse time trying to answer that. You only really get stereotypes here. People don’t really dive into cultures outside of American culture. We’re not really taught about other cultures because of our rise as a superpower. It just comes down to ignorance and it’s shitty.
Hey Lucy, do you mind telling me what you know about Australia?
I don’t know anything about Australia! I’ve been [in New York] for 60 years and I’ve heard nothing about Australia.
Not one thing at all in that time?
Australia... is that the one with the water? It has a lot of water doesn’t it?
Yeah, it’s an island.
Actually no, I don’t think I’m thinking of Australia.
Have you heard anything else about Australia? Like maybe Vegemite or kangaroos?
I have not heard one thing about a kangaroo. Sorry!
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