Australian cultural differences between states: We're not all the same

This isn't Europe. You can't drive for an hour or so from a major city in Australia and find yourself immersed in a completely different culture, with a new language, a new cuisine, a new sense of fashion, a new sense of identity.

Australia doesn't work like that. This wide, brown land is often accused of being something of a mono-culture, where you can drive for days and still be greeted with the same "g'day" from pretty much the same person who inhabited the place you left. We all sound the same, we all do the same. Right?

Well, no. Australia does have its cultural differences, from state to state, and from country to city. Even within cities. For those who will be taking the chance to explore more of Australia in the coming months and are hungry for a few cultural clashes, these are the differences you can expect.

Gone troppo

Social worker Shaun and his dog Donovan cooling off in a pool of water at the northernmost tip of the Australian continent in Cape York, on Friday 28 August 2015. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Cape York: It doesn't get any further north than this.  Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

This is one of the classic Australian sayings. As in, gone tropical. Gone a bit mad. The further north you go in Australia, the further into the tropics you venture, the crazier everyone becomes. And there's an element of truth to it. Have you been to Darwin? Or Cairns? People are different up there. Melburnians they ain't. It's more relaxed. More laissez faire. If you embrace the crazy it makes a pleasant change.

The Bible Belt

Most people know about the American "Bible belt", but did you know Australia has one as well? Motor down the highway in south-eastern Queensland, around the likes of Toowoomba, Laidley, Gatton and down towards Warwick and have a look for the billboards sporting Bible verses, the small churches that seem to pop up everywhere. You're not in Kansas anymore. Or… maybe you are?

World on a plate

One of the easiest ways to spot cultural difference in Australia is just to jump in your car and travel around the outer suburbs of a major city – and be ready to eat. In Sydney you will find Sri Lankan cuisine in Toongabbie, Lebanese in Granville, Vietnamese in Cabramatta. In Brisbane there's great Chinese food in Sunnybank, Vietnamese in Inala, Indian in Runcorn. In Melbourne, feast on Ethiopian in Footscray, Persian in Brunswick, Indian in Dandenong.

Rockmelon or cantaloupe?

OK, this surprised me. As far as I was concerned, Americans called sweet, orange melons cantaloupes and Australians called them rockmelons. But now I'm told some Victorians also call these delicious fruits cantaloupes? That seems wrong to me on pretty much every level, but this is the thing you have to remember about travel, even within Australia: it's not wrong, it's different.

The insanity of beer glasses

Glass of light beer on the wooden table. Beer generic
iStock image

It's a .... schooner? Middy? Pot? Photo: iStock


Speaking of which, have you ever tried to order a beer in another state? For some bizarre reason Australians have kept most customs uniform across the entire country, except for the names given to glasses of beer. Depending on where you are you might be ordering a pot, a pony, a pint, a schooner, a middy, a handle or a ten – and even if you get the name right it might not be the size you wanted.

Chips on shoulders

Venture around Australia and you will discover that pretty much everyone outside of Sydney seems to have some sort of chip on their shoulder about the amount of attention they get. Melburnians think Sydneysiders regard them as a "second city" (untrue). Everyone in the bush thinks everyone in the city pays them no mind (partly untrue). Queenslanders think the southern states ignore them (well, sometimes). West Australians think the entire eastern seaboard ignores them (wait, who?). And Tasmanians think mainlanders don't even know they exist (um…).

Potato scallops

As is the way with rockmelons and beer glasses, you will find certain terminology doesn't cross state borders in Australia. What's a parma to you is a parmy to someone else. And don't even get people started on the humble slices of potato that are battered and fried at cheapo fish and chip shops. Certain people – who are obviously wrong – call them potato cakes. They're potato scallops.

On country

You want to experience cultural difference? Look around you. There's a tonne of cultural difference in Australia if you care to look into the local Indigenous traditions and beliefs. This is one of the best ways to see your country in a whole new light, by dedicating yourself to experiencing local Indigenous culture wherever you go, through guided tours and experiences with locals on country. Tap into ancient knowledge and realise what the land is all about. Find out more on our recent podcast.

In the country

The good people of Australia may not differ a whole lot in their behaviour and customs from state to state, but there's certainly a difference between urban dwellers and those in the bush. For a hit of cultural difference on your next holiday, just swap locales. If you're in regional Australia, head to the city for a fast pace, cuisines from around the world, alternative lifestyles and more. For urbanites, a trip to the country is a nice way to slow things down a little, where the vibe is friendlier, the pace is more relaxed, and the hats shadier.

Get on board

I have a very unscientific theory that states that the further north you are in Australia, the more likely you are to see someone going out to the pub in a pair of boardshorts (in the eastern part of Australia anyway – who cares what they're doing out west). By the time you hit Bundaberg it's pretty much guaranteed. Australians are known for dressing casually, with a pair of thongs for every occasion, but things get really loose up north.

What do you think are the main cultural differences within Australia? Where would you visit to see a clash of cultures?



See also: Backpackers love Australia, why don't young Aussies?

See also: Who needs the rest of Australia when you've got NSW?

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