Our trip back to the Netherlands went pretty smoothly and we are now home again, tired but satisfied. We can look back upon a very interesting holiday in a very engaging place. The most obvious conclusion we can draw is that Australians on the whole are really nice people: Friendly, helpful, open and interested. As soon as they see you looking around searching, or with a map, they immediately ask if they can help you. Everybody will talk with you and ask questions, exchange experiences or give you tips.
They are quite tidy too: everything there is very clean and there are free toilets everywhere – and you can use them all safely because the other users will leave them neat and clean. I’ve never had one without toilet paper and only rarely without soap. In the wilderness parks you will encounter the composting-toilets; a hole on top of a heap of fertilizer. But most people close the lid properly afterwards, so I only had a really stinky one once. Amenities at the camp-sites are clean and tidy too. Most camp-sites have a bucket and a floor wiper ready so you can clean your shower quickly after you’ve used it. I am afraid that most Aussies will be very disappointed when they come to Europe; you have to pay for toilets and you have a fifty-fifty chance of finding a clean one.
The trucks you encounter are often bigger than the Dutch ones, and longer. Not broader though; everything that takes up more than half the road has a little truck labelled “Oversized” driving in front of it to warn the oncoming traffic. The lorries are also very elegant: most of them have a lot of polished chrome and even their hubcaps are usually polished till they shine like mirrors. On the road we also noticed that the cars are more colourful than the ones on the Dutch roads. Though Aussies are notoriously uninterested in dressing up as a fashion statement you see in their cars as well as their houses that they like bright colours. Roofs and walls are more often painted than not, especially with the wooden houses we found most common in the ‘newer regions’.
Australians have their own lingo too. A lot of it is slightly old-fashioned English, so Tim had no trouble understanding it. A docket is a ticket/receipt, cordial is the kind of lemonade you have to mix with water (“limonadesiroop” in Dutch), a nursery usually is a place where you can buy baby plants (weirdly enough the protection they put around saplings planted by the roadside makes them look like a special kind of cemetery) , a doona is a duvet (“dekbed”) and usually has a sheet under it instead of a cover all around it, all kinds of suck sweets are called lollies, a box of wine is called a cask and coffee is ordered as a long or short shot of black, depending on how much water should be added.
Like Americans, they tend to have very colourful and enthusiastic descriptions that can set your expectations slightly higher than is advisable. But since they DO have a lot of very beautiful and enjoyable things we will gladly forgive them for it. The only thing in Oz that bothered me was the water; tap water had a very chlorinated taste so you really had to buy bottled water (or cordial).
We had to get used to buying our drinks before we went to a restaurant, but unless they state that they are fully licensed they really expect you to Bring Your Own. Quite often the “bottleshop” where you can buy the booze is conveniently close, so it is not a problem.
Daily cost of living seems to be slightly lower than in the Netherlands. On average things are about 80% of what you pay here, clothes probably even less. You have to watch out with the money though. The paper money resembles the European kind; each value has its own colour and size and bigger is worth more money. Their coins are harder to get used to. The most valuable coin is worth two dollars, and is a tiny bronze coloured kind. The slightly bigger one is one dollar, but the biggest ones are silver and only 20 cents.
School uniforms are the norm and most of them include a floppy hat. Ozzies seem to be so used to the floppy hat that they also wear it under helmets and hard hats. Tourists who unfortunately find themselves stranded without luggage should know that there are a lot of shops to buy second hand clothes. St Vincent de Paul was a charity shop we saw in almost every town in NSW, though we also saw Salvation Army shops (they look very slick and at first we thought they were a commercial chain) and private ones with names like Second Hand Sam.
The bins I saw in most caravan parks were clones of the commune provided ones we use at home, except that they were almost universally green and the recycling ones were yellow. I found myself unexpectedly trained to throw only biodegradable stuff in green bins and had quite a hard time overcoming the Pavlovian reaction. Their recycle bins are mostly distinguished by a bright yellow lid. Sometimes they want you to put everything recyclable in the same bin (paper, plastic bottles, aluminium cans), sometimes they had different bins for different kinds of recyclables. But they did not have a special one for what we call “chemical waste”, ie things like batteries and toner. So you dispose of old batteries by throwing them in the general bin, and presumably the same goes for paint and nail polish remover and all other materials we have to collect separately in the Netherlands. Till I received our battery-charger again I used AA’s for my camera, but I must admit that I disposed of them by giving them to a waiter – the Pavlovian training runs deep.
The mailboxes often were not familiar at all. We are used to very standard mailboxes. But in Oz they are less strict about what your mailbox should look like. Some people used (rusty) old milk churns or oil tins, I even saw a plastic bucket once. Others build houselike boxes with gable roofs and some were very creative. We should have a few photographs of those and will put them in an album on the photo page.
Tim found many things in Oz highly familiar, “Old-fashioned British”. Marjolein liked their tidiness and structure: on every high bridge is a sign saying that it is forbidden to jump off it, even though, in most cases, you would be prosecuting a corpse. We both liked their cheerful pragmatism and easy-going tolerance. Aussies live and let live, perhaps because there is an enormous amount of room, if you do not like someone you can easily avoid them. We would love to go back and could even envision living there and fitting in pretty easily: as one Australian told us, all of them (except of course the Aboriginals) are newcomers.