Or, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Australia but were Afraid to Ask.
Just a handy little reference guide for anyone who wants to know more about that crazy land down on the bottom of the Earth.
(Note that some of these terms may not be specific to Australia – for example, some are common to the UK as well as other Commonwealth Realms.)
Prepare to be confused!
Flat White: An espresso based drink, like a latte but with little or no foam.
Tea: The evening meal, what Americans would probably just call “dinner.” Not to be confused with “tea” the drink. Also not to be confused with “teatime,” which is the time you drink the tea, not the time you eat tea (which would be “tea time”, or “time for tea”). Confused yet?
Ute: Short for “utility,” as in “utility vehicle,” what Americans would call a truck or pickup truck. More often than not, this refers to a uniquely Australian type of vehicle that bears more than a passing resemblance to the old Chevy El Camino car/truck thing.
Wrong side of the road: Unlike most of the civilized world, Australians drive on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. This, combined with their relative isolation, means that most Australian cars are either locally produced or come from Japan (which also drives on the left – a.k.a. “wrong” – side of the road), with a smattering of European models (the right-hand drive versions, of course) thrown in for good measure. Even more oddly, one of the biggest Australian car companies (Holden) is actually a subsidiary of GM (General Motors), and there are also a lot of Fords running around. Go figure.
Petrol: Like their UK cousins, this is what Australians call gasoline. Also don’t forget that it’s sold by the liter, not the gallon, and that liters are smaller than gallons… and don’t forget to factor in the exchange rate too. (Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that gasoline is more expensive in Australia, much like it is in Europe.)
$2 coins: Unlike here in the US, where the largest denomination coin you’re likely to run into in normal usage is a quarter ($0.25), in Australia you’re very likely to run into their $1 and $2 coins – the latter of which are ridiculously heavy, given their small size. So don’t just toss your change into your pocket or cup or whatever – it’s probably worth more than you realize!
Alfoil: Aluminum foil, or what Americans might colloquially call “tin foil” (even though it’s not made of tin). A rare case of when the Australian term for something actually makes more sense than the American term, and also an example of the Australian habit of shortening the names of things.
Biscuits: The sweet kind, not the savory kind. What we in America would probably just call “cookies.”
Cool change: This is exactly what it sounds like – a change in temperature (getting cooler). Often – but not always – accompanied by some rain showers (which often come with the cold front that causes the “cool change”).
Weber: A generic term for an outdoor grill. Usually means the big round “kettle” style kind made by the Weber company, but not always. Sometimes even used to refer to any grill – including gas grills!
Barbie: No, not the doll, the stereotypical term for “barbecue,” which I have never actually heard used. If you use this term, you are basically identifying yourself as an ignorant tourist.
Yank or Yankie: Slang term for us – that is, Americans. Generally not used in a negative sense.
Top End: The top (northern) end of Australia, which it is important to remember is closer to the equator, and therefore tropical. Oddly enough, it does not refer to the northernmost part of Australia (which would be Cape York), but instead to the 2nd northernmost part (around Darwin).
Outback: Generally speaking, the large, remote, and very sparsely populated interior of Australia.
The Bush: What we in America would probably just call “the woods” or a “forest,” but drier and of course filled with native Australia trees (usually Eucalyptus trees – see “Gum tree” below).
Gum tree: Colloquial term for a Eucalyptus tree. May refer to any of the several actual species of trees (much the same way we here in the US use the term “pine tree” to refer to any of several different species of trees). Variations on this term include “Red Gum,” “River Gum,” “Snow Gum,” “Ghost Gum,” etc. Have a nasty tendency to drop dead branches without warning, so watch out when walking around them. Has absolutely nothing to do with the stuff you chew.
Ayer’s Rock / Uluru: More commonly referred to these days with its original native name of “Uluru,” this is that big (as in, friggin’ huge) rock out in the near-center of Australia.
Aborigines / Indigenous Australians: The original native people of Australia. Basically, these are Australia’s equivalent to our Native Americans – the people who lived there before Europeans came along and stole their land and destroyed their culture. Be careful what term you use when talking about them – it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, not unlike using the term “Indian” (when used to refer to Native Americans) would be here in the US.
Vegemite: It’s spreadable yeast. It’s gross. Don’t eat it. Trust me.
Chemist: Strangely, this refers to what we in America would call a pharmacy or drugstore. May also refer to the person in the store, which we would call a pharmacist.
Thongs: Amusingly enough, in Australia this refers to footwear, not underwear. What we would call flip-flops or sandals (the kind that have that little strap that goes between your big toe and the next one down).
Toilet: This means both the toilet itself and the room in which it is housed, but NOT necessarily the bathroom, which is often in a separate room.
Track pants: Basically, sweatpants.
Prawn: This means shrimp, for some godforsaken reason. (Actually, “prawn” are technically a different suborder of animal entirely, but which still looks – and tastes – like a shrimp, so this one isn’t as odd as it seems.) Also note that the stereotypical “Australian” catch-phrase “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is technically incorrect – an Australian would almost certainly not say “shrimp,” they’d say “prawn.” And as I mentioned before, they’d probably not use the word “barbie” either. So really, the phrase should be “throw some more prawns on the webber.”
Mince: Ground beef (as in, “minced beef”). Another case of Australia’s love of shortening the names of things.
Pies: Might refer to the things you eat for dessert (fruit pies, etc.), but might also mean meat pies – which are just what they sound like: pies with meat (and gravy) in them, instead of sweet stuff.
Chips: French fries; as in “fish & chips.” Outside of fast-food restaurants, they are likely to be much thicker than typical American french fries (often more like what we would call “steak fries”). Which brings us to…
Chips & Gravy: French fries doused with brown gravy. Surprisingly good!
Wedges: Fried potato wedges. Like french fries, but thicker and more… wedge shaped.
Hungry Jack’s: Australian Burger King – so named because someone else owned the trademark to “Burger King” in Adelaide, South Australia.
Crayfish: Just to make things really extra-super-confusing, this is what Australians call the lobsters they get from the ocean… but this is actually a spiny lobster, which doesn’t have claws like our lobsters, and in fact is not a true lobster at all! Compare with true crayfish, which are a fresh water species, and which DO have claws! Speaking of which…
Yabby: As if things weren’t confusing enough, this is what Australians call their freshwater crayfish (and these are true crayfish), which look more like the true lobsters Americans are familiar with (although they are somewhat smaller).
That’s about all I’ve got for now – I hope you found this little guide to be useful, or at least entertaining. Although Australia can be somewhat confusing, it really is a lovely country, and if you find yourself there, just relax and have a great time!