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A Visitor's Guide to the Real Australia

Anyone visiting Australia for the first time is going to be in for a surprise. The tourist brochures don't tell it all, not by a long chalk, and even someone who has read up on the country only has a vague idea of what they will discover in the land downunder. This island continent may not seem much on the map, and closer inspection could reinforce that impression. Much of it, especially towards the interior, is flat as a tack and little more than a dust bowl; but even in these seemingly inhospitable regions there is a magic that has to be experienced to be believed. During the day it can be a furnace, then freezing at night. Sunrise, however, is breath-taking. You can almost hear a distant rumble as a glow beyond the horizon gradually increases, heralding the approach of its maker. Entertainer Rolf Harris captured the awesome moment in a song: "Sun arise, She bring in the morning, spreading all the light all around... bringing back the warmth to the ground." If only just the once, visitors to Oz simply have to witness this, appreciate the true feeling of the outback. Some call it the Never-Never, claiming that whoever goes there will never, never want to leave. Many past visitors from overseas know the feeling only too well and are still there.

This, however, isn't meant to be a come-on for tourists. It will be about Australia as we see it, unvarnished and sometimes coarse - about her people, their customs and idiosyncrasies, the language and phraseology, and especially those elements that make every country unique. Travellers need to know these things if they are to avoid making some terrible blues - that's an Aussie term for a mistake, and there are plenty more like it which I'll get to Ron (later on, that is). For now, if you are squatting comfortably, then I'll begin.

The first lesson for new arrivals usually begins in one of the major cities. They will have seen the pics - the Coathanger, for example. That's the Sydney Harbour Bridge. People drive across just to say they have, while the more intrepid climb it, suitably harnessed I'm glad to say (foreign food tends to give our sharks crook guts!). It is also the source of analogies, particularly with respect to unenviable tasks that take an age, not necessarily alluding to the time taken getting across in the usual way, but for those having to paint it, finishing at one end and immediately having to go back to the other to start again. So, if someone says: "That's like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge," think twice before committing yourself to what might prove a tedious, eternal grind! Then there's the Opera House, a conglomeration of huge white barnacles clinging to the edge of the water. Mind you, it makes for a good holiday snap and does attract famous artistes whose concerts, so I'm led to believe, are worth every cent.

The cities themselves are pretty much the same as their counterparts the world over - office buildings, shops, hotels, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, you name it. These provide the comforts necessary for weary globe-trotters to lose the jet-lag and take advantage of a way of life that initially seems pretty similar to the one they enjoy back home. Needless to say, some things will need a bit of education. Shopping is a must for tourists and there is plenty to splurge on - high fashion, genuine and not-so-genuine souvenirs and gourmet feasts. Just bear in mind when you are ordering up a plate of kangaroo or emu that you are eating our National icons, something most Aussies wouldn't dream of doing in a fit. If you really want to try a unique local dish, go to Adelaide and hunt out a pie floater - a humble meat pie languishing in a slurry of pea soup!

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