15 Myths About Australia, Debunked

A koala climbing a tree
A koala climbing a tree | © Tanner Ford / Flickr
Tom Smith

What do Bart Simpson, Paul Hogan and Dustin Hoffman have in common? They’re all responsible for spreading myths, legends and tall tales about the Land Down Under.

To the rest of the world, Australia is an exotic land full of cuddly koala bears, cold pints of Fosters, dangerous animals and even more treacherous convicts. The only problem? None of this is true. Here are 15 myths about Australia — debunked.

Captain Cook discovered Australia

Captain James Cook is often credited for discovering Australia in 1770, but there are three problems with that statement. One, the continent had already been ‘discovered’ by Indigenous people who’d been living there for tens of thousands of years. Two, the Chinese had already been Down Under in the 15th century, followed by the Dutch in the 1600s, then an even earlier Briton in 1688. And three, Captain Cook wasn’t even a captain at the time — he held the rank of lieutenant.

First Australians perform a cultural ceremony

All Australians descended from convicts

It’s true that Britain ‘transported’ more than 160,000 convicts to Australia between 1788 and 1868, but not every Australian has criminal blood coursing through their veins. In fact, about a quarter of Australians were born overseas — 26 percent, to be precise, which is a higher proportion than any other nation on earth.

Convict gang in Sydney in the 18th century

Australians speak English

This is the truth, but not the whole truth. The first Australians spoke around 300 different languages before colonisation and hundreds still survive today. Modern multiculturalism also means that English isn’t universal — one in five people speak a language other than English at home, most commonly Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese.

Vietnamese shops and restaurants in Cabramatta, Sydney

The toilets flush backwards

You can thank Bart Simpson for this one, after his 900-dollarydoo phone call to Tobias Dundridge supposedly confirmed that toilet water goes clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Hate to break it to you Bart, but the ‘Coriolis effect’ is too weak to affect such small bodies of water, so toilets flush both clockwise and anti-clockwise in both hemispheres.

Australians ride kangaroos

The Simpsons actually helped debunk this one, when Bart and Homer revealed that kangaroo pouches contain a lot more mucus than they normally show in cartoons. Even though Aussies don’t ride them, plenty see them — the roo population is so out-of-control that experts have urged Australians to chow down on more of their national animal.

Koalas are bears

Like kangaroos, koalas are marsupials, which means they carry their babies in a pouch and are no relation whatsoever to bears. Another myth attached to koalas is that they’re stoned or drunk on eucalyptus. The furry little fellas do lounge around sleeping up to 22 hours a day, but gum leaves don’t contain any intoxicating quality.

Koala, not a bear

Sydney (or maybe Melbourne?) is the capital

When Australia was federated in 1901, its two biggest cities couldn’t agree on which should be capital. The compromise? Canberra, which was built from scratch in between squabbling Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra is a planned city that sits outside any state jurisdiction, much like Washington D.C. in the United States.

Parliament House in Canberra

Australia is hot

Sure, some parts of the country are hotter than the devil’s backside, but it’s not boardshorts and thongs everywhere. Melbourne dips to an average daily high of 14°C in the dead of winter — the same temperature you’d expect on a November’s day in London. And if you’re keen to see some snow Down Under, there are even ski fields in places like Thredbo and Perisher in New South Wales and Mount Hotham and Falls Creek in Victoria.

Snowfields in Thredbo

Australia is all outback

The Crocodile Dundee films have a lot to answer for, including the perception that Australia is all rugged wilderness. The reality is that 86 percent of Australia’s 25 million people live in urban areas — about half of those in Sydney and Melbourne alone — which sadly means that very few Aussies are able to hypnotise animals like Mick Dundee can in the movies.

Terrace houses in urban Melbourne

Everyone looks like Chris Hemsworth or Margot Robbie

Sorry, world. Not all Aussies are buff, blonde and beachy. If anything, Australians tend to look a little more like Chris Griffin than Chris Hemsworth. According to the World Health Organisation, 65 percent of Australian adults are overweight, making Australia the 21st fattest country on the planet.

Australian Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth

Australians love a shrimp on the barbie

Here’s another one that can be chalked up to ‘Hoges’, after his iconic 1984 tourism campaign. Aussies call them ‘prawns’ not ‘shrimp’, but the legendary line was amended to accommodate American audiences, with little regard for how much the misnomer would make Australians cringe for decades to come.

Qantas has never crashed

Australia’s national airline has never complained about this glowing endorsement from Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, but strictly speaking, the claim isn’t true. More than 100 people perished in Qantas aircrafts between 1927 and 1951, although none in a jet airliner, which explains Qantas’ sterling reputation.

Australians drink Fosters

Don’t listen to those British ads — Fosters isn’t Australian for beer. In general, Australians adore the amber nectar — domestic brands like Victoria Bitter and Tooheys are much loved, and there’s a vibrant craft-brewing scene around the country — but Fosters is an exception, brewed in Manchester and almost exclusively consumed in Britain.

Sydney craft brewery Young Henrys

Everything’s trying to kill you

Australia: home of the world’s safest airline and the planet’s deadliest animals. Snakes, spiders, lizards, crocodiles, sharks, octopi, baby-eating dingoes — they all exist, but you’re very unlikely to cross paths with one. And for every terrifying creature, there’s a friendly one… ever met a quokka?

Quokka in the bush on Rottnest Island

Australia is a small country

As an island nation with no land borders, maps don’t illustrate how truly enormous Australia is. Covering almost eight million square kilometres, Australia is actually the sixth largest nation on earth — so big, in fact, that you could squeeze Turkey, France, Egypt, Italy, Senegal, Uruguay and Spain inside its borders, and still have room for Germany, South Africa, Japan, Pakistan, Sweden, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Uluru in the centre of Australia

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