Australia is so big and diverse that it could never merely be the sum of its icons. The stunning architecture of the Sydney Opera House, the glow of Uluru (Ayers Rock) at dusk, a wave curled above a colourful reef – these are only part of the experience that unfolds once your feet touch the soil of this awesome country-continent.

Australia's natural beauty is one of its biggest attractions. The landscape varies from endless sunbaked horizons to tropical rainforests to chilly southern beaches. Its cities blend an enthusiasm for art and food with a love of sport and the outdoors. Visitors will have to re-think their grasp of geography in this huge country. The sheer vastness gives Australia – and its diverse population – much of its character.

Many things about this faraway island are different, even the things that sound familiar. You may have visited remote places, but not the sublime isolation of the outback, with its dazzling salt pans and sandstone towers. You would have encountered wildlife, but when did you last ride a camel among desert oak trees or have your camp site visited by a Tasmanian devil? Perhaps you've enjoyed seafood, but here you'll taste barramundi fish and delicious Moreton Bay bugs (a shellfish).

From rainforest trails to fascinating museums, vibrant multicultural cities to a love of sport, Australia is unique.


The People:

Australia's population in mid-2005 was 20,265,000. Population density is among the lowest in the world, with an average of 2.5 people per square kilometre – no-one’s within cooee (shouting distance) in the outback. Most people live along the eastern seaboard, with a smaller concentration on the southwestern coast. Living in one of the world's most culturally diverse countries – 23% is foreign-born – Australians incorporate a wide variety of influences into the way they live and play.




It is obvious that Australians love their sport, they also have a quiet love affair with the arts. From cinema, literature and music to theatre, dance and the visual arts, Australia's varied cities all offer a good dose of culture. To give you a small taste of what's on offer country-wide, the following section focuses on the visual arts, providing details of galleries and museums showcasing Australian art in each of the capital cities. Permanent collections in the places listed are all free (apart from Adelaide's Migration Museum).

Of course, Australian culture wouldn't be what it is without its multicultural dimension. Read on to find out just how culturally diverse the country is.




Australia continues to benefit from its multicultural make-up – one of the most diverse in the world – enjoying a wealth of ideas, cuisines and lifestyles. The last census reported that 23% of the population is foreign-born, and over 40% of Australians are of mixed cultural origins. Every four minutes and eight seconds Australia gains another international immigrant. Many foreign-born Australians came from Italy and Greece after WWII, but recent immigrants have mostly come from New Zealand and the UK, as well as China, Vietnam, Africa and India, among many other places. Some 2.2% of the population identifies itself as of Aboriginal origin, and most live in the Northern Territory. Australia's other Indigenous people, Torres Strait Islanders, are primarily a Melanesian people, living in north Queensland and on the islands of the Torres Strait between Cape York and Papua New Guinea.


The Places:

Australia's states and territories each have unique characteristics. Explore one at a time or, when your studies have finished, visit them all in one big loop! This would mean over 14,000km of highway, not including side trips to beaches, forests, mountains, country towns. If you'd rather not go far from where you're studying, you'll still find there's plenty to keep you entertained.


The Potential:

Australia offers a unique experience for students. Apart from a world-class education system, the opportunities to get involved in daily life are endless: whether you're into the arts or sport, partying or book clubs, the great outdoors or cosy cafés, you’ll find many ways to join in and have fun. So if you want to get an education and have a life, it really is the place to be.



Australia is one of the most dynamic places in the world to eat, thanks to international culinary influences and a dining public willing to give anything new a go. Anything another country does, Australia does too. Vietnamese, Indian, Fijian, Italian – no matter where it's from, there are expats and locals keen to cook and eat the cuisine. Due to the country’s huge size, the climate varies a great deal from north to south. This means that at any time of the year there's an enormous variety of produce on offer, including Australia’s justifiably famous seafood.

Food tourism and food festivals are blossoming. Melbourne, for instance, has its own month-long food-and-wine festival in March. There are harvest festivals in wine regions, and various communities hold annual events, such as Clare Valley's (South Australia) Gourmet Weekend.

Christmas in Australia, in mid-summer, is less likely to involve a traditional European baked dinner, and more likely to be replaced by a ‘barbie’ (barbecue), full of seafood and quality steak. Various ethnic groups have their own celebrations. The Indian community brings out delicious sweets during Diwali; the Chinese annual Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) involves sumptuous banquets; and Australia’s Islamic community marks the end of Ramadan with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Typically, a restaurant meal in Australia is a relaxed affair. Any table that you've booked is yours for the night, unless you're told otherwise. A competitively priced place to eat is a club or pub that offers a 'counter meal'. Here you order at the kitchen, take a number and wait until it's called. You then pick up the meal yourself, saving the restaurant money on staff and you on your total bill.

A great feature of the restaurant scene, which also makes eating out less expensive, is 'BYO' (Bring Your Own). If a restaurant says it's BYO, you're allowed to bring your own alcohol. If the place also sells alcohol, the BYO is usually limited to bottled wine only (no beer, no casks) and a corkage charge is often added to your bill.

See the individual state/city guides on this website for recommendations of some of the best places to eat and drink in Australia's capital cities.



Postal services:
Postal services in Australia are provided by Australia Post. Deliveries of letters and small parcels are made once daily from Monday to Friday. Larger parcels must be collected from your nearest post office with a collection card which is usually left in your letter box. The postal service is reliable and efficient.

 Most post offices are open from 9.00am to 5.00pm Mondays to Fridays. They have a variety of Australia Post items for sale such as stationery, post bags (for posting large or fragile items) and stamps. Australia Post also offers receiving services for the payment of electricity, telephone and some other bills. Stamps may also be purchased at some newsagents.


Australia has a modern telephone system. Public telephones are available at post offices, shopping centres and are often situated on street corners. Public pay phones accept a variety of Australian coins. Credit phones are also found at international and domestic airports, central city locations and hotels and take most major credit cards, such as American Express, Visa and MasterCard.

To make international telephone calls from Australia, dial 0011 followed by the country code, the area code (if required) and the telephone number. To call Australia from overseas, dial 61 followed by the area code and telephone number. To make calls from one location to another within Australia, dial the area code (if required) followed by the telephone number.

Mobile phones:

Mobile phones are very popular in Australia. Mobile phone services are available in urban areas, most regional areas and along a number of national and regional highways.

Mobile phones can be purchased from a number of retailers. Major carriers in Australia include Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and 3. International students wishing to have mobile access will be required to sign a contract to go onto a plan (where you receive a bill for your usage each month) or buy a pre-paid SIM card.

Most pre-paid SIM card packages are sold with a mobile phone. With a pre-paid SIM card, you are given a mobile number and you can make calls as long as there is stored value on your card. Be aware that pre-paid SIM cards have an expiry date on its stored value. You will need to recharge your card, within a specified period, by topping up your card’s stored value. However, once the SIM card has expired, you will have to purchase a new SIM card.

It is recommended international students opt for the pre-paid option to avoid getting locked into lengthy contracts and expensive telephone bills. Before you sign up to a mobile phone plan ensure you read over the details carefully or have someone else look over it to ensure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities under the contract.

In 2008, 55.7 per cent of Australia’s population was using the internet. Its popularity and role in Australian workplaces and households continues to grow by the day. Australians are now shopping, working, learning, banking and meeting new people online.

Students attending educational institutions in Australia should have access to the internet on campus. You may also be able to access the internet at local community libraries for free or at an internet café for a small fee. Some cafes and public places also provide free wireless access for patrons.

If you are renting a property and have a landline telephone installed you will be able to arrange to have internet access in your own home. Major internet services providers (ISPs) in Australia include Telstra, Optus, 3, Dodo and Vodafone. Internet plans are similar to mobile phone plans in that you will be required to sign a contract. Again be sure to read the contract carefully to ensure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities. Prepaid and wireless packages are also available for purchase from major ISPs and can be a cheaper and less restrictive way of accessing the internet.

 It is important to ensure your personal safety while using the internet. Be sure not to give out any personal information to strangers or enter banking or financial information on unsecure or unfamiliar websites.




Australians like to shop, as evidenced by the huge variety of local- and international-brand shops, and the crowds that gather at every clearance sale. Big cities can satisfy most consumer appetites with everything from high-fashion boutiques to second-hand emporiums, while many smaller places tend towards speciality retail, be it home-grown produce, antiques or arts and crafts. Many Australian cities have really interesting shopping (and eating) strips in different neighbourhoods, especially in the inner suburbs. Be sure to check out places like Brunswick St, Fitzroy (Melbourne), Oxford St, Paddington (Sydney), Ann & Brunswick Sts intersection, Fortitude Valley (Brisbane) and Oxford St, Leederville (Perth).

Markets are a great place to shop, especially for a bargain, and most cities have at least one permanent bazaar, such as Hobart's Salamanca Market. Melbourne and Sydney have a couple – try the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne or the Paddington Market in Sydney. Alternative markets on the New South Wales north coast, such as the one at Nimbin, are also worth a visit.

An Aboriginal artwork or artefact can be an excellent souvenir of Australia. By buying authentic items you are supporting Aboriginal culture and helping to ensure that traditional and contemporary expertise and designs continue to be of economic and cultural benefit for Aboriginal individuals and their communities. The best way to buy artefacts is either directly from the communities that have art-and-craft centres or from galleries and outlets that are owned, operated or supported by Aboriginal communities. Other great ideas for souvenirs include the seeds of native plants – try growing kangaroo paw back home (check your country’s quarantine rules). You could also consider a bottle of fine Australian wine, honey or delicious macadamia nuts.

Modern Australian fashion collections that are in demand include Collette Dinnigan, Ty & Melita, Morrissey, Sass & Bide, Tsubi and Akira Isogawa. For a rustic look, try wrapping yourself in a waterproof Driza-Bone coat, an Akubra hat, moleskin pants and Blundstone boots; RM Williams is a well-known bush-clothing brand. Surf-wear labels such as Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Mambo and Billabong also make good buys.


Public holidays:

Like many countries, Australia celebrates certain days each year that are of national significance. Australia may recognise the day with a public holiday which may include special events.

Most states and territories observe public holidays on the same date. Some have days that only their state or territory celebrates. In larger cities, shops, restaurants and public transport generally continue to operate on public holidays. In smaller towns, most shops and restaurants close.National public holidays in Australia are:

Australia Day:

Australia Day, 26 January, is the day Australia celebrates its nationhood. The day is a public holiday that marks the founding of the first settlement by European people.

Anzac Day:

Anzac Day is on 25 April, the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915 during World War I. This day is for remembering those who fought and who lost their lives to war. This holiday is marked by ceremonies and military parades. You’ll find many towns have an ANZAC Day parade and ceremony culminating in the laying of memorial wreaths at a monument or war memorial.

Queen’s Birthday:
The Queen’s Birthday holiday celebrates the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, who is not only Queen of the United Kingdom but also Queen of Australia. The Queen’s Birthday is a public holiday celebrated on a Monday (usually in June). Having the Queen’s Birthday on a Monday results in a three-day, long weekend.

Boxing Day:

Boxing Day is celebrated on 26 January, the day after Christmas Day. The day is traditionally known for giving money and other gifts to those who were needy.

New Years Day:

January 1 sees festivals, celebrations and parties held all over the country to welcome in the New Year.

Labor Day:

Labor Day is celebrated on different dates throughout Australia. As elsewhere in the world, Labor Day originated as a means of giving ‘working people’ a day off and recognising the roots of trade unionist movements and workers’ rights.


Religious holidays:


Religious public holidays are celebrated on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.


Christmas is celebrated in Australia on 25 December. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus is 'the son of God', the Messiah sent from Heaven to save the world.

On Christmas Day family and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy special Christmas food. Australians are just as likely to eat freshly caught seafood outdoors at a barbeque, as to have a traditional roast dinner around a dining table.


Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ following his death by crucifixion. It is the most significant event of the Christian calendar.

In addition to its religious significance, Easter in Australia is enjoyed as a four-day holiday weekend starting on Good Friday and ending on Easter Monday.




Banking services in Australia are extremely competitive. More than 20 local and numerous international banks are represented in Australia and all major banks have many branches in each city and regional centre. Major banks in Australia include the Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, Westpac, National Australia Bank (NAB) and St George. Normal trading hours are 9:30am to 4:00pm Monday to Thursday and 9:00am to 5:00pm on Fridays. Most banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, however some institutions are opening for short periods on Saturday mornings.


Establishing bank accounts:


Opening a local bank account relatively simple for overseas students. It is recommended you open an bank account within six weeks of arrival. Simply present your passport and provide the bank with a postal address. The bank will then open an account for you and send you an ATM card allowing you to access your money.

After six weeks most banks require you to provide more identification, such as a passport, a birth certificate or an international driving licence with photo. Some banks will waiver monthly account fees if you provide proof of enrolment as a full time tertiary student.

It is recommended you visit the website of the bank where you want to open your account for more details.


Working while you study:

Permission to work allows you to work up to 40 hours fortnightly on a casual basis during course time and full-time during vacation periods. Family members can also work up to 40 hours fortnightly throughout the year. In the case of students who have commenced a masters or doctorate course, family members can work unlimited hours. Students and their family members must not undertake work until the student has commenced their course of study in Australia.