Douglas Adams’ guide to Australia

January 21, 2009 | By | 18 Replies More

As (to the best of my knowledge – please correct me if I’m wrong) I’m the only Aussie here, I thought I’d give you a quick primer on the land of my birth. But not by my own hand. I’d just bugger it up.

Douglas Adams, writer of the five-part and inaccurately-named Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Trilogy, seemed to equally adore and fear this wide brown land and penned the following survival guide to Australia, pre-dating Lonely Planet by many years and being a lot more accurate with the information he provided. Except for the bit about snakes: Australia is crawling with the bastards. Of the top dozen deadly snake species on this planet, we have more or less all of them. But I can forgive Douglas a small error. After all, it’s impolite to call attention to the grievous errors of a deceased person. Unless they’re named Hitler.

[Photo: Douglas Adams signing books (2000). (from Wikimedia Commons)]

Anyway, without further ado, I present:



Australia is a very confusing place, taking up a large amount of the Bottom half of the planet. It is recognisable from orbit because of many unusual features, including what at first looks like an enormous bite taken out of its southern edge; a wall of sheer cliffs which plunge deep into the girting sea. Geologists assure us that this is simply an accident of geomorphology and plate tectonics, but they still call it the “Great Australian Bight” proving that not only are they covering up a more frightening theory, but they can’t spell either.

The first of the confusing things about Australia is the status of the place. Where other land masses and sovereign lands are classified as either continent, island, or country, Australia is considered all three. Typically, it is unique in this.

The second confusing thing about Australia are the animals. They can be divided into three categories: Poisonous, Odd, and Sheep. It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them. However, there are curiously few snakes, possibly because the spiders have killed them all. But even the spiders won’t go near the sea. Any visitors should be careful to check inside boots (before putting them on), under toilet seats (before sitting down) and generally everywhere else. A stick is very useful for this task.

Strangely, it tends to be the second class of animals (the Odd) that are more dangerous. The creature that kills the most people each year is the common Wombat. It is nearly as ridiculous as its name, and spends its life digging holes in the ground, in which it hides. During the night it comes out to eat worms and grubs. The wombat kills people in two ways: First, the animal is indestructible. Digging holes in the hard Australian clay builds muscles that outclass Olympic weight lifters. At night, they often wander the roads. Semi-trailers (Road Trains) have hit them at high speed, with all 9 wheels on one side, and this merely makes them very annoyed. They express this by snorting, glaring, and walking away. Alas, to smaller cars, the wombat becomes a symmetrical launching pad, with results that can be imagined, but not adequately described. The second way the wombat kills people relates to its burrowing behaviour. If a person happens to put their hand down a Wombat hole, the Wombat will feel the disturbance and think “Ho! My hole is collapsing!” at which it will brace its muscled legs and push up against the roof of its burrow with incredible force, to prevent its collapse. Any unfortunate hand will be crushed, and attempts to withdraw will cause the Wombat to simply bear down harder. The unfortunate will then bleed to death through their crushed hand as the wombat prevents him from seeking assistance. This is considered the third most embarrassing known way to die, and Australians don’t talk about it much.

At this point, we would like to mention the Platypus, estranged relative of the mammal, which has a duck-bill, otter’s tail, webbed feet, lays eggs, detects its aquatic prey in the same way as the electric eel, and has venomous barbs attached to its hind legs, thus combining all ‘typical’ Australian attributes into a single improbable creature.

The last confusing thing about Australia is the inhabitants. First, a short history: Some time around 40,000 years ago, some people arrived in boats from the north. They ate all the available food, and lot of them died. The ones that survived learned respect for the balance of nature, man’s proper place in the scheme of things, and spiders. They settled in, and spent a lot of the intervening time making up strange stories. Then, around 200 years ago, Europeans arrived in boats from the north. More accurately, European convicts were sent, with a few deranged and stupid people in charge. They tried to plant their crops in Autumn (failing to take account of the reversal of the seasons when moving from the top half of the planet to the bottom), ate all their food, and a lot of them died. About then the sheep arrived, and have been treasured ever since. It is interesting to note here that the Europeans always consider themselves vastly superior to any other race they encounter, since they can lie, cheat, steal, and litigate (marks of a civilised culture they say) – whereas all the Aboriginals can do is happily survive being left in the middle of a vast red-hot desert, equipped with a stick. Eventually, the new lot of people stopped being Europeans on Extended Holiday and became Australians.

The changes are subtle, but deep, caused by the mind-stretching expanses of nothingness and eerie quiet, where a person can sit perfectly still and look deep inside themselves to the core of their essence, their reasons for being, and the necessity of checking inside your boots every morning for fatal surprises. They also picked up the most finely tuned sense of irony in the world, and the Aboriginal gift for making up stories.

Be warned. There is also the matter of the beaches. Australian beaches are simply the nicest and best in the entire world. Although anyone actually venturing into the sea will have to contend with sharks, stinging jellyfish, stonefish (a fish which sits on the bottom of the sea, pretends to be a rock, and has venomous barbs sticking out of its back that will kill just from the pain) and surfboarders. However, watching a beach sunset is worth the risk.

As a result of all this hardship, dirt, thirst, and wombats, you would expect Australians to be a dour lot. Instead, they are genial, jolly, cheerful, and always willing to share a kind word with a stranger, unless they are an American. Faced with insurmountable odds and impossible problems, they smile disarmingly and look for a stick. Major engineering feats have been performed with sheets of corrugated iron, string, and mud.

Alone of all the races on earth, they seem to be free from the ‘Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence’ syndrome, and roundly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence. They call the land “Oz”, “Godzone” (a verbal contraction of “God’s Own Country”) and “Best bloody place on earth, bar none, strewth.” The irritating thing about this is they may be right.

There are some traps for the unsuspecting traveller, though. Do not under any circumstances suggest that the beer is imperfect, unless you are comparing it to another kind of Australian beer. Do not wear a Hawaiian shirt. Religion and Politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don’t care too much about either) but Sport is a minefield. The only correct answer to “So, howdya’ like our country, eh?” is “Best {insert your own regional swear word here} country in the world!”. It is very likely that, on arriving, some cheerful Australians will ‘adopt’ you on your first night, and take you to a pub where Australian Beer is served. Despite the obvious danger, do not refuse. It is a form of initiation rite. You will wake up late the next day with an astonishing hangover, a foul-taste in your mouth, and wearing strange clothes. Your hosts will usually make sure you get home, and waive off any legal difficulties with “It’s his first time in Australia, so we took him to the pub.”, to which the policeman will sagely nod and close his notebook. Be sure to tell the story of these events to every other Australian you encounter, adding new embellishments at every stage, and noting how strong the beer was. Thus you will be accepted into this unique culture.

Most Australians are now urban dwellers, having discovered the primary use of electricity, which is air-conditioning and refrigerators.

Typical Australian sayings:

* “G’Day!”
* “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
* “She’ll be right.”
* “And down from Kosciusko, where the pine clad ridges raise their torn and rugged battlements on high, where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze at midnight in the cold and frosty sky.

And where, around the Overflow, the reed beds sweep and sway to the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide. The Man from Snowy River is a household word today, and the stockmen tell the story of his ride.”

Tips to Surviving Australia:

* Don’t ever put your hand down a hole for any reason whatsoever. We mean it.
* The beer is stronger than you think, regardless of how strong you think it is.
* Always carry a stick.
* Air-conditioning.
* Do not attempt to use Australian slang, unless you are a trained linguist and good in a fist fight.
* Thick socks.
* Take good maps. Stopping to ask directions only works when there are people nearby.
* If you leave the urban areas, carry several litres of water with you at all times, or you will die.
* Even in the most embellished stories told by Australians, there is always a core of truth that it is unwise to ignore.

See Also: “Deserts: How to die in them”, “The Stick: Second most useful thing ever” and “Poisonous and Venomous arachnids, insects, animals, trees, shrubs, fish and sheep of Australia, volumes 1-42”

Douglas Adams


Damn it, Douglas, it’s been years but I still miss you like mad. Sometimes I wish there was a Heaven where you could sit, watch the people of Earth go about their quite often very baffling business and drink as much Aussie beer as you liked, with no fear of waking up with a splitting headache and lying next to a curiously contented-looking wombat. Unless you were into that. Why not? Anything goes in Heaven…right?

So long and thanks … for everything.


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Category: Humor

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (18)

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  1. I miss him too Hank. Thanks for the excerpt!

  2. Roov says:

    Aww…I miss him too.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Hank, when I was a teen, I mail-ordered a lot of stuff from Dick Smith Electronics in Austrailia. Their catalog flyers, always had a sidebar column titled "How to talk Strine", sort of a mini-dictionary of period Austrailian lingo, which was needed for us Americans as many of the descriptions of the more unusual items (such as electronic rocks) included comments like "Fair dinkum gift for a Sheila!".

    Douglas Adams will long be remembered by many for his wickedly sharp wit, and his uncanny ability to expose the absurdity of politics and religion in a disarming way the made us think.

  4. Hank says:

    Ah, dear old "Electric Dick". I don't think I know a single person who hasn't owned or at least messed with one of his home electronics kits. Oh the joy for a ten-year old of a little wooden circuit board covered with transistors, capacitors and LEDs. Fair dinkum, Dicko's a bloody legend.

    Crappy claim to fame: in 1991 when I was 15, my father and I helped push Electric Dick's car out of a bog in the Flinders Ranges (outback Sth Australia).

    True, noone exposed human absurdity in quite the same way as Sir Douglas (I don't care if he wasn't actually knighted, I'm happy to knight him myself in the name of reason and hilarity). But while D.A. was exposing human absurdity he managed to do so without blatant ridicule & in a way which revealed his deep affection for his species 🙂

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    One of my college profs in Communications did several classes on "Talkin Strine." It's always been my place of last resort to go to Coober Peady (sp?), NSW and be a paramedic who digs for opals and drinks lotsa beer! I learned a few drinking songs with my rugby mates.

  6. Hank says:

    OK, awesome trivia time, gem & palaeo-nerds: an opalised and almost complete skeleton of a plesiosaur (an Umoonasaurus demoscyllus in fact), lovingly named "Eric" was found near Coober Pedy (in the state of South Australia – go Crows!!) in 1987 and is a national treasure. I'd like to see Banana-boy Comfort explain that. But then again, I wouldn't – the stupid would hurt so very much.

    FYI – Ray Comfort is NOT Australian. He's from New Zealand and please remember that. Most of the time Aussies are happy to claim famous Kiwis as their own (eg Russell Crowe, if he does something great like Gladiator or A Beautiful Mind but NOT for his band or his various assaults). Ray Comfort is someone we gladly hand back to the Kiwis. Ken Ham, however, is an Australian. If anyone down here knew who the fuck he was, he'd be an embarrassment to all 20 million of us 🙂

    Addendum: because temperatures in Coober can hit 50+ degrees Celsius (120+ Farenheit), around 80% of the people there live underground and the rest pay ridiculous electricity bills for having the air-cons on 24/7. The good thing is, a decent tunnelling machine can be had for around 25K AUD. Then, the size of your house is only limited by the size of your block. Coober's sort of like a cross between Frodo's Shire and Mad Max.

    Oh, and noone plays rugby in SA – only Queensland and NSW. Everywhere else it's Aussie Rules Football. Except in the island state of Tasmania – none of us are really sure WHAT goes on down there. Well, apart from all the incest & cannibalism. But they make awesome beer down there (Boag's and Cascade – brilliant).

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Hank, several months ago my wife and I went were at a local comedy club and the comic started into a routine about an Aussie friend of his who when watching American football remarked

    "Wotz this!… That's NOT football. Now Australian Rules Football… THAT'S Football"

    When part of the routine got to "That's NOT a crying baby.. No an AAustralian Rules baby… THAT'S a baby!!" a fellow in the audience stood up and called out in a clear Australian accent. "Hey! Ya got an Ozzie in the audience!!"

    The comic asked the Aussie, "Am I offending you?"

    The Aussie answered back "Nahh! I wanna hear more!!"

  8. Hank says:

    Hah that's great 🙂 We love it when people make fun of Australians – it shows they're thinking about us. Even that Simpsons episode (one of their earliest set overseas and which got everything completely wrong and depicted us as a pack of colonial halfwits who reply "beer?" when Marge asks for coffee) is one of my favourites.

    Many of the best (or at least most enduring) Aussie jokes are made up by Aussies themselves. For instance:

    How can you tell when an Aussie is on a flat paddock? He's drooling out of both corners of his mouth.

    Why do Aussies wear flip-flops (we call 'em thongs)? You need an IQ of at least 80 to tie shoelaces.

    Why do Aussies play Aussie Rules Football? Same reason the Yanks call their national baseball comp a "World Series". It's easy to be world champ at a game noone else plays 😀

    I could go on …

  9. Nameless says:

    Anyone know if DA wrote any more of these for other countries?

  10. Yvonne says:

    Not the only Aussie, I am so tweeting this exerpt. I didn't know DA wrote about real places so thrilled you posted this

  11. Joseph says:

    Aussie here.

    "They also picked up the most finely tuned sense of irony in the world, and the Aboriginal gift for making up stories."

    Whenever we Aussies say anything to a foriegner (especially an American, no offence but I've honestly never seen one able to pick up on this without help) keep this in mind. Seriously.

    Having gotten that out of the way…

    "Do not attempt to use Australian slang, unless you are a trained linguist and good in a fist fight."

    OH GOD YES. How many Americans do we have to beat before they understand this simple concept?

  12. Martin says:

    It’s great – but of course, it’s not written by Douglas Adams, as a simple search will tell you – but don’t take my word for it, he noticed it himself…,0

  13. Ariel says:

    Piece of writing writing is also a fun, if you be familiar with then
    you can write or else it is difficult to write.

  14. Galane says:

    Back in the 80’s I heard a bit on the Dr. Demento show by an Australian comedian. I only remember a few bits where he’d say “I’m tough!” and the audience would respond “How tough are ya?” then he’d reply

    “I’m so tough, when I go to a fancy restaurant I don’t order steak Diane I order steak Steve!”

    “I’m so tough, when I go to the beach I kick sand in me own face!”

    “I’m so tough, my poo-poo scares flies away!”

    Anyone know who?

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