The first time I and my companions landed in Australia, we were surprised by how similar it is to places we’ve been; much of the first few days was spent drawing comparisons to places and things we know already. Driving through the country calls up memories of family trips to Florida, and our weeklong trip to Cairns is not too different from Cancun. Walking in Sydney is not dissimilar to walking through Pittsburgh or London or Seattle. We spend so much time trying to come up with things that Australia is like, but in the end? Australia is like Australia. Australia is its own animal, so it’s important to not write it off as being like another place. The biggest island in the world, it’s entirely unique from anywhere else in the world, plants- and animals- and rocks-wise. The people and the lifestyle here, most of all, are different here from anywhere else as well, and to try to compare it to something else is to reduce it to a lesser stature than it deserves.
Aussies are kind, approachable, and perhaps less proper than in Great Britain because they were first a penal colony. There is not much pretentiousness to be found here. Because of these humble beginnings, Aussies are not afraid to get down and dirty, whether in the name of sport or partying, and they’re not afraid to have a good time. My sojourn to Manly was like seeing the real Australia, the one you get to see glimpses of when you talk to an Aussie or hear people back in the States talking about their trip here. While Sydney can appear to be like any one of several major cities in different countries and Cairns is like any nice vacation town that offers good beaches and daring jungle adventures, the neighborhood that surrounds Manly Beach, a ferry ride away from Circular Quay, is as quintessentially Australian as you can get. If you say Australia to an American, they will instantly think of the outback or Crocodile Dundee, but what they should be thinking of is Manly, a calm little surfing suburb of Sydney, where the people are friendly and vibrant and much more laid-back than in Sydney. Here, all of the houses hug the hillside and look out over the ocean, and everything is a short walk away. After a coffee training class at the International College of Management, which is the building that served as Jay Gatsby’s house in The Great Gatsby, my friend and I got to take a walk about town and literally get a taste for Manly and we never wanted to leave. It has the comforting small-town vibe that beckons you in and makes you feel welcome, the vibe that all of Australia gives off, really.
Australia is a nation of (and a nation for) travelers. The United States, by comparison, is a relatively old nation. A quarter of all Australians today were born overseas and another quarter has at least one parent that was born overseas. So it follows that Australia is quite the multicultural nation. It is a place that seems to be constantly moving, but not in the churning, frenzied way in which New York City is, but a calm, purposeful movement from place to place. It is a place that not only welcomes but celebrates travelers, and not just from overseas, but calls to the travelers in all of us.
Australian life is active. People don’t just laze about, they are always on the go here, whether in Cairns where they are out on the boat or the beach every day, or here in Sydney where people walk everywhere and a short bus ride will take you to Bondi Beach, arguably the best and biggest beach in Australia, for a good swim in the Bondi Icebergs Club or the ocean. That’s not to mention a large handful of other world-class beaches within bus or train distance from the city. Here, Australian life revolves around both the sea and being outdoors. Nearly all dining is outdoors—even in the dead of winter, which here is in July—and the food is fresh and local because that’s how Aussies like it. While for a Pittsburgher the 60-degree temperatures make for a very nice spring day, here it is considered cold. Since the cold months are so short-lived, though, everybody is patiently waiting for the warm weather to return so that the normal outdoor lifestyle can resume.