Top things a band need to know before touring Australia for the first time
Being so far from the rest of the world, Australia has always been somewhat of a white whale for touring musicians. In theory, this is as far as you can get from North America. So, if you have crowds calling your name all the way here, you’ve done something right with your music career.
It’s easy to look at things such as the Hemsworth brothers and think Australia and North America are identical, but that’s not the case. Basically, the fact that both countries speak English is about the only similarity, and even then, they speak very different English.
As such, here’s a list of things a band need to know before touring the land Down Under for the first time.
Australia uses dollars, yes, but not your dollars. The exchange rate between USD and AUD is always favorable. $1USD will usually get close to $1.50AUD, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be making it rain while you’re in town. Goods and services in Australia tend to be more expensive than stateside, even more so in Sydney. You’ll be lucky to find a decent meal that can fuel an active adult for under $20AUD. Forget cigarettes. Seriously. Only the top 1% can afford them here. Our money is also plastic, very colorful and not called Dollarydoos.
2. Time difference
Basically, you’re heading into the future. Just like the U.S., Australia is made up of several time zones, and it can get confusing. A good way to go about this is to remember that Canberra, the capital city, is 14 hours ahead of Washington, D.C. East Coast is three hours ahead of West Coast, usually. Also like the U.S., daylight saving is a complete head trip which no one really understands, so always be sure to check if it’s daylight saving or not. Warning: The flight down is brutal. They can take anywhere from 15 hours nonstop to 43 hours depending on stopovers. Either way, the jet lag will be real.
Despite what the internet says, there’s plenty of culture in Australia. It may look and feel like you’re still in North America, but the Australian culture is worlds away from what you might be used to or expecting. Firstly, Australians all swear. At themselves, at each other, at you. Don’t take offense. If anything, it’s usually a compliment. Secondly, they rarely say what things are, instead opting for what things aren’t (not bad, not good, etc.). They also have a self-deprecating sense of humor, something that happens when you’re so isolated from the rest of the world.
Food in Australia is actually out of control. On any given main intersection, you’ll find most of the world’s cuisines. A local’s secret to a decent feed is finding a local pub. Most have daily meal deals, and all have Wi-Fi and power outlets to charge things. Vegetarian and vegan options are abundant. No doubt you’ve seen your favorite band dining at Lord Of The Fries, a completely vegan fast-food chain, or perhaps Lentil As Anything, a donation-based collective food charity.
Australia has a big drinking culture, so it will no doubt be a part of your trip, but despite what The Simpsons might tell you, no one drinks Foster’s. Craft beer is huge in Australia, and as a result, micro breweries are popping up all over the place. The wine is world class, and the spirits are largely American, so that’s easy! But it isn’t all about the booze: Australia’s coffee is life changing. If you need proof, just look at how few Starbucks are left in the country.
Australian wildlife is part of what makes the country unique, and it would be pretty unfair for you to come all this way and not get to see any of it. It’s a rite of passage for touring musicians to get a photo holding a koala. (Note: They’re called koalas, not koala bears.) Those who are more ethically concerned will be thrilled to know that there’s an ethical and responsible way you can get your koala photo. Places such as the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie offer a calming and safe experience with the koalas, and you can also donate to their cause.
Australian crowds are just as unique as our wildlife. And often just as wild. They love onstage banter, but be warned—responses are imminent. Be aware that you could be starting some solid back and forth if you address the crowd. Now is an important time to discuss the “Shoey:” It’s what the crowd will start shouting when they want to take off your shoe, pour your beverage into it and drink it from said shoe. It’s gross, and even this writer isn’t too sure where it came from. It’s well documented that you can deny this request and still keep a positive crowd.
When in doubt, just smile and nod. Much like with their currency, Australians speak English, but it’s a very different type of English. Firstly, thongs are shoes, OK? The language barrier between North Americans and Australians does tend to spring up during the average tour. They’re a busy lot, and it’s bloody hot, so they don’t have a lot of time for full words, which is why they abbreviate everything from breakfast (breaky) to afternoon (arvo) to petrol stations (servos, they’re called. Good luck with that one.)
Despite common belief overseas, Australia is massive. It’s the sixth largest country and almost the size of North America with a fraction of the population meaning there’s a lot of open, empty space. And hefty shipping costs. You may find yourself driving from show to show, and if so, it’ll probably take up 90% of your tour. The drive from Sydney to Melbourne is a terrifying nine hours, eight hours from Melbourne to Adelaide and 10 hours from Brisbane to Sydney. During that drive, you’ll see about six people.
Flying will most likely be your best option in terms of managing budgets and stress levels. Airlines such as Jetstar actually have programs set up to ease some of the pain of touring musicians, and if you cop the red-eye, it’s brutal, but it’ll get you where you need to be.
10. What most bands miss
Due to rushed touring schedules, it’s tough for bands to find downtime while in Australia. Don’t come all this way just to sit in a hotel. In Sydney, things such as the Bondi to Coogee walk are free, amazing and quick. The sun will also help regulate your body clock from the jet lag. Plus, Melbourne has endless alleyways of world-class street art.
If you’re touring with a local band, ask them to suggest activities that aren’t as touristy, such as record hunting in Newtown or stunning harborside walks. If you know you have days carved out for press, organize meetings to happen near parks or pubs—get that Aussie culture wherever you can.