All About Shopping in Australia – Part 1

Australian coinsCrikey! The money’s different!  Bills are easier to identify, but the coins? Yikes!

When we first arrived in Australia, my experience at any checkout counter where I was paying in cash mirrored what my good Aussie friend, Merylin Wilmott, said she experienced every time she paid with cash in the United States:

Australian currencyI can imagine what you go through in the shops, because I suffer the same way when we visit the States.  I even get to the checkout and when the operator says how much the total is, I just open my purse and say “take whatever you need” because I cannot bear to stand there having to look at every note I take out to see what denomination it is, while holding up the line of people behind me.  I cannot fathom why America’s notes are all the same colour.  At a glance when I open my purse in Australia, I can see approximately how much cash I have: red is $20, blue is $10, and so on.  I see a bunch of reds and blues and know I have at least $100.  In America it’s all the same colour, so I have no idea until I inspect every single note.  I could have $10 or $500 in that bunch of notes……. “

Although I had some similar experiences, mine were with Australian coins! I find it funny that the more the coins are worth, the smaller they get seem to get! And the amounts they are worth are not always easy for the novice to see. The bills, though? They are not only colorful, but different sizes with cool see-through parts. They are almost a work of art!

Woolworth's covered parking
Typical Woolies covered parking

Bring on the covered parking! Why isn’t this done all over the world?! – Well, probably because it’s expensive. Nevertheless, many of the shopping centers here have tons of covered parking.

Why, you ask? Because the Top End of Australia lies in the tropics. Here there are only two seasons: the Wet, and the Dry. It’s either blazing hot (and humid), or raining much of the year. Smart retailers have likely figured out that those stores providing covered parking will entice more dry or shaded shoppers to their stores instead of the competition.

Salvos LogoWhat on earth is an Op Shop? I’d almost like to say it’s a way of life all over Australia, but I won’t. I will say, however, that opportunity shops, or thrift stores, as we call them, dot the shopping landscape. And many have pet names (as many things do, here): St. Vincent de Paul’s is known as “Vinnies, and the Salvation Army stores have embraced their nickname of “Salvos.” In addition, the Red Cross, Anglicare and Uniting Church also have thrift outlets. In our area of about 130,000 people, there are more than 26 op shops that I am aware of. They are usually clean and well organized, and generally provide various used goods at greatly reduced prices, compared to new. Try one, and help those less fortunate. If you don’t buy, donate. Consider it a shopping adventure. 🙂

Convenience No, Grocery Stores, and lots of them! Urban planning in the Top End around Darwin was a real surprise to us. I’ve worked in real estate much of my life, but have never seen such consistent and orderly development. People here either live in the city or CBD (central business district), or in one of the suburbs of that city. Both cities and suburbs are similar in size. A city can be considered a suburb of a larger city, but a suburb is never considered a city – only a suburb. Confused yet?

2016.10.12 covered playground at Sanctuary Lakes Park
Covered play area at Sanctuary Lakes Park

These satellite suburbs are well planned. Traffic is routed on main roads between them, making their streets more safe. They frequently have multiple parks with lovely walking paths; some even have sturdy public workout equipment, and every neighborhood seems to have at least one, wonderful covered playground for the kids. Neighborhoods often are laid out with additional small walking paths connecting the various streets. AND, each suburb commonly has it’s own  neighborhood shopping center, often with a grocery store. You never have to drive far for a bottle of milk.

Casuarina Mall
Small part of Casuarina Mall in Darwin

Malls and all. If Aussies are anything, it’s practical. Perhaps because of the cost to keep them cool (or warm in some places), the big shopping malls generally are not sprawling structures. Instead, they are built somewhat as huge squares, sometimes with multiple floors, interspersed with corridors possessing well placed directional signage to the anchor tenants. The exteriors can be simple, and sometimes hard to identify as a mall, but interiors are usually quite appealing. And don’t be surprised to see large grocery anchor stores in the malls. It is totally acceptable, here, to take a grocery cart with you throughout the mall while you shop, and then to your car in the parking garage! It helps to pick up a map at the information desk until you learn your way around, as well as make a good mental note of how to get back to your car as you come in. Some of these malls are huge.

2017.04.10 shopping bagsBYOB … to the store? I’ve been around long enough to know the common meaning of that acronym, but here’s another meaning for it. Like many other places, South Australia and the Northern Territory apparently had a real problem with plastic bag litter, so enacted laws requiring stores to charge for them, currently at the rate of fifteen cents each. Granted, that’s not much, but I’m told charging for them has made a big difference. So, Bring Your Own Bags, as people here commonly do, and help the cause! Grocery store bags here are sturdy and last a long time. We’ve learned a clever way to fold them, and keep a supply in the boot of our car.

closed sign PICReally? It’s already closed? And while you’re out shopping, be forewarned that store hours here are shorter, actually allowing retail workers and shop owners to have some time with their families in the evenings. Other than grocery stores and big retail stores like Kmart and Target, everything pretty much opens earlier than you would think and closes around 5 PM. The only exception is Friday night, when most are open late. In Adelaide, even the grocery stores closed at 5 on Saturday; and in Darwin, many restaurants are closed on Mondays.

Buying fuel? Take a hike. Okay, I admit to being spoiled by “pay at the pump” technology. Here, you always have to go inside to pay after pumping your gas. Just get used to it. As of this date, we’ve seen no exceptions.

Last but not least, my favorite two things about shopping in Australia:

  1. In Australia, you always pay the listed or posted price. Period. No sales tax is tacked on at the checkout – how refreshing! You do still pay it, but it’s built in; and only the tax total shows up at the bottom of your “docket” or receipt.
  2. no tippingWhen you go out to eat, you are not expected to tip the waiter or waitress. They are paid real wages (which we pay for in the food, I’m sure.) Still, it almost feels like we’re getting a 15-20% discount every time we eat out!

So, there you have it! If you have an observation or tip you’d like to add, please share it with us below in the comments.






One thought on “All About Shopping in Australia – Part 1

  1. I received the following insight from my good friend, Barbara Walmsley in Katherine, NT (she’s from the Gold Coast):

    “I was just reading your reflections on your WordPress page. It’s a lovely site and very informative. Just to say though that other bigger cities like Gold Coast, Brisbane, Melbourne, etc are a bit different to Darwin or even Adelaide. Melbourne has a lot of heritage type buildings and is considered the city of the arts. Sydney is very cosmopolitan & beautiful with many heritage buildings mixed in with very modern. Brisbane is a bit more the sleepy sister but has a much hotter climate which explains a lot about attitudes as well.

    “The Gold Coast, which focuses on tourism and ocean style living, is modern with very large sprawling indoor-outdoor shopping centres and districts with large high rises. Brisbane and the Gold Coast have a lot more outside eating and shopping areas. Tasmania is very cold and scenic. Hobart is very quaint built around a port.
    The Gold Coast has bowsers (pay at the pump?) which you pay at rather than go inside.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s