I've just been complimented on the number of pictures in my posts, and of course this post will be relatively light on pictures. When I was talking to my family this weekend, I realized that I haven't really been commenting much on what Australia is like, and how it is different from the US. Hence the very general nature of this post.
First of all, the British influence is a lot more noticeable that I thought it would be. I figured since both Australia and the States are former British colonies, we would have about the same amount of British influence. Quite wrong! Australia became an independent country in 1901, much later than the US, and to this day it's still a member of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is on all of their coins, and the Queen's representative, the Governor-General, has a residence in Canberra. He/she no longer has any actual governing power of course but does have a ceremonial role.
More about Australian money: the conversion rate is about 80 Australian cents on the dollar. Their sales tax, called the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is 10% and is already incorporated into the advertised price, which I like!
The British influence is very noticeable in the food. "Bangers and mash" (sausage and mashed potatoes,) crumpets, etc. (I intend to write an entire post about food. :)
One slightly related anecdote: I cannot, to save my life, tell the difference between an Australia, British, and Kiwi (New Zealand) accent! I'm told they're quite distinct, but I just don't hear it!
Above is a picture of one of my host family's cars. Cars are one of the more noticeable differences between Australia and the US. Little coup hatchbacks like this are extremely popular. I don't see many big cars at all. There are a few minivans and SUVs, but even those are mid-size. I haven't seen even one Suburban/Expedition size of personal vehicle. With gas prices so high though, it would be extremely hard to justify a large gas-guzzler. Gas (or petrol, as Aussies would say) is about $1.36 per litre, which I think comes out to roughly $4/gal. Australians, or at least Canberrans, are also very environmentally conscious.
This is Old Parliament House again. I visited it this weekend; if you look carefully, I'm the small figure on the right. It was really interesting. They had an exhibit on the Great Depression, and the experiences seemed very similar to those of most people in the US. In terms of politics, Australia is a parliamentary system, pretty different from the US. (For more detail, I'd recommend wikipedia.) Their Prime Minister is John Howard, who has had a close relationship with George W. Bush.
Though Australia also has troops serving in Iraq, oddly enough the war is not very controversial here. There are a couple main reasons why:
First of all, Australia has very few troops serving in Iraq, and they haven't suffered even one causality.
Second, Australia didn't go into Iraq with the goal of ousting Saddam Housein, spreading democracy, or any of the reasons the US did. Australia supported the War in Iraq because it was holding up its end of the ANZUS treaty. This defensive treaty, signed in 1951, promises the United States' defense of Australia (and New Zealand) if necessary. Australia sent troops to Iraq to hold up its end of the alliance.
(This is just the beautiful view from the step of Old Parliament House.) Also at the Old Parliament House is housed the National Portrait Gallery, which is an art gallery that showcases portraits of Australians. There was also an exhibit about Australia's "creative diaspora." Australia has the problem of losing much of its creative individuals (artists, actors, directors, musicians, etc.) to places like New York, LA, Paris, and London. There just aren't the jobs (or demand) for their talent in Australia.