South West Tasmania...nice clean beach, where are all the people?

There was a thoughtful and thought-provoking article by Europe-based Australian travel writer David Whitley on the Sydney Morning Herald website today. Whitley argues that Australia can never compete with Europe in attracting tourists – Europe has so much that Australia will never be able to match.

We can’t provide tourists with centuries of history or spectacular ancient buildings, says Whitley. We have no great castles or cathedrals or museums like the Louvre or the Uffizi. Our modern architecture, with the Sydney Opera House as a notable exception, is uninspiring. Our mountains are puny compared to the Alps. We have no drawcard festivals like Oktoberfest, Carnivale in Venice or even Queen’s Day in Holland. We don’t even have summer twilight.

In Europe you can travel three hours on a train and traverse three different countries, passing through charming villages and encountering totally different languages and cultures. Three hours on the train from Sydney will take you through Goulburn and Yass.

We Australians know there is more diversity in our country than immediately meets the eye, but it’s hard to convince tourists that a short trip away from central Sydney to Campsie or Auburn will be culturally fascinating.

Anyway, why are we talking competition at all? Are history, architecture, museums and festivals all that travel is about? Hands up anyone who’s ever suffered from cathedral and castle fatigue? Who wants to go to Oktoberfest anyway? What’s the point of whipping through three different countries in three hours just because you can? Are mountains more spectacular just because they’re higher? I queued for an hour and a half to get into the Uffizi and paid a lot of money to shuffle past a couple of Botticellis. Nice, but I’d already seen them in books.

Of course we don’t have Europe’s attractions, but Europe doesn’t have ours, either. Let’s focus for a moment on what we have in Australia which visitors may be interested in – attractions found (almost) exclusively in Australia, and certainly nowhere in Europe.

Exploiting our Aboriginal heritage for tourism must be done sensitively of course, but there is no doubt that a substantial proportion of visitors are interested in learning more about the oldest continuous culture on the planet. (This rock art is from Kakadu National Park.)

Show me a beach an hour or so outside a large European city with no ugly apartment blocks, no cafes and no deckchairs. And even on a sunny day, no people. This is Shoreham beach, on the Mornington Peninsula outside Melbourne.

Naturally our fauna is unique. It's is very rare in Europe to see wild animals of any kind apart from rats and rabbits. This echidna walked across my path in the Blue Mountains.

You won't find any sporting event in Europe quite like the Wyndham Picnic races. They don't have Aussie Rules football either.

There are some pretty forests in Europe, but not one of them smells as good as a Western Australian karri forest. We've done a fine job in getting rid of most of our trees, so I'm pleased we've kept a few down here for the tourists.

Yes, most Australian country towns are unattractive, but not all. This is Beechworth in Victoria. The town has some history too.

To take a photo like this in Europe, I'd probably have to crop out a few houses, or a power line, or a recycling plant. These wetlands do look like this in any direction. Jack's Beach, near Hastings, Victoria.

All right, the township (Nambucca Heads, NSW) is fairly ugly, but the environment is beautiful. And where are your pelicans, Europe?

Sculpture by the Sea, coming soon. Free. I enjoyed the version in Aarhus, Denmark, but the Sydney version wins - easily.

We may feel the promotion of Australia as a place to surf, cuddle koalas and see kangaroos in the outback is getting tired. We may feel we should be doing more to promote ourselves as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan country with smart accommodation, high art and fine dining.

But what really sets us apart for visitors is that Australia, even around its tourist magnets, is not as crowded as Europe, and still has a few natural wonders left.


Filed under Travel- Europe, Travel-Australia

14 responses to “BET YOU CAN’T BEAT THIS, EUROPE!

  1. Love it, well put, Richard. I hope the Australian tourist board is sitting up and taking notice of your ideas.

    • The Australian tourist board can make me a fully-paid ambassador any time, Reggie.

      All they need to do is to send me the credit card and the business class ticket to Europe. Then I’ll spend the rest of my life going round boring castles and cathedrals handing out ‘Visit Australia’ leaflets to people standing in the queues. 😉

      • Hahahaha!!! Good one, richard!

        There is some appealing about those ‘boring old castles and cathedrals’ of Europe, though – I’m speaking as a South African who has only been to Europe three times, and who hasn’t had a chance to develop ‘castle fatigue’ yet!

        But yes, I agree with you – give me the vast open landscapes, uncluttered by houses and people, any day!

  2. Reggie, I’d be just a bit concerned those vast open South African landscapes might be cluttered by hungry cheetahs. Otherwise, I’m sure they’re fine.

    • Oh, I wish they were… I don’t think we have that many cheetahs left in ‘the wild’ actually. You’d be more likely to be charged by sheep or goats or cattle or, at a push, a herd of wildebeest.

  3. I agree with you. Australia shouln’t be marketed as a sophisticated, cultured place. I’m not saying that this isn’t true, but we can’t compete with New York, Paris, London or Rome etc on that level, so why try. We do have kangaroos, fabulous beaches, incredible landscapes not seen anywhere else. It may be a bit hokey, but that is our difference.
    I find it incredible that tourists to Italy queue for hours to get into the Uffizzi ( You don have to if you know which door to go in) when most wouldn’t go into a gallery at home. I absolutely love Italy, but sometimes I long for a beautiful empty beach with soft white sand and surf, and yes I get sick of looking at fabulous churches.
    We have to make the most of what we have and be honest with tourists. They will only be disappointed and never come again if we don’t live up to expectations.

    • It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? In reality we’re a very urban society, and most people who live here seldom or never get into the bush to see kangaroos. But I imagine most Italians don’t visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Coliseum either.

      I love the emptiness of Australia and want to share that enjoyment with as many people as possible. On the other hand, I want those places to remain empty.

  4. shhhhhhhhh!
    I’d rather it stay this way.

    • In some ways, I would too, Kate, but I have also seen some great tourist infrastructure developed in other parts of the world which makes beautiful places accessible without overburdening and destroying them.

      Earning some tourist dollars from forests helps to preserve them from wood-chippers.

  5. Richard, you’ve left out the best: Australians. On the first of nine trips to visit your lovely country, over two decades ago,it was the Sydney cabdrivers who showed us the town, the hotel staff who fed us through four days without power or water during a Cairns cyclone, the driver who taught us the geology and the Dreaming of the Western Macdonnells (and the ladies from the Old Timers home who came along for the ride and the commentary) that made us fall in love with Australia. Whatever anyone thought of “Where the bloody hell are you,” it captured a welcoming spirit that has made us come back again and again. Europe? Bloody hell!

    • Thanks Will. It’s always the people who make a place, and it’s great to hear you met some good ones here.

      We Australians are too modest to tell everyone how bloody fantastic we are, which naturally makes us even better.

  6. I like our trees. There’s so MANY of them. And Europe’s beaches are kids’ sandpits by comparison.

  7. Nambucca

    Must say I normally enjoy your articles, but was extremely disappointed that you described Nambucca Heads as ‘fairly ugly’. It has one of the most beautiful untouched coast lines Australia has to offer and immense cultural history. It offers a lot more then pelican’s.

    • I’m very sorry to disappoint you (or anyone else), but we’re comparing Europe to Australia here, with our tongues in our cheeks.

      The main shopping drag of Nambucca Heads aint exactly the Boulevard Saint Germain, but as you say, the town is set in coastline unrivalled by anything in Europe, which was my point.

      And I love the pelicans on the estuary too. I’d be happy to go back there any time.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment.

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