Western Australia and the City of Perth

Area: Western Australia’s land surface takes up roughly one third of the area of the Australian continent. Put another way it would fit into China approximately four times, Western Europe once and is about twenty five times the size of South Korea.

Climate: With such a large land and sea area, climate varies significantly from north to south. Mainly tropical conditions above the Tropic of Capricorn and cool wet winters and moderate to hot dry summers are experienced around Perth and to the south.

Terrain: A contrast of ancient, rugged hills, rich agricultural land, desert-like areas, magnificent timber forests, and spectacular coastline and beaches. 5 million hectares (equal to half the size of Japan), is protected and includes national and marine parks and forests which, make up the landscape terrain of Western Australia.

Location: Perth (the capital city of Western Australia), was built on the banks of the Swan River which flows into a busy shipping harbour at Fremantle. Suburbs stretch some 100km along the coast from north to south (fishing and water sports are popular and accessible) and east beyond the Darling Scarp. Many businesses, government offices and shops are situated in the central city. There are also large suburban business centres.

Our Government: Western Australia is one of six states and two territories, which make up the federation of Australia. Each state government is headed by a premier (see our current premier’s letter of welcome a few pages back), with responsibility over matters such as law enforcement, justice, public hospitals, public education, labor relations, infrastructure and public transport  The two territories (Australian Capital Territory or ACT and Northern Territory or NT) are self-governing, but with fewer constitutional powers. The state elections in WA are held every four years.

Population: Western Australia has a population of just over 2.5 million people, with more than two-thirds the total population living in Perth, and surrounding areas. Perth has a multicultural population, with people from many different countries, and of many religious and ethnic backgrounds. Australia as a nation now has a population of just over 23 million people.

The Noongar people

First Aboriginal People in the Perth & South West Region: Archaeological evidence from around Perth and Albany suggests that the Noongar Aboriginal people have lived in the area for at least 45,000 years. There are even some caves at Devil’s lair amongst the hills of Margaret River dating back 47,000 years, which show evidence of the Noongar people having lived there.

The Noongar people lived in balance with the natural environment. Their social structure was focused on the family with Noongar family groups occupying distinct areas of Noongar Country.

For the Noongar People in the Perth area the main food source came from the sea, the Swan River and the extensive system of freshwater lakes that once lay between the coast and the Darling Escarpment. Further south and east the Noongar people lived off the resources of the Karri and Jarrah forests. In the southern coastal area around Albany the Noongar people built fish traps and hunted turtle. To the north east Noongar people lived in the semi arid regions of what is now the wheat belt. It is known that the Noongar people traveled within their country to trade with other families. What is now the Albany Highway was once a Noongar track between families in Perth and Albany (today a bitumen highway between both cities). Other trade routes existed in the south west and representatives could often travel for hundreds of kilometers on foot between each family group.

The Noongar People & European Arrival: Once the European people had arrived, Captain James Stirling noted that the Noongar people ‘seemed angry’ at the invasion of their territory. Noongar People were not happy at the invasion of their country; however, at one of the first formal meetings between the Noongar people and Europeans the two groups exchanged goods and basic communication, in a relatively pleasant arrangement. During the early days of the Swan river colony, which later became the city of Perth, both the Noongar People and settlers live close by, being cautious and respectful of each other. History has not been kind to the Noongar, nor other aboriginal people in Australia. Today more positive steps are being made by governments and the community to have a more equal balance and quality of life for all people living in Australia.

Today it is with proud acknowledgement that the Noongar people recognise that all five universities, our TAFE and other college campuses, as well as schools are all built on the grounds where Noongar people have walked and lived down through history. Here there is now education available for all Australians. Students from many countries around the world are also welcomed here to study in Western Australia.

Economy: Western Australia has extensive and varied mineral deposits including iron ore, nickel, gold and aluminum. There are also offshore deposits of oil and gas. Agricultural exports include different types of animal meats, cereals, fruit and vegetables. Other important industries are international education, pearlfarming, fishing, wine and eco-tourism.

Perth (Our Capital City)

Perth was built on the banks of the Swan River which flows into a busy shipping harbour at Fremantle. Suburbs stretch some 100km along the coast from north to south (fishing and water sports are popular and accessible) and east to the Darling Scarp. Many businesses, government offices and shops are situated in the central city. There are also large suburban business centres.

Fremantle (Our Port City)

Originally a port township, Fremantle has over time become a large suburb of metropolitan Perth. It is on the south east side of the entrance to the Swan River and is also a large town in its own right, with many surrounding suburbs. Fremantle is about 15km, south of central Perth city.

Population: Currently Fremantle has a population of around 28,000 people; this is expected to increase gradually over the next few years as more housing and industrial infrastructure is built.

Lifestyle: Fremantle town is a mixture of small and large business, with many cafes, restaurants, movie theatres and theatres for live performances. The arts are very strong and well attended in Fremantle.

Education Campuses: Within the inner area of Fremantle are education campuses, including Notre Dame University, Challenger Institute of Technology and a large number of schools and colleges.

Sport & Recreation: Many sports games are also popular with Fremantle’s population. These included surfing, fishing, sailing (America’s Cup), swimming, football, basketball, soccer, bicycle racing and many other sporting activities.

History: On 2nd May, 1829, Captain Charles Fremantle took formal possession of the west coast of Australia on the south head of the Swan River. He was slightly ahead of the first settlers in vessels commanded by Captain James Stirling. A few months later Stirling named the area Fremantle.


Living in Australia

Lifestyle: Australians have a relaxed lifestyle which many students find to their liking, especially for study. Depending on their home locality, students will assess Perth as – large, small, busy, sleepy, noisy, quiet, friendly, unfriendly, orderly, interesting, dull, boring, etc. Whatever your reaction, give yourself time to settle in and get used to your new surroundings.

Equality: In Australia women and men are generally treated as equals, regardless of income, financial or community standing. Homestay hosts, landlords (or ladies), waitresses, taxi drivers, gardeners, cleaners or shop assistants are not inferior and do not have servant status. In fact, many students do some of these jobs to earn money while they study.

Status of Women: Australian women may seem more independent and assertive compared to those from some cultures and countries. This is a reflection of equality in our culture. Most Australian women expect to be treated as equals and will resent any suggestion that their status is different from men. However, it is still a tradition to extend certain courtesies to a woman in some matters, such as opening a car door.

Servants: There are very few servants in Australia. If you have been used to having servants to carry your luggage, wash your clothes, cook your meals, clean your rooms, and so on, you may find difficulties at first because, mostly, you will be expected to do these things for yourself. In Australia most people, including the wealthy, do their own dishwashing, dig their own gardens, even repair their own cars and paint their own houses.

Informality: Australians tend to be informal, both in dress and speech, compared to some cultures. Many Australians greet each other by using a first (given or Christian) name. Older people are usually addressed more formally. You may be surprised to hear some Australian students being very informal with lecturers and other people in authority. If you are uncertain how you should address some people, the simplest method is to start by being formal and to wait for the senior person to invite a more informal address.

Good Manners: Certain behaviours which are acceptable in your home country may be considered offensive in Australia. For example spitting in public, can easily cause offense to those  people around you and spread disease, as would coughing without covering your mouth with your hand or tissues. If you are uncertain of whether something may be considered offensive, your student advisor will be able to offer some advice. Through being mindful not to offend others, you will have a more enjoyable stay in Australia.

Code of Dress: Casual and comfortable clothing is worn on all but a few formal occasions. There are very few occasions when a student would be required to dress formally, except for university graduation or a formal ball. On campus, most students wear jeans, trousers dresses, skirts or shorts. Ties and jackets are very rarely worn outside of business and formal events. It is suggested that you wear clothing in which you feel comfortable. Fashion in Australia, particularly for students (both male and female) usually reflects trends of the moment and season. Where Western women’s fashion is minimal, compared to some cultures,  this should by no means be interpreted to suggest sexual availability or ‘easiness’ of any kind.

Bargaining: is not normally done in Australian shops. The prices marked are the prices at which goods are purchased. ‘Garage sales’ and ‘Swap Meets’ are opportunities for people to sell their unwanted household goods either at their home, or sometimes in local community car parks. Bargaining is acceptable in these circumstances and many students have purchased some useful household goods very cheaply this way.

Tipping: is not general practice and is by no means expected. However, a tip of no more than 15% might be appropriate and would be appreciated on an occasion when the service provided is exceptionally good, for example at a restaurant. Generally, employees receive high enough wages so that tips are not needed.

Gambling: In Australia, gambling is common, especially on horse races, football, lotteries and card games. Here, as in the rest of the world, it is much easier to lose money than to win.  Crown Casino Perth is the only legal casino in Western Australia. The minimum age for entry to the Casino and Tabs (gambling on horses) is eighteen. People attending illegal casinos and gambling houses run the risk of police arrest and prosecution.

Gambling when it becomes frequent, may result in large financial losses. Obviously, the stresses and worry of gambling can have a disastrous effect on study. Gambling is addictive for some people and CISWA recommends that you see a Counsellor, Advisor or call the Problem Gambling helpline as soon as possible.

Alcohol: Australians drink alcoholic liquor such as beer, wines and spirits, particularly at social gatherings. However, many people choose not to drink alcohol for a number of reasons including health and religious reasons. It is therefore most acceptable to ask for non-alcoholic drinks such as iced water, soft drinks or fruit juice in these social settings. People under eighteen years of age are not permitted to buy alcoholic drinks. Drinking alcohol over the limit and driving a car/motorbike etc. is a criminal offence and there are heavy penalties for those who drive while under the influence of alcohol. Many young people now appoint a driver or ‘skipper’ for the night out. This person does not drink any alcohol during the night out, as he or she is responsible for driving all other passengers safely home.

Drinking alcohol has become strongly associated with many cultures and as a consequence, some people develop problems with alcohol. Drinking excessively and/or too frequently are examples of misuse of alcohol, which can have serious negative effects on health, personal safety, relationships, finances, and studies. The Alcohol and Drug Information hotline can provide help for individuals who think they may have a problem with alcohol.

Illicit Drugs: As with many countries, some young people choose to engage in recreational use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine (ICE), heroin, etc. No drug is safe! All can have disastrous effects on health and personality, and can also be fatal. Most illicit substances are addictive, and much crime is committed by individuals with drug addictions desperate to get money to support their drug habit. Individuals found in possession of illicit drugs will be charged by police and may be sent to prison or deported and disallowed re-entry into Australia. If you know somebody whose use of illicit drugs concerns you, you may want to put them in contact with the Alcohol and Drug Information hotline who can provide help for individuals who think they may have a problem with alcohol.

Home Burglaries: You can defend yourself and your property using reasonable force, but don’t put yourself at risk of any harm to yourself. No object or thing is worth defending more than yourself. Home burglaries, must be reported to the police on 131 444. The Police are there to help you and may eventually recover your stolen goods.

Keeping Appointments: To be “on time for an appointment” is regarded as VERY important in Australian culture. When you are invited to attend an Australian function, make sure that you ask what time you should arrive and try to be there at that time. For a business or study appointment, it is worth arriving a few minutes early. Always make sure that you have clear directions to get to the place of your appointment, and allow a little extra time to get there.

Invitations: If you say ‘yes’ to an invitation it is seen as impolite if you fail to keep the appointment. It is quite acceptable to refuse an invitation. You can make your refusal polite by giving an appropriate reason (e.g. that you are too busy with exams, have another appointment, etc.). If for some reason you are unable to keep an appointment which you have arranged, you should contact your hosts and let them know before the day if possible.

If you are invited to a party and asked to “bring a plate”, this means that you are expected to take along a plate of food which can be shared with the food brought by other guests. “BYO” on an invitation, stands for “Bring your own”. This may include bringing your own drink as well as your own food.

Meals:  Most Australians have three meals a day: breakfast at around 7-8 a.m., lunch around 12 noon – 1 p.m. and an evening meal at around 6-8 p.m. If you are invited to an Australian home for a meal, you can generally expect to eat your meal with a knife, fork and spoon; although these days with such a multi-cultural population, you could expect to eat different foods in many different ways. You can ask your homestay host to guide you how to use items on the set table.

Relationships: Those who come from other countries with different traditions need to bear in mind that young people in this country have grown up accustomed to informality in social settings. Australian customs may be different from yours and may take some time for you to understand. Students and other young people often go out in mixed groups or with girlfriends or boyfriends without their parents.

Bullying & Harassment: In Australia nobody has to tolerate being harassed, unfairly intimidated or bullied in any social, sporting or academic setting. If you experience this type of treatment, where you feel you are the target of bullying, teasing, or other form of harassment you should go immediately to the Equity Officer or Student Adviser on your campus (who will treat this matter in confidence) and ask for help in dealing with the situation.

Racially offensive behaviour occurs in most countries of the world.

Here in Australia it is unlawful to vilify or treat a person unfairly because of their race.

Discrimination on the basis of race or religious conviction is prohibited under the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act, 1984. The Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against people on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy, family responsibility or family status, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age or gender history in the areas of:

  • Work
  • Accommodation
  • Provision of goods
  • Facilities and services
  • Access to places and vehicles
  • Land
  • Membership of a club

To be unlawful, discrimination must satisfy the following conditions:

  • It is reasonably likely, in all circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person, or group of people; and Is done because of the race, colour, nationality, national or ethnic origin of the other person or some or all the people in the group, which includes relatives or associates
  • It must be serious racial harassment and not “petty name calling.”

If any of the above happens to you, or if you are not sure, CISWA encourages you to go and see your Student Advisor or Counsellor; to help you to sort it out and decide whether the matter should be officially reported to police. Please understand, if you have received any kind of racial harassment, you ARE NOT IN TROUBLE, which is why you must report it to your student advisor. It may also pay to mention that the majority of offences committed on international students occur during the hours of darkness, when the students are alone and at locations where offenders are known to frequent i.e. train stations, car parks.

Conversation: Try not to worry if at first you are not fluent in the English language. If people speak too fast, ask them to speak a little more slowly. The more you speak English, the more fluent you will become.  Some questions are not normally asked in Australia unless you know the person very well or you are related to them. Questions relating to age, income and personal wealth are not usually asked of people. If you would like to know the cost of a particular item, ask the question in a non-personal way.  For example, you could say “How much does the average house cost in Perth?” or, “What is the average wage in Australia today?”  This type of question is quite acceptable and will not cause embarrassment.

Aussie Slang: Soon after your arrival in Australia you are going to hear words spoken that are going to make you wonder if the English language you learnt is adequate for you to undertake your studies. Many Australian’s like to shorten words, or make them run together to sound like one word OR something completely different which will make you scratch your head in wonder. The web will show you a whole lot more, if you are interested. Most people new to our country are to shy to ask, so to help you understand some of these words, we include a few commonly used examples:

G’day Mate owyagoin = Hello Mr, Sir or Ms how are you?

Mozzies = mosquitos

Akubra = a brimmed hat commonly worn by farming people and country people.

Show you the ropes = show you how to work something out.

Your shout = its your turn to pay for the next round of drinks for everyone in your group.

Unreal = excellent

Veg out = laze around and do nothing (sleep, relax)

That’s a bit much = a bit excessive or rude

About time! = Finally! At last he (or she), is going to…

Are you with me = Do you understand?

Awesome = excellent, exciting, fantastic

Act your age = said when someone is acting in an irritating manner

Cactus =  I am exhausted, worn out, feeling wrecked

Cut to the chase = say what you mean and get to the point

Hoon = a person who drives fast cars, loudly and recklessly

Keep your shirt on = don’t get angry

Nibblies  = a plate of food to bring along to a party

Nip out = go out briefly (for example, to buy some milk)

Roadworthy = a car legally licensed and insured to be driven on the road

Speedos = small close fitting men’s swimwear

Time out = short break for ‘teams’ to reconsider their position

Un Australian = a term directed at persons or groups who use or act out shameful behaviour

Deli = small shop set amongst housing, selling daily paper, milk, bread etc.


Australian National Anthem


Australians all let us rejoice,

For we are young and free.

We’ve golden soils and wealth for toil,

Our home is girt by sea.

Our land abounds in nature’s gifts

Of beauty rich and rare.

In history’s page, let every stage

Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing.

Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross

We’ll toils with hearts and hands.

To make this Commonwealth of ours

Renowned of all the lands.

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share

With courage let us all combine

To advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,

Advance Australia Fair.