Three Persistent Myths About Australia That Just Aren't True, According to Data

A lot of people think Australians are fit

There is a perception that Australian’s are athletic, rugged outdoorsmen, equally-able to wrestle a crocodile, box a kangaroo and run in a winning try, and that’s before lunchtime.

This idea is a product of pride in our sports teams, who — despite some recent rough patches — generally kick ass. Our prime minister is also known for getting around in a pair of speedos, and his first act after winning the election was to go for a bike ride, which has got to count for something.

Sport, and its association with health, is an important part of Australia’s identity. Many historical events, which played an important role in how we see ourselves as a nation, have been competitive pursuits, such Alan Bond’s Americas Cup win, the Bodyline Cricket Series and famous race horse Phar Lap (and now you could throw in Black Caviar).

There’s also that European settlement started after the country was turned into a massive jail, and then populated with rural settlers, who became the farmers that are synonymous with Australia.

Anyway, a lot of people think Australians look like this:

Photo: Getty Images

Or this:

Or, this:

Photo: Getty Images

In reality though, there’s heaps of fat people, who look like this:

Photo: Getty Images

Or this:

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows in 2011-12 (its latest data), 62.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese, comprised of 35.3% overweight and 27.5% obese.

That sounds bad enough, but a recent report says the method commonly used to gauge this — your BMI index — could not be the best way, with the study of Australians’ waistlines finding way more of us are obese than previously thought.

Here’s some figures from Monash University, which are pretty scary:

  • Fourteen million Australians are overweight or obese
  • If weight gain continues at current levels, by 2025, close to 80% of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese
  • Obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia
  • On the basis of present trends we can predict that by the time they reach the age of 20 our kids will have a shorter life expectancy than earlier generations simply because of obesity

A lot of people think Australians are relaxed

And heaps are. But relaxing usually goes together with free time, which Australian’s have precious little of. A recent study found one-in-five Australians work more than 50 hours per week, which makes the country one of hardest working in the OECD club of rich countries.

Economic pressure (thanks, economic crisis and the mining slowdown) mean firms want their workers to do more, and the people with jobs are feeling the pressure, and working longer hours for it. In all occupations, people are stressed and doing more with less.

A lot of people from other countries imagine Australians as easygoing and unflappable, an image helped along by famous films such as Crocodile Dundee, and stereotypes which are reinforced by other forms of media.

If you were to take the most extreme stereotype, and apply it to a fictional conversation with an Australian CEO, it would go something like this:

Employee: “Mate, if we don’t de-leverage, the entire company is going to be buggered.”

CEO: “She’ll be right, let’s just throw another shrimp on the barbie and we’ll chance it.”

Which all leads some less-informed observers to think Australians look like this:

Or this:

When, in fact, they’re most likely to look like this:

Photo: Getty Images

Or this:

Photo: Getty Images

That everyone’s a drunk

People think Australians drink a lot. And they do, that’s actually true. But they are drinking less, and better.

Beer is interwoven through the fabric of Australia’s cultural heritage, though we’re drinking less of it. The latest data from the ABS shows that Australians are drinking 44 fewer standard drinks of beer than they were in 2008.

When many people think of Australia, they think this:

Photo: Getty Images

Or this:

When really, it’s this:

The data says the average person consumes 331 standard drinks of beer each year compared to 304 glasses of wine, but that we’re drinking less overall. On average Australians are drinking 56 fewer standard alcoholic drinks per year than in 2008.

So, slightly less drinking (though still a lot) but more wine, and spirits — and less beer.


There’s lots of other things which people think, that are not true. There are misconceptions about any country, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But these are three of the biggest things about Australia which, if you were going off the data, are not really true.

Now read: IT’S A DEAL: US Senate Leaders Announce Fiscal Agreement That Ted Cruz Won’t Block

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