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Australian cultural customs

Australia's multicultural society is made up of people from over 210 different nationalities, so it is difficult to define what is 'typical' in Australian culture or social customs.

However, there are some values most Australians consider important:

  • That people will be given a 'fair go': that is, that you will be treated equitably. For example, La Trobe has advocates, grievance procedures, Academic Progress Committees and an Ombudsman to give students with a conflict an opportunity to explain their version of events, or their situation.
  • Respect for the rights of the individual: in Australia there is an emphasis on individual achievement. Other students may not be greatly concerned about the opinions of friends and family, and may be more likely to make decisions based upon what they want for themselves.

Australia strives to be a democratic society: the aim is that people will be treated the same. Young people in Australia do not necessarily show others more respect because they're older. For example, academic staff may ask you to address them by their first name.

Social customs

Your own customs can be maintained within the Australian community and most Australians will understand your reasons. For example, if your religion prohibits you from eating certain foods or drinking alcohol, you will be able to maintain these customs.

Physical contact

Within families and close circles of friends, women will often greet other members with a kiss on the cheek and men will often greet each other by shaking hands.

Australian men generally do not openly display strong affection for male friends. It is not common to see Australian men showing affection towards each other in public even if they are very close friends. The exception to this might be while playing sport, and at family gatherings, or between homosexual men.

Signs of affection between males and females are more common and it is quite normal to see couples holding hands, and sometimes same-sex couples, holding hands, walking arm-in-arm or kissing in public.

Keeping appointments

In Australia it is considered rude not to keep an appointment once you have accepted an invitation. If you do not wish to accept an invitation, the custom is to say so immediately. It is also acceptable to express doubt as to your availability, and contact your 'host' later.

If you have a professional appointment that you are unable to attend you should call and reschedule or cancel before the appointment time, as it can appear very rude to just not attend.


The most common invitations are to dinner (sometimes called tea) at someone's house (in which case it is polite but not compulsory to bring a small contribution, such as a bottle of wine or box of chocolates), to a party at someone's house, or going out for dinner or drinks at a pub, restaurant or café.


Punctuality is important, whether you have an appointment or have been invited to a social event. If you are running late, or need to cancel the appointment, it is considered polite to let the person know.


In Victoria, smoking is not permitted in restaurants, bars and pubs or in public buildings, which includes all buildings on campus. Many Australians do not smoke and ask visitors to smoke outside when visiting their home.

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