Health FAQs

Is it safe to drink the water in Australia?

Yes, although it can taste quite different city to city. Brisbane’s water is neutral tasting. If travelling through remote areas you may find soap and toothpaste won’t foam up: this is known as ‘hard’ water which contains a lot of calcium and magnesium carbonates from limestone and chalk deposits. It is not dangerous. Do not drink from water sources in natural environments unless advised otherwise. Always carry large volumes of fresh drinking water when travelling long distances by car through remote areas. Using water from a tap, unless it’s signed otherwise, is extremely safe. This means you can refill your bottle and won’t have to keep buying plastic ones. 

Make sure you have good travel insurance

Public hospitals are free to locals but not to travellers. Unlike in the US, it is easy enough to see a General Practitioner by making an appointment. All large hospitals (private and public) have emergency departments. Waits are generally longer at public hospitals and it may be better to go private as you will be paying anyway.

Be aware that UV levels are often higher in Australia

It’s best to use sunscreen or avoid exposure to the sun as much as possible.

Comfort and health on the long flight

Some airlines supply an eye mask and earplugs, but it’s best to make sure of these essentials for such a long flight. Noise-cancelling headphones are great as the noise can be quite wearying. Make sure you get up and move around when possible. Rotate your ankles and move your legs even in your seat as often as you can. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a danger on long flights. If you have asymmetrical swelling in your legs after a long flight, see a doctor straight away.

Dealing with jet lag

US East Coast travellers may opt to stay overnight in Los Angeles or Hawaii and catch a morning flight to Australia to help reduce jet lag. With or without a layover, try to arrive a full day earlier to allow time to recover. Adjust your watch to the final destination and synch your sleeping patterns from the moment you depart home. You will be able to check into Women’s College on June 29th; no activities are scheduled for that day so you can recuperate from jet lag.

What will the weather be like during the conference?

The US summer is Australia’s winter. The average temperature in Queensland for the time during which the conference will be held: 10 degrees Celsius overnight, 21 degrees Celsius during the day (50F-70F). This is the perfect time to visit! Australia uses Celsius to measure temperature. A rough guide to achieve Fahrenheit is to double the number and add around 30. The accurate way is to type Celsius to Fahrenheit into Google or use this conversion site.   

Average Monthly Brisbane Temperatures

The southern states can be quite chilly and snow isn’t uncommon. Bring a few layers if travelling to southern states. For up-to-date Brisbane forecasts and reliable weather everywhere.

Wildlife FAQ

What kind of native wildlife is common in and around Brisbane? Will I have to travel far to see kangaroos, koalas and other stereotypical Australian fauna?

You will see lots of bird life in Brisbane but you are unlikely to encounter much other fauna. You will see brushtail and ringtail possums at night and water dragons are common around water. [Geoff has seen a water dragon at the lake near Women’s College.] As in most major cities, animals tend to shy away from humans. Brisbane does not have a zoo but it does have smaller wildlife sanctuaries where you can see many of our native animals. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is in Brisbane, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is an hour’s drive south and the well-known Australia Zoo is a 2.5-hour train and bus trip north of Brisbane or a 1-hour 20-minute drive by car. There will be some trips organized for conference goers. 

One site showing a range of activities for various states and territories [Click on Queensland]: www.mynrma.com.au/Membership/Benefits/Features/ activities-Wildlife 

National Parks of Australia [Click on Queensland]: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park 

Should I be worried about dangerous local wildlife?

There are some dangerous creatures and plants in Australia but these are not commonly encountered in suburban Brisbane, especially in winter, when snakes and insects are generally scarce. 

There are sharks but no crocodiles in the Brisbane River. If you stay out of the cold, muddy brown water you will be safe. 

Be aware of Green-headed ants when lying down on lawns. Their sting can be painful. 

Funnel-web spiders are only in high rainforest areas in the surrounding ranges and are rarely seen there. 

There is a possibility of seeing a redback spider. They like dry, sheltered habitats and can sometimes hide under outdoor furniture. They look much like a black widow. Bites are serious and painful but as with snakes, there is an antivenom available at hospital emergency departments. 

Ticks are common in the bush in dry conditions. 

That covers most of what you may encounter on campus. Specific warning about possible dangers on field trips will be given to participants before departure. 

I suggest you download the free fauna app from Queensland Museum. All state Museums have their own free version of this app: https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Learning+Resources/Apps

The Queensland Poisons Information Centre also has useful information: www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/chq/ our-services/queensland-poisons-information-centre/ bites-stings/ 


What is the current exchange rate? 


As at 18th December 2018: AUD$1 = US$0.72 - or - US$1 = AUD$1.39 

What is the date format? 

Day/Month/Year - from smallest to biggest - remember to switch the day/month around. The conference is running from 26/06/19 - 06/07/19. 

What do I dial in an emergency? 

000 - do not use anything else! 

Do I need power adaptors in Australia? 

Yes, you will need a power adaptor AND if using US 120 volt appliances, also a voltage converter as Australia uses 240-volt power. The power adaptors are easy to find here at the airport or in many outlets (suitcase shops, department stores). An affordable, lightweight voltage converter will only be useful for low-wattage appliances and may be best purchased before you leave. Most computer and camera chargers are dual voltage. For other appliances, it may be simpler to buy dual voltage travel units, such as travel hair dryers. 


Can I use my cell/mobile phone there? 

Check with your provider. You probably can, some plans allow for it; but international roaming costs can be very, very expensive. Most people prefer to buy a prepaid sim card upon arrival. We have a variety of telco companies. The largest is Telstra which has the best coverage in all areas and if you’re planning to travel to remote areas, it is definitely recommended. Optus, Vodafone and other companies are fine in larger cities but reception can drop the further away you get. I travelled to Australia with a Vodafone plan and it was a problem. If staying in Brisbane then the easiest way is to walk into the newsagent [for Telstra, Optus or Vodaphone] or the Optus shop [Optus only] at Brisbane International Airport, buy a sim and have them confirm it is working before you leave. Telstra has outlets in every city that can do the same. A useful article to read including coverage and pitfalls: 


What time is it there? 

Brisbane is 18 hours ahead of Los Angeles and 15 hours ahead of New York. Australia has 3 time zones during winter. The entire east coast is on AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time). This covers Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT (Aust. Capital Territory). Western Australia is 2 hours behind Queensland. The quickest way to convert is using Google search. Type: time in [your location] and Brisbane. International time zone conversion site - use “Australia - Queensland”: www.timezoneconverter.com 

Credit Cards 

Mastercard and Visa are accepted virtually everywhere. More remote areas may not have credit card facilities; acquiring Australian currency through an exchange service is best done in large cities or at airports. Our notes are $100, $50, $20, $10, $5. Our coins are $2, $1, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents and 5 cents. There are 100 cents to the dollar. Australia uses the metric system for all forms of measurement. 

Our ATMs conform to the global Cirrus system so it’s highly likely you’ll be able to withdraw cash. Discover cards are generally not accepted around Australia but check with your bank. 

The best method is to travel with a few different credit cards and some cash. Acceptance of AmEx and Diners cards is rarer and more limited to larger cities. 

Good information can be gleaned from this website which also covers a lot of other FAQs: 


IMPORTANT: Remember to advise your financial institution of the dates you will be travelling overseas so they don’t freeze your card when you use it for the first time. If you bank online then the website will probably have an area where you can input your travel details. Carry an emergency contact phone number for your credit card provider, just in case.

Cultural and Language Differences

Although you will find many things seem just the same, you are coming to a different country and some things will be very different, that’s what makes travel exciting! Some things that seem strange at first, you may miss when you get home. 

Although Australians see large amounts of US television and movies and will generally understand what Americans mean, there are Australian terms you may not understand or may misinterpret. 


In Australia, it’s a “university”, not a “college”. A “college” here is either a hall of residence at a university or a type of high school. So “Women’s College,” where we will be staying, is a hall of residence with some conference rooms of its own. 

On menus, an “entree” is a starter NOT the main meal. The French “entrée” means entrance, so this makes sense. 

An “ensuite” is a small bathroom attached to a bedroom. This is important when booking rooms. 

A “mobile” phone is a “cell” phone. 

A “fortnight” means two weeks, as in “once a fortnight”. 

Light and power switches go the opposite way to turn on or off. Down is on. 

We refer to the “CBD” i.e. the “Central Business District”. We also talk about “going to town” or “to the city”. 

Just so you don’t put your foot in it, using the term “fanny pack” will cause laughter. “Bum-bag” is used. “Fanny” is slang for female genitalia. “Bum” means “butt”. “Root” is slang for sexual intercourse; we will never say “I’m rooting for you!” 

Plumbing and Water Usage: 

Australian plumbing is different. It’s a “tap”, not a “faucet”. Mixers in showers are more common now but often you will find just hot and cold taps. Generally, when there is a shower above a bath there are two sets of taps. Until we tried to have a shower in L.A. after a long flight, we had never seen the American arrangement where you lift a lever once the water is flowing to get the shower to run. 

Due to frequent droughts, we are water conscious. You will find a half-flush button on toilets for urine and a full flush for more serious business. 

Food and Beverages: 

Australians are now obsessed with good coffee: freshly-roasted beans through an espresso machine. Espresso is a small, very strong coffee, cappuccino is enjoyed at any time (anathema to Italians), a latte is like a cappuccino without the froth on the top and a flat-white has less foam and a smooth, velvety tiny-bubble texture to the milk. There are Starbucks around but most Australians look down on them and seek out local smaller expresso bars for the best cup. In Brisbane, Merlo is the largest local roaster of coffee and sells its beans to many smaller cafes. 

Like America, Australia has an amazing variety of ethnic food because of its migrant populations. There are big fast-food chains, but do seek out smaller places and market food. For example, the pizza place on the campus at St Lucia produces far better pizzas than you will get from any chain. 

There are some local foods you should know about. Most Australians love a yeast extract spread called Vegemite on buttered toast or sandwiches. As an adult I no longer like it. Foreigners tend to apply it far too thick and tend to hate the stuff. It needs to be a thin smear. Tim Tams are a chocolate biscuit (commercial cookie) that you should try them. There are now some variations available. Try the classic or dark versions first. 


Australians are mostly very polite. They form lines (queues), to take their turn in anything, like getting on a bus, buying food, etc. There are individuals who are the opposite of polite but generally “pushing in” will cause outrage. 

Australians both drive and walk on the left. There are many foreigners in cities who don’t follow this convention on footpaths etc., which drives some of us crazy. 

Australia is a much less religious place than America. There are evangelical churches with big memberships and many other religions are practiced here but the average person doesn’t attend church much at all. 

Medicine is both public and private. Medicare covers locals for most of the cost of seeing a doctor and for all public hospital health care. There are GP (general practitioner) practices everywhere. (see health section in FAQs) 

“Drug stores” are “chemists” or “pharmacies”. 

A “diaper” is a “nappy” and a “pacifier” is a “dummy”. 

Here are some useful links about other language and cultural differences: