Australia: Nanny State?

When they return home, many Australians who have travelled abroad call their country "The Nanny State".
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Do and Don't Signs

We felt the number of Do and Don't pictograms posted in Sydney, NSW public transport to be a bit overwhelming, but at least a passenger has time to decipher them while riding a train or bus. Even within city limits, the number of warning pictograms for natural risks can be a bit daunting at first, but one gets used to seeing them posted in all public places in Australia.
Before entering a park or any protected area in Australia with our vehicle, we often needed either to stop in front of these signs to absorb all their instructions, or leave our vehicle further and walk back to these postings to study them and make sure we fully understood the do's and don'ts expected from visitors. We suppose the message is tailored according to the time one spends in a place. In this regard, we liked elevators better though, less to read!
Following road sign instructions in Australia will not only help you slow down not to hurt kids, or keep to the left side of the road to avoid a collision. It will also encourage you to stop at a rest area to make sure that you "survive the drive" and invite you to stop and take out your camera at the next point of interest. Just follow the signs!
We often marveled at the quality of the slogans put together by the Australian authorities: relying on rhyme and alliteration as mnemotechnics they are effective in raising public awareness, particularly on security issues. So, "look, lock, leave" and don't forget: "lock it or lose it".

Alcohol Consumption

Before coming to Australia, we had never seen drive-in bottleshops. With a person in charge of placing cardbox boxes directly in the trunk of your car, they certainly are a quick and convenient way of hauling a large quantity of alcohol in a single trip. Yet, particularly in parts of the country where alcoholism is a widespread calamity, bottleshop opening hours are strictly regulated. Wherever the bottleshops open only at noon, it is not rare to see people sitting on the parking lot tarmac all morning long, waiting...
In Australia, we also discovered that not only cities, but towns, even small communities, frequently post dry zone signs within their jurisdiction. Sometimes not only consumption, but also possession, is clearly targeted by the street signs.
Exhibiting a car carcass contorted by a violent collision is no doubt an effective illustration of the dangers involved in reckless driving in Western Australia, whether or not under the influence of alcohol. How thoughtful to establish a rest area right next to a winery in Victoria! This way travelers can recover from too much wine tasting, before hitting the road again. This nightbus seen cruising around in Perth, WA can be rented for private parties, thus freeing attendants from the problem of having to choose between drinking and driving.
It took us a while to realize why Australian boats and ships had a "no-drugs-fitted" sticker on lifeboat units. It is not to remind passengers that they should bring their own goodies with them before hopping into a lifeboat, is it?

Health, Well Being and Great Concern for Physical Safety

While the first half of this poster invites visitors to Kakadu National Park to "respect the country and help look after it", the other half is entirely focused on how to look after oneself: driving recommendations, basic reminders on protection against heat, dehydration, mosquitoes etc., and lastly the dangers involved in activities such as swimming, rowing, walking. Australia is a very safe country, no doubt due in part to such commendable efforts made to raise awareness about its harshness of climate and nature. In fact, the fatality rate among foreign visitors is 0.000675% (one in 15,000 tourists). And although 2/3 of which involve vehicle collisions, that will not keep everyone from warning you about the oddest stories of accidents and animal attacks that ever happened in this country!
So let's focus now on the dangers of the big city and the safety measures taken by the Sydney Public Transport System to fight criminality. This white ribbon drawn along the railway track directs night passengers into a zone which is lit up at night and is within the scope of surveillance cameras.
Definition of spiking: putting something -- drugs or alcohol or more of it -- into someone's drink to take advantage of that person. This information board was posted in ladies' toilets of bars and restaurants in NSW as part of a larger scope, cross-country campaign aiming to reduce violence made to women. This effort particularly targets the three groups of Australian women most at risk of sexual assault: younger women, those who are not in a current relationship, and indigenous females (who report 3 times as many incidents as non-indigenous ones).
Note: This "important message from the Prime Minister about internet safety" was produced by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Commonwealth of Australia, in 2007. Whom children meet online, their risk of being bullied online, what inappropriate material they might have access to, are among the subjects covered to help families protect themselves. Regardless of the need for such a campaign, we were just surprised that a Prime Minister would get personally involved...
Seen in a public library, the first chapter in this guide titled "How to Use Your Computer Safely" covers "the risk of causing yourself an injury by using the equipment incorrectly". In case you wonder, it does not refer to electrocution but to ergonomic recommendations. As important and relevant as this advice is to work comfortably on a computer, one can maybe wonder about the choice of the word "safety" in this context.
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No hat no play: this rule is strictly enforced in Australian schools and kindergartens. Although Australia retains the highest rate in the world of melanoma and other skin cancers, its prognostics for younger generations have dramatically improved thanks to such policies combined with awareness campaigns. Note how caps are part of school uniforms for teenagers as well as for little ones, whose legionnaire-style hats protect the back of the neck. Another example presented here impressed us a great deal: free sun protection dispensers seen on the fairgrounds in Perth, WA.
The Cancer Council of Western Australia publishes this poster to promote two messages in one as part of its campaign "Lifestyle choices": Be physically active every day and eat fruit and vegetables.
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Safety is such a focus in Australia, more especially when children are involved, that they come up with unique features such as a playground swing equipped with a safety belt! Because kids' mental well-being is just as important, they are taught at an early age to assess the status of their emotions through an "emotional thermometer". We also thought interesting that a "catastrophe scale" would aim at downplaying the importance of a child's mistakes. We were even more intrigued by the idea of bringing up serious problems such as being arrested by the police, being beaten up, attacked by a shark, involved in a car crash or worse even: natural catastrophes such as a volcanic eruption, a house on fire or the explosion of this earth. We can't quite see how inviting kids to contemplate such terrible possibilities or rather improbable dangers would contribute to their well-being rather than potentially build new anxieties in them, but really we are no experts.
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Public Toilet Map

The Department of Health and Ageing publishes a brochure which could be dubbed "SOS Toilet" and runs a helpline, e-mail (, fax and SMS service to help you locate the nearest toilet facilities.
The insert photo on the left shows how Tasmanians opted for a much cheaper way to help the public locate the nearest toilets. This sign was seen on the parking lot of a lookout.
Although the reminders to wash one's hands before leaving a washroom are commonly seen in many countries, we had never seen panels explaining how to use the toilet until we arrived in Alice Springs area. We thought this was a bit far-fetched... until we experienced with our own eyes -- and not just once -- the living proof that there was a need indeed for such campaigns.


The way the well-being of minorities is taken into account in many aspects of everyday life seems a good illustration as to why and how Australia ranks second in the United Nations ratings of Human Development Index.

Senior Citizens

Here, a sign "aged" doubles the otherwise classic "Pedestrian crossing" warning, to invite drivers to be particularly careful of the senior citizens of their town. Antique books are valued too!

Gays and Lesbians

We found in Tasmania this "Guide for the Gay or Lesbian Visitor", a joint initiative from
It praises the fact that Tasmania has always been one of the more open-minded states in Australia, possibly because of its past as a penitentiary colony in which the ratio of female convicts was much lower than that of male.

Women Non-English Speakers

This sign, posted in the public washrooms throughout the Sydney area, shows how much care is taken by authorities in reaching out to women who would have suffered from sexual violence. To make certain all women, regardless of language barriers, know that they will be listened to, this poster translates its message into Spanish, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Slovenian, and several others we could not identify.


This poster, seen in the town center of Katherine in NT, was put up by the Traditional Owners of the area. It reflects the degree of acknowledgement of indigenous people in Australian policy but also how the various Aboriginal communities are experimenting with establishing "social protocols" within Australian society.

Disabled Children

Here playground facilities cater to disabled children. When seeing the quantity of instructions provided, a non-Australian parent might deduct from them that this equipment is simply too dangerous to be entrusted with one's child. Whereas an Australian parent knows these are mere precautions, mentioned mainly to satisfy liability issues.

Safety and Legal Disclaimers

Australian crocodiles might find you quite appetizing and be lying in wait while you are trying to launch a boat, fish by the river bank, clean your fish or swim... They are said to be very quick at identifying behavioral patterns and, as a result, one should not return to the same spot by the water twice in a row.
Jellybox fish is another serious hazard related to water recreation in some parts of Australia.
Typically, as in this sign, it is often difficult to tell apart the informative from the liability-oriented messages. In this case, pointing out that serious stings may occur even during the less dangerous months might be a disclaimer.
In Australia, even trees are dangerous for the public. Visitors can still have their fun, even if they cannot camp, build fires, bring their dogs, collect anything, swim, walk on slippery surfs, climb rocks or get near cliffs.
This collection of panels reflects the staggering number of warning signs posted on virtually any public place in Australia. Whether it turns visitors overly paranoid or, on the contrary, creates a cry-wolf effect on them is debatable. One way or another, the liability issue is covered.
Heading out after a careful visit by an ocean shore full of hazards, more dangers lie on the road: the absence of lines and the uncertainty of overtaking.
Urban parks would be dangerous areas too, were it not for the watchful help of local councils. In Darwin, coconut trees are carefully trimmed of their fruit to prevent one from falling on a visitor's head. It is no doubt cheaper for the city council to pay for their removal rather than fork out extra insurance premiums or face a liability claim.
Public or private buildings will also display all sorts of warning signs, such as the risk involved in door slamming for instance. Many product labels reflect the same concerns for safety and liability issues.
Public areas polluted with asbestos post disclaimers in the form of warnings. Often, private properties will go one step further by prohibiting entry without permission. Obtaining a permit includes for visitors to sign a disclaimer stating they were fully notified of all hazards involved.

Citizen Education

Citizens are encouraged to report faulty public equipment for the safety and benefit of others, such as here for traffic lights. Reporting is made very easy thanks to a toll-free telephone number and a system assigning a number to each traffic light. Such initiatives contribute to public works efficiency while developing a stronger sense of community.
Because citizens may not be as ready to report a crime as a faulty traffic light, rewards are often used as an incentive, whether to protect public property from vandalism or criminal fishing activities.