What It’s Like Living in Australia as a Black Woman

by Ashley Langham

The secrets nobody tells you about the Land Down Under

I have had this quiet obsession with Australia ever since I was in my very early 20s. I knew at some point I wanted to go. I used to watch Chris Lilly mockumentaries on HBO and the first guy I hooked up with right out of college was an Aussie guy, go figure. 

From those very minor experiences, I was hooked! That accent, the laid back attitudes, the sarcastic humor…what is not to love? But it is funny how one’s past comes back to bite, especially when one is not paying close enough attention to their present. 

By this, I am referring to the many microaggressions that I think every Black woman faces. 

We may often overlook them in order to survive; but we are more than aware when someone throws them our way, and with no regard for our humanity. 

When I dated the Australian guy, I seemed to have regularly overlooked the little comments and “jokes” he would make at the expense of my race and my hair. 

I must have placed those memories in the little microaggression box that is nestled somewhere in the depths of my mind. Probably laid next to the box that includes painful childhood traumas, and blackout drunk memories. 

Of course, I told myself that this was just one guy’s opinion or that he didn’t mean anything by it. I didn’t connect the dots as to why he and his friends felt so comfortable considering mild, casual racism to be so humorous. 

Then, I moved to Sydney 5 years later.

Ashley Langham poses in front of a colorful wall in Melbourne, Victoria
Ashley Langham poses in front of a colorful wall in Melbourne, Victoria | Image courtesy of the author

I wish I had paid a bit more attention to these experiences. They would have, at least, given me a bit more insight into Australian culture before I decided to move to Sydney solo. 

I took a chance and learned some hard lessons along the way. In order to help other Black women, like myself, navigate this pretty geographically isolated, mostly White, homogeneously cultured place; I’ve decided to share my secrets for traveling whilst Black to Australia. 

These personal lessons are not to deter anyone from going. Because for all the bad I experienced, there was a lot of good. And, of course, all my lessons came from personal observations and shared experiences with my girlfriends of color.

Plus, I would still recommend anyone to venture to Australia; so that you can gather your own conclusions and see how beautiful Australia truly is. 

1. Don’t be surprised when you hear racism and/or sexism masked as humor

Australians are funny people. They have the sarcasm of the Brits, but are direct like the Americans. But it isn’t uncommon for some to use humor as an excuse to be racist and/or sexist. And, they don’t apologize for it either. 

I don’t know how many times I heard people make jokes using racial or ethnic slurs, misogynistic language, and/or racist or sexist stereotypes. 

Then, when I called them out, they were like, “c’mon, where is your sense of humor” claiming the problem is that people are getting too politically correct, not that they just offended a whole demographic of people.   

A waterfall against rockface in Morialta Conservation Park, Australia
A waterfall against rockface in Morialta Conservation Park, Australia | Image courtesy of the author

My advice:

Find a good, diverse group of like-minded souls who don’t just overlook this behavior, but believe you when you say it is racist/sexist, and call it out, too.  

And, don’t you dare be gaslighted to think you are the problem or be told “you just don’t understand humor.” You don’t know how many times I heard that one!

2. Haircare, makeup, skincare are hard finds

Maybe I was just way too optimistic. But, I assumed, given there are native Black Indigenous people living in Australia, there would be haircare, makeup, and skincare products aplenty. 

I was dead wrong. 

Not only was my foundation shade the darkest they had in the stores, (and I’m considered a light-skinned woman in the States and Europe), but my haircare was, in Whoopi’s words, “in danger, girl.” (Ghost 1990)

Most salons didn’t know how to style or cut my afro hair. I did end up finding one salon where the hairdresser had styled hair for one mixed-race client before (and she never let me forget that either). But no one knew how to care for my hair, so I ended up really damaging my hair whilst I lived there. 

There were also little to no products on the market for thick afro hair, so I didn’t have a lot of options for personally caring for my hair either. 

And skincare? Well, “forget about it” (Donnie Brasco 1997). I used expensive products that promised the moon and the stars but somehow still dried out my skin. The only plus side to the lack of availability was that I had to do a lot more research than I would have normally done living in the States or in Europe. 

My advice:

Do your research for what is best for your self-care regimen before going to Australia. Hoard as many products before you go so that you aren’t doing too much searching whilst you are there. Also, Amazon is now operating out of Australia, so you may have better luck than I did, finding international products available. #notanad 

3. Dating: Liars, F*bois, Racists…Oh My!

I want to preface this by saying that I’m a cis-gendered heterosexual Black woman, so my dating experiences are through that lens. 

Dating was one of the biggest struggles I experienced while living in Australia. It was where some of my most dehumanizing experiences occurred. I was objectified and hypersexualized on a very frequent basis. 

So many guys just assumed that I was cool with being either: 

  1. Overly gawked at;
  2. Groped on;
  3. Or talked to like I was a hooker on the street on nights out or even on a date. (No disrespect to a working woman, but I wasn’t on offer like that.)

Remember I said misogyny and racism could be joked about without regard to how offensive it could come off? Well, imagine the intersectionality of your race and sex being the subject matter of these jokes, and the people making them still beckon you to sleep with them!? 

View of Sydney Opera House across the water
View of Sydney Opera House across the water | Image courtesy of the author

Also, when you do eventually date an Aussie guy, Black women, get ready to ride on the emotional rollercoaster of your life. I, unfortunately, wasn’t the only Black woman, nor the only woman of color I knew, who experienced these same, sad series of unfortunate events. 

But, it usually went something like this: 

Girl and Boy meet. Girl and Boy really like each other. 

Girl and Boy spend time together, getting to know one another. Boy, throughout this time, realizes Girl doesn’t fit his “ideal” image of the type of girl he usually partners with, so Boy feels conflicted. 

Boy transfers his conflicted feelings onto Girl, resulting in a combination of hot and cold behavior, constant gaslighting, and ghosting. 

Girl and Boy eventually stop seeing each other. Boy continuously tries to enter Girl’s life after periods of silence, but never truly wants to commit because she still doesn’t reflect his original “ideal” image. 

My advice:

Knowledge is power (Sir Francis Bacon). It is good to already be aware that there is a likely chance you will be seen as someone’s “experience” or “experiment”. This will save a lot of heartache and time in the long run. 

But don’t fret too much. I’m sure not every Australian man is like this. There are also other travelers and non-Australians to date; so you have options!

There are also great sides to Australian men too: they tend to be funny, charming, easy-going, sporty, and fun. And hey, if you don’t take dating too seriously, you are probably less likely to get hurt. 

It isn’t all bad for Black women going to Australia…

View of Harbor Bridge in Australia from across the water
View of Harbor Bridge in Australia from across the water | Image courtesy of the author

Australian culture has its flaws, but one can still enjoy their time as a Black woman out there. Finding a job, having a good salary, and fitting into the work culture seemed to be a much easier process compared to the corporate working environments I’ve encountered in the U.S. and the UK. 

Generally, I felt more respected for being good at my job rather than “fitting in” and making my White colleagues feel “comfortable”. 

The food, lifestyle, wine, beaches, and wildlife were all highlights as well. I also made really great friends over there, friends of all different races — including Australians — that I still have today. 

It wasn’t easy to meet the tribe that I had there, but once I found them, it has been pretty easy to stay friends even though we all live thousands of miles away from one another. Maybe it is because Australians — especially Sydneysiders — are used to making friends with expats and travelers, and they’re used to traveling a lot themselves. 

But, distance doesn’t really seem to deter friendships for them. 

My final advice:

Like most experiences in life, they are what you make of them. Hope for the best and don’t let anyone deter you from living your best travel life over there!

You may also like

Leave a Comment