Category Archives: shopping

“Aussie As” Gifts to Send Home from Australia

expat issues, shopping

australian-gifts-to-send-homeI always think it’s a bit special to be able to send people at home gifts from Australia. Gifts from our home away from home are totally unique, a great reminder of the sender, and something you can be sure the recipient won’t get duplicates of. Admittedly, my first year or so here, I used to head straight down to the souvenir shop at Circular Quay for some stuffed koalas or embroidered tea towels to send home, and I’m sure those things were appreciated, but these days I feel like I can find more interesting choices.

So, here’s my gift guide for sending “Aussie As” gifts back home, just in time for the holiday shopping season. All of these items may be shipped internationally from the company’s website, from Amazon in the U.S., or easily purchased at stores in any Australian mall. Get in soon, if you’re shipping for Christmas!

*This post does contain some Amazon affiliate links. That simply means that if you purchase through that link, I get a little extra Tim Tam money. It doesn’t impact your purchase price in any way.*

For the Foodies

*Note: All of these things should make it past U.S. customs, just be sure to declare them on the shipping label, if you’re doing the shipping. For other countries, check local customs rules about importing food to ensure your gift makes it to the receiver.*

Tim Tams (2 for $5 at Woolies, if you play your cards right!) – Well, this is a no brainer! Is there any more widely beloved Australian snack food than the mighty Tim Tam? I bring them home with me every visit, and they never fail to make an impression. (And, yes, I know you can now buy them in U.S. Target sometimes, but there’s nothing like a few packages from Aussie-land). Send lots! And, toss in a few of the special flavours for comparison, as well.

T2 Teas – (price varies) – Does everyone love walking into a T2 store as much as I do? The impossibly stacked boxes, the gorgeous smells, it’s just an oasis of serenity inside the Westfield. The Melbourne-based tea haven just makes a lovely tea experience. Pick up some at your local shop to mail with the Tim Tams, or they offer international shipping through their website.


Personalize a Jar of Vegemite ($9 AUD) – A bit of kitsch, if ever there was one, because – let’s be honest – your overseas recipient is probably not going to just love Australia’s favorite toast spread, but most everyone’s a bit curious about it thanks to the Men at Work, and how fun to receive a jar with your own name on it? You can get them printed right now at KMart Australia. Just make sure to send some directions for serving on toast (spread thin with plenty of butter!), so that your poor giftee doesn’t try to just lick it off a spoon … gross.


Bush Tucker ($89.95 AUD) – How gorgeous is this “Australian Bush Spirit Hamper“? “This stunning all-Australian pack features Nathan Ferlazzo drawing ‘Buddha of the Bush’ koala tea-towel; some delectable honey-roasted and sea salted macadamia nuts, Outback Spirit Chutney and Baylies Epicurean Delights Dipping Crackers.” Class act, this one.



The Wanderlusters

In a Sunburned Country ($11.55 USD) –  Want to coax someone to come visit you in Australia? Bill Bryson’s book on his travels across Australia (called Down Under here) remains one of the most endearing and beloved book about visiting this beautiful country. You may have to talk them down about the killer animals, as Bryson does obsess on that a bit more than I think is probably necessary, but otherwise, it’s a love letter to this country.

In a Sunburned Country

Qantas Gear – Australia’s national airline is easily recognizable across the world by its flying kangaroo logo. Even if your giftee is just dreaming of hopping on a Qantas flight, at this point, I think the logo merchandise in their store is a lot of fun. I’m especially partial to this limited edition retro style shoulder bag ($49.99 AUD).


Movie Buffs

Your film lover probably knows Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Strictly Ballroom. But what about these?

The Castle ($10.30 USD) – Based on a true story about a working class man who fights the system to save his family home, The Castle is probably the most “Aussie-As” Australian film ever. It’s full of quotes that are part of the lexicon, like, “straight to the pool room” and “tell him he’s dreamin'” – and it’s a quirky, endearing story about the triumph of the Aussie “battler.” Nothing more Australian than that.

The Castle

The Sapphires ($7.99 USD) – Set in 1968, The Sapphires is a “girl group” comprised of four Aboriginal women. They are discovered by a talent scout, who sends them to Vietnam to play for the troops. A period piece full of great music, with a compelling story. I loved this movie. Based loosely on a true story.

The Sapphires

The Dish ($14.37 USD) – Apollo 11 is set to land on the moon, and the world’s first moon walk will be televised using a satellite dish in a tiny Australian sheep farming town. When the dish malfunctions, the offbeat Aussie staff and their straight arrow American NASA supervisor scramble. Another true story – the famous moon landing broadcast that almost wasn’t. Completely charming movie.

The Dish

Art Lovers 

Warlukurlangu Paintings ($120 AUD and up) – Paintings created by the Warlukulangu Artists, a group based in the community of Yuendumu in Central Australia. “It is a fundamental aim of Warlukurlangu Artists to share Warlpiri culture and in addition, to increase awareness about Aboriginal culture generally, and to broadly support Indigenous causes.” Paintings are sold through the Blak Markets site, or follow Blak Markets on Facebook to find out where they will be next for many more gift options created by Aboriginal artists.


Jillian Nampijinpa Brown – Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) – Mikanji

Ken Done – Bright and cheerful, Ken Done has such a distinctive take on Australia. His work has been seen all over the world, and shows Sydney and beyond at its most colorful. Prints at the Ken Done online store start at $20 AUD, and you can also purchase clothing, books, and gifts.


Summer From the Verandah

For the Blokes

Australia cufflinks ($45.00 AUD) – Maybe cufflinks are up there with socks and ties on the boring gift list, but I’ve never seen ones quite like these before. Made from solid timber, they are a cut out of Australia (except poor Tasmania). I think these would be an especially great going away gift for an expat finishing up an Australian assignment, or one for expats to send over to dads and brothers who will get a little smile thinking of faraway family whenever they wear them.


Kookaburra Cricket accessories (various prices) – Listen, I don’t know Thing 1 about cricket, but I do believe that a lot of Aussies and people around the world do. And, I’m told that these Kookaburra sports balls are the real Aussie deal, and have been since the 1940s. Plenty of other cricket bats, bags, and accessories on offer, as well.


Kookaburra Miniature Ball – $10 AUD

Stuff Ladies Like 

Lucas Paw Paw Ointment ($14.20 USD for 75g) – This stuff is a wonder of the world. Use it as a lip gloss, hand lotion, diaper rash cream, or help with healing bug bites or sunburn. The not-so secret ingredient (it’s right there in the title) is paw paw fruit grown in Queensland. I always have a little tube in my handbag.

Lucas’ Papaw Ointment 75g

Liane Moriarty novels – Sydney author Liane Moriarty truly knows how to turn a suspenseful yarn. They have great characters, compelling stories, and a good dose of humor. I recommend them to just about every book loving female reader I know. For my money, I’d start with Big Little Lies ($18.86 USD), the tale of a group of Sydney suburban school mums whose lives become intertwined.

Big Little Lies

Oroton handbag – Want something a little more schmick? Your style vixens would be more than happy to receive a handbag from Australian brand, Oroton. They’re plenty pricey, but good quality and well-loved. You can also dip your toe in for a more budget friendly, but still lovely, wallet or key fob (men’s options, too).


Beautiful, Bouncing Babies 

Love to Dream Swaddle ($33.02 USD) – This Aussie invention is my number one must buy gift for every single new baby in my life, and that’s because it was one of those miracle items that helped us so much when Hushpuppy was tiny. The thing that makes the Love to Dream swaddle different from others is that it puts the baby in an arms up position. Once most babies “discover” their hands, they want those buggers in their mouth at all times. So, if they’re swaddled to their side, it makes them really, really angry! (Or, at least that’s what happened with our kid) Getting to sleep with their hands up (Maggie Simpson style, as someone I know said) makes for a happy little Vegemite.

Love to Dream Swaddle UP Organic

Bonds Wondersuit (currently 2 for $39 AUD on sale) – See an Aussie baby? Good chance they’re dressed in a Bonds Wondersuit. Having been the owner of a few of these things, myself, I have to admit that they’re pretty wonderful, indeed. I can’t really explain what it is that makes them so popular, but beyond an exceptional marketing campaign, they’re easy wearing fabric, super rugged, good for day or night, and they come in so many cute patterns. But, whatever you do, go for the zipper ones – ain’t nobody got time for buttons on a baby suit.


Kids, Kids, Kids

Diary of a Wombat ($14.54 USD) – If you’ve been hanging around this site for long, it will come as no surprise to you that this picture book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley is much beloved in my world. Because … wombats. And, quite the cheeky wombat, just doing wombat stuff, at that. It is, just as the title suggests, the diary of the wombat’s days – and it’s the cutest. Suitable for kids up to about age 7.

Diary of a Wombat

Mem Fox books – For years, Australian kids have grown up on the books of Mem Fox. For the young ones, Where is the Green Sheep is the sweetest little board book. And, for the ever slightly older, Possum Magic is one of the most classic Australian story books (great introduction to Australian place and food names, as well). You can pick these up at any bookseller in Australia for shipping, including KMart and Target.


Sydney Lego – The epitome of Aussie gifts for a Lego loving kid is this epic Opera House set ($499.00 USD). Look at this thing! This one is guaranteed to keep them busy for a good, long while. This is quite a complex set, so best suited to older kids – preteens and teens (maybe even some Lego loving parents). A bit more on the budget friendly front is the cool Lego Architecture Sydney set for $49.99AUD.

LEGO Creator Expert – Sydney Opera House

Caramello Koalas – In any package for kids, toss in some Caramello Koalas from the grocery store. Manufactured by Cadbury Australia, it’s both real Aussie chocolate with a caramel center and an iconic marsupial from Down Under. They’re a cute and tasty little ad-on that will delight almost any kid.


Do you have a tried and true Australian gift that you send overseas? Let us know in the comments!

Like a Toddler in a Toy Store: Sophie’s Play School Opening

Little Aussie, shopping

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen an invitation to attend the opening party for Sophie’s Play School, a new toy store in our area, arrived, I didn’t have to think about much more than Hushpuppy’s face at such a toddler-to-do to accept.

I was curious to see the new store, as well, particularly because there aren’t an amazing number of toy stores in the neighborhood, especially since our local Toys ‘R’ Us closed. Plus, the opening of a toy store just sounds fun at any age.

We were greeted at the door by Shelly, the cheerful owner, who told us all about the shop and the events coming up at Sophie’s in the next few weeks. Downstairs is the toy store, and even on first look around, you can see that everything they stock is high quality, with lots of wooden toys and an emphasis on creative, educational play. Up a set of stairs is the space where they will have a whole roster of activities, including story times and talks for parents. Shelly said to check the Facebook page for updated schedule (website coming soon), and I’ll be taking note, as I’m always looking for new things to take Hushpuppy to.

The first order of business at the party was to get a balloon animal. Hushpuppy was shy at first, but became more an more intrigued, finally declaring, “DOG!” as it took shape. She held onto it like it was her Precious for the rest of the morning. Today, she found the sadly deflated remains in her toybox, and handed it to me with a triumphant declaration of “DOG!”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADog(!) in hand, we ventured inside to check out the goodies. While I snapped a few photos and looked at the inventory, Hushpuppy wasted no time finding a gorgeous wooden toy kitchen to play with. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile she was busy cooking her (wooden) lunch, I was admiring a few things around the shop.

How lovely are these pictures? If you’ve seen Hushpuppy’s nursery, you know this is so my style.



And, look at this little table and chair set.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeriously, just cute little things everywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI eventually pried Hushpuppy away long enough to check out upstairs and get her face pained. She saw another little girl getting some flowers painted on her arm, and became very taken with this idea. As she’s been talking about rainbows a lot lately, I asked the face painter if she could do a rainbow ,with flowers. We all loved it, no one more than the proud wearer. (Face painting by Maria’s Face Painting).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAppropriately adorned, we went back downstairs, and Hushpuppy spotted this car track that she was determined to play with. Between the car ramp, the helicopter, and the little petrol pump, I think she would have played with it for an hour, if I’d let her.  If you know any toddlers, you know that’s true toy love.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy suggestion to head home was greeted with a curt, “no thank you,” so I know this Play School is a hit with her. I’m also quite happy to have this store not too far from home. It’s exactly the kind of place I’ll return to for birthday and holiday gifts that I know I’ll feel great about giving.

Sophie’s Play School is at 101/ 545-553 Pacific Highway, St. Leonards.

I did not receive any compensation for writing this post … aside from a brilliant balloon dog and a fancy-faced kid. 

One Man’s Trash: The Council Cleanup


I’ve previously chronicled my deep love for bargain and secondhand shopping, an activity that thrills me like almost nothing else. I love finding gems on the dirt-cheap and rescuing them from landfills. The only thing better is rescuing great things from landfills for free. And so it is that I have formed a love for the Council Cleanup.

2 or 3 times a year, the local councils (governments) arrange to pick up household trash that is otherwise not suitable for the regular pickup, usually due to size. In some areas, you schedule the pickup out of a few available days, but in our council area, we get the dates for the year well ahead of time in the mail, and you may begin placing your items in front of your home one or two days before the pickup. Large piles of discarded items start to show up on the side of the road, and it’s not uncommon or even frowned upon for people to avail themselves of anything useful. Around council cleanup time, you’ll even see people in trucks driving up and down the streets and picking up electronics, appliances, and presumably anything that might be resold or used for parts. On the Freecycle group I belong to, people sometimes post pictures of particularly good things they’ve seen driving past a council cleanup in their neighborhood. People often leave “good” stuff that they just don’t need anymore out, knowing that it will get picked up by someone who wants it.

Previously, I’ve never gone out of my way to scope out council cleanup piles, but if I happened to be walking by and saw a treasure that I could carry, I’d take it home. I’ve gotten a wine rack, a pie plate, some toys for Hushpuppy, and for three years, we used a desk chair that was a council cleanup rescue. I’m particular about what I pick up. It needs to be in great condition (fading OK, but I’m not handy enough to fix anything up). It can’t be more than a little dusty. And, I absolutely never pick up anything that has upholstery or fabric, as you never know if it’s been out in the rain or what it’s been through.

Because we live in a large complex now, the pile for our council cleanups gets pretty massive, so it’s always worth a quick look. Recently, I’d been thinking that I wanted to get a new mop so that I could have one for outdoors to do the balcony with. And, lo and behold, I spotted a perfectly good mop left out on our pile. The best part was that nearby was a toy mop in great shape, so both Hushpuppy and I both got new mops that day.

Later, Partner-in-Crime intercepted someone on their way to dump a kid’s chalkbaord and table & chair set. As we’d just dumped Hushpuppy’s falling down little toy house, we had the perfect spot for these things, and they even gave us a bucket of chalk to go with it! The table could do with a paint job, which I’ll do if I get around to it, but as a craft table, it’s perfectly acceptable.

The little ride-on toy in front was also a council cleanup find.

The little ride-on toy in front was also a council cleanup find.

The next week, as I was walking home from the gym, I spotted this on the side of the road. I dragged it home. I noticed that it had lights and sound, but assumed that part wouldn’t be working. Much to my surprise (and kind of annoyance), the zebra’s jaunty songs are going 2

After this string of finds, I was on a council cleanup high. So, when we were out running errands earlier this week and drove past a cleanup neighborhood, we agreed to do a drive around to see if we could stumbled on any more treasures. We drove past a lot of legitimate trash, but then we found a house that had  a lot of toys outside and hit the motherload. I grabbed books, a wooden xylophone, a set of Winnie the Pooh blocks still in the box, and this adorable doll house that they clearly intended for someone to pick up, as all the little pieces were tucked into a Ziploc bag. photo 4

I never would have thought to buy Hushpuppy a doll house at not-quite 2, but it’s been such a hit. She’s spent ages working on the little furniture and putting the dolls into different rooms and set ups.

At another house, we picked up some nearly-perfect condition baskets that we turned into toy 5

And, as we headed home, I spotted this…photo 3 (4)

… it was a little faded, but still has a lot of life left in it. (I promise we’ll buy her a helmet before she takes it out for a real spin!).

All in all, we’ve managed quite the haul from our roadside shopping. I love that we’re giving so much stuff a new lease on life, and my blood is pumping from the thrill of a successful hunt.

{2016 Edit: Check your local council’s restrictions, as some have begun to make it illegal to remove items from council cleanup piles.}

The Cost of Groceries in Sydney


Lately, we’ve been making a concerted effort to be more conscious about our grocery spending. I’ve been doing weekly menu planning, “saving with Jamie” and, more recently, we decided to make a real comparison on the prices of grocery items that we buy most often. We tend to split up our grocery shopping between Woolies, Aldi, and Costco, and before the comparison were really working on vague ideas about what might be better priced where. I wanted to prove it. So, we picked a few of our staple items to cost compare, and I thought I’d share my findings here, in case it is helpful to anyone else out there.

A couple of notes on the comparison:

  • I recorded prices from Costco Auburn (Sydney), Woolworths Neutral Bay, and Aldi North Sydney. I tried to record regular prices, so this doesn’t take any sales into account.
  • The comparison is a little tricky since each place stocks different brands. In most cases, I chose the store brand or lowest priced brand and tried to make a note where it was different. As a shopper, you have to decide what that means to you. For instance, you may note the the price of laundry detergent at Aldi is vastly less expensive than the other two, however, for me it doesn’t seem like such a deal when you know that it is “apple blossom” scented detergent. Not to my taste, thanks.
  • As you would expect, almost all of the lots at Costco are very large, so you have to be able to store everything from there.
  • There are some staples that I didn’t record that certain stores carry that I can’t buy elsewhere. For instance, Costco is the only place to stock my beloved Skippy peanut butter. We settled on oat milk as our preferred alternative to cow’s milk for Hushpuppy, and Woolies is the only one of these three stores that carries it.
  • *Bananas: I didn’t compare much in the way of seasonal fruit here because the prices are so variable. However, we go through bananas like we own stock in Chiquita, so I wanted at least a baseline. The prices listed for Woolies and Aldi were taken on the same day, so while they may not be the same today, you can at least get a place to start the comparison. On the day I went to Costco, they were out of bananas. I decided to leave them on the list because, frankly, that’s one of the travails of Costco shopping. Sometimes they run out of things.
The breakdown:


(A2 milk)
Eggs (cage)
(30 pack)
(12 pack)
(12 pack)
Brown onions 
Carrots (bag)
Olive Oil
(Red Island)
(Red Island)
(Olive Tree)
Coconut Oil
(Kirkland ground)
(Whole beans)
Almond Milk 
Sultana Bran
(Golden Valley)
Carman’s nut bars
Chicken breasts
Laundry detergent 
Toilet paper
.19/100 sheets
.25/100 sheets
(Kirkland size 6)

Shopping in Sydney

shopping, Sydney

Shopping has been a huge adjustment for me. It’s been a struggle to get my mind around the price of everything in Australia, and just knowing where to buy the things you need is an everyday challenge. So, for the expats and those thinking about moving, here’s the shopping wisdom I’ve collected so far. Please leave a comment if you have more tips!

First, let me say that I’m a bargain shopper. If it says “% off,” followed by a large number, I’m there. Even better if someone has owned it before me. This post is not about high-end name-brand 5th Avenue shopping. If that’s what you’re looking for, I guarantee you will have no trouble finding it.


For the rest of us:

Home Goods:

First order of business when I arrived was furnishing our apartment. We had a bed and a chair that the previous tenant left and … yep, that’s it.

  • Good news – Sydney has an IKEA! It is a ways out of town, so I recommend taking a car. If that is an absolute impossibility, or if you come away with pieces too large for your vehicle (as we did), they do contract with a home delivery service that is pretty reasonable at about $50 for up to $500 worth of merchandise. Our pieces arrived the very next day.
  • About 30 minutes outside of Sydney is the most amazing mecca of home shops, the Homemakers Mega Mall. It is just what the name implies – a three-story mall with one furniture store after another. It’s in an industrial neighborhood, so if you drive up and down the block, you’ll find even more home stores, as well as discount electronics and appliances stores.

Big Box Stores:

  • The big box store we like here is KMart. While prices are higher than in the U.S., they are drastically less than most other retailers. They have most things you’d expect to find at a U.S. KMart.
  • If you go to the KMart at Bondi Juntion, it is worth a stop on the top floor of the mall to the Reject Shop (it is really called that). While the name sounds dreadful and the place is pretty cramped (the Australians would say that it’s “a bit dodgy”), the prices are stunning (and, hey, a lightbulb is a lightbulb anywhere you buy it right?).I usually stop there first to see if they have what I’m looking for before going downstairs.
  • Big W is a lot like Wal Mart, only less of everything. The prices and selection are similar to KMart.
  • Before moving here, I was thrilled to learn that Target was in Australia. Target is the mecca of all things good in Big Box stores – great prices, good style, and comfortable shopping. Coming from an American perspective, Target has been the biggest disappointment for me. First, it is set up more like a department store. The focus is on clothes, some few housewares, toys, and a few smaller sections. There is not much in the way of hardware, gardening, sporting goods, etc. And, the prices are more Dillard’s than Wal Mart. Be forewarned, this is not the Target that we Americans know and love.


One thing that you won’t find at KMart is much in the way of medicine and medicine-related items. For that, you’ll need to go to a free-standing shop marked “Chemist.” You’ll find that these shops sell a combination of medicine, vitamins, soaps, and perfumes. Be aware that you’ll probably have to talk to the chemist to get many medicines, including cold medicines, and any pain medication more than Panadol.

Second-hand stores:

Even at home, I did a lot of my shopping at second-hand stores. I happily frequent them here, as well. Here’s what I’ve learned about “op shops”:

You’ll most likely find yourself in one of two places:

Salvos = Salvation Army

Vinnies = St. Vincent de Paul.

In the several I’ve been in, I’ve found the housewares sections to be nearly useless. The clothing is where it’s at, though most of it tends to be on the nicer side (for instance, I went looking for a pair of running shorts, and my Salvos did not even have a “shorts” section in women’s clothing). I’ve also had great luck with books, scoring one best-seller after another for $1 or $2.

If you find yourself in Kings Cross/Potts Point/Elizabeth Bay, it is worth the trip to the tiny but wonderful church shop at the Wayside Chapel. You’ll walk past some tough looking characters, but this is one of the most grassroots and effective charities for the homeless in the city, so you know your money is going straight to a good cause. Plus, they have great clothes there.

I know that there are many, many more second hand shops that I haven’t discovered yet … to be continued.


Ah grocery shopping, that never-ending adventure. Because it is a pricey proposition, many people do their grocery shopping in several stops. One store may have the best price on meat, while another is great for produce.

Our current system is a little like this:

  • Once every week or two, we make a pilgrimage to Aldi. If you’ve ever been into a Save-A-Lot, you know exactly what Aldi’s is like. It’s the sort of store where everything is still in shipping boxes, you have one brand to choose from (usually an off-brand), you will not find everything you need, and you will bag your groceries yourself. In return, you’ll get amazing prices. This place is perfect for stocking up on staples and non-perishables.
  • There are two main grocery stores, which are pretty similar to American grocery stores – Woolworths (“Woolies”) and Coles. You can do all of your grocery shopping at these two stores, and they like to compete with each other on prices. Many of these will also have a bottle shop (“bottle-o” attached) where you can buy your wine, beer, and liquor. They have frequent sales, so keep an eye out! At Woolies and Coles, you’ll also be invited to present your loyalty card when you check out. Woolworths and associated stores (including Big W and electronic store Dick Smith) use the orange “Everyday Rewards” card, which earns you Qantas Frequent Flyer points. Coles and their stores (Target, KMart included) use the “Fly Buys” card, which weirdly enough, does not earn you airline miles, but points that you can redeem for stuff. These cards are also good for getting discounts on fuel (petrol). They’re obsessed with fuel discounts here.
    You are now a step ahead of me – you won’t have to look at the cashier like they’re speaking Chinese when they ask if you “have any Fly Buys.”
  • One other fun little store is Harris Farms, which has a few locations around Sydney. It is not a full grocery store, but it does have a lot of produce, bread, and a seafood counter. It also has a lot of interesting dry goods and some exotic items. It’s a bit like a little Trader Joe’s (minus the amazing prices).
  • (Edited 2015: Since 2011, Sydney has also had a Costco!).


One final key for U.S. expats to know is that your Craigslist type service here is Gumtree. Find your used futons and surf boards, your flatmate, and your next blind date here. This is the real one-stop shopping.