Who Says Australia Has No Culture? The 15 Best Australian Memes of All Time

Image showing Tony Abbott, Waiting for a Mate guy, and Well, Well, Next Question woman for a roundup of the best Australian memes.

Ah, memes — the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

Memes are the bedrock of internet culture which, given our lives are increasingly conducted through the medium of the digital world, means they have moved out of the realm of ‘funny online thing’ and into a significant field of academic study. Hell, America even elected a meme as president.

Forming almost their own subset of linguistic structure, memes are largely how we make sense of the world around us, repackaging and responding to the endless stream of chaos that pours through our digital screens. Broadly, they capture a sense of the bizarre and absurd world we live in, turning even the darkest subjects into something to laugh at.

The concept of the meme has been around since at least 1972, but they didn’t take their current form until at least the mid-to-late 90s. Early examples included the dancing baby, image macros, and rage comics. With the ability to edit and post images becoming hypercharged by social media, memes became more diverse, varied, and hard to follow unless you were familiar with the online culture they originated from.

Unlike pornography, you don’t always know a meme when you see it. Or, if you do, you might not get its full range of implications and meaning. Typically, memes are referential, commenting on or repurposing something that has happened previously in a new context in an endless cycle of updating and resharing. This is a quality that linguists call ‘intertextuality‘ — relying on information elsewhere to create meaning.

Australia, a country not renowned for its technical and online communities, quickly became the subject of memes as the popularity of the internet grew. Notably, this was for having “scary” native flora and fauna that the rest of the world seems to think are worse than Grizzly Bears or Mountain Lions. Films like Crocodile Dundee popularised this idea, along with early images like the Clock Spider, depicting a massive Huntsman beneath a wall clock. Early blogs, forums, and sites like Tumblr and Reddit played into the idea that Australia is a hot, dangerous, usually enflamed country and that the people who live in it are slightly unhinged.

Australia itself has been the subject of several early memes, including the idea that the country doesn’t exist and that everything we do here is upside down. Much of this kind of content is external in origin but sometimes you need to be seen from the outside to understand who you really are. To that end, The Simpsons had a key role to play in much Australian meme culture thanks to the episode “Bart Vs Australia,” which brought us such classics as “dollarydoos” and the idea that the Prime Minister spends their time floating around in a dam drinking Fosters. Which… is not far off, except for the Fosters.

Homegrown Aussie memes tend to take the form of older, video content clipped from news items featuring bizarre people and strange happenings. It’s typically “laid-back,” simple humour that plays into the national identity narrative that Aussies do things differently and play by our own rules.

In the modern era, memes have, of course, evolved. Much Australian meme culture is captured and distributed on Instagram pages that almost exclusively post memes. Brown Cardigan is the most famous of these but there are hundreds of pages out there that catalogue and create local, organic memes we can all relate to in the land down under.

In thousands of years, when future archeologists dig through the layers of charred plastic and nuclear ash to discover what our civilisation was like, these are the memes they’ll find that will perfectly summarize the current era.

In no particular order, here we go.

Australian Memes

Democracy Manifest

Kicking off with one of the greatest and most prolific Australian memes of all time is this news segment clip from 1991 in which Cecil George Edwards suffers a case of mistaken identity and is taken into custody by police who believe he is a conman.

“I wanted them to think that I was off my head, a lunatic, so they’d send me to a lunatic asylum so I could escape from there,” Edwards explained many years later about his strange behaviour.

Cory Worthington’s Party

Australia’s most famous party boy became an overnight sensation in 2008 when a MySpace invitation to his house was widely circulated and 500 people turned up at his house, causing chaos. Police were called and Worthington ended up on TV the next day. His unapologetic nature made him the hero of rebellious teenagers everywhere.

Dumb Ways to Die

In 2012, Metro Trains Melbourne commissioned this darkly humorous video to promote safety around the rail network. It became a major internet hit in the subsequent years and is currently having something of a resurgence on TikTok.

Paying Your Bills With a Spider Drawing

Image: David Thorne.










Australian satirist and author David Thorne posted this exchange he had with a creditor on his website. It rapidly took off and re-circulates on the internet every few years, proving to be surprisingly prescient about the rise of NFTs. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth reading the whole exchange in full.

Tony Abbott Eats a Raw Onion

Many Australians suspected that the Prime Minister was a deeply strange individual and this casual nibble on a raw onion, skin and all, as if it were an apple, confirmed those suspicions.

Queensland Rail Etiquette

Queensland rail australian memes.









Turns out our train networks have produced some world-class memes. These train etiquette posters, commissioned by Queensland Rail, gave users the option to customise their imagery and text to reflect things that they found annoying about travelling on public transport. Needless to say, the internet did what the internet always does and produced an entire genre of funny but highly inappropriate versions.

The Shoey

Less a meme in the traditional sense and more a cultural quirk that we force upon foreign visitors to our shores, the shoey is both a national pastime and a national embarrassment. Numerous celebrities have called out the practice of essentially bullying famous people into drinking booze out of their own shoe and then judging them on their response. Incredibly dumb but probably a reasonable mirror.

Let a Thousand Blossoms Bloom

Independent MP Bob Katter had some interesting thoughts on the marriage equality plebiscite in 2017. Katter proved that he is no homophobe, but he believes the country has bigger problems to face.

iSnack 2.0

In 2009, Kraft, the owner of the iconic Australian spread, Vegemite, let the internet vote on the name of its next spread, Vegemite with a cheesy blend. The name chosen: iSnack 2.0. Bear in mind, this was well after the ‘cool’ Y2K trend of naming things with digital flourish. It was so universally hated that, after just four days, Kraft pulled the product. One expert said they had done “significant brand damage” with the idea.

Barking Dog Man

66-year-old grandfather Ray Graham said his life was “changed” after a Current Affair interview about uncontrolled dogs in his neighbourhood went viral in 2010. The man’s a-little-too-serious impression of a dog coming after him has been watched millions of times online.

Knickers the Big Cow

Knickers the big cow standing in a feild of other, smaller cows. A true Australian meme.
Image: Channel 7










Knickers, the massive steer in WA who was too big for the slaughterhouse, became an international sensation after he was shown next to a bunch of regular-sized cows. Although some doubted his might, his sheer heft was subsequently validated, proving he is truly a big cow.

Steve Bradbury

Steve Bradbury’s unexpected gold medal win at the 2002 Winter Olympics in the US is the stuff of legend. Bradbury, who was behind the four others in the final short-track speed skating event for the entire race, managed to win the race after everyone else fell over. ‘Doing a Bradbury’ then entered the national lexicon and a star was born.

Well. Well.

South Australian Liberal Senator Lucy Gichuhi gave this iconic response to a press question about the Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaela Cash’s threat to out politicians around whom rumours were swirling about affairs they had had. She could have just said “no comment,” but she chose to respond in this way and the world is better for it.

Pistol & Boo

Disgraced film star Johnny Depp and his former partner Amber Herd flouted border security laws by smuggling their two Yorkshire Terriers into the country without quarantining them in 2015. Then Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s response? Death to the dogs. The overblown reaction earned the whole saga a place in Australian internet history. Depp and Herd followed up by releasing a bizarre ‘apology’ video and, six years later, Herd named her new dog Barnaby Joyce.

Just Waiting for a Mate

Finally, we have this clip of a man named Clinton (not James) who finds himself surrounded by police and cameras, sitting in the wreck of a recently-crashed car, and has the gall to claim he’s only there because he’s “waiting for a mate.” The sheer audacity of the man, who was later fined $600 and lost his licence for 3 years, is what made him a hero in the eyes of the public — if not the road users.

Related: Birds Aren’t Real: Explaining the Bizarre Meme That Flies a Little Too Close to Home

Related: The NFT Business Is On Fire — Just Ask “Disaster Girl” Who Sold Her Meme for $500,000

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.