The phrase “shrimp on the barbie” is not something Australians say, though it certainly has been propagated as if it was.
The saying originated from a 1984 television commercial starring Paul Hogan, who later starred as Mick Dundee in the popular movie Crocodile Dundee in 1986. The ad was created by the Australian Tourism Commission in order to reach an American audience.
At the time of the creation of the commercial, Paul Hogan was relatively unknown outside of Australia. Inside the country was another story as he had his own sketch comedy show called The Paul Hogan Show, which aired from 1973 to 1984.
The ad helped with Hogan’s popularity in the United States, however, as it aired during an NFL game in 1984, with Hogan proclaiming, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you.” The ad campaign also helped the Australian tourism industry as Americans began wanting to visit the country and did so for years after. Tourists from the United States to Australia increased by 25% yearly for the next four years. The ad campaign ran from 1984 to 1990 and was a huge success.
But the term isn’t accurate in Australia at all. Australians don’t refer to the seafood in question as “shrimp” but instead call them “prawns.” The words were interchanged so as not to confuse an American audience. Shrimp and prawns are two distinctively different creatures. Though they taste relatively the same, they each have different anatomical characteristics, and Australians eat more prawns than shrimp and refer to shrimp as prawns.
Hogan’s quote has often been misquoted in popular American culture for years. The phrase “shrimp on the barbie” is about as Australian as Outback Steakhouse (which has no connection to Australia other than branding) and Foster’s beer (which isn’t brewed in Australia, nor is it popular in the country).
Sources: Culture Trip, Culinary Lore, The Guardian, Food and Wine