Former international umpire Ian Gould said Australia were 'out of control' before the ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
The Aussies were known to take the verbal abuse of an opponent to another level to gain an advantage on the field.
However, everything came to a head against the Proteas at Newlands in 2018 when Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera applying sandpaper to the ball.
The fallout from the scandal was huge with Steven Smith stripped of the Australia captaincy and banned for 12 months alongside vice-captain David Warner while Bancroft was given a nine-month suspension.
After a culture review, Australia have significantly changed their on-field conduct.
Englishman Gould was the TV umpire in the Newlands Test when Bancroft was caught.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph while promoting his autobiography Gunner - My Life in Cricket, Gould said: "I didn't realise what the repercussions would be.
"If you look back on it now, Australia were out of control probably two years, maybe three years, before that, but not in this sense.
"Maybe - behavioural, chatty, being pretty average people."
The official admitted he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing on television at the time of the incident and the subsequent reaction in Australia.
Gould explained: "When it came into my earpiece I didn't think the prime minister of Australia was going to come tumbling down on these three guys.
"All I thought was - Jesus, how do I put this out to the guys on the field without making it an overreaction.
"It was a bit like on Mastermind when the light is on top of you and you're going - oh dear, how do I talk through this?
"When the director said, 'He's put something down the front of his trousers,' I started giggling, because that didn't sound quite right.
"Obviously, what's come from it is for the betterment of Australian cricket - and cricket generally."
Gould retired from the international game after last year's World Cup in the UK and said he still has the balls used in that Newlands Test match.
"If you saw the balls, you would get it completely wrong," Gould added.
"At the end of the day, the sandpaper didn't get on that ball. They were working to get the ball to be pristine.
"Once they'd got one side bigger and shinier, that's when the sandpaper was coming in."