New Horizons

Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
Trip End Dec 31, 2016

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I have now been in Australia for two weeks and, despite a few wobbles, am slowly starting to find my feet. Tom has already been here two months working hard as an IT contractor with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Literally the day before I flew out from the UK, his landlady started acting very oddly and Tom had to move out and find a new home. Fortunately the owner of the new house, Rodd, is a great guy, friendly, welcoming and helpful. The house itself is a large, modern property situated in a new and expensive looking housing estate with its own country club and golf course running through the middle of it! Along with Rodd, there are also two young Indian guys sharing the house and next week, a couple from Vietnam are due to move in. Luckily the house is large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably and it certainly doesn’t feel crowded.

Canberra itself is an attractive city. Despite being the capital of Australia, it is much smaller than Sydney, especially in terms of population size. It is spread out across a large area and divided into suburbs, each of which is like its own small town with shops and amenities. The suburbs are then separated from each other by areas of parkland and eucalyptus forest so it feels like living in the country as opposed to a city. I have already seen a group of kangaroos grazing on the golf course! The city is surrounded by low mountain ranges and bush covered hills which look especially dramatic in the golden glow of sunset.

Tom’s contract runs out at the end of this year and he is on the lookout for a new role. Initially we thought we would stay in Canberra where there seem to be plenty of government IT contracts paying the best wages in the country. However, finding a second contract is proving to be more difficult than we anticipated. We suspect it might be because all of the government jobs require security clearance. At present Tom only has the most basic level of clearance and even this was a real effort to obtain. Most jobs require higher levels of clearance and employers seem only interested in hiring people who already have such clearance as the process is so time consuming. Furthermore, because Tom has lived in the UK for most of his life, getting him security cleared is likely to be much more troublesome than for the average Aussie and so we get the impression that employers might be avoiding him for that reason.

As such, Tom has started looking further afield for work. Sydney is one such option and Tom actually had a job interview there last Friday. Having never been to Sydney, we decided to make a weekend of it. We drove our little Hyundai Getz hire car the 285 kilometres along the Federal and Hume Highways passing through lovely bush scenery including some dramatic river gorges. A short way into the journey we figured out how to turn the autodrive on which allowed the car to move into the higher gears. We have been driving around Canberra for two weeks wondering why the car revs so much and why we keep running out of petrol!

Our new Tom Tom guided us effortlessly to our home for the weekend, a lovely little house in the suburb of Newtown, which reminded us a little of Brighton with lots of quirky one off shops, bars and restaurants, the majority of which were Thai. We found the house on a website called AirBnB which is basically a global network of people who rent out rooms in their houses allowing people a cheaper and more interesting alternative to hotels. Our host for the weekend was a friendly woman called Debbie who has recently emigrated to Sydney from New Zealand. She works in international development and lived for ten years in Laos so we chatted to her about our recent travels to South East Asia.
On our first evening we dined at a Thai fusion restaurant called Thai Riffic where we enjoyed Betel Leaf Fish and Papaya Salad to start followed by Octopus Salad and Deep Fried Barramundi in a chilli, kaffir lime and Thai basil sauce all washed down with a couple of glasses of crisp Riesling and an aromatic, rose Turkish delight infused Gewurtztraminer!

The next morning we drove over to famous Bondi Beach where we walked along the cliff tops overlooking the bay and visited the Marine Discovery Centre where we learned about the local marine life. Despite it only being about 18 degrees, there were loads of surfers and swimmers, mainly groups of men in red speedos! Then we continued north up the coast to Watson’s Bay, located on the southern head of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. On recommendation from a work colleague of Tom’s, we had lunch at a seafood restaurant called Doyle’s which was delicious but crazily expensive for what was essentially fish and chips, albeit made with locally caught succulent John Dory fish.

In the afternoon we headed to Sydney’s north side cruising around some of the more expensive suburbs admiring the flash beach style houses that surround the harbour and must be worth millions. The downside of living in Sydney is that it is one of the most expensive cities on the planet, with property prices higher than both London and New York.

The next day we left mid-morning after Debbie made us blueberry pancakes for breakfast. We decided to take a detour and head south along the coast towards Wollongong before cutting west back to Canberra. Our route took us through the beautiful Royal National Park where the road descended into several deep river valleys and passed through areas of temperate rainforest. Then we followed the Grand Pacific Drive along dramatic coastal scenery, stopping for lunch at a little surf beach before heading inland back to Canberra.

I can now see why people love Sydney so much. It seems like a really cool city with loads to see and do. The only negative is the high cost of living. We figured out that even with Tom on a good wage, we could only afford a tiny apartment or townhouse with little room for guests to stay. As for the job interview, it went well and it seems that they are keen to hire Tom. We are wondering, however, if the salary is going to be enough for us to move to Sydney comfortably. With only one of us earning at the moment and a mini Frogmog on the way, the amount coming in is obviously important. We have recently been thinking about going back to our original plans of moving to Brisbane. When we first thought about emigrating to Australia many years ago, it was always the green, tropical north that most appealed. From a financial perspective, Brisbane is also attractive because rental prices seem to be significantly lower than Sydney and Canberra. I have been trawling the property sites and it seems that a nice timber Queenslander with three bedrooms and wrap around veranda might just be within our reach! On the other hand the job in Sydney has great prospects and could be a real career builder for Tom.

Watch this space!...

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