After an action-packed, all-too-short stay in Hong Kong, I found myself boarding a Qantas flight bound for Sydney. Once again the flight was remarkably smooth although the greeting at Sydney airport was slightly less hospitable than I would have liked: – I had to endure no less than four separate inquisitions by various customs and immigration officials, part of which involved the ignominy of emptying out my entire suitcase although I did have a chuckle to myself at the customs officer who spent a few minutes rummaging through my dirty laundry bag.
After managing to convince my interrogators that I was not involved in international drug smuggling, nor was I intending to introduce some new, potentially toxic species of flora or fauna to the Australian environment I jumped into a taxi and headed for my hostel.
My accommodation was located in a peaceful and attractive suburb of Sydney called Glebe. Think of a quieter version of Fulham or Putney and you are just about there. I ended up sharing a dormitory with an American and a Frenchman (I know what you’re thinking but they were actually alright). Rather childishly, I was amused to find out that the American guy was called Cameron Camp the Fourth. Little things please little minds and all that. Through Cameron I also met a Belgian and a Scot (I know what you’re thinking but ditto) and we all ended up exploring the city together.
Sydney has much to offer the visitor – the stunning architecture of the Harbour Bridge, the iconic Opera House, the majestic Blue Mountains but obviously we ignored all that in favour of spending the next couple of weeks staggering from one pub to the next with the odd trip to the beach for recuperation. Good times though and I’ve become quite an authority on the various lagers available in Sydney.
As much fun as it was, it soon became apparent that spending every night in the pub was unsustainable both financially and physically. My intention was always to start work in Australia as soon as possible and after hearing mixed reports about the strength of the employment market here I decided to start applying for jobs straight away. I figured that it would take a while to find something suitable thus giving me a bit more time for relaxation and exploration of Sydney. As fate would have it I ended up getting the first job that I applied for – a sales job for a web design company.
It was clear from my interview that I had wasted valuable space in my suitcase by including a suit and five shirts – I turned up at their office wearing my freshly dry-cleaned outfit only to be greeted by the sales director who was wearing shorts and flip-flops. Nobody does casual like the Australians.
The following week I escaped from the hostel by moving into a flat with the Belgian (Pete) and the Scot (Greig). Our flat is nice and modern or certainly was in 1971 when it appears that it was last decorated but is literally five minutes walk from Bondi Beach which makes up for a great deal. Location, location, location indeed.
I’ve pretty much settled into a normal work/life balance now which, whilst good for my sense of routine, would make pretty tedious copy so I thought I would try and bulk out the rest of this despatch with a few random observations I have made during my short time in Australia:
- The Aussies absolutely love a gamble. New South Wales has ten per cent of the world’s poker machines (‘pokies’ as the natives call them) and they are completely ubiquitous in all the pubs. I even noticed that one bar’s smoking area featured an outdoor pokie area, just so you can keep feeding the ridiculous machines whilst lighting up. If they aren’t playing the pokies, they find something else to gamble on – most of the pubs have a built in TAB (bookmakers). Betting whilst drunk – what could possibly go wrong?
- They shorten every possible word i.e. Pokie (as above), Bikie (for biker), Garbo (for garbage man) and Pommy Twat (for Richard – not much of a shortening but it still seems popular here). Their use of language is also extremely slangy and their journalistic standards sometimes leave something to be desired – one paper I saw described an Australian footballer’s disbelief of the extent of Michael Ballack’s injury with the headline ‘Ballack’s Talking Bollocks’. I kid you not.
- The standard of television is disgraceful and as we have yet to have the internet connected at our flat, I’ve had to endure quite a lot of it. This may not sound particularly surprising for a country whose major contribution to the genre is Neighbours but you really need to experience how epically awful it is to believe it. Literally every show is imported from the UK or the US and they don’t even import the good stuff – The Bill anyone? Didn’t think so.
- They are massively into their sport; unfortunately their sport is also bloody awful. Actually that is a bit unfair as I have got into the AFL (Australian Rules Football) a bit since I’ve been here but it’s difficult to take a game seriously where a final score can be 155 – 83. The World Cup has been getting a lot of coverage though but it will be interesting to see how long that interest lasts when they get knocked out in the group stage (or, better still, by England in the second round) especially as most of the games will be kicking off at around 5AM Sydney time.
- They lack creativity when thinking up place names here – Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Kings Cross, Guildford, Brighton, Ramsgate, Greenwich and Woolwich are all featured in Sydney. That said, when left to their own devices the Australians have managed to conjour up atrocities such as Wollongong and Wolloomooloo which sound more like nefarious creatures from a Roald Dahl novel e.g.
Charlie: “Why did you have to rescue the Oompa Loompas Mister Wonka?”
Wonka: “Because their homeland is a dangerous place full of deadly beasts – Oompa Loompas are no match for the fearsome Wollongong and the terryifying Woolloomooloo”.
Anyway, I digress.
- Their winter isn’t much better than ours. Somewhat stupidly I announced on the Facebook invitation for my leaving drink that I would be leaving England ‘and it’s never-ending winter behind for sunnier climes’. Typically, after a couple of weeks of glorious sunshine when I first got here, the weather has been relentlessly terrible. Not as cold as an English winter but certainly as wet, there have even been some flash floods in Sydney since I’ve been here. Naturally I have been blamed by every Aussie I have spoken to for bringing the British weather with me.
It may sound like there are a few complaints in the above comments but would you expect anything less from a whinging pom? Seriously though, Sydney is a great city. It’s enormously picturesque in places, the people are much friendlier than Londoners (not difficult, admittedly) and I love the fact that I look out on Bondi Beach and the Pacific Ocean when I wait for the bus to work.
I’ve no idea how long I will stay but I’m fairly settled at the moment and it certainly wouldn’t be right to leave without experiencing a few months of the Australian summer. The job will be providing some much needed income (as well as keeping me out of the pub) but I can’t imagine it being a long-term proposition. We shall see how it pans out – after all I had no idea a few months ago that I would be sitting in a flat straight from the George and Mildred set on the other side of the world writing this – but there is certainly a lot more to see and do before I even consider the return flight.