The only way is up

When I left my old job in Bristol, England, to move to Australia, one colleague was more envious than most. G and her husband J had been toying with the idea of moving to Oz for a while, but kept putting it off for various (eminently sensible) reasons.

Now, they’ve finally made the leap and joined us in Melbourne. They are making good progress in sorting out their new life, which they are reporting on through G’s excellent blog. But today G is having a bad day. The previous tenants of the rental property she and her family have just moved into turned out to be grubby types, and it’s getting tiring sleeping on camping mattresses. First world problems, maybe, but problems most migrants will identify with. I certainly do.

For the first few weeks after the Silver Fox and I landed in Australia, we moved from holiday let to holiday let, unable to find anything longer term that suited. The first was fine, except for the infestation of millipedes that I would find curled up like tiny, crunchy Cumberland sausages everywhere – including, one evening, in our bed. The second had nicer decor (and a washing machine!) but only a bed to sit on – and you couldn’t see the TV from it. By the time we moved to the third, I had a contract at a university and was working from ‘home’, which meant editing on a netbook on a rusting garden table that we’d moved in from the small balcony.

Millipedes: not my ideal housemates

Millipedes: not my ideal housemates

The Silver Fox had a job to go to the Monday after we landed. I got one too, following an interview the day after we arrived, but it didn’t start until a few weeks later. This meant I was left in charge of setting up the things that make life easy: phones, broadband, health insurance, Medicare… I hate dealing with corporations at the best of times, but after a few days of doing little else I was broken. As yet another call centre worker told me I really should pay the highest health insurance premium “because it’s all about peace of mind”, I cracked. I put the phone down, I wept, and when my eyes dried I rang the Silver Fox and told him he would have to do it. I couldn’t take any more.

But once the basics were taken care of, and we had moved into more permanent accommodation, things did get easier. There were still moments of intense frustration with Australia, as I struggled to live by a set of unwritten rules no-one had ever taught me, and got tired of everything just being so hard. The lowest point was an appointment with a GP at the local health centre, when I needed a repeat prescription for something I’d had in the UK. After a wait of two hours (something I had never even experienced on the NHS, and yet I was paying for this!) I finally saw the doctor, who chastised me for not having made an early morning appointment when I just wanted a repeat prescription, and made me feel like a stupid child for not totally understanding what medicines were available in Australia and exactly how Medicare worked.

Packing it all in and going home wasn’t an option for us, so I focussed on the positive. Despite my naturally pessimistic character, there were many things to be positive about. I now had the opportunity to see Paul Kelly play regularly. I found a great dentist who (admittedly for the price of a medium-sized luxury yacht filled with gold bars and steered by a diamond-studded wheel) sorted out my NHS-ravaged teeth. And at my first proper job, I met some great people with whom I am still friends today. (I also met the most rigid bureaucracy I have ever encountered, a fair amount of bullying by senior staff and a dash of good old-fashioned racism, but that’s another story.)

Five years on, and having moved to the city I should have lived in all along, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’m still not in a rush to review my health insurance options, but I’ve got an amazing GP and I know where to go for the cheapest prescriptions. I know how to find a Justice of the Peace for those times when a piece of paper just has to be witnessed by someone you’ve never met before for no apparent reason and I understand why you can’t find out how much something costs on certain retail websites without entering your postcode first. And although we’ve now bought our own place, I learned to accept the limitations of our last rental while charming the letting agent into getting the biggest problems fixed.

I feel your pain, G and J, I really do. But you’re going to have to trust me on this one. When you’re at your lowest point, remember there’s only one way you can go.





Moving to Oz? Six things you need to know about Australian supermarkets

Coles - one of the big two supermarket chainsI love supermarkets. Well, ethically, I’m not so keen on their dominance of the marketplace and their ability to put small traders out of business in a flash, but from a sociological point of view, I find them fascinating.

On trips abroad I love wandering round the local hypermarché or supermercado to get an idea of how the natives like to live. And had I known that when I arrived in Perth almost five years ago, the big supermarkets were forced by law to shut at 6pm (a situation thankfully now changed) I might never have got on the plane. It proved to be a very accurate indicator of what living in Perth would be like.

I thought Australian supermarkets would be much the same as British ones, and they are. But as a new migrant, there are still a few things you need to know about shopping at Woolworths or Coles. Continue reading

The thrill of the old

We lived in a brand new house once.

The purchase made sense at the time. The Silver Fox was working in Manchester, more than an hour away in peak-hour traffic, and had no time or energy to tackle another ‘project’. Jaded by the efforts that had gone into our first home, a turn-of-the-century terrace, with lath and plaster ceilings and worn walls that after our input were 70 per cent Polyfilla, we decided that new was the way to go.

So we picked our corner plot on a new housing estate, paid our deposit and entered the scary world of the home builder. Bathroom tiles and kitchen cabinets were chosen. Plans were laid to turn the patch of mud at the rear of the house – so compacted by the weight of construction vehicles driving over it that it might as well have been concrete –  into a garden. Continue reading