On Passing the One-Year Mark

By Susan Roberts

If the first year of doing something is the hardest, then I am optimistic about the future. I’ve just celebrated my first year of living in Australia. Sometimes it feels as if I landed only a few months ago, but at other times I seem to have been here for a good portion of my life already, because so much of it is second nature to me.

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It’s hard to believe that more than a year has passed since I gave away most of my books, frantically packed my Move Cube, sold my car, left my job, tearfully sent my two cats on a plane and even more tearfully said goodbye to all my South African friends.

So what have I learned about Australia in that first year? Let’s look at the bad first:

  • Exchange rate: Coming to Australia was not cheap. On the day I bought my foreign exchange, all the money I had in the world was reduced to only 10% of its buying power. This is worth crying about until I can earn Aussie dollars. So far I’m not earning, and my converted Rands are running out…
  • Accents: I still have trouble decoding some accents. Apart from the peculiar words for things (dunny for toilet, doona for duvet, chook for chicken) Australians abbreviate everything: arvo for afternoon, servo for petrol station. As a writer and wordsmith, I hate showing my ignorance by using the wrong words.
  • Weather: Winter is bitterly cold here. After fifteen years of living in Durban where the temperature seldom drops below 18 degrees, this is something that will take me more than a few winters to overcome.
  • Rules and regulations: In Australia these are mandatory. While it was easy to convert my driver’s licence, I also had to have a medical to ensure that my thyroid medication didn’t affect my ability to drive. This involved precious money spent on what I felt was an unnecessary doctor’s visit – a $90 appointment to fill in a one-page form cost me R900!
  • Regulations are strict for pets: Cats have to be registered with the local municipality and there is a limit – no more than two cats per property in the suburbs. There is a dusk to dawn curfew. Also, if your cat annoys a neighbour, the neighbour can trap it (humane traps are available from the municipality) and send it to the pound. This costs the owner a small fortune to retrieve their pet. End result: I don’t let my cats out on their own. I take them outside once a day on a harness and lead. One cat is fine with this but the other can’t bear the harness so she has to be watched constantly. I feel happier knowing my cats are safer, but the cats themselves don’t understand why they can’t be allowed out to freely roam the neighbourhood.
  • Work situation: Until last month I wasn’t allowed to work so I’ve been gradually using up my meagre financial resources. The workplace is very competitive here and it’s not uncommon to be out of work for several months before finding a job, which is a scary thought. Who knows how long it will take me, and if my last few Rands will stretch that far?

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But there’s a good side to everything:

  • Sense of belonging and shared history: The official language is English, and while not everyone looks like me, a large number of Australians have travelled here from far away. Whether they crossed the globe voluntarily as my ancestors did to Africa or are descended from British convicts who were forced into ships and transported across the sea to penal colonies, the end result is that a pioneering spirit and a can-do attitude lives on in most people here.
  • Weather: Three good seasons definitely make up for the fourth! Summers can be scorching – up to 47 degrees in January – but the lack of humidity leaves you with plenty of energy. The between seasons – Spring and Autumn – are a novelty for me because I’m finally able to wear scarves, jerseys and light jackets which only gathered dust back in Durban.
  • Bureaucratic efficiency: After the expensive medical to convert my driver’s license, Vic Roads lost my paperwork and I was threatened with suspension of my shiny new licence. However, Australian efficiency ruled because the doctor had a copy of the filled-in form, and an amazing gentleman at Vic Roads was able to fast-track that copy through his system and my licence was given the go ahead the very next day.
  • Calmer Lifestyle: Wonderful public transport system of trams, trains and buses – all safe and efficiently run. Clean streets with plenty of trees. Parks and open spaces which are used by everybody. No litter, no load-shedding, no water cuts, no rioting, no burning of cars, buses and educational institutions while protesting. In fact, no protesting because if people here are unhappy with something, there are properly working channels through which to register their disapproval without endangering the lives of others.
  • Safer Lifestyle: No burglar bars, security fences, barbed wire or razor wire. No guns. Cars that park on the street are seldom broken into or stolen, and if they are, the perpetrators are caught. It’s also safe walking to and from places after dark.
  • Friendly officials: Policemen are friendly, polite and helpful. So are the transport police who monitor station platforms and who board trains to check for valid tickets. Just because they wear bullet-proof clothing doesn’t turn them into robots. Likewise the officials behind counters in municipal offices, traffic departments, shopping centres and banks. They greet and smile at you; they are well-informed and help you. People at help desks are actually helpful!
  • Friendly people: You can stop a person on the street and ask directions and they will talk to you. In fact, chances are they will stop you first if you look lost, and offer their help. On the first day of our road trip from Brisbane we reached a street corner where the car hire place we were expecting wasn’t there. While we were still fumbling for our map, a man stopped and asked if he could help. And he did. (Whoever you were, thank you again. You and the thousands of other Australians like you!)

Here’s what I have learned about myself and my ability to adapt in that first year:

  • I’m older and probably a bit more fragile, but that’s a natural part of aging. I’m optimistic about the future. I feel safe here. I feel that I have a future here. I am happy knowing that I can grow old in this country and be reasonably protected. Not just by the systems in place, but by the majority of people who harbour no ill-will towards their fellow human beings. Where there is crime, arrests are made and criminals are served their due justice. That gives me enormous confidence in the system.
  • I feel inspired. As a writer, I feel more creative here. I feel that I can write heroes and heroines who really can live happily ever after. I can invent characters and put them into stories where worries about the past, dangers of the present and fears for the future can be narrowed down to suit a particular plot-driven situation instead of being constantly overshadowed by the guilt-ridden burden of being a scared person in Africa.
  • I love seeing kangaroos, koalas, wombats, dingoes, emus, and even the occasional duck-billed platypus – both in the wild and in wildlife sanctuaries.

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  • I am ticking things off my bucket list. Last year I saw Hugh Jackman performing live on stage. Now I can die happy.

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But first I have to find myself a job…

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Icicles Bicycles…

by Jac Dowling

This morning the Antarctic blew in through the window glass of my den, right next to what is generally known as my workstation, except it’s not. More of a repository for things to read or do or ignore. So, having opened the mails, I snuck back into a still warm bed and continued to read a particularly gory novel by the grown-up male part of JK Rowling. Gory it is. I’ll probably have nightmares for weeks, but never mind, things happen…

Having dealt with the chill, which, my phone told me, was 4oC, I remembered an incident with my first class of ten year olds, when they were encouraged to find a poem they liked, to do with winter. Most of them did very well, conscientiously memorising and sprouting forth as requested. Except for one small boy who announced that he was going to do a poem by William Shakespeare. My eyes lit up, Literacy at last. And then he began:

         ‘When bicycles hang on the wall

And Dick the shepherd blows his blogs…

(ummm Sorry Miss, it’s something about logs and an owl…’)

‘Oh yes…  and Joan kills an owl in a greasy pot.’

At which stage I thanked him for his efforts saying he was very brave to attempt Shakespeare. And he was. I never discovered what blowing his blogs meant, other than picturing a flock of exploding sheep and a shepherd in serious trouble. Wool and other things all over the moor. After all, how many different types of blog blowing can there be?  Making a hash of your personal blog, unblocking a desperately coldy nose or – well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Having dealt with the severe chill, I waited for the sun to rise and warm things.  Which it did and any hovering icicles no longer hung by the wall, nor did Dick the shepherd blow his nail or Greasy Joan keel the pot. Tom did not bear logs into the hall and Marion’s nose probably was very red and raw – depending on the degree of blog blowing of course.

Keep warm.

15 minutes

By Sue Trollip

The longest commute to work I’ve travelled is 15 minutes.

That first job with it’s roller coaster hills was ten minutes away from my flat, I loved the adrenaline rush up and over and round and down and round again in my gold (really awful brown) Nissan, and then another brown (again read awful brown) Ford and finally, a few years later the metalic blue Corolla.

We then moved campuses and I had a fifteen minute zip-zip through all the back roads. I learned fast to dodge the school children as they meandered with friends unaware of how, in the future, they too would suffer the agony of making it to work on time every single morning. Perhaps sometimes they think of the low flying Tazz that used to buzz past.

Next I got to walk – fifteen minutes to the desperate toot-toot sounds of the minibus-taxis who were flabbergasted that someone would actually choose to walk.

Although close, a mere six minutes in the car my next job was up a 90 degree incline, then down as sharp. The thought of that hill so early in the morning never quite got me out of bed early enough to try. It was there that the Tazz moved on to it’s new owners who took it one summer work morning without a thought as to how I’d get home. My next car was white, an Astra, we never really had time to bond.

Then, I was back to a fifteen minute drive. This time along a long winding road where the speed limit was 45 mph (about 65 kms). Thankfully my sweet steel Honda (before her engine blew) had cruise control or all of my salary would have gone to the police force. Some mornings I rode my bike – that took a little longer than fifteen minutes.

Boom! I’ve upped the time by three.

It now takes me 45 minutes on the freeway, to get to work. I have a deep blue Subaru and instead of counting the miles and singing country to K-Bull (which I still do some mornings). I discovered the marvel of audio books. I laugh and people are passing too fast to notice, but the other morning I arrived at work with a couple of tears in my eyes. A smidge embarrassing, but what’s a girl with a good book supposed to do.

Currently reading and thoroughly enjoying …