Categories
Australia Chuckles

Job hunting Down Under

When we arrived in Aus I pictured myself popping along to a recruitment agency one morning and leaving half an hour later with an amazing, well-paid, career-enhancing job. Alas this was not the case.

Instead I found myself filling each day by applying for dozens of jobs, some of them questionable, and speaking to a multitude of recruitment agents (none of whom were Australian, which made me think that perhaps the answer was to become a recruitment agent myself).

Three job hunting experiences stand out in particular:

  1. UnSUITed
  2. Crazy advertising company
  3. Worst job in the world?

1. UnSUITed

This interview was for a big role at an interesting arts organisation. I did heaps and heaps of preparation beforehand and felt like I really knew my stuff. (Unfortunately I had discovered from their annual reports that they were in dire financial straits, but I was still excited about the opportunity!) I arrived completely drenched thanks to a torrential down-pour, but tried my best to sort myself out while I waited for my turn. The interview seemed to go ok-ish – I answered every question to the best of my ability while also realising they were looking for a candidate who probably did not exist. I don’t know many people who are experts in four very different disciplines – corporate fundraising, marketing, stakeholder relationship management and html! Anyway, I left feeling mentally exhausted (and still damp) and waited to hear back from the recruitment agent.

The next day I heard that they interviewers were impressed with how I’d interviewed, but that they weren’t giving the job to any of the candidates as they hadn’t been able to find the right person. This didn’t surprise me at all, but the next comment did. Apparently they didn’t think I was dressed ‘corporately enough’ for the interview. I was wearing a purple silk dress, dark tights, heels and a black jacket – quite possibly the smartest I have ever looked ever. I couldn’t help but think that I had dressed just right for an arts organisation interview, and I will continue to think that until the day I die. But in reality, if they wanted the successful candidate to wear power suits everyday for big meetings with corporate partners, it really wasn’t the right job for me anyway!

2. Crazy advertising company

I had applied for an internship at a new company (or a start-up, if you will) whose innovative idea was to place advertising on plastic water bottles. The bottles would be given out for free to young, trendy people at young, trendy places – paid for by the advertisers. First of all I had a trial day at their small shared office space in Fitzroy. I felt self-conscious as soon as I walked in the door, what with being a 30 year old intern and all. This was only compounded when I realised I had more work experience than the founders! I was surrounded by other interns who had been born in the 90s – the 90s! – and I felt completely out of place. The morning was slow to get started because the founder who would be managing us was running late. So I busied myself by spotting typos in the media kit.

We had lunch at an uber-cool bar on Brunswick Street, in a curiously decorated upstairs room (yellow swirls on the walls and patterned fabrics everywhere). One of the cool young interns commented “Its like tripping on acid”. All I could think was “I really wouldn’t know about that. I prefer to sit down of a evening with a cup of lemon and ginger tea.”. After that we went back to the office and listened to a cool internet radio station (playing music from bands I’d never heard of) while we worked. I was editing a press release, while at the same time emailing my press officer friend back in the UK to ask How do you write a press release? I went home at the end of the day feeling old and a strange mixture of Too Experienced and Not Experienced Enough. The start-up then moved offices so I couldn’t go in for my second trial day (sigh of relief), and in fact I never went back!

3. Worst job in the world?

I’d applied for the job of ‘Marketer’ at an organisation that was something to do with helping job-seekers back into employment. That seemed like a nice thing to do, I thought to myself. As I studied their website before the interview two things struck me: 1) I don’t actually really understand what this company does; and 2) I wonder if the job involves sorting out their website because this is a mess! The interview was at a hotel right by Melbourne airport, so after two trams and an expensive airport bus, I arrived. The interviewers were lovely – two bubbly women who made me feel totally at ease. It turned out the job was about helping job-seekers market themselves – teaching them how to sell themselves in applications and at interviews, and then driving around to local businesses to try to find them work. I think I managed a poker face when I found this out, but inside I was thinking “this is the worst job in the world and I would hate it!”

I left thinking how awkward it would be if they offered me the job. How do you say “I’m sorry but I had no idea what the job was about before the interview, and then when I found out I pretended it would be great for me and I’d love to do it, but in actual fact I can’t think of anything worse.” Luckily someone else got the job so I was spared that conversation!

Then finally, at long last, I had a good interview experience. It was for a job I actually wanted, working for an interesting, innovative company with interesting, innovative people. The interview was on a 40 degree day in December – not the best weather for trying to come across as calm, cool and collected! But it went really well and I start on Monday!

The job is part marketing (email and social media) and part graphic design, so it’s a chance to develop my existing skills while also trying something new. This is exactly what I was looking for in an Aussie job. Yay!

 

Categories
Australia

Christmas Down Under

Christmas 2013 was a brand new experience for me – 30 degree heat in Adelaide instead of the usual 8 degree chilliness of the south east of England!

I was feeling a little apprehensive about my first ever Christmas away from home, especially as we hadn’t seen much evidence of a love of the festive season in Aus so far. For one thing, their Christmas adverts were nothing like the emotional roller-coasters that John Lewis and M&S come up with in the UK every year. And hardly any houses seemed to be decked with holly. And I hadn’t heard much Christmas music.

I was worried that Christmas in Aus might not be a big deal – but I was determined to be excited anyway!

Alex and I flew from Melbourne to Adelaide at 7am on Christmas Eve and immediately met up with my sister, Nicola, and her boyfriend, Alex (who had flown in from Ethiopia the day before) for a day of Christmas shopping! This was reassuringly familiar, as we’d probably have done the same thing if we were all in Guildford (albeit not wearing shorts and flip flops!)

Christmas Day itself was totally different but brilliant! After brekkie at the hotel we were picked up by Nicola and Alex for a trip to the beach! Alex T went swimming, Alex C fished, Nicola sunbathed and I had a quick dip and then a lie down. It was incredible to be lying on the soft white sand, watching the bluey-green of the ocean and clusters of other people going about their Christmas morning beach antics.

Then we headed over to Alex C’s family home for Christmas Day proper! Alex’s mum and sister, Wendy and Jessica, were busy creating mouth-watering smells in the kitchen, while the rest of us drank sparkling Shiraz and Pimm’s on the patio and then sampled some delicious canapes, including cherry soup and soft-shell crab! All the while the BBQ was sizzling away behind me, but it was only when we sat down to lunch that I discovered what had been inside…

Turkey! And it was delicious! Plus there were prawns, salads, potatoes, extra canapes, fine wines and great company, which all came together to create a fantastic festive feast.

After lunch it was present time, just as it would be in the UK, but then things took a slightly different turn as we walked to a nearby lake to check out the local population of hermit crabs!

Hermit crab lake
Hermit crab lake

After that it was just the right time to Skype our parents in England to wish them Happy Christmas. Unfortunately they were in the midst of a 36 hour power cut and were having to boil water on the BBQ for their morning coffee! But despite their trials and tribulations, it was lovely to speak to them!

Finally it was time for Alex and I to head back to our hotel. There we lay on our giant bed, too full to move, and reflected on what a top day we’d had – thousands of miles from my parents and Alex’s family, but still surrounded by lovely people and festive cheer.

Categories
Australia Chuckles Review

I love Neighbours (and I’m not ashamed to admit it)

Scott and Charlene
Scott and Charlene

It’s a well-known fact that the Aussie soap Neighbours has always been more popular in the UK than in Australia. Scott and Charlene’s wedding was watched by more than 20 million viewers when it aired in the UK in 1988. In the same year the entire population of Australia was only about 16.5 million people. So there were more UK Neighbours fans than inhabitants of the country who made it!

It’s kind of similar to what I choose to call the Hasselhoff Dilemma – the people of Germany have nothing but love and admiration for actor and musician David Hasselhoff, while his fellow Americans just aren’t really that bothered.

25 years later the UK is still big on Neighbours. They show it no less than 6 times a day – twice on Channel 5, twice on 5* and twice on 5* +1. And nearly everyone I speak to has watched it at some point in their lives – usually as a teen or while at uni. Plus there’s a brilliant and hilarious ‘Art of Neighbours’ group on Facebook, made up of dedicated fans who love to post about each episode and poke fun at some of the dafter story lines.

In comparison, new episodes of the show are only on once a day (once!) in Aus, and they can’t even be bothered to merge all the episodes into one programme for the Sunday omnibus – so you get the viewing pleasure of 5 sets of opening and closing credits.

But Aussies don’t care that there aren’t many chances to catch Neighbours because hardly any of them actually watch it! It seems to be their embarrassing relation that no one talks about, and whenever I admit to watching it I get a look of pity and the hint of a suggestion that I should see myself as a pathetic loser.

But the truth is, I love Neighbours, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’ve been watching it for about 26 years, and I’m not planning on stopping! It’s entertaining, with some great characters, and some I love to hate. It can make me laugh, cry and shout at the tv, all in one episode. Plus I don’t smoke, take drugs, or drink much, so as far as vices go, this one is pretty harmless!

In fact seeing as I’m in Australia for a year at the moment, I might make it my mission to get more Aussies to appreciate this fantastic show that they’ve so kindly given to the world. I’ll keep you updated on my progress. Wish me luck…!

Categories
Adventure Australia Review

White sharks are great

Last night Alex and I went to a brilliant talk about great white sharks at Melbourne Aquarium.

The talk was part of Melbourne Aquarium’s Marine Discovery Lecture Series 2013, and was given by Barry Bruce, marine researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Bruce
Bruce

The backdrop to the talk was Melbourne Aquarium’s 2.2 million litre Oceanarium – so every time Bruce mentioned sharks, a real life one was right there behind him (albeit a grey nurse or blacktip reef shark, rather than a great white!)

Barry Bruce is an expert when it comes to tagging white sharks, and is known as the Aussie authority on these sharks, no less. Not only that, but the great white shark in Finding Nemo was actually named after him! If that isn’t a claim to fame, I don’t know what is.

Bruce started his talk by saying that despite over 20 years of research, there is still much that is not known about these creatures. He added that he and his scientific colleagues prefer to call them ‘white sharks’ rather than ‘great white sharks’ because they are really no greater than any other shark!

He also mentioned that the media is responsible for the common image of white sharks (below) – launching out of the water looking scary and murderous – and urged us not to believe everything we read (as this news story proves).

Great white shark
Great white shark – as perpetuated by the media

Bruce went on to cover some facts that are known about white sharks, for example:

  1. They can grow to at least 6 metres (2000-3000kg)
  2. They possibly live for 50-60 years (although this isn’t known for sure – it might be longer)
  3. Females don’t mature until they are 5 metres
  4. They are warm-bodied (25-27 degrees) – so are more like mammals
  5. They produce few young and there is no parental care
  6. They eat fish and other sharks/rays when young (< 3 metres)
  7. They do not live at seal colonies – most of their time is spent elsewhere
  8. Some may not feed on seals at all.

The majority of the talk then focussed on understanding movement patterns – the first step in answering questions about whether numbers are going up or down – and that is where tagging comes in. In the words of Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert, here comes the science bit…

Acoustic tag
Acoustic tag

The main types of tagging Bruce and his team use are:

  • Acoustic tagging – a unique code is sent to a receiver whenever a tagged shark swims past;
  • Satellite tagging – the tagged shark links to a satellite whenever it comes to the surface (as long as a satellite is in range).

The first white shark ever tagged was in Victoria, and Bruce’s three tagging areas are the Neptune Islands (SA), Corner Inlet (VIC) and Port Stephens (NSW). From his team’s research he has been able to tell that white sharks travel large coastal distances and to tropical waters (eg Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef). It has even been known for a shark to travel from South Africa all the way to Ningaloo! The open ocean is an important habitat for white sharks, and some have been known to spend up to 2 years in open ocean before returning to land.

Bruce also discovered that, on the whole, a shark tagged in South Australia stays south and west, whereas a shark tagged in eastern Australia stays east. This means there are two distinct populations that don’t seem to cross the Bass Straight (the water between Tasmania and Victoria) – and they need to be looked at separately.

At the moment more is known about the eastern population of white sharks, and Port Stephens has emerged as a particularly interesting area. It’s hugely popular for swimmers, surfers and divers, but it’s also here that white sharks are often found in the surf zone just off the beach (compared to further north or south, where the sharks tend to stay away from the shore). So Bruce and his team locate juveniles here for tagging.

Juvenile great white shark
Juvenile great white shark

Port Stephens is known as a ‘nursery area’ for white sharks – mostly the sharks are 2 years old. (It is not a breeding area, as there are no new-borns – which also means there are no big adults around either!) Corner Inlet is another nursery area, and sharks have been tracked moving directly and rapidly between the two nursery areas.

Hawks Nest Surf Club in Port Stephens closed the beach 44 times one summer due to white sharks swimming between the flags. In fact if you type ‘Hawks Nest NSW’ into Google Earth and zoom in, you can see a white shark close to the shore – with a load of people just a little further up the beach.

But while white sharks meet people at these beaches every day, there has never been an attack there. So the answer to the question ‘what normally happens when sharks and people meet?’ is just ‘nothing’.

It was then time for some questions from the audience, and someone asked what Bruce thought about culling. This is a very topical issue, given there have been a handful of attacks in Australia recently, and many mentions of shark culling in the media as a result. Bruce responded that there have been very few cases when the shark responsible for an attack has been caught – so that sort of approach is just a waste of time and resources. He also said that there is no evidence that a shark that has bitten once will bite again. And the Port Stephens situation proves that more sharks does not mean more attacks. Given the audience was made up of shark enthusiasts, I think we were all please to hear from Australia’s authority on white sharks that culling is not the answer.

I then plucked up the courage to ask a question about cage diving. I’ve always wanted to do it, but was worried about whether it’s the right thing to do for the shark. And does chumming make sharks associate people with food? Bruce answered that cage diving is highly regulated in Australia. It takes place in the Neptune Islands, and there are always two days per week with no dives – which is for the benefit of the sharks, not the safety of the people. He mentioned that sharks sometimes stick around for a bit longer than usual at cage diving sites, but there is no evidence that cage diving leads the shark to associate people with food. In fact there’s so much going on, what with the noise from the boat and the smells, that the diver in the middle of it all is really no big deal. Plus there’s not much reward for the shark – they might get a bit of tuna off the tether, but mostly it’s berley (chum) to attract them, rather than real food.

After a couple more questions the talk came to an end. I left the aquarium feeling inspired and still can’t believe I had the opportunity to hear about these sharks from the country’s top white shark researcher. There is one thing I disagree with Bruce about though – to me they will always be great white sharks.

Categories
Australia Observations

Environmentally (un)friendly

One thing I love about Australia is how ‘green’ so many people and places are.

Whenever I go shopping or eat out I am greeted with a plethora of organic ingredients and products, and it’s so easy to find local produce – not just from within Australia, but from your own state.

Take Alex’s favourite beer, Mountain Goat. It’s certified organic and it’s from just down the road in Richmond – so it’s only had to travel about 9.5km to get to our fridge!

Mountain Goat from down the road
Mountain Goat from down the road

There’s a brilliant organic shop near us, where everything seems to be environmentally friendly, organic and locally-produced, from the vegetables and bread to the laundry detergent and jute bags. We even made our own peanut butter by smooshing some peanuts through a machine into a tub – with literally nothing else added!

We also managed to find the same organic hand soap we’d just used up at home, and were about to buy it when we looked at the label. We were expecting to see that it had come from just down the road, like our beer, but were surprised to find it had been imported. From America!

Soap from 8,000 miles away
Soap from 8,000 miles away

There’s something not quite right about a shop that claims to be all about organic, environmentally friendly produce, but then stocks imported soap from thousands of miles away, leaving a massive carbon footprint behind.

Needless to say we ditched that soap in favour of another one on the neighbouring shelf – which came from Riddells Creek (just 60km away!)

Categories
Australia Observations

Australia and adoption

Last night’s news included a brief story on adoption in Australia. My ears pricked up at the mention of the word ‘adoption’ because I’ve spent 6 years working in communications at leading fostering and adoption charities in the UK, so I was very interested to find out about the situation in Australia.

It turns out Hugh Jackman and wife Deborra-Lee Furness are calling on the Australian government to urgently overhaul an adoption process they say is destroying children’s lives. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Furness has ‘slammed Australia’s ”anti-adoption culture”, saying the country’s inaction on the global orphan crisis is a disgrace’.

She also said it was ‘a ”disgrace” that, with 18,000 children in foster care in NSW needing a family, only 65 were adopted’.

Adoption is always a tricky topic, but this story is particularly interesting because it seems to be trying to tackle the low adoption rate of Australian children within Australia, alongside a call for more adoptions of international orphans. But surely these are two very different areas that are hard to compare?

Take Furness’s comment that the number of orphaned children across the world is increasing, while adoption is decreasing, and her statement that:

“It’s a crime, what happens to these abandoned kids. They end up institutionalised and then have developmental delays and mental health issues, the human conditions, the kid on the street who becomes prey to predators, it is rife with danger and these children are vulnerable.” Read the whole article.

Of course, what can and does happen to vulnerable children on the streets across the world is horrific, and we should all do whatever we can to fix it. Adoption isn’t the only answer though – thanks to aid organisations like Save the ChildrenOxfam, and Plan International, there are many options for people who want to make a difference (and thanks to these charities’ infrastructures, the difference they make is on a large scale).

But the thing is, the situation in Australia is very different. Most of the children who come into the care system are not orphans on the street for whom adoption is the only option – in reality they often need a new home because of issues such as parental substance abuse and neglect. And most of the time severing all legal ties through adoption isn’t the right answer.

Instead thousands of children in Australia and the UK can and do benefit from the incredible work of highly trained foster carers and social workers. The child has a safe home for as long as they need it, while their birth parents receive support and learn better parenting skills, so they can be reunited later on if things work out. If the child can’t go back to their birth parents then there’s permanent fostering or an SGO to consider. These types of social care probably aren’t seen much in the developing world, if they even exist at all.

It’s a highly complex area, and I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it. I think the main thing to consider is that there are vulnerable children desperately in need of help everywhere – whether it is an orphaned toddler from a worn-torn country, or a neglected teenager from your own city. Adoption can be one way to fix things, but it’s not the only way. Thanks to aid organisations, local charities and foster care providers, there are many things we can do to help at home and away.

 

Categories
Australia Review

Why I need to get a job… and soon!

Seeing as I don’t yet have a job in Melbourne, I’ve had the opportunity to watch more daytime TV than anyone in their right mind would ever want to.

Morning and daytime TV across the world is of course always terrible. They try to include discussions about politics, current affairs and world news alongside more light-hearted content and lifestyle tips, but in fact most of the programme just ends up being idle gossip about celebrity fashion. Australian morning and daytime suffers from this affliction too, but they also do something even worse…

I'm your friend so buy this hoover
I’m your friend so buy this hoover

They follow a piece on Lady Gaga with a segment about hoovers or saucepans that masquerades as helpful consumer advice from presenters we have come to know and trust, but is in fact a blatant sales promo. It would be fair enough if we had chosen to watch an infomercial or home shopping show, but this is thrust in our faces in the guise of normal TV. And there are loads of advert breaks in the show anyway! How dare they!

Everything about these segments seems dishonest, from the mock living room sets to the fake spills. And don’t get me started on the stiletto-wearing female presenters and their ‘bloke next door’ counterparts, who have clearly never even used a hoover before.

They ramble on and on about whatever ridiculous product they are selling today, presumably hoping you will lose the will to live and buy it to shut them up. And the worst part is that they never seem to tell the viewer the real cost, instead preferring to blindside us with the special ’28 day trial price’ and ‘free gift if you order NOW’.

After just minutes of watching these segments I feel like I’m being manipulated. I think it’s strange how little the producers must value their viewers if they think we deserve to be tricked and conned into buying pointless, over-priced products in this way. Luckily I reckon most of us see it for the underhand sales technique it is and just change the channel.

I know I don’t have to watch it at all, but what else is there to do when you’re eating breakfast at 9.30am on a weekday morning? I just need to get a job soon so that I’ll be out of the house by 8am and watching dreadful morning TV will no longer be an option!

Categories
Australia Review

A Murder is Announced

Through a very kind acquaintance we managed to get free tickets to the opening night of ‘A Murder is Announced’ at the Comedy Theatre and it was an absolute treat.

(If we were going to choose any play to see during our first fortnight in Melbourne we might not have picked a typically British murder mystery, but free is free, and it really did turn out to be great!)

First off, it was a miracle that I’d never seen it before, as British TV churns out more Agatha Christie productions than Rod Stewart releases Greatest Hits albums. But every scene was a surprise, with twists and turns all over the place, and the production seemed genuinely original and fresh despite the play’s age.

It was the kind of production I love – where every scene takes place on the same set (the sitting room at Little Paddocks) – so there was none of that ‘I’m a stagehand moving furniture but I’m dressed in black so you can’t see me’ nonsense. On top of that, the costumes were perfect down to the smallest detail, and the sound effects and lighting all seemed to happen at the right times (which you would expect from a professional production, but I still always worry that something might go wrong!)

The all-Australian cast (including none other than Pippa from Home and Away) had perfected their English accents and seemed to give 100% to every scene. And (apart from the curtain call of course) there were a couple of occasions when every single cast member was in the scene – lined up and spanning the entire width of the stage – which really brought the diversity of characters and costumes to life.

It was a fabulous production, and everyone involved gave the audience a hugely enjoyable and suspense-filled evening.

A Murder is Announced
A Murder is Announced

 

Categories
Australia Chuckles

Australia and the UK: an early comparison

We’ve been in Melbourne for a week now and it’s been awesome so far. We’ve explored St Kilda and checked out the CBD, and today we moved across the city to our new home in Brunswick.

A home away from home
A home away from home

Before we came here someone told us Melbourne is ‘the London of Australia’ – and judging by how quickly we’ve settled in they could be right. Everything is strangely familiar (including the street names!), and the tram system is so user-friendly that even I have managed to navigate around the city with ease!

I’ve already slipped into some of my UK bad habits – like planning to go for a run, and even laying out my running gear the night before so it’s all ready for me, yet somehow not actually going after all! I’ve also continued to watch Neighbours and managed to fit in a good few afternoon naps.

Alex is also much the same, except he’s chosen to eat soup twice, whereas UK Alex usually avoids soup altogether.

There are plenty of differences too – like the cost of internet packages, clothes and eating out. And it’s not just eating out – our first supermarket shop cost $75 (about £45) and we reckoned we could have bought the same stuff in Britain for closer to £30. And for some reason TV shows and films seem to start on the half hour, rather than on the hour – madness!

And last week we stumbled upon a real life house auction, which took place on the street right outside the house and involved last minute bids and all sorts of drama – just like on Neighbours! With all the auctions going on we could probably hit a new one every weekend. This is the sort of free entertainment you just don’t find in London!

Auction!
Auction!

So all in all we love this place. The people we’ve met have been incredibly friendly, the food has been delicious, and tonight we’re going to the theatre for free courtesy of our last Airbnb host! Plus the tram system really is excellent (and actually cheaper than Oyster prices in London), and they seem to sell pancakes and milkshakes everywhere. What more could you ask for?

Categories
Adventure Australia

The adventure begins!

On Tuesday at midday Alex and I hopped on a plane at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 to start our 365 day adventure in Australia!

I was feeling slightly anxious about being 3kg over the luggage weight limit, but the nice man at the Malaysia Airlines check-in desk either couldn’t add up or decided to turn a blind eye, so I didn’t have to fork out the £30 excess baggage fee after all – result!

Just 24 hours later, after watching The Internship, The Heat, A Perfect Getaway (I hadn’t heard of it before either!), World War Z and several episodes of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, we arrived in Melbourne. And just two hours after that we arrived at 1 Acland Street in St Kilda – our Airbnb accommodation for our first 8 days in the southern hemisphere.

Our first day (Thursday possibly? It’s hard to know!) started with a yummy brunch across the road, and then went by in a blur of jet-lag and shock at the cost of pretty much everything here compared to the UK! I had an afternoon nap, then we meandered along the beach at St Kilda and through Albert Park, where the cloudy weather made for chilly walking but beautiful photos!

Rainbow over Melbourne
Rainbow over Melbourne

The afternoon nap I had so craved at the time proved to be a terrible decision as I lay wide awake at 3am. And again at 6am! Luckily enough, Alex got tangled in the sheets at 3am and woke up, so I took the opportunity to provide him with a detailed account of the nightmare I’d just had, to help pass the time. Then when I woke up at 6am I managed to keep quiet for about an hour, but then I thought ‘screw this, I’m really bored’ – and in no time at all I’d woken Alex up too so I had someone to talk to. Plus what’s the point of sleeping when there’s a whole new country out there to explore!