Apologies for not writing in a while, but that just means I have loads to say now so be prepared for an essay!
I am currently 'between' jobs, with my Sydney freelance projects ending at the end of January, and more UK work heading my way for the end of February. I am also heading to meet-and-greets with a zillion recruitment agents all over, some with spectacular views from their offices of Sydney, and others in a smaller suburbs which are always a challenge to find! Job-interview wise, I have had a phone interview with a US company who dont seem to know how employment works in Australia, so I am still awaiting what the salary may be for spending 50% of my time travelling Australasia. I have also had an interivew for a medical communications company in a spooky Victorian-style mansion - despite the spookiness of the house with all doors being unlocked and relocked with a big iron key as you moved through the building, I thought the interview went pretty well! Unfortunately, I would have been employed as a trainee and a more experienced candidate came along, but oh well... I'll keep looking!
So, whilst Glen goes to work all day every day, bless him, I do the washing, folding (no ironing - we have no iron or ironing board...), cooking and food shopping - how domesticated! I'm also managing to meet mates for coffee and lunch, as well as visiting the beach for a couple of hours here and there, so don't worry - I'm not working too hard! This week I've also had something else to do though: PACKING!
Besides going to New Zealand at the end of the week, we are officially moving to A HOME! I'll be able to use a washing machine and the bath without asking for permission from the landlord! And the house comes with white goods, which means we can afford to buy a spare bed ASAP for ALL OF YOU TO COME STAY! So far my brother and Jemma are booked in July-August, but we also have a sofa bed so the more the merrier! Send me an email and I'll send you our permenant address.
We went around it a couple of weeks ago, and it was obviously meant to be! The current-soon-to-be-ex-tennants had a piano, as well as a pet beagle and terrier - the two breeds Glen and I are considering getting once settled. Also, the landlords are English, and we were told by the agent when she said we had successfully got the house "you're a pomme, they're pommies - so it's yours!" If only everything was that simple! So we have 3 bedrooms, a great kitchen with an island before the dining area, a large living room and also a great garden with decking-terrace and our own patch of bush at the back! Hopefully we'll see lots of animals!!
Sight-seeing-wise, we have been making the most of my time off and Glen's shifts, so when he finished at midday, I'd meet him in town and we'd do something for the afternoon. One day we caught the ferry over to Manly, a commuters suburb of Sydney with speedy boats across to the city during peak hours. The beach there is amazing and the 'mall' (or pedestrian precinct to us) is very well done with lots of shops and bistro bars. Whilst the beach was gorgeous, it really shows how busy beaches are towards the city. Our locals on the Central Coast are much less commercialised and often quite empty when kids are at school.
On a couple of other afternoons we visited the Aquarium and Wildlife park at Darling Harbour. They were both very well done, and exist on one of the Docks protruding out into the water. By building floating buildings either side, they have made brilliant use of the space available and you can see sharks and dugongs in tanks that are actually floating on the harbour! Similarly, the koala, kangaroo and butterfly biodomes of the wildlife park are also on floating rafts. The nocturnal section of the wildlife park included animals that even Glen had never seen before - there were echidnas (huge hedgehog things), and bilbies (they closest thing I've ever seen to chinchillas!) - unfortunately it is illegal to home indigenous animals as pets :( The platypus was even swimming and digging around in its tank! Amazing! Australian animals are so different its fascinating.
We also visited Canberra last weekend (Glen had a four day break between shift change), stopping in the Southern Tablelands on the way - Canberra is a 4 hour drive from us at the Central Coast.
The Tablelands were full of little townships with great names like Berrima, Bowral, Mittagong, Bundanoon and Wingello. We wandered around the old high streets and saw an old prision, still used a women's detention centre. We also stumbled on a town called Medway (!) which consisted of a train track leading to a coal mine. We visiting to take a picture with the sign though! We also went to the Southern Tablelands Winery for lunch, tasting the produce to begin with and then having a bottle of wine over a gorgeous meal while looking out on the vineyard.
We spent the night in Wingello in a cabin for 12 people, but had it all to ourselves. Without air conditioning and with the day peaking in the top 30s, the rooms were stifling, and we couldn't open the windows as there were no fly screens; being in the bush alongside a little 'pond' meant that mosquitoes and bugs were everywhere!
Back at home we had noticed an increase in number and size of the Huntsman spiders (seasonal or because of the heatwave, I don't know), and it was no different here. I've got used to dealing with them - they're not dangerous, but compared to the English house spider no bigger than 50 pence, it can be a bit of a shock. But you just get a glass, well a pyrex-jug sized thing since they're huge, and do the trap-with-cardboard thing and throw them outside. You always catch a leg or two, but they seem to shed them automatically as a defensive thing, so you just sweep them up afterwards. Sometimes they jump before you cover them, but they normally reappear in the same spot within a few hours. It was a bit disconcerting at first to not know where they go, but you get used to it.
I will admit that in our Wingello cabin I did get freaked out for the first ever time by an animal, and it was a harmless Huntsman. We succesfully got rid of one before we went out to tea, but another was waiting for us after we got back. We had just been watching the wild kangeroos in the grassy areas on the way home, and had a quiet night planned watching the Australian Open. I spotted another tarantula sitting above the telly, so I scrounged in the cupboards but could only find a scuna glass (slightly smaller than a pint) and went to do my best. It jumped and we couldn't find it, so eventually Glen went to bed and I decided to watch the rest of the tennis match (it was the women's final night). I saw the Huntsman crawl up the same patch of wall again, but he disappeared before I could catch him, so I gave up and went to bed too.
As I was lying there, I saw a black thing crawl up the wall - I turned on my mobile phone and in the light saw our friend scrambling up the wall in front of my face! I jumped up and watched it go to the ceiling corner, where I assumed it would stay, so turned over to get back to sleep. Feeling a little nervous, I kept checking it was still there, and after a few minutes it wasn't Our restless friend was now within inches of my head about to investigate the head board... That was it! I jumped up throwing the covers on the floor, waking up Glen and told him to get rid of it! No way was I having a huge furry thing with 8 legs anywhere near my face whilst I was trying to sleep! A half-asleep Glen rescued the situation and the spider remained trapped in its glass at the other end of the room, whilst we shook the blankets out in case any other creepy crawlies had made their way in since I'd thrown them on the floor. That all done, I insisted on keeping the spider in the glass until morning and spent a restless night constantly checking the wall for anymore! Oh well - at least they are harmless!
The next day we started exploring Canberra - we visited the Space Centre, which is funded by NASA and has 4 huge satellites that listen to signals from space. We got to listen to blips from Saturn's rings. We also went to the Black Mountain Tower which had views across Canberra and the whole region. From up there you can see how unusual Canberra is as a city: you can see big wide avenues lined with grass verges and trees and parks everywhere.
I'm glad we visited the National Capital Museum which explained the process by which Canberra came about. First the location had to be decided, involving a great deal of politics between the two largest cities Sydney and Melbourne. It was decided the capital should be placed somewhere in the middle, and Sydney managed to pass a law saying it could not be more than 100 miles from it. In the end the Canberra-Yass region was decided, closer to Sydney than Melbourne but further than 100 miles away.
Then the name - other ideas were Shakespeare, Captain Cook, Ucalypta, Kangaremu (a combination of the two animals on their coat of arms), and Paradise. Canberra was chose (thank goodness!), and means 'meeting place' in a local Aboriginal dialect.
The design was decided in an International competition, where all entrants were supplied details of the lie of the land and then given free range. An America called Walter Burley Griffin won with his geometric designs of lines and circles, including a manmade lake (called 'Burley Griffin Lake') by placing a dam further up the Molongo river. The Y shaped design was so significant that all Canberra licence plates start with the letter Y nowadays!
Whilst driving around the city, however, I still could not get the city feel. There were no small streets with sky scrapers on either side, no straggly streets or alley ways. Everything is open and green and light - just not 'city-like' to me. It is still growing, with spaces assigned to growing business and development, but essentially it is a town built to run a country. It's full of embassies and the biggest and most impressive buildings include the old and new parliaments. There is also the war memorial and Anzac Parade, which we didn't manage to fit in that weekend, and many museums for science, war, art and national subjects. They also have a 110ft tall fountain in the lake, but due to water restrictions it only gets turned on for short periods now and then!
The New Parliament is very modern, marble pillars are everywhere and there's grass on the roof for you to sit and have a picnic on! The Chambers are still designed similarly to the British layout, with the green benchs for the House of Representatives, the equivalent to our House of Commons, and the Senate being a rustic red and voted in, replacing the House of Lords.
The Old Parliament House was amazing. For $2 entry we got a guided tour, seeing the old chambers and the Prime Minister's rooms. It was interesting that the air grates and gallery fences had the Union Flag design engrained into them, due to the extensive British influence present in the men who were setting up this new country. Glen also got to see the media area, which was right up his street of course.
Our night in Canberra was spent at Glen's Uncle Gordon and Aunt Pam's. All the cousins and second cousins came for afternoon tea, and the mentally-challenged Maltese-Shih-tzu dog 'Jaffa' was hilarious. He will lick your feet and arms quite happily if you pretend he isn't there, but as soon as you look at him he growls and snarls and backs away petrified! Weird! Poor thing.
We had dinner at the local British pub (!) and spent a lovely evening talking about when Gordon and Pam first emigrated here, not long after Roy (Glen's dad) in the 70s. Apparently, there was an Introduction meeting at a local community centre describing how you can start a new life in Australia and 'feel free to fill out one of these application forms'. So Gordon an Pam did so, interested for more information. Within in a week they were rushed for medicals and told they would be leaving the following Thursday! Gordon managed to push them back to the following week! I wouldn't have coped with that... I am very glad we had a few months to get used to the idea! Plus Pam and Gordon were not allowed to leave Australia for 2 years or they would not be allowed back (which they nearly did in the first week!)- at least I can pop home whenever I want!
Since our Canberra adventures, things have been quieter. Glen's now been working 7 days straight, with one more tomorrow before we head off to New Zealand for a wedding and some holiday.
You'll all be pleased to hear our heatwave of top 30s-low 40s is over - we've had some really impressive thunder storms the last 2 days, shaking the whole house! The bed vibrates so there's no chance of sleeping through it. It must be a welcome relief to all the Rural Fire Services though, as it hopefully will help fighting the bush fires.
I've been told that even the UK are seeing our bush fires on their news. They are running rampant, especially in Victoria down South where it was even hotter (where the Australian Open was), and we have had a few in our area. The closest was at Peats Ridge about 30km away, and on Sunday I could see a grey cloud of the smoke rising into the cloudless sky. But we're absolutely fine (thank you for all the messages of concern guys!) and no one we know are hurt or have had their property damaged. Some have been warned to be ready to evacuate, but nothing else.
So to finish off this essay (I did warn you!), I thought I'd list some of the achievements I feel worth mentioning now I've been an Australian resident for over 5 months. I now succesfully signal using the stick on the right of the windscreen, and turn my windscreen wiper on using the left. I can now look in my purse and recognise that a yellow note is £50, a purple is $5, a blue is $10 and a red is $20. I can even recognise the coinage! I can now head to the beach and know that if I want Tawoon bay I want to turn North, but for Bateau Bay I head South. I can even get from here in Berkeley Vale to the main town Gosford and the huge shopping centre at Erina without getting lost!
Shame I'm about to move and will have to work out a whole new set of routes and roads!
Hope you are all well, and will write of my time on New Zealand's North Island and the move in the not-so-distant future. Take care.