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Discovering Perth

When Oli and I began talking about and planning our trip around Australia, we knew we would have to find some work along the way, to keep us going. WWOOFing, seasonal farm work, fruit picking and other temporary jobs were all on our list of work options. I never pictured myself getting stuck into a professional role along the way, but strangely enough, that’s how things have turned out.

On our way down the West Coast in October 2011, we discovered that we were way too late to pick up any fruit picking work … the backpackers had snapped it all up weeks earlier. So we started talking about finding some work in Perth.

Being a landscape gardener, Oli can find casual work almost anywhere, so he had a job lined in Perth before we even got there. Great, that took the pressure off.

But I had no idea how difficult it would be for me to find work. I applied for anything and everything, from temp work in admin through to retail jobs, hospitality work and even thought about going back to childcare. But after two months of relentless job hunting, I landed a great job –  a 12 month contract with The University of Western Australia.

I’m now half way through the contract, and really enjoying it. The team I work with are fantastic, the role is interesting, and it’s been a great opportunity to grow my skills and also learn about working in a tertiary institution.

And I’m so pleased we’ve had the chance to live in Perth for a while. It’s quite an unusual city, but I’ve come to love it. Here, it’s all about the lifestyle. The weather is (mostly) great, the beaches are sublime and the people are friendly and welcoming.

In many ways, this city is a little bit behind the times: for example, almost nothing is open on Sundays (not even Woolies!). Perth people can be quite conservative – people with dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings, unusual clothing, and even facial hair (e.g Oli’s beard) attract stares and comments from strangers; in Newtown, they wouldn’t get a second look!  Some locals can tend to be just a little bit suspicious of anyone from ‘over East’. And it’s impossible to find anywhere to watch the State of Origin rugby league live here – it’s AFL or nothing!

On the other hand, Perth can be quite cosmopolitan in its own way, and we’ve enjoyed discovering all that it has to offer. There is a thriving local music scene here, supported by some fantastic music venues like Mojos and Clancy’s Fish Pub in Fremantle, The Bakery in Northbridge, and the Indi Bar in Scarborough.  We caught some comedians doing their thing at Perth’s very first International Comedy Festival, and one weekend in summer Oli and I enjoyed a boozy bicycle ride out in the Swan Valley, visiting some gorgeous wineries and micro-breweries. On top of all this, there are plenty of quirky little bars and cafes, and some decent markets to be found too.

We’ve made a conscious decision not to get too settled here in Perth, as it’s too far away from Sydney and Canberra for us to want to stay here permanently. Plus, we’ve got a trip around Australia to complete!  

So instead of renting a place, we’ve continued our nomadic lifestyle by becoming house sitters. We’ve stayed in a number of different homes, minding peoples pets and houses while they are away overseas. We get to enjoy their pets company, spend time in some lovely homes and save on rent, and the owners don’t have to worry about the garden becoming overgrown or their pets fretting away in a cattery or boarding kennel. 

It’s kind of weird living in someone else’s home. You come to realise how different we all are, and how much people’s lifestyles vary.  Some people are so organised – everything has its place, is labelled, alphabetised and there is a routine or instructions for everything, while others are much more casual in how their home is set out and organised.  Some places seem really warm, comfortable and lived in, while some places we’ve stayed in feel like the owners probably don’t spend a great deal of time at home, preferring to be out and about most of the time.

It’s an interesting glimpse into how other people live, and often makes me wonder what our home will be like, when we eventually finish this trip and find somewhere to settle.

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A taste of the Top End

We left Brisbane in late July, and have been keeping fairly busy since then, working, exploring and having fun on the road. I won’t try to write about everything we’ve seen and done since then; that would make for an incredibly long, boring and self indulgent post, and my brain would probably melt down from struggling to remember it all.

We’re now in the Top End, and it’s bloody HOT. After a week or so up the Queensland coast, and then five weeks working at Maronan, a cattle station in outback Queensland, I thought we were beginning to acclimatise. Not so. But more about that later.

Maronan was a pretty memorable part of the trip. Here we worked/WWOOFed, mostly doing gardening and other work in and around the house, as well as occasionally helping out with some of the cattle work on the station. It was a fascinating, and at times, really challenging place to be. After our first week there, the couple who own and run the station unexpectedly had to attend to urgent family business in Townsville, so we were left to mind the place while they were away for a week. Hours after they left, I received news that my grandmother had passed away. I really struggled with this, wanting to rush over to NZ to be with my family, but knowing that I couldn’t really leave the station. It was a really weird, difficult and totally unexpected situation, and took me some time to come to terms with.

The rest of our time there was thankfully, much more enjoyable. I became very fond of the chooks; we cuddled day old chicks, gave some of the hens a haircut, and collected a bazillion eggs.

One afternoon we rode a four-wheeler motorbike and helped take a big mob of cattle back out, after they’d all been vaccinated that morning. Another day, we watched Colin do a ‘killer’ – that is, shoot one of the heifers for meat, and then skin and gut it. A few days later, Oli and I helped to cut it up.

In our time off, we went fossicking for garnets, or went out stargazing with our little telescope. Oli taught me to ride a small dirtbike, starting with laps up and down the big red dirt airstrip, and eventually graduating to rides further afield on the massive property.

But after five weeks in one spot, we had itchy feet again and couldn’t wait to hit the road and see some new things. Darwin was the next destination on our to-do list.

If you’re ever driving from Brisbane to Townsville, or from Townsville to Darwin, expect long stretches of road with bugger-all in the way of scenery. That nothingness is stunning in its own way, but when you’ve lived most of your life in a city or reasonable-sized town, I think that sense of isolation and distance can be kind of scary. On the coast, it’s cane sugar as far as you can see. In outback QLD/NT, it’s acres upon acres of grass, spinifex and the odd willy-willy thrown in for a bit of excitement.

So arriving in Mataranka after the long drive from Cloncurry was like finding an oasis in the desert, and Bitter Springs thermal pools were just what I needed. Crystal clear water, at the perfect temperature.

We made friends with a couple who lived just around the corner from us in Newtown, so we spent a couple of nights hanging out with them before we made our own way up to Darwin. Oli and I decided we had to check out Litchfield National Park on the way up, and were rewarded with beautiful waterfalls, bushwalks and more crystal clear swimming spots.

Obviously, the further north we’ve come, the hotter it’s become. We’re now in Kakadu National Park, and have spent the last few days trying to stay out of the sun. The park is huge, and the landscapes here so diverse, from wetlands to tidal flats and estuaries, stone escarpments to monsoon forests. The place is teeming with wildlife. We’ve seen so many crocs, as well as gorgeous birds galore,frill-necked lizards, a snake, a long-neck turtle, wallabies, and possibly half of the 200 species of flies that can be found in Kakadu.

And it’s a spiritual kind of place. We’ve seen ancient rock art at Ubirr and Anbangbang and learnt about Mimi spirits and local Dreaming stories about how the landscape came to be. Last night at a bush camping spot we sat outside listening to some music and watching the stars, then slept with the back door of the van open all night, so we could feel the cool evening breeze. I woke a couple of times to the sound of animals scurrying around nearby and could see the moon shining down. Just magic.

This part of the trip will stay with me forever. It’s been unforgettable.

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City life

Oli and I have had to kind of put the trip on hold for a couple of months while we focus on making and saving some more money. This travelling around the country lark has proven to be a bit more expensive than we expected!

So we’ve been sucked back into the nine-to-five working and city lifestyle, and it hasn’t been an easy transition. Oli’s found a great job doing the same sort of work he was doing in Sydney, but I’ve had to take the first thing that came along, which was a temping contract in a customer service type role – not the kind of work I’ve ever done before, and to be honest, not the kind of thing I’d ever want to do long term, but it’s ok for now.

But the whole process of having to get back into the routine of wearing corporate-type work clothes, commute into the city every day, and sit at a desk in front of a computer for eight hours a day has been really challenging. The whole office environment feels so alien and impersonal and sterile to me now, in comparison with the kind of work we’ve been doing while WWOOFing.

The past three weeks have been an interesting journey of learning how to do this new job, fit in, be productive and also, get used to a whole new realm of office politics. I’d forgotten how toxic and bitchy workplaces can be sometimes.

Settling back into this kind of ‘normal’ life again has meant I’ve found myself missing some of the things I enjoyed in Sydney, like the music and cafes and the weird and wonderful sights of Newtown. And having my favourite yoga classes, my cat, and my garden to enjoy on the weekends.

Having said all that though, we have been doing our best to make the most of it and enjoy Brisbane while we’re here. We’ve been up Mount Coot-tha to enjoy a spectacular view of the river, the city and beyond. We had fun last weekend at the Gold Coast theme parks, screaming our lungs out on the roller coasters and crazy water slides. We’ve found a great local farmers market at the Mount Gravatt Showgrounds, where we can buy really cheap fruit and veg and enjoy the bustle and atmosphere every Sunday. And this weekend we went down to the Yatala Drive-In Movies – it was so cosy, watching movies on the big screen while snuggled up in our bed in the back of the campervan!

We’ve got about four more weeks to go until we can get back on the road and have some more adventures in the van. In the meantime I’ll be counting down the days, just daydreaming about what’s around the corner.

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Cheap thrills in Bris-Vegas

 After Bluesfest wrapped up, we decided to head a couple of hours north to Brisbane, to look for some work. It’s been a strange week since we got here – doing the trawl through job websites everyday, hassling recruitment agents, and moving from caravan park to sharehouse.

Despite being on a super tight budget which doesn’t allow us to indulge in any of the real tourist activities Brisbane has to offer, we’ve had fun exploring the city and doing some bizarre things in the process.

We’ve been getting out and about on our bikes almost every day, finding awesome cycle paths all over the city and its suburbs, and maybe even getting a wee bit fit in the process! The Queensland Museum was an interesting excursion for us one day, where we saw the smallest boat to ever sail around the world (it looked more like a glorified bathtub actually) and the fabulous photographic exhibition on explorer Herbert Basedow.

And we’ve visited some pretty wicked parks and gardens, including the stunning Roma St Parkland, which is full of exotic looking tropical plants, as well as being a great place to people-watch!

Here’s some other things we’re into at the moment: 
• Eating canned soup
• Befriending random cats that hang around trying to bludge food from us
• The smallness of Brisbane: “Is THAT the city?” – Oli.
• Sunshine and being able to wear shorts and singlets at this time of year (sucked in to the Canberrans reading this, all rugged up in a gazillion layers of winter clothing)
• Watching random suburban club rugby matches on the weekend

Things we’re over:
• Jandals (sorry, thongs) sticking to the floor of the caravan park showers
• Pubs that don’t have pool tables
• Our GPS giving us random directions and getting us lost
• The tedious hunt for some work

Actually, Oli has already found a job doing some landscape gardening work, but I’m still looking, and keeping my fingers crossed something comes my way soon.

Have you got a suggestion for something free and fun we can do here in Brissy?  Leave a comment and let us know!

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