Six months in Sydney

After silence that’s lasted rather too long, my recent half-anniversary of living in Sydney has kicked me back into blogging action. I can blame many things for the silence, but one of them is definitely that I have much more of both a routine and a social life than I did even a month of two ago. Nothing like my London life, but enough to keep me (new me?) entertained! So what have I been up to?

My routine is based around exercise – I’m more active than at any time since I stopped rowing vaguely seriously at uni 12 years ago. This is partly because I’ve got a bit more time on my hands than I used to, but it’s also the Aussie lifestyle! I now run twice or three times a week (including a new-found love of Parkrun), swim twice most weeks and go rowing at daft-o-clock on a Thursday morning. The running may reduce a bit after the City2Surf (a massive 14km race/fun run which I entered on a whim – if I can run half and walk half then I’ll be happy!), but I ought to pick up a second rowing session a week again soon. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d enter the City2Surf, she wouldn’t have believed you! It feels really good to be exercising a fair bit again, and go more quickly and further, and the encouragement of my work friends to get running definitely helps – as does the wonderful setting of the North Sydney Olympic Pool.

So that brings me to work… I wrote in a previous post about all the things that were different and why it was a challenging transition from my role in London. The good news is that I think the transition is mostly in the past tense! I can’t explain exactly when that happened, but the difference has been having a couple of projects to get my teeth into after the first couple of months were dominated by business development and some seriously quiet patches when I wondered how I’d be chargeable in a new market. It took me most of the six months to feel I’m working “at my level” but I definitely think I’ve got there now. And you can tell I’ve settled into the team because I got the “human megaphone (loudest in the office)” award at the End of Financial Year party!!

I’ve also done a fair bit of exploring. I’ll write about the Sydney Explorers meetup group in another post soon (maybe next weekend as I’m doing a walk with them on Sunday), but through that group I’ve done a fair bit of walking in and around Sydney, as well as having a weekend away camping in Jervis Bay, a beautiful spot three hours south. I’ve become a confirmed North Sydneysider and, much as I enjoy getting out and about, some of the best weekends have been ones when I haven’t crossed the Harbour Bridge. I’ve discovered some great local eating spots, lovely parks and a fortnightly farmers’ market, all within close walking distance. And I still love the fact that whether I get the bus, cycle or walk (which I’ve done once), I get a pretty fantastic view crossing the bridge every day.

In store for the next six months is more of the same active life and hopefully getting quicker, probably getting involved with a local cricket club if one is looking for a scorer, and lots of travel – weekends in Auckland, Brisbane and Melbourne, a few days skiing in NZ as a birthday present to myself, and three weeks off at Christmas with visitors and travel in Victoria and Tasmania.

Regrets? None at all!

Winter, Aussie-style

It’s the first weekend of winter here, and it’s…. not the weather I moved to Sydney for! I know I risk being accused of being a fake northerner by saying this, but it’s cold! Ok, not England winter cold, but colder than I expected. I’ve been here in winter before, but not for a long time, and I’d clearly erased from my memory. The middle of the day is quite pleasant on a sunny day – high teens or even low twenties – but overnight and first thing in the morning… not so much.

Much as I complain it’s cold, it’s not so much the weather as Sydney not really being set up for it, just like London isn’t set up for the month a year when it’s hot. It’s certainly fair to say that my 1930s ground floor apartment, which was beautifully cool in summer despite no air conditioning, wasn’t built for winter! Very glad of the heater I invested in last weekend. On the subject of stuff, I have to say I made a couple of rookie errors when packing to move here, namely giving away my electric blanket and throwing away a pair of boots which were pretty worn but had a bit of life left. I’ve not replaced the blanket, but my hot water bottle has had plenty of use in the last few weeks!

Autumn was a bit confusing – it was a real Indian summer this year, so properly hot through March and well into April, and the combination of that and dark evenings after we lost daylight savings was very strange indeed. In late April and May, Sydney didn’t really reach a consensus on what season it was. On some days, I saw people in sandals and others in winter coats – maybe one dressing for lunchtime and the other for the 7am walk to the bus. I’ve not got dressed without checking the weather forecast for a while, but decided this week that the summer dresses can have a month or two in the cupboard, and I’ve worn tights for the first time since leaving the UK. What’s that about?

Sydney winter does have some things going for it – firstly, it’s not Melbourne weather which is far colder! Secondly, the Vivid festival is pretty fantastic. I’d never heard of it, but it involves some amazing lights and light shows and events, which look incredible on the iconic harbour buildings. I enjoyed walking home from work last week over the harbour bridge looking at the opening night, and will make sure I walk round the harbourfront one evening – though will need to battle the crowds as it’s become a bit of a victim of its own success.

Winter is probably also better for exercise, given my preference to do so outside rather than in a gym. Jogging and cycling is better out of the heat, and the pool I use by the harbour bridge is heated so it’s only the dash from the pool to the changing room that’s shivery! And rowing would be fine had I not taken an inadvertent dip this morning when I had an equipment failure and fell in. That *was* chilly, especially the soaking bike ride home!

I know I’m lucky that this is winter… but bring on September and Spring!

Office life, but not quite as I knew it

At the end of a strange week with a public holiday in the middle of it (which would never happen in the UK!), I think the time has come to write about work – what’s the same as I’m used to, what’s different and what I put down to the change of company versus country.

On the face of it, a lot is the same. I’m still a commercial-focussed transport consultancy for a market-leading company working on high-profile projects in a major world city. I work in a team of smart, switched-on, interesting people in a fun, friendly and non-hierarchical environment, and I enjoy a beer with them as much as working with them. This is a blessing and a relief, having come from a company and team where the culture was fantastic, which made it a real wrench to leave. I expected the smart, but wondered if the fun side was too much to ask in the “Big 4” (four biggest worldwide professional services firms: EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte), but delighted to report not – or at least not in our Infrastructure Advisory team.

But there are definitely differences, and challenges. There would be some anywhere after eight years in one place where I’d become very established and a go-to person for various things. We have a slightly different role on projects than my previous company, the transport market is very different here, and probably the hardest thing is moving to a new market where I don’t have any client contacts or track record, especially at a senior-ish level. That means it’s taken me a while to have much chargeable work to do, and I’ve either been super quiet or super busy with bids/proposals with very little in between. But that’s changing now, which I’m pleased about.

Joining a big (and I mean really big – think a couple of hundred thousand people worldwide) company has pros and cons. There are a zillion IT systems that you’d think would talk to each other but don’t, a faffy “raise a ticket” requirement to get any IT support (and the request goes via a team in India) rather than phoning a guy you know by name and personality, many somewhat tedious mandatory web learning courses for new starters – some relevant, some not so much – and strict rules around what I can invest in as we are also an audit firm. But on the plus side, I work in a seriously swanky building overlooking the harbour, where the lift to the 17th floor is automatically called for me when I swipe in, there’s a subsidised and decent staff café, and if hosting a meeting on the client floors (with a really amazing harbour view), I can push a button for someone to come and take an order for barista-standard coffee. Hotdesking has taken some getting used to, but it’s made me a lot tidier and ruthless throwing paperwork away and helped me get to know more people, and given an incentive to get into the office earlier. I have a favourite spot at a height-adjustable desk (so I can spend part of the day standing) in a corner with a view of the Opera House. Not bad!

As for the Australian differences, I think being here makes the atmosphere slightly more relaxed. Put it this way, I’m still not used to the prolific use of “mate” to address colleagues, let alone very senior ones. People work hard – very hard it when it’s called for, and there will always be times in consultancy when it is – but the office definitely clears out earlier than I’m used to. On average maybe we start earlier here too, but not by much. I was interested to see my contracted hours start at 8.45 not 9am, and finish at 5.15. The worst thing about working in Australia? Definitely the annual leave provisions – 20 days a year is categorically not enough, especially as I have to take seven of them when the office shuts down over Christmas. Thankfully, I can buy leave twice a year and I certainly plan to!

The other things I miss, I don’t know if they are functions of Australia or the Big 4. They are the really serious things – no tea rounds (each for him/herself) and no tradition of people bringing in cakes on their birthday!

The verdict? So far, so good. But in particular I’m very glad to be experiencing something new and slightly different – albeit not overwhelmingly so. And it would only have got harder to adapt had I left it any longer. And, most importantly, I’ve entirely landed on my feet in the team I’ve joined – which is just as well as I’m not going anywhere any time soon!

Buses, bikes and hire cars

Yes, yes – it’s a second transport post so soon after the first. I know, I know… but now I have a home and a commute and a routine, I have more to say!

The three modes in the title sum up the way I’ve been getting around lately. My commute is a bus or a bike, and my aim is to cycle more often than I don’t. The journey time is much of a muchness – about 25 minutes, but I need and appreciate the exercise, and if I go via the wonderful swimming pool at Milson’s Point then the bike is definitely quicker. It’s quite different from my London commute though, and not only because it’s not much more than half the distance.

Half the journey – crossing the Harbour Bridge – is utterly glorious, once I’ve hauled my bike up the steps onto the cycleway. I hadn’t realised until I moved north of the bridge that you can only walk over the East side (the glamorous view side), and the West side is a dedicated bike path. After leaving the path on the southern side, I can roll along a quiet street in The Rocks and down a hair-raisingly steep but thankfully short street and I’m at the office. Winner. The northern end is less amazing – not awful, but mostly a road with a fair few cars, not all of whose drivers are all that considerate. I recently discovered a cut-through which chops some of it off on the way down, which helps, but the ride will never fill me with deep joy, especially on the way home when I can’t do the cut-through because of a 100m one way stretch, and it’s uphill all the way. I’m glad though that I work at the north of the CBD and travel north to get home, avoiding the need to ride through the long-and-thin city centre very often.

What I realised while wheeling over the bridge to work one day last week is that I’ve hardly overtaken anyone on my bike since arriving. Now, there is no doubt I am woefully out of shape right now, but my conclusion to both this and the tragic underuse of work’s amazing bike facility is that cycling just isn’t seen as a mode of transport. I’ve seen a fair few Lycra-clad blokes on road bikes, but not many work clothes-wearing folk using their hybrid to get to to the office. As those who I’m friends with on Facebook will have seen, I posted a photo last Friday of the cycle storage room at 8.30am that day. There were a single figure number of bikes in an office of 3,000 people. Maybe a quarter of the number there would be on a typical day at my London employer, where the office held 200. It’s certainly a combination of factors, but I reckon a joined-up strategy to improve the very mixed infrastructure and improve awareness would be money well spent. That said, it appears there are some great off-road bike paths around the edges of the city – in Centennial Park and around the north shore – so I need to check those out at a weekend.

On days when I’m not on the bike, I commute by bus. My nearest station is in North Sydney, 20 minutes’ walk away, so by the time I got there I could be most of the way to the office, so it’s only worth it if I need to do or buy something there on the way/way home. There’s a bus stop within 30 metres of my front door, but turns out that buses don’t run through to the city from there in the high morning peak, so I need to stroll about 8 minutes north, over the freeway to Cammeray, from where buses run extremely frequently and get straight onto the freeway. It isn’t free-flowing, but buses rarely come to a halt, and I’m still in the novelty period when I enjoy going over the harbour bridge and looking at the view. I love the orderly queues at bus stops, and in Cammeray there are two queues on opposite sides of the pavement – one for the city and another for North Sydney. Some days I’ve had to wait for a couple of buses to go by, and on other days it’s been empty at the stop and on the bus – I can’t work it out! But the post-late-night-in-the-office journey home in a taxi last Tuesday night made me realise how long it “should” take to get home from the CBD – not much more than five minutes!

The other way I’ve got around a little bit is in a “Goget”, the Australian equivalent of zipcar. I’ve been seriously impressed with this operation – heaps of cars (three cars and a van within five minutes’ walk of my place), a choice of membership packages, and real ease of use – book on an app, scan your card on a reader on the windscreen to open the car and off you go. I hired one for a few hours the day I moved house, and again to pick up a Facebook marketplace purchase two days later, and for a third time this Saturday as I needed to be in a slightly obscure bit of the Central Coast by 9am to go kayaking, and thought I’d do an all-day booking so I could hit the homewares shops on my way home. It feels like a big marginal cost per use, but at under $10 an hour or $80 per day (plus a per-mile cost, which doesn’t apply under 150km on an all-day booking, tolls and $12/month membership), it’s a damn sight cheaper and less hassle than owning a car Incidentally, Patonga is lovely and the kayaking was great!

All in all, I miss London cycle infrastructure, but can’t say I miss the crowded 07:57 from Tulse Hill to Blackfriars! My bus commute is a lot cheaper too…

It’s like the NHS, but not…

Given my track record, it was a matter of time before I ended up in a hospital emergency department, though I’d hoped to last rather longer than this! Before you start sending me concerned messages, I should assure you I’m basically fine, but I had a nasty fall on some iron-edged steps on Friday night and took a chunk out of my right knee. By Saturday morning, when it was still painful and a bit messy, I decided that maybe it needed some attention.  Not the most exciting way to spend a Saturday, but the silver lining was a new blog subject, so here goes with some initial observations on differences in the healthcare system.

There is no NHS here, but there is Medicare, which serves some of the same purpose. Unlike the NHS, Medicare doesn’t cover ambulance transport, some hospital service costs (e.g. you contribute to the cost of the bed and meals if you’re an in-patient) or dental or most optical treatment. In addition, if a doctor chooses to charge more than a fixed Medicare fee then you have to cover the difference (known as the “gap”). Some doctors “bulk bill” Medicare, but with others you need to pay and then claim the cost back. Both my currently-local hospital and the GP surgery I went to this morning for a check-up on the knee bulk-billed, but I had to hunt around for a CBD GP that did, and that didn’t charge a gap fee.

Getting a Medicare card was, in itself, a bit of a hassle. No issue with eligibility since I’m an Australian citizen (though there is a reciprocal healthcare arrangement with the UK so British people are eligible). The issue was more it not being at all clear online which of the “Medicare service centres” in Sydney would process registrations, and, once I actually knew where I needed to go, having to wait nearly 90 minutes to be seen despite arriving earlier than the place opened. But it was worthwhile getting it sorted so that all I had to do to get free treatment these last few days was wave my shiny new green card.

Private health insurance is fairly widespread over here, with two types of cover: hospital and “extras”. Hospital cover rather speaks for itself, covering ambulances, hospital service costs and private patient costs of many procedures. “Extras” cover all other  dental, optical (including glasses and contact lenses as well as eye tests), physiotherapy, remedial massage, psychiatric treatment, chiropractors and so on, but usually with annual limits and sometimes only a proportion of costs paid. I’ve taken this all out, but I’m still baulking at the cost and may change or cancel it during the 30-day cooling off period on my policy. There’s a scheme whereby, on a means-tested basis, people are eligible for a part-rebate on their Medicare levy (which is 2% of taxable income, taken out of salary) if they have private health insurance, presumably because they’d be more likely to opt for treatment funded by insurance and therefore claim less from Medicare. Interestingly, while private healthcare cover was a benefit I received from my UK employer, paying only the tax on the premium, this isn’t the case here even though I work for a much larger organisation.

Based on my limited experience so far, healthcare feels a lot more commercialised than in the UK, with GP surgeries more overtly being private businesses, and I’ve no doubt it will cost me a lot more than I’m used to. On the flip side, only yesterday I had my pick of appointment times today at several GPs and could book in online even without ever having been before or registered many details let alone needing to have any sort of introductory health check. Many surgeries are even open seven days a week. I was well looked after this morning too: the doctor took a look at my knee then ushered me off to what almost felt like a small hospital ward where a nurse immediately set to work sorting out my dressing.

My hospital experience was much the same as A&E back home: tedious. No issues at all with the medical care, but there was a lot of waiting around despite the place not feeling busy. I waited for triage (albeit quite briefly), to see the doctor, for a tetanus shot, for the porter to take me for an x-ray, for the x-ray itself, to be taken back by the same porter, and (for an hour and a half) for the x-ray results. A total of over three hours I will never get back.

I am sure there’s much more to say on this topic, but for the sake of my health, I hope I don’t experience it too soon!

A place to call my own

Two weeks of silence… but with good reason – the all-consuming process of flat hunting. It’s been in equal parts frustrating, exhausting and stressful, but I think has eventually has come to a good conclusion! I haven’t looked for a rental place in seven years and knew it wouldn’t be fun, but I wasn’t really prepared for the emotional rollercoaster.

The first step was deciding where to look, because all of Sydney, or all of Sydney within a sensible commute of work, was really too large an area to be able to cover! A classic place for British people to live is Bondi, but it just didn’t appeal. It might have done had I been 5 or 10 years younger. I’m currently temporarily in Darlinghurst, just south of the CBD. It’s great for many reasons, mostly it being walking distance from work and the fantastic bar and coffee scene, but it’s also a bit noisy (especially on a Saturday night!) and rather expensive – and I decided for the same money I’d rather have more space than trendiness on the doorstep! With family and family friends north and north west of the city, and the appeal of a harbour view every morning on the way to work, I settled on the north shore, a short bus or train ride across the harbour from the office. I spent a few days and evenings pottering about a few suburbs to narrow it down, deciding I liked Crows Nest best, especially the feel of the high street which was off rather than along the main highway, with lots of cafes, restaurant, bars and local shops. One of my biggest mistakes was not settling on that once and for all; instead trying to view across a wider area across to and including Neutral Bay, a couple of miles further east.

Working out what I can afford and was willing to spend wasn’t easy either. I know what the tax bands are and had been advised by friends about relative costs of utilities and so on (and experienced first-hand what seem like astronomical supermarket food prices!), but I haven’t had a pay packet yet, or even a month of normal expenditure, so there’s definitely some guesswork going into the “what can I afford?” question. I set out with an ambition of two bedrooms, to mirror my London arrangement of having a guest room/study, and realised pretty quickly that to achieve that in Crows Nest or anywhere else decent within a half-hour commute, I had to be prepared to part with at least $600 (350 pounds) per week. Suffice to say that’s a lot more than my London mortgage payments! But that was my starting point, but I wanted to see what that much or less could get me on a one-bed.

I’m told I’ve chosen the worst time of year to house hunt, and my experience is certainly that it’s a seller’s (landlord’s) market right now. Quite the opposite of how I found it in South London before Christmas when trying to let my flat out – another painful process with an eventual successful resolution! Back home, private viewings are the norm – the prospective renter usually arranges a time with the agent and is shown around on their own, and the existing tenants have to suck up potentially many viewings. Here, unless a property is vacant, and even in some cases when it is, it’s an open home approach with a very narrow window. A 15-minute time slot, usually on a Saturday morning but sometimes during the week, is advertised, and in that short time you can expect 10 or more other people or couples to be there with you and the agent. And then you scuttle off to the next one, and unless you take detailed notes, by the end of the day all the flats blend into one.

My Saturday viewing experience, a week ago, was deeply frustrating. It didn’t help that I was still holding out a little bit of hope for an utterly perfect place I had seen three days earlier (along with about 30 other people), offered well above asking price and not heard anything since. I tried to see too many properties over too wide a geographical area, taking three cabs between Crows Nest and Neutral Bay and missing a couple of viewing windows while waiting around and in transit. Turns out, if you’re 5 minutes late for a slot then no can do. Those I did see didn’t quite hit the mark, though some were close. All those under $600/week, whether one-bed or two, were in awkward locations or simply not very nice, but I came close to offering on one of a couple with a slightly higher price tag. Both were very new and ticked all the boxes in theory; one of them only had one bedroom, but in return I would have got a huge living room and balcony. One of them also had an incredible view over Sydney. But neither felt right; after my sometimes troublesome but beautifully characterful Victorian terrace conversion in London, I found the uber-modern very open-plan square box style quite soulless. And there wasn’t nearly enough kitchen surface space, which might have driven me spare.

It was an anxious couple of days that followed, as I berated myself for being so fussy, wondered whether I should crack and apply for one of them and got a bit stressy about what I’d do when I got kicked out of current place on the 10th. But glad I held out, because (via another viewing, application and rejection on Tuesday), I secured a Wednesday morning viewing on a flat I’d just failed to spot before Saturday and, by some miracle, wasn’t taken after the weekend’s viewings. It took me all of about 30 seconds to think “yes, this is it.” Larger and cheaper than both of the two I’d ummed and ahhed about over the weekend, and than the latest place that didn’t want me, older (which I prefer, and will suit my furniture better) but with a modern kitchen and bathroom, and in a block of only four. I was desperate not to let this become rejection number three.

Statistically, I should have expected to get turned down at least a couple of times, given the number of people at almost all the viewings. And not having an Australian rental history or any form of landlord reference may have put me in the “too complicated” bracket in the eyes of a landlord faced with his or her pick of professional applicants. But the lack of feedback really cheesed me off. I work in a business where we have to bid competitively for most of our work, it takes a lot of time and effort, but at least if you’re not successful you at least get some indication of why not. Applying for a flat – no way. I tried, and was given nothing: “We had several applications and the landlord had to choose one of them. There was nothing wrong with yours.” Gah!

One good thing about the Aussie system, or the Sydney one at least, is that applications with most agents are done via the same online form which you can store your details and scanned ID copies on. Hence, a little scarred by the rejections and having seen about 15 other people at this latest viewing, I did my application on the bus back to work, and texted the agent (with whom I’d already done the full charm offensive) to say if I needed to offer more money then I’d be happy to consider it. 24 hours later, I was told it was mine at asking price, if I paid a week’s rent within another 24 hours. Phew.

So, I move in on the 17th (via a week of sofa surfing with friends and family) and my stuff shipped from the UK will arrive on the 19th. It’s all falling into place.

Trains, planes and automobiles

It was a matter of time before I wrote a transport post, and I’m sure there will be more to come. But here are some initial observations on how people get around over here, and how the experience differs from back home.


Trains in and around Sydney are operated, by the imaginatively-named Sydney Trains, a division of Transport for New South Wales. Most transport in Australia is controlled at the state level and the modus operandi varies – for example both the trains and trams in Melbourne are privately run on a franchised basis similar to in the UK. But enough of that – I’m just getting my work brain going after my first week!

The Sydney rail network isn’t nearly as wide as the London tube or suburban rail (it has 178 stations) due, I’m sure, to much lower population density. A lot of investment has recently been committed though, including a new metro service to the north west and, later, the south west, and various light rail lines. But there are huge areas of commuterville which are, and will remain, nowhere near a rail service. Nationwide, there is no material passenger service other than around Sydney and Melbourne, though you can also (infrequently) get between them and to Canberra and Brisbane, and on tourist-focussed weekly services between Adelaide and Darwin and between Sydney and Perth. To illustrate this, turn on the public transport layer on Google Maps and zoom out until all of Australia is on screen. There aren’t many lines on the map!

In Sydney and around, most of the trains themselves are ugly on the outside but comfy on the inside (the one in the photo is one of the newer and more attractive sets) and, and this always seems to amaze many Britons, double-decker, with a mezzanine level where you get on and off. It’s weird to sit on the bottom deck and be below platform level! The direction of the seats is reversible, so you can choose to sit in a group of four, or not, and to always face forward if you wish. The regional services aren’t speedy (a 54km journey last week took an hour) but they are cheap outside the peak (the same journey cost a remarkable $4.60). I must add though, that I then had to take three buses to get a further 30km to my cousin’s house, making a total of three hours travelling, when in a car it would have taken just over an hour end-to-end. And I had a battle with a rail replacement bus in amongst that too.

The hub of Sydney’s rail network is Central station, which is of mammoth size – 27 platforms – but isn’t really in the centre of the city, though many trains do serve the CBD further north too. According to Wikipedia, annual patronage at Central is about 11 million, compared to nearly 100 million at London Waterloo. Even if like isn’t quite being compared with like in terms of the data, that’s quite a difference!

Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland all have their equivalents of London’s Oyster card: Opal, Myki and AT Hop respectively. They work very much like Oyster does, though you need to tap off as well as onto buses, which takes some getting used to (and I paid an idiot tax when I forgot in Auckland!). The Opal offers a $2 discount for journeys involving more than one mode, and once eight journeys have been made in a week, the remaining ones that week are half-price. The other great thing about Opal is it’s not constrained to the Sydney urban area but works throughout NSW, unlike Oyster where it can be annoying to realise you’ve touched on but where you’re going is outside the Oyster zone.


Air is the main way to get between cities here, given the distance between them. It’s also surprisingly popular in NZ , where distances are much smaller. Sydney to Melbourne takes 90 minutes in the air and there are over 50 per day. On popular routes like this, there’s strong competition between four airlines (Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin, Tiger), meaning there’s usually an opportunity to bag a pretty low fare.

I took three internal flights with Jetstar and Virgin on my trip, and am writing this from Sydney airport as I’m about to board a Tiger plane. Jetstar I see as the equivalent of easyJet, while Virgin gives you tea and a checked-in bag in the base fare. Qantas gave me lunch and a glass of wine on a trans-Tasman flight, but then I took AirNZ back to Melbourne and failed to remember that food wasn’t in their basic package. I succumbed to an overpriced toasted sandwich as I wasn’t going to last three and a half hours without!

Common to all my domestic flights was a very different (and more relaxed) approach to security than I’m used to. Pleasingly, there’s no liquids restriction on domestic flights, so I didn’t have to faff with clear plastic bags and burying my toothpaste in my checked bag. More surprisingly, at no stage of the process on any of the three domestic flights did anyone ask for me to identify myself. I could have sold the ticket to anyone (probably anyone female, realistically)! Non-passengers can go to the gate if they are prepared to have their bags x-rayed, and you can walk in off the street to the baggage carousel. I always wonder how common baggage theft is, but have never heard of it being an issue.


I don’t know the stats, but it feels like car ownership is high here, and certainly higher in Sydney than London. After three years car-free, I think I’m as likely as not to buy one before very long, even though I’ll live quite centrally. Motorways and multi-lane highways run very close to and through the city, tolls are widespread, and peak hour traffic is hideous. I have no idea where these people park near their offices!

Driving itself isn’t far removed from the experience back home, though there are some subtle differences. There are more larger cars and more automatic cars – good luck if you want to hire a manual! But the biggest differences I’ve noticed is that there’s no obligation on dual carriageways to keep left unless overtaking, and so passing on the left is commonplace, and cars with a green light to turn have to give way to pedestrians crossing the road they are turning into, who will have a green man on the crossing – so they turn part way and then wait by the crossing. These both take some getting used to, especially seeing a car turn towards you when you’re a pedestrian crossing on a green man.

A note on the rest

Sydney appears to have a pretty good bus network. I’ve only really used the buses to get to and from my cousin’s place in Castle Hill, but they’ve been frequent and reliable, even in the peak. The express buses to the city run on the motorway where there are dedicated bus lanes and a couple of stops in the central reservation accessed via bridges. I haven’t experienced the inner city buses in the peak yet, but that may end up being how I commute. Ferry is another commuting option, depending on where I live. It’s pricier than the bus or train, but there’s something very pleasant-seeming about getting to work that way. The ferry network operates from Circular Quay, which is about five minutes from the office and is also served by a rail station.

In Melbourne, tram is the main way to get around, and around the CBD there’s a zone where journeys are free, which is great for tourists like me, though I do wonder how many trips would otherwise be made on foot.

What’s the time, Mr Wolf?

Well, that depends where in the country you are!

After a few posts of the travelogue nature, I thought it was time for my first post on observations of this country I now call home.

Growing up in the UK with family members in Sydney and Auckland, I’m no stranger to time differences. Adding and subtracting 9 (Sydney in Antipodean winter), 11 (Sydney summer or Auckland winter) or 13 (Auckland summer) hours is second nature. However, only in the last couple of weeks have I fully appreciated the chaos that is internal Australian timezones, especially in the summer.

In the winter, it’s relatively straightforward – the whole Eastern side is on the same timezone, WA is two hours behind, NZ two ahead. As for the middle (SA and NT), well, there’s always something awkward…. And here’s my gripe number one about Aussie timezones – central (winter) time is half an hour behind Eastern. Yes, half an hour. Which lends the question, why bother? Or why not one whole hour? Half an hour is just a hassle, and if your brain works like mine you forget whether to add or subtract the half hour after adding/subtracting the hours for the east. I’m sad to have left South Australia today, but the half hour faff I really won’t miss!

In the summer, with daylight savings thrown in; it gets even more fun. The southern states (NSW, Victoria, SA, ACT and Tasmania) as well as all of NZ put their clocks forward an hour like we do in the UK. On the other hand, Queensland, WA and NT don’t. That gives five timezones in Australia in summer – I know it’s a pretty big country, but really?!

What strikes me as especially odd is the two-and-a-half-hour time difference as you cross the border from SA to WA. Now admittedly *really* not many people live in that particular bit of Australia – the closest settlements I could find on google maps either side of the border are Eucla, WA (population 86) and Yalata, SA (population 100), 278km apart – but that the clock is 150 minutes later at sunset in Yalata than Eucla is bizarre, no?

A little Wikipedia research suggests that daylight saving time is a somewhat controversial topics in some parts. Queensland and WA have opted in and out over the years and between them, have held five referenda on the topic since 1975. There have been proposals to introduce daylight saving time in southern, but not northern, parts of Queensland. If they did that in WA that would add a SIXTH summer timezone to a country of 25 million people. Argh!