Call this a winter?! :)

July 22nd, 2009

It’s over a year now since we decided to move to Robertson, and I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying the place. The people are lovely, the scenery’s beautiful, it’s great having a decent-sized house and yard, and everything is so easy and laid-back. Just as we’d hoped.

One of our concerns, though, was that the winters here are supposed to be pretty cold. “If you make it through the first winter you’ll be all right,” was a common comment from the locals before we moved here.

Well we are now over half-way through our first Robertson winter and so far it’s been like an English spring! There have been a couple of frosty mornings and the odd cold wind, but much of the time I’ve been walking around in a T-shirt and sweater (not even a jacket). Also there have been days and days of blue skies with hardly any rain (which of course is bad as well as good).

Here’s a pic of our back garden on a typical winter mid-afternoon. You can see that the sun has gone behind those tall trees (a bit pesky as it puts our garden into shadow). I was actually lying on the deck in the sunshine at lunch time on this day and I got too hot!

I do wonder, though, if it’s just unseasonably warm here at the moment. (Maybe down to climate change?) There are even daffodils coming out already:

All very strange. Still I’m not complaining, as I love warm weather! :) Another nice thing is that the days, though shorter than summer, are still longer and brighter than in an English winter. So I think we’re going to cope OK with the winters here.

We’re moving to Robertson!

July 16th, 2008

Well after around 3 years of deliberating, evaluating and pontificating – not to mention travelling up and down the east coast countless times – we’ve finally decided where to move to when we leave Sydney: Robertson! In fact we’ve more than just decided – we’ve sold our Northern Beaches unit and bought a house there. Wahey!

Where’s Robertson, I hear you ask? It’s a large-ish village in an area south of Sydney called the Southern Highlands, which are 700m above sea level. Other towns in the area include Bowral (the home of Don Bradman), Mittagong, and Moss Vale.

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It’s certainly not a place I’d heard of till about a year ago, but apparently Robertson is famous for its potatoes (hence it has a “Big Potato”). It’s also semi-famous because the movie Babe, about a talking pig, was filmed there (not that I’ve seen the film). Read the rest of this entry »

Where to live: Milton?

June 12th, 2008

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. Next up – Milton.

Milton is a charming little village on the New South Wales south coast. It’s about 3 hours’ drive south of Sydney, near the old fishing port of Ulladulla.

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The general area is holidaymaker territory, with beautiful beaches, swimming inlets, laid-back atmosphere and holiday cabins aplenty. Milton itself has a bit of an alternative vibe, a great vegetarian cafe, 2 semi-decent pubs, live music, a part-time library and a good IGA supermarket. It’s only 6km from Ulladulla for shopping, and close to the sea – in fact, houses with sea views are affordable for us (wow!).

Ulladulla itself is an OK but not particularly attractive medium-size coastal town. Mollymook, slightly to the north, has beautiful beaches and the stunning Narrawallee Inlet, which in summer looks like something out of a Bond movie with its deep blue water and sandy beaches. Perfect for swimming.

When we first visited Milton we fell in love with the area, and decided it was the place for us. We pooh-poohed the 3 hours’ drive from Sydney, convincing ourselves we’d hardly ever visit the city anyway.

What’s not to like?

So why haven’t we moved there? Well, the area does have its drawbacks.

First of all, it’s not just 3 hours’ drive from Sydney, it’s a good 2 hours’ drive from anything even vaguely approaching a city. Now I understand this is fairly normal for rural Australia, but it’s a bit scary coming from the UK – from that perspective, it’s the equivalent of the Outer Hebrides or something. Ulladulla itself isn’t particularly big, or good for shopping. The nearest “big” towns are Nowra (a dump, by all accounts) and Batemans Bay (which again, isn’t great for shopping either).

Second – presumably partly due to the lack of anything big nearby – it has the highest unemployment rate in Australia. Not NSW – Australia. I kid you not. I think it’s currently running at over 10 percent. The strange thing is, you wouldn’t know it to look at it. It’s not like there are crack-heads robbing you at gunpoint or beggars on every street. Nonetheless, there’s something about 10 percent unemployment that gives me the willies. Possibly not the best area to raise a family.

Finally – and I don’t want to appear ageist – the area is very much a retired person’s thing. The median age is 47, compared with the Australian average of 37. It feels like a place you would retire to (or visit on holiday), rather than a place you’d move to to bring up a young family.

But would we move there?

Despite these drawbacks, Milton’s a lovely place, the scenery is great, the people are friendly and chilled-out, and it’s close to the beach. So for these reasons, it’s still very much in the running for us.

Australian Do Not Call register: success or failure?

May 21st, 2008

It’s just over a year since the Australian government launched the Do Not Call Register. By adding your name and phone number to this register, you (theoretically) stop telemarketers from cold-calling you. I hate telemarketing calls – they’re a complete waste of my time and energy – so I signed up straight away.

So, how has it worked out over the last year? Well, the number of telemarketing calls we get has dropped from over 1 a week to maybe 2 a month, so that’s a definite improvement. I had one very persistent debt collection agency calling me repeatedly every 2 days after I was on the register, but after making a complaint on the Do Not Call Register website, they stopped. (Turned out they thought I was somebody else. Nice bit of research there.) We also had a call from a mortgage company last month, but again, a quick complaint seems to have sorted that one out. (Apparently many people had complained about the same company. I hope they get hit with a nice big fine.)

It’s for a good cause – honest

The biggest problem, though, has been with charities. For some inexplicable reason, charities were made exempt when the Do Not Call Register Act was introduced. Charities are all to eager to exploit this loophole, too – we get more charities calling us now than ever before.

I don’t understand the logic here. I’m no Scrooge when it comes to charitable giving, but what gives a charity the right to call me, when I have explicitly stated that I do not want to receive telemarketing calls? When a telemarketer calls me at 6PM and wakes my sick baby who’s just got off to sleep, I don’t care whether they’re selling me mortgages or donations to one-armed homeless Martians, they will get an earful from me. (Apparently though they’re providing a service to the community by waking my sick baby.) Telling them not to call me again rarely works either. Read the rest of this entry »

Australian politics: A laugh a minute

April 24th, 2008

Liberal MP Tony Abbott stands alongside a cardboard cutout of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Politics in Australia is best described as a spectator sport, and there’s never a dull moment. From massive U-turns through to practical jokes, jibes, personal insults, bribery, corruption and scandal, Australian politicians make their UK counterparts look like model, if dull, citizens.


Take the recent corruption scandal in Wollongong, for example. Wollongong is New South Wales’ third biggest city, about an hour south of Sydney. As a city, it’s a lot less built-up than Sydney – but thanks to alleged bribes, sexual relations between developers and the town planner, and blackmail, lots of rather large buildings are now in Wollongong that perhaps shouldn’t have been built.

The corruption is said to run deep, even up to the level of the State Labor government. In fact, Wollongong council was so incompetent that it has now been sacked and put into administration – a story I’m personally familiar with, as our local council, Warringah, has also been in administration for the last 5 years for similar reasons. This seems to be a bit of a trend.

A Ruddy good laugh

Then there’s the Kevin Rudd cardboard cut-out affair. Pictured above, we see a real Tony Abbott (the MP for Warringah, as it happens) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a fake Kevin Rudd. Why? It was a protest by Liberal and National MPs about Kev and his mates not turning up to a sitting of backbenchers in the House of Representatives. Obviously in an age of climate change worries, spiralling inflation and interest rate hikes, the most important thing on the political agenda is whether the PM turns up to a sitting or not.

The event certainly had comedy value if nothing else. In fact I’m surprised there’s no “best of” DVD of classic Australian parliamentary debates. (Now there’s an idea.)

Keating, Master of Insults

Bill Bryson offers an excellent summary of Aussie politics in his book, Down Under. “You’ll never understand Australian politics,” he says, and I’m inclined to agree with him. He also recalls a parliamentary debate between a Wilson Tuckey and ex-Prime Minister, Paul Keating:

Tuckey: “You are an idiot. You are just a hopeless nong…”

Keating: “Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig… Why do you not shut up, you clown?”

Paul KeatingPaul Keating

In fact, Paul Keating’s outbursts are so legendary that there’s even an entire mini-site devoted to his insults. Some of my personal favourites include:

“(Peter Costello) has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut is still there araldited to the seat.”

“For Mr (John) Howard to get to the high moral ground, he would first need to climb out of the volcanic hole he had dug for himself over the last decade. It is like one of those diamond mine holes in South Africa. They are about a mile underground. He would have to come a mile up to get to even equilibrium let alone have any contest in morality with Kevin Rudd.”

Priceless. Who needs comedians when you have Australian politics? :)

Where to live: Blue Mountains?

March 24th, 2008

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. Next up – the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains is a mountainous (Swiss people would call it “hilly”) area west of Sydney. It’s an area that has always appealed to us, ever since we moved to Australia. It has a winning combination of stunning scenery and lookouts, excellent bushwalking, relaxed atmosphere, and great shopping and dining. Another plus is that it’s big on natural therapies, which is great for my wife’s Bowen Technique and meditation business. Houses are very affordable too.

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About the area

The “Blueys” can be split into the Lower Mountains, and the Upper Mountains. We’re more keen on the Upper Mountains area; it’s further from Sydney, but it has wonderful scenery and it’s cooler in summer. The Lower Mountains area turns into an oven on some summer days.

The main towns in the Upper Mountains are Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls, and Blackheath. We’d consider moving to Leura or Blackheath, which are both small, lovely towns. (The biggest town, Katoomba, doesn’t seem as nice, though it has the biggest range of eateries.) When we visit we nearly always stay at Bethany Manor B&B in Leura – a place I can highly recommend for its quiet, laid-back atmosphere, luxurious (and huge!) spa baths, welcoming hosts, and superb breakfasts.

The Upper Mountains are generally a bit cooler than Sydney in the summer, and a lot cooler in winter; it can even snow sometimes. I find the cold winters slightly off-putting as I like warm weather. It does mean that the area has four distinct seasons though, with beautiful, European-style trees and gardens. All the main towns are well connected by train to Sydney, though the two hour journey from Sydney Central to Leura is a bit of a slog.

View from a lookout in the Blue Mountains

So what’s not to like?

As a place to live, the Blue Mountains have two main drawbacks for us. Firstly, they’re a long way from the sea; according to Google Maps, it takes 1 hour 55 minutes to drive from Leura to Bondi (its nearest beach!). Secondly, you get the impression that, as an economic area, it’s not going anywhere; property prices and population have remained practically static the last few years, and there’s not a great deal of new industry springing up. (This is partly due to all the towns being on a ridge, so there’s not a lot of land for agriculture or industry.) Unemployment is fairly high, and there’s not a lot of activities for kids, so it’s possibly not the best place to raise a family.

Still, drawbacks aside, the Blueys does look like a nice place to live if you’re after peace and quiet, beautiful scenery, a cooler climate, and a relaxed atmosphere.

The Aussie petrol price lottery

March 15th, 2008

Petrol droplet with dollar signNow that we have a car, we’re obviously buying a lot of petrol. I have to say, the way they price petrol in Australia is insane. It’s cheap enough – compared to the UK, that is – but you never know what the price is going to be one day to the next. They change the prices every day! At least in the UK if fuel was £1 a litre one day, there was a reasonable chance it’d be £1 a litre the next day. Here in Sydney, it might be $1.29 a litre on Wednesday, $1.40 a litre on Thursday, then back down to $1.35 a litre on Friday!

So what gives? According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), petrol prices are subject to all sorts of factors, including international wholesale prices and movements in the exchange rate. But do petrol stations really have to change their prices every single day? Just think of the wasted time and effort changing all those signs each morning! (Well it keeps the petrol station owners fit, I guess.) In fact, sometimes they change prices several times a day! Talk about a lottery.

Anyway, for the record it appears the best time to buy fuel in Sydney is on a Tuesday, and the worst day of the week is Thursday. So now you know.

Where to live: Jamberoo?

February 26th, 2008

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. Next up – Jamberoo.

We’d spent a long time looking at towns north of Sydney, but nothing really seemed to appeal. So we started searching south. Cat suggested Jamberoo, as it was a pleasant-sounding village in beautiful countryside.

It really is a nice place. Small (around 1,000 people), with attractive buildings and a great village atmosphere. It’s only 10 minutes’ drive from Kiama and the sea, and 1 hour 40 minutes from the Harbour Bridge. The countryside is simply stunning, with lush green rolling hills (it’s dairy country), and spectacular views to the escarpment to the west. It’s very English; in fact it even has dry stone walls, which are very rare in Australia. A chap called Thomas Newing brought over the skill from Kent.

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To add to the English theme, the Jamberoo Pub is a marvellous mock-Tudor affair, with a good atmosphere and a decent selection of beer. A decent pub is certainly one of my priorities!

Jamberoo Pub

There are lots of great bushwalks in the nearby national parks – another of my priorities – with some wonderful views from lookouts such as Saddleback Mountain. The locals are friendly and laid-back, and the whole village has a relaxed, welcoming feel. And if we ever fancy a Gold-Coast-style break away from it all, the Jamberoo Action Park is just up the road!

The only real drawback to Jamberoo is the property prices – you’ll be pushing it to get a 4-bedder under $500k. When we first looked there were a couple around the $450k mark, but we were lucky (or you might say unlucky, since we didn’t buy one of them!). Other more minor concerns are the lack of decent public transport (so one of us would be stranded at home while the other went out in the car), and the quiet nature of the village – there’s really not a lot to see or do in the village itself.

We do really like Jamberoo though, so if something comes up in our price range, we’ll be very tempted…

Where to live: Kiama?

February 7th, 2008

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. Next up – Kiama.

Kiama is a reasonably large coastal town about 1 hour 40 minutes south of Sydney. It’s famous for its blowhole – a hole in the rocks where the sea crashes through, sending spray high into the air. (It’s been known to claim a few unfortunate souls who stood too close to it!)

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In theory, Kiama should be the perfect place for us. It’s not too far from our friends and the attractions of Sydney; it’s by the sea, and has some reasonably nice beaches; it’s a decent size. But there’s something about Kiama that doesn’t quite gel for us. It feels very suburban and, indeed, is almost a suburb of Wollongong these days. The shops and cafes don’t seem particularly nice or welcoming, and the town seems to have a bit of a down-at-heel vibe to it somehow. People don’t seem as friendly as they do in many other small towns in New South Wales. It doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of community. Maybe this is just subjective stuff – who knows?

It’s also pushing our budget somewhat; we’d have to wait a while to find a 4-bed house in our price range. We did actually look at a house that we could afford – I think it was $430,000 – and it seemed OK, but not many come up at that price. It was also suspiciously near the main highway, so I suspect trucks at night could have been a problem. (Always worth visiting potential houses late at night if they’re near big roads, just to check!)

On the plus side, Kiama is pleasant enough as a place to visit, with attractions such as the blowhole, feeding pelicans, a lighthouse, and lovely scenery to the west. I’m just not sure it’s the right place for us to settle down.

Voting in Australia: easier said than done

January 11th, 2008

Voting X on ballot paperHappy New Year, dear reader!

If you’re an Australian citizen, as we now are, then you have to vote in elections here. Well, you don’t have to, but if you don’t you get a slap on the wrist in the form of a $25 fine, though it can go up to as much as $70 if they get really cross with you. In many ways I’m not surprised they have to force people to vote, because voting is so damn confusing here. For starters, there are three types of election in Australia:

  • Local government elections. These are where you elect the councillors that form your local council. Council areas are often divided into wards if they’re big.
  • State elections. In these elections, you decide who will run the state – in our case, New South Wales.
  • Federal elections. These elect the federal government (the one that runs the whole country).

To add to the confusion, there are two chambers in the Australian parliament that you have to vote your favourite pollies into. There’s the Senate, which is the upper chamber, and the House of Representatives, which is the lower chamber. From what I can tell, they both do the same sort of thing: argue about stuff for days on end, then eventually pass the odd law or two. The main difference is that the House of Representatives is, well, representative – the number of elected members for each party proportionally represents the number of people who voted for them – while the Senate always has twelve senators for each state. Yes, that means twelve senators for Tasmania (pop. 450,000) and twelve senators for New South Wales (pop. 6 million). Go figure.

I hope they recycle the ballot papers

So why do you need to know all this? Because when you vote, you get not one ballot paper, but two. The House of Representatives one is relatively straightforward; you have, say, six people you can vote for, one from each party. The slight catch – compared to, say, the UK – is that you have to vote for all of them! You don’t just put a X in your chosen box; you have to write a 1 for the pollie you hate the least, then a 2 for the slightly more onerous one, all the way up to a 6 for the bugger you want to get rid of. (This is known as preference voting.)

Once you’ve digested the entrée that is the House of Representatives paper, it’s time to move onto the main course: the Senate ballot paper. This is of truly epic proportions. The one in the recent federal election was so wide that I couldn’t fit it all in the booth without curling it up. Here you get a choice of how to vote (whoopee!): you can simply write the number 1 next to your chosen party in the list above the line, or, if you’re really bored, you can write 1, 2, 3, etc for each and every candidate in the list below the line. Bearing in mind the below-the-line list can contain as many as 60 candidates – and if you make a single slip-up your vote is void – it’s not surprising that 95% of people vote “above the line”.

Once you’ve done all that, you fold up your papers, stick them in the box, go home, and have a well-deserved lie down.

If you’re still confused about how to vote in Aussie elections, good old Wikipedia has the full gory details. The AEC also has useful practical info on the subject, which is just as well.