Australia: The Car Country

December 24th, 2007

Map of Australia with car iconThere’s no doubt about it – Australia is a nation of car drivers. It’s understandable in a way, when you consider the size of the place. (You can’t really expect decent public transport in the middle of the Outback.) However, even in major cities like Sydney with good public transport networks (in my opinion!), cars rule the roost:

  • People tend to look at you strangely if you don’t drive a car
  • Many roads in the suburbs don’t even have pavements (sidewalks if you’re American) – presumably you’re supposed to drive everywhere, or take your chances walking in the road
  • Fuel is cheap (compared to the UK, anyway)
  • Many couples have two cars (one car each)
  • Sydneysiders love their nice big gas-guzzling 4x4s (complete with roo bars to protect them from all those feral urban kangaroos bouncing down the high street)
  • “Camping” for Aussies means taking a tent the size of a small house, 4 fold-up tables, 8 chairs, 2 BBQs, and a portable shower – which of course, means at least one car if not two
  • Trains are so slow when you get out of Sydney that you’d be crazy not to go by car. For example, it takes 1.5 hours to drive to Kiama on the south coast (120km south of Sydney), but 2.5-3 hours to go by train. Read the rest of this entry »

Where to live: Morpeth?

December 15th, 2007

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 – Morpeth.

Morpeth is a sleepy little village of just over 1,000 inhabitants. It’s on the edge of the Hunter valley, northwest of Newcastle, and sits on a gentle bend of the Hunter river.

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Unlike many country towns in Australia, Morpeth actually has a bit of history to it, which appeals to us. It used to be a river port, transporting coal and people via steamer to Paterson, Maitland, Newcastle and Sydney. The village is full of historic sandstone buildings, including the riverside Arnott Bakehouse, owned by the original Arnott family (of biscuit fame). In fact the village is so historic that it has National Trust status.

The Hunter River at Morpeth

A big plus with Morpeth is that it’s just 37km from a big city – Newcastle – which means you’re never that far from the action (though if you’re not driving then it’s a 6km walk or cycle ride to the nearest train station in East Maitland). It’s almost exactly 2 hours’ drive from Sydney, too, should we ever need to head into the Big Smoke. It’s well served by schools, with a primary school in town and two good public high schools in East Maitland. Read the rest of this entry »

How to survive a long overseas trip with a baby

December 3rd, 2007

Flying over Sydney

I’ve just come back from a mammoth 7-week trip to Dubai and the UK with my wife and 9-month-old son, Zack. Quite a trip! I thought I’d offer some hints and tips for those of you expats making the trip over to the mother country to introduce your kid to their grandparents:

  • Book your flights online. You can save a fortune compared with high street travel agents by booking directly with the airline on their website. We flew with Emirates and saved ourselves AUD $800 in total. Note that most airlines charge a 10% fare for under-twos.
  • Book bulkhead seats. (Assuming you’re flying economy.) These are seats that sit directly behind the bulkheads (dividers) on the plane, usually just behind business class. They offer a lot more legroom, and you usually get the option of booking a bassinet (see below). Plus your little one can crawl around a bit on the floor in front of you.
  • Book a bassinet. These attach to the bulkhead in front of the seat. They’re usually fairly small but your baby can lie with their legs over the end if necessary. Even if the baby doesn’t sleep in it, it provides a great place to stash the 3 tons of stuff you end up with (books, magazines, blankets, pillows, food trays, water, toys, …)
  • Be aware of liquid restrictions for air travel. There are exceptions for baby food and so on, but you still need to stick within certain limits. Find out more information on this Australian site.
  • Take your own baby food on the flight. Your baby will prefer familiar food. Although many airlines offer baby food in-flight, your baby may not like what’s available, and the food often has additives such as sugar and salt, too. Bananas are always a good standby when flying.
  • Give your baby something to drink after take-off and before landing. This will help with their ear pain as the pressure changes. Breastfeeding is great and has the added benefit of comforting. Water does the job too. Read the rest of this entry »

Weird Aussie pronunciation

November 1st, 2007

While Australian English is generally close enough to the “mother tongue” to be intelligible to even the most dyed-in-the-wool Pom, we do occasionally get confused by the Australians’ rather odd pronunciation.

When we first arrived in Sydney, I got some strange looks asking for direction to the nearest Dymocks bookshop. I soon found out why – it isn’t pronounced Dye-mocks, it’s pronounced Dimmerks. I believe there’s one fairly near Wynyard station, which – by the way – is pronounced Win-yerd, not Wine-yard.

On a trip down south from Sydney, we quickly learned that Kogarah isn’t pronounced Koe-GAH-rah – it’s pronounced COG-a-rah – while Wollongong isn’t pronounced Wo-lon-gong – it’s pronounced Wool-long-gong, even though there’s no double-o. Those crazy Aussies! Travelling further down the coast, we were amazed to discover that Kiama isn’t pronounced Kee-arma – it’s pronounced Kye-amma – and that Jervis Bay isn’t pronounced Jarvis Bay – it’s actually pronounced Jervis Bay, just like it’s written.

Various other place names have tripped us up over the years. Balgowlah, a Sydney suburb, is pronounced Balg-OW-lah, not BAL-go-lah, while the town of Forster, strangely, is pronounced Foster. One doesn’t pronounce Maleny as MALeny, but as MalAYnee, and you say Merimbula as MerIMbula, not MerimBUla.

If you work with computers and want to ask someone where the router is, don’t be tempted to say rooter, because “root” is Aussie slang for “to have sex”. Instead, make sure you say r-ow-ter. Meanwhile, commenting on an attractive PERgola in the park won’t get you far; try calling it a PerGOla instead for best results.

When ordering a schooner of James Boag in a pub, don’t pronounce it James Bo-ag like I did because the bar staff will think you’re crazy. It’s pronounced James Boge.

Other Aussie oddities include:

  • Data – pronounced darta, not dayta
  • Cache – pronounced cayshe, not cash
  • Eco – pronounced echo, not eeko
  • Project – pronounced pr-oh-ject, not prodject

Finally, even people’s names are pronounced differently. Megan isn’t pronounced, well, Megan as it is in the UK, but Mee-gan. And we were surprised to find that, after naming our baby boy Isaac, all our Aussie friends call him not Eye-zerk, but Eye-zack. (Which we actually quite like, luckily!)

Where to live: Maleny?

October 15th, 2007

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 – Maleny.

Maleny is nestled within the beautiful hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland in south-east Queensland.

View Larger Map

Maleny is about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane, and 30 minutes from the coast. This means it has access both to a major city, and to some beautiful beaches such as Caloundra, Maroochydore and Noosa. The views from Maleny and nearby roads are simply stunning, taking in vast swathes of rolling hills, the ocean, and the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains in the distance:

Lookout, Sunshine Coast hinterland

Read the rest of this entry »

Australia: No worries

October 2nd, 2007

Ocean detailRecently I’ve broken my habit of a morning walk on the beach, thanks to the combined hectic-ness of having a baby, writing a book, and preparing for a trip to the UK. However it’s such a beautiful morning today that I decided to renew my walking habit.

I find it’s so easy to get bogged down in negative aspects of day-to-day living and lose sight of what makes living here so great. Things I loved on my walk this morning:

  • Beautiful blue skies
  • Wide streets and open spaces
  • Friendly cafe owners, shop owners, and locals saying hello to me as I walked past
  • The stunningly beautiful beach
  • Gently lapping waves in a deep turquoise sea
  • The warm sunshine on my face
  • The sounds and smells of nature
  • Panoramic views of the ocean and bush from the headland
  • People enjoying themselves on the beach and in the water

As I prepare to head off to England – which will, no doubt, be cold, wet, and dark! – I can honestly say that I am missing Australia already.

Where to live: Bellingen?

September 24th, 2007

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. First up – Bellingen.

Bellingen is a vibrant country town nestled in the middle of the Bellinger Valley, south-west of Coffs Harbour, NSW. We first heard of it through some friends of ours; their son lives in an intentional community just outside Bellingen proper.

View Larger Map

For such a small town – population: 3,000 – Bellingen is a truly happening place. It has a famous jazz festival; lots of great cafes and restaurants; two good pubs; a very strong community feel; and a bit of an “alternative” culture (think Glastonbury in the UK, or Sydney’s Newtown). It also has a bit of history, with some lovely heritage buildings in the town, and the scenery is simply stunning. Just the kind of place we’re after, in fact.

Cafe dining, Bellingen

It’s also nice and close to Coffs Harbour, which – while nothing special – does at least have decent-size shops and facilities, and is a pleasant enough seaside town. Some of the other smaller seaside places near Bellingen are lovely too. Read the rest of this entry »

Moving from Sydney: What we’re after

September 18th, 2007

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, and we’re looking around for places to live. Here’s our list of requirements:

  • A four-bedroom house, or at least a three-bed-plus-study, so that I can continue to work from home while we house our ever-expanding family
  • Price range: somewhere around AUD $400k-430k at the moment
  • Somewhere with a real sense of community and identity (which rules out most of suburbia!)
  • Ideally somewhere fairly rural – but not too rural, and not full of rednecks 😉
  • As close as possible to a major city – ideally Sydney, as that’s where most of our friends and business contacts live

We’re currently scouring the country for suitable places; so far we must have checked out over 50 villages, towns and cities up and down the east coast. I’ll be talking about each of these places, including their pros and cons, over the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for places that would meet the above criteria, I’d love to hear them! 🙂

Induction cooking! Woo, yay!

August 30th, 2007

Induction cooking in actionI’m thinking of starting an “Australia: 20 years behind the UK” category…

I’ve just been gobsmacked by an article in my local paper that burbles enthusiastically about the delights of induction cooking. It says, and I quote: “Professional chefs and restaurants are leading the trend towards induction cooking” and “Induction cooking began to attract interest in Australia about two years ago”.

I assume this is the same type of cooker that’s been on sale in the UK and Europe since the 1980s?!


Australian fashion

August 25th, 2007

An example of Australian fashion

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