Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

National Identity Crisis Day

Just a quick one as I sit here, back at work, holding my head in my hands after an extra-long weekend. We were down in Tasmania with David and Sandy for a few days, and I got to catch a fish and eat it. So did Lesly! Santi got to do all kinds of things he'd never done before: pick strawberries, hold a worm, climb a woodpile, dig for potatoes, see a bettong ... Very cool.

And we celebrated Australia Day in fine style. We had an old-school wood barbeque (pictured) and David even made a pot of billy tea. While we chomped on our sausage sandwiches we also chatted about what exactly the day means now. The ads on the buses this year said something about a pledge of loyalty and wearing face paints. Besides being pretty naff it highlighted the fact that we are struggling to define what it means to be Australian.

And of course it is hard to define a culture; while things like food, music, dance, clothes are important, they don't get to the heart of it. The best idea we came up with was fairness, as in 'a fair go', 'fair dinkum' and 'fair suck of the sav'. Maybe it's not as relevant these days, but it certainly beats excessive use of face paints.

Friday, January 19, 2007


NAME :Prince Fayad Bolkiah.

EMAIL: fayad_bolkiah002@noway.com

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am Prince Fayad Bolkiah, father of one and citizen of the small and moderately well-off sultanate of Randwick in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. I am pleased to write to inform you of my good intention to invest or form a joint partnership business with you. I got your reliable contact from my father's diary and further explicit investment information about your country from my attorney in London, who has been of great assistance. I will save your time by not amplifying my extended family history, which has already been disseminated by me on this blog.

As you may know from the international media, the people of inner Sydney are currently suffering a severe crisis in the area of child care. Places are extremely limited and waiting lists of over two years are not uncommon. When families are fortunate enough to find a place, they can easily expect to pay over $300 a week for each child, which could be roughly equivalent to their rent. Over a year, not including 4 weeks of holiday, this equates to approximately $15,000 dollars.

Child-care workers are paid relatively low salaries and do not constitute a major expense, and demand is so high that there is no conceivable ceiling on what concerned and responsible parents will pay to make sure their children get looked after. With such unfettered market forces running rampant, the potential for profit here is mouthwatering. I am sure you will agree, this is indeed the lucky country for investors and entrepreneurs and right now is a propitious moment for speculating in this buoyant market sector. Already one man has made his fortune by opening a chain of child-care centres – certainly we could follow his noble example.

Hence I seek your good assistance to invest funds into profitable enterprise to facilitate future survival and prosperity for our families. If this proposal is accepted by you, kindly forward your honest response to me for more information and of course your opinion shall be welcomed concerning this transaction. Please treat this proposal as urgent and confidential.

Prince Fayad Bolkiah.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Perks of the job

Some people get free merchandise, a company car or heavily discounted international flights. Me? I get to walk through Auburn, in Sydney's western suburbs, on a daily basis. No really, bear with me ...

Everyone knows how multicultural Sydney is, but it's unlikely you've seen it at this density before. When you step onto the platform at peak hour, the mix of faces and garbs is what you'd expect at a busy international airport, rather than a suburb in Sydney. At the 2001 census 52.5% of Auburn's residents were born overseas and more than 72% spoke a language other than English at home. Immgrants come mainly from China, Turkey and Lebanon, but lately there has also been a massive influx from Africa. Many of the people who settle here are refugees.

What this translates to for a passer-through like me is a walk on the culturally diverse side. Here, for example, is a notice at Auburn station:

I haven't been all around the CityRail network but this is the first time I've seen a sign in anything except English. Walking down the main road to the station on Friday afternoon, I watch kids play driveway cricket – a girl in a burkha bowls a long hop to a boy in the classic school shirt and King Gee shorts, chatting in Croatian to the wicket-keeper. He stops talking long enough to hit a cross-bat swat over the head of the girl in the sari, fielding at mid off, and the ball rolls across the road and into the gutter where a couple of Sudanese girls are more interested in skipping rope than fielding. In the apartments surrounding the game, the parents are cooking dinner and the aromas assail you as you walk past: grilled meat and garlic, curry spices and asian sauces.

This ethnic diversity is reflected the cross-section of small businesses in the area. In one block you can pass a Chinese bakery, a convenience store selling hot nuts, a halal butcher, a restaurant with barbequed ducks hanging in the window, a Turkish delight factory and, to top it all off, an RSL club.

And there's something else you notice here: things are cheap! You can still, incredibly, buy some items for less than a dollar. And I'm not sure if it's the proximity to Flemington markets, but fresh produce is bargain basement. I've actually started doing some of our grocery shopping here it’s so cheap. Cop this:

Item.......................................Mark's local shops...........Auburn
Bunch of bok choy.........................$1.50........................$0.40
1kg nectarines................................$7.00........................$0.98
1kg lamb loin chops.......................$17.00.......................$6.00
1kg sirloin steak.............................$35.00......................$7.00
1kg green banana prawns.............$25.00......................$13.00

So yeah, go Auburn! It’s quite ugly in a lot of ways, and you wouldn’t be out of line saying that it’s a nice place to commute through, but no way in hell would you want to live there; however, it’s raw and vibrant as all get out, and I am glad I get a chance to experience it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year's Revolutions!

You know how it is -- too busy to work them out beforehand, too monged on the night and too 'irresolute' to manage it on New Year's Day; suddenly you're a fair way in and still without a clue what you're aiming for in the next 365 days. It feels like naming the baby after it's born, except ... well, actually it's not like that at all.

Some of the ideas that have been considered so far include:
1. Read the Bible, Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past. Imagine the kind of excruciating party conversation I'd come out with after all that. As my son says, 'ouchy wa wa'. FZZT.
2. Buy a mattress. Good in terms of being practical and achievable, but it looks like we can keep the one we've got. FZZT.
3. Eat more fruit. Too hard to quantify. FZZT.
4. Win the lottery. Too hard. And ultimately, I'm not sure this is the answer anyway. FZZT.
5. Focus not on doing more, but on enjoying what I do more. Sounds like one of those desk-calendar aphorisms, but not as catchy. FZZT.
6. Sleep in more. Under consideration: This is more like it. Why I continue to arrive at work 30 minutes early is beyond me. Blog time I guess. (there is no sound for this one)
7. Swim. Here, at last, is a contender. No measures, just a simple command. Swim. I like that. DING.

In other news, the break was at once restful and hedonistic. Santa Claus and el Niño Dios got along just fine and managed to deliver a mini-mountain of presents to our son. Some highlights of the season were the food -- delicious without being over the top -- the parties and the company, including the little guy who stayed up way too late to share the alegria with us. Special mention also goes to my best mate Rich, back from a six-month sojourn in South America with plans to stay here for a while. I think a piece of the Sydney puzzle just slipped into place.

Although it's not saying much, 2007 feels like a year that is open to interpretation.