Sydney: we came, we renovated, we left.


We attempted to live in Sydney, truly we did. But it was a lost cause from the start.

Maybe it was because of the non-stop rain the first fifteen days we arrived. Maybe it was due to the amount of dead and decomposing wildlife we found in the abandoned terrace house we had come to help renovate – spiders, mice, cockroaches and a magpie. At least one very large rat was still alive (well, at least it was until it made the mistake of standing next to The Italian when he was holding a shovel).

With the rain came the rising damp, and the mould, and the humidity. There was fog inside the lounge room each morning and we spent an entire week cleaning mould an inch-thick off the kitchen walls before we even got started. The Italian’s first learnt Australian word on Australian soil was “yuck”.

And then four months of pain commenced, trying to assimilate into a city that tenaciously clings to its own hype, while simultaneously renovating a beast of a terrace house to pay off a karmic debt and trying to find a job.

Australia is at risk of squandering expat expertise as brain drain hits reverse…Ten years ago a Senate inquiry concluded that expats were an under-utilised resource. The inquiry recommended a series of measures to encourage the most mobile sector of the nation’s workforce, but it seems little has changed. ABC News, 13 July 2013

Nope, nothing’s changed. In fact, returning as an expat with international experience is viewed as a negative in the Sydney job market. The Committee for Sydney have acknowledged that the city struggles with the concept of attracting and being open to global talent.

And then there’s this.

Leading chief executives have conceded that many Australian companies have a problem with women in senior roles. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 October 2013

Usually the first thing people ask me when they hear that I’ve worked in the Middle East, is what was it like being a woman there. It was bloody awesome. Total respect. At work, if you were asked your opinion or thoughts in a meeting, you were listened to. In fact, you were actually asked your opinion. Whenever I’ve experienced any harassment, bullying or patriarchal patronising it’s all been in Australia. And what’s with the eye-rolling here guys? 

There’s also this increasing global trend – the concept of women as the primary breadwinners doesn’t register here, even remotely. Which is funny, as I’d say about 70% of the Australian couples I met while working in the United Arab Emirates were there because of the woman’s job. And the guy stayed at home to mind the kids. A little more about that here.

Oh, and there were tonnes of single Australian chicks in their mid-to-late 30s and 40s seriously rocking their careers over there, whereas in Australia once you hit 35 you’re done for. Blokes get until 45, but Australia has a major ageist issue it needs to get over at some stage.

And so yeah, no permanent job materialised. But I did get some freelance work paying me less than I earnt in my first entry-level job. It kept us in groceries at least, while our life savings went up in smoke on international student fees and subsidising renovations.

Here’s where I should probably add in a list of things we actually did like about Sydney. Umm…the Opera House is pretty. It’s fun driving over the Harbour Bridge. The ferry to Manly is awesome. We lived virtually next door to Porteno. The Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park were a highlight. And after laughing at the hipster queues at Gelato Messina for 3 months we spent our last four weeks in Sydney at the top of the line every day. And umm…yep. 

So the renovations got finished. The house went on the (overinflated/outofcontrol) market and sold. The baby boomer was chuffed and we were homeless. And jobless. And broke. Yippee, welcome to Australia.

There was nothing else for it, we packed our suitcases, threw everything into storage, and did a reverse running away from home and headed over the Blue Mountains for the vineyards. If nothing else changed, we could at least console ourselves with damn good cold-climate wine.

And we did, and we are, and the tree change has been glorious. Some more on that later….

Thanks for listening, Kelly


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