First week in Australia: Perth

There are some moments in life (many, if you’re devoted enough) when you question your sanity.

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You take in your surroundings, ponder them, wide-eyed, before dignifying your inner demons with a curious half whisper… “wotamidoin?”. Your verbalised fears flop onto the table and stare up at you; dumb, limp, useless, vacant- like a face you want to punch.

Of course, there is no answer to your ridiculous utterance, nor will there ever be, but you’ve scratched that itch of doubt and now it will only get itchier. At this point, bed is the only answer.

And so went my first few nights in Perth. Beautiful, lovely, isolated, Perth.

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Ah, yes. Making your own way in life does, unfortunately if you’re like me, mean sitting alone in a room of strangers with crippling jet lag and wallowing in self pity; every now and then, at least.

Four trains, three buses and two planes… all fine. Not being sure what the time is anymore… fine. Finding the hostel and checking in… fine (well I did get lost in the city, with 23kgs on my back, but that’s pretty standard for me). But sitting alone in the hostel communal area, having arrived and nested… meh, not so fine.

This is the time to shine. This is the time to make friends and be a superhuman, to magically find a BFF, to charm a table of drunk Germans eating pasta out the same pan, to walk up to randoms and say hello.

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But you’ve been up for about 30 hours now, the time difference is messing with your head, and everything is very shiny and dazzling. Bewildering. Intimidating. You smell. Your brain is foggy. Talking to strangers is the absolute last thing you want to do. And funnily enough, you didn’t really think this far ahead… you planned everything, except… now you’ve made it here, now what?

So I flop into a chair and sheepishly switch my computer on. It really hits home now, all alone on the other side of the world. I’m exhausted, but it’s too early for bed yet. I had expected this to be a quiet hostel, but there are huge groups of drinkers outside, and I’m suddenly aware that the 18 year old me would have grabbed some goon and joined in, but the 25 year old me has zero desire to do so. Oh my, am I too old for this malarkey?

The answer of course, is no. I am just here for a different reason than the partiers; I am here to find work. I have to- I have very little money to my name. And when I get a goal, I am very focused.

I suppose it also doesn’t help that I had to give up alcohol six months ago after it started making me ill. When one beer can make you vomit for hours, it basically means one of society’s greatest bonding tools is no longer in your tool kit.

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The world’s greatest social lubricant, is no longer mine for the taking. Unless I want to impress strangers with a sexy rash and some projectile vomiting. But I have come to terms with this; it is what it is. Lucky for me I am not usually a shy person and I certainly don’t need a drink to dance!

But that first week in Perth, I am uncharacteristically reserved. Perhaps it’s being without Harry, perhaps it’s the full week its takes me to adjust to the new time zone and get over my jet lag, or perhaps it’s just the simple fact that I want to get a job and get out the hostel ASAP.

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Probably a combination. Of course, I do meet people and make friends, but pretty much as soon as I arrive, I know I do not want to spend Christmas here. I want an adventure!

So my first week in Perth, I set about making that happen, and it was laughably easy….

Sunday, Day 1

The next morning, waking super super early as is the way with jet lag, I get resourceful. I am bewildered and know no one, so to my PR trained brain, the first step is clearly networking.

I drop Harry’s brother’s Ex-girlfriend (Harri, my could-have-been-sister-in-law, if you like), who lives in Perth, a wee message. I have never met her before, but courtesy of Harri, we spend the afternoon on my very own personalised walking tour of Perth, complete with girly chat over a cool drink.

How wonderful to see a friendly face and talk travel and romance! How very normal. I am indebted, it lifted my spirits so very much to have a friend that first day, and I won’t forget the kind act. Deliciously, Harri works in recruitment in the city too, and gives me several hints and pointers on job hunting. So I return home that evening with one more friend that when I left.

The rest of the day? I mostly try not to wet myself in Coles when I see how much things cost. You may find me having a heart attack in the cheese aisle, or gazing wide eyed at a lettuce, or laughing incredulously at a packet of ham. I am blown away, food is at least three times as expensive as the UK. There is no budget range.

Somehow though, I manage to do a food shop for the week for $40, skills right? Noodles, actually. Then once again, I try not to wet myself, nor have a heart attack, as I carry it all a mile home in 30c heat.

I sleep well that night.

Monday, Day 2

Early morning, an interview and a job offer. As easy as that!

It’s an agency that specialise in hospitality jobs in WA, and I get a call within five minutes of posting my resume. I am offered a job in a country pub in the wheatbelt, a few hours north east of Perth. A proper Aussie experience, and a good way to save money. Sweet, I think, why not. I await the call of the pub owner to confirm details.

But that’s not enough for me. I may have 11 years experience in hospitality, but I also have 7 in office and general administration (not to mention several in marketing), so I decided to keep my options open by registering with some office agencies. That afternoon, I don a blouse and skirt and I head to the CBD where I register with them all. Oh, I do love a good job hunt; it reminds me of being in France and looking for a yacht job! I pop in to see Harri at her recruitment agency, as well as a couple of others, and that sees off the rest of my afternoon easily.

There’s also the boring stuff that day… the tax file number, the Medicare card, the bank account…

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All this stuff I wish to write about in a separate post, a kind of guide to the WHV for anyone that might be interested, so watch this space.

Again, after a day of form filling, paper pushing and pavement pounding, I sleep very well.

Tuesday, Day 3

Early morning, ANOTHER job offer, courtesy of Harri.

Just a couple of days of work, as a receptionist in the General Attorney’s office. Start tomorrow. Nice! My earlier palpitations regarding food prices fade into insignificance, as I realise these two days of work will pay for my hostel for two weeks. That simply could not happen back home.

As I’m considering a trip to the beach to reward myself, I get a phone call from ANOTHER agency, inviting me for interview. Well, why not? So off I go, this time to Freemantle, to talk about more hospitality work and rural pub jobs in WA. Another job offer is made, and I go away to do some research and ponder my options.

That evening I decide I’ve done enough job related things, and I grab my camera and head to watch the sunset over the city. Beauitful.

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My vantage point is the beautiful Kings Park, apparently the largest city park in the world?

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Consisting of several different gardens and areas, and an impressive war memorial at its centre, this place is enormous.

It is very spectacular, and I don’t mind a jot that I’m on my own.

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I have my new ‘proper’ camera (gotta love Ebay), and as its something I want to make into more of a hobby and improve at, I really relish the time alone to potter about and fiddle with the settings.

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Kings Park of an evening is a bit of a photographer’s wet dream… As the sun goes down over the city, everything is illuminated beautifully!

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I could have stayed all night, quite frankly. I had strawberries and I had a sunset. Divine.

Wednesday, Day 4

Work. I’m wondering if I’m tripping out; being in work clothes and in a fancy office, a mere few days after stepping off the plane. I haven’t even gone to the beach yet! It’s fair to say I’m still a bit dazed and confused, certainly I still feel jet lagged. So it’s good that the work is easy- I literally answer the phone and put calls through.

Not a couple of weeks before I was doing the exact same job in the UK (for a quarter of the pay), and there are a couple of mildly embarrassing moments when I answer the phone and my mind goes blank… sh!t, where do I work again? Awkward.  Otherwise, what a lovely office of people! So very different to the bitchy politics and the grumbling that I always, without fail, have encountered in seven years of UK temping.

It’s all very nice generally, working in Perth.

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Perth is just an awesome city. There are jobs going everywhere. Its compact, spotlessly clean, modern and shiny, lots of green space, walkable; and, my top two reasons, comes with free transport and free wifi.

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Yes, there are about five free bus routes across Perth and Freemantle, and they take you pretty far too! They are regular, reliable, and certainly saved me a few dollars.

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The paid transport is equally as excellent, and still very reasonably priced. Finding a free wifi hotspot that covered the CBD was just the icing on the cake; and I spent my lunch break sat in a beautiful park emailing my mum. Lovely.

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A bit too lovely though, eh? A bit too comfortable? Where’s the adventure, the bizarre experiences? Did I come all this way just to sit in an office, albeit a much nicer and better paid office? Do I just want to get a flat and a job and settle down? What about all that glorious coastline I want to explore?

Always with the questions. There’s just no pleasing me, is there.

I discuss these things over deliciously pretentious cocktails and a big juicy burger that night, with my friend Shannon (Perth friend number 2… I’m going for quality over quantity here!).

Rewind 5 years to the summer of 2008, and Shannon and I are working with hundreds of little American darlings in a remote island in the Pacific North West.

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Ah yes, summer camp.

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There are countless stories from that summer, countless ways we all bonded and pretty much got up to no good… so Shannon and I have quite the catch up on our hands! How incredible to come half way round the world and hang out with an old friend, just like old times.

Shannon takes me to a few of her favourite bars in the CBD, and some cool little restaurants. She tells me about all the cool Perth stuff she wants to show me, and all the wicked little beaches I need to see. We talk about what we’ve been up to the last five years, and we reminisce. A wicked evening!

We eventually come round to the topic of my travels, and throughout the course of the evening I make the decision that, as easy as it would be to stay in the city and get a lovely little office job, that’s not really why I’m here. I want to go and explore, do something random. I also think it might be fun to be somewhere, part of a community, with a team of workmates, over the festive period.

In my experience with season work, it is this bond with the other staff, largely generated by being locked away somewhere peculiar together, which truly makes something fun and creates lasting friendships, and lasting memories. Shannon and I are a case in point.

Thursday, Day 5

I still haven’t heard from the first pub manager for the job in the wheatbelt, so I accept the second job offer, for a tavern in the Pilbara. I book a flight, then pop in to do all my paperwork at the agency in Freemantle. I leave tomorrow night, after my second (and last) day in the General Attorneys office on the phones.

Moving fast! Too fast? Sometimes I have looked back and wondered what all the hurry was for; I could easily have spent another week in Perth and hung out with Shannon, Harri and others at my hostel (who I was now making friends with, haha) and had some awesome days out exploring Perth and the surrounds. But once I get a bee in my bonnet that’s it, I tend to jump at things. Anyway, it’s like deliberately leaving something at someone’s house so you have a reason to see them again… Perth, I will be back.

The rest of the day I do what I have been too busy to do yet… explore!

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With another girl from the hostel, we go to the beach and have a bit of a roam around Perth.

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Take some photos. Nose about.

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I trip out at all the Christmas decorations in the sun.

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I do some shopping… though its guilt free, as my two days of office work cover it, as well as paying for my hostel and food. Unreal. My earlier moments of panic in Coles seem slightly hysterical now; the money out here is amazing. Unlike back home, wages here seem to be aligned with the cost of living, and the possibility to save money is huge.

My days wanderings confirm for me what I already suspect: Perth is a very beautiful place. I am a little bit in love with it. I go to sleep happy- a happiness borne of sore feet and impressed eyes.

Friday, day 6

Work. Most of the day everyone is out at their Christmas party, so I pretty much just take messages and send emails. And plan my travels!

Of course, as would be the way, I get offered a month’s work today. They like me, they want to keep me on. I sigh, and tell them I’m flying out tonight. If only they had asked me two days ago, the answer of course would have been yes, as this is good money, and Christmas and New Years in the city would have been excellent fun!

It’s a double-edged sword, my going away. I’m really starting to like Perth, everyone I meet seems to want to take me under their wing and introduce me to their friendship group, invite me along. Indeed, there are a lot of people from all over the world in Perth (especially the UK), and the sense I got is that it is one giant surrogate family- everyone looks after everyone, because everyone is a long way from home. I would meet everyone friends and get taken along- I can picture it; weekends at the beach or day-tripping, evenings at swish bars as the sun goes down, a place to call my own, a comfortable job and lots of money to save.. Yes, it would be very nice to stay.

That said, I do feel a sense of relief- bizarre, really- that I am somehow escaping from getting ‘sucked in’ to ‘settling down’. Doubtless a month’s work could turn into six, as most of the girls here tell me it did for them. And once I’m settled with a lovely job, and mates, and a flat… what happens to my plans for adventure?

It’s funny, really, but I read somewhere recently that we are governed not by what we want, but by what we DON’T want. Our fears drive us, not our desires. My fear is of regret- not doing, not seeing, not fulfilling… and this pushes me to make rash decisions and act a bit erratically.

Quite frankly, I am terrified of the mundane.

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So I ran right out of Perth, that night, before it could get me; before I could put down roots that might grow deep under my dreams of adventure, take hold down there, and crush their foundations.

Is this a bad thing? Who can say. Who can waste time pondering the path they didn’t end up taking? You can’t. You just have to make a choice and go with it, even if your motives make you feel unhinged.

Actually, I readily admit it this facet of my character, embrace it even; because it defines who I am and the experiences I have. It leads me to some funny places and some peculiar people… As I was about to discover in Port Hedland!

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