Life as a Sydneysider

Trip Start Feb 05, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Friday, April 27, 2012

Landing a job in Sydney didn't go without a hitch. After applying for a few jobs online, I was invited to a group interview with a company named Zest Promotions. I arrived promptly at 9am and was greeted by pounding dance music and whoops and cheers spilling out of an adjoining room. As I sat filling out an application form, I decided that I wouldn't mind getting in on this.

The company were eager to gauge our energy and sass by thrusting us out onto a current promotion and seeing how we coped in comparison to our fellow interviewees. The nature of this promotion was shrouded in secrecy for the entire journey and the employees accompanying us went to great lengths to big up just how amazing it was to work for this company. When we arrived at the location of the exhibit I was surprised to find it was a boarded up shop doorway. I assumed others must soon be turning up to transform this construction site into an impressive, eye-catching display. This optimism remained until our chaperones dumped their bags on the street and started pulling out clipboards and crumpled Red Cross t-shirts. The penny slowly dropped. This was an audition for a charity harasser.

With no other jobs in the pipeline I stuck the morning out. I bit my tongue and smiled pleasantly as we were put though degrading challenges such as chasing businessmen down the street and asking them to tell us a secret and procuring an old newspaper from a stranger. Our chaperones egged us on - it was all in the name of 'good fun.'

After lasting the length of this shameful morning, it was casually mentioned that the job came with absolutely no basic wage. Our earnings were determined completely by the number of strangers we could hoodwink each day into paying a wedge to the company (who would in turn administer a pittance to the charity). I decided at this point it was high time I did one. So I soundlessly slipped away, feeling very deceived indeed.

Luckily, through sneaking off I managed to make it in time for a meeting with a recruitment agency. They hooked me up immediately with a cushty little job temping on a doctor’s reception - that helped heal the morning’s wounds somewhat. The job was enjoyable and gave an insight into an area of Australian life I would not have access to otherwise - especially as the medical system here is so far removed from the NHS. It also allowed me to get in amongst real Australians, with whom I wouldn’t normally get a chance to mingle, in particular the elderly. The Australian aged are a cheerful and multicultural breed with a laissez faire attitude to life and a variety of weird and wonderful surnames. One of my favourites was a small smiling prune of a lady named Ina. She wears brick like shoes cellotaped together with Velcro and is never quite sure what’s going on, but beams her way through life nonetheless. After ushering her through to the doctor’s room one afternoon she promptly nodded off, her nose in the cover of an Agatha Christie book. I had a little chuckle and realised just how amusing I find working amongst the elderly.

Working when travelling makes you pack as much into the weekends and holidays as possible. The weather encourages you to do this and on Easter weekend, the weather for apparently the first time in years was absolutely glorious. Good Friday is taken very seriously over here (with the same amount of places closed as on Christmas day) and we spent the celebration, with throngs of other Sydneysiders, basking on Bondi Beach. After a perfect day we ate dinner in the famous Bondi Icebergs surf club – a cool white building standing guard over the beach. The club gets its name from an annual event at the start of the winter season where its members jump into the saltwater pool clutching huge blocks of ice.

We ate on the Iceberg’s balcony as the sky slowly reddened and darkened around us. On this balcony you can enjoy a perfect view of the surfers riding the sea. Such a view is impossible from the beach as the huge crashing waves shield them from view. You get the impression that the surfers’ quite enjoy the veil of privacy the sea provide and we revelled in being able to snoop in on their covert world. From our birds eye view they looked like ants on an oversized bedsheet that was having the creases smoothed out of it – their tiny bodies rising and falling inbetween the folds.

Bondi is beautiful at night and as we headed home the moon cast a sparkly reflection on the crumpled blanket of sea. The surfers had stayed out long after it had got dark, squeezing every last drop of potential out of the day. The surrounding late-night shops, bars and households created a twinkling wall of lights; giving them sight and guiding their way like the illegitimate offspring of the Star of Bethlehem. The beach had emptied and the bay breathed a contented sigh. We were surprised at just how peaceful Bondi is by night; Its personality very much like an inverse vampire. 

On Easter Saturday we headed to The Royal Easter Show at the Olympic Park – A celebration of Australian agriculture and pursuits. We browsed around the animal exhibits for a bit and while I was enjoying this brief flirt with the farmyard, Ben having grown up on a farm was less enthused and we moved on.

Despite this, highlights that managed to capture both our attentions included sheep with supersized coats and balls waiting to be sheared and a sort of pig peep show where a sow marooned on the floor was cheered on by crowds of children as she suckled her young.

The most enjoying spectacle of the day was the Woodchopping Competition. This distinctly Australian tradition has its genesis in a $50 bet made in 1870 between two Tasmanian axemen over who could fell a tree first. Today it has spread to a number of countries and for those involved, training is treated with the commitment of Olympians.

The purpose built woodchopping stadium was packed out when we arrived and we only just managed to snare a couple of seats (sitting illegally on the steps). The aim of the contest is to be the first to chop a lump of wood from the top of a vertical wooden pole. The competitors climb up by hacking slits into the pole, sticking a plank into it and them hoisting themselves gradually to the top. The competition was intense and over quite quickly. The winner was incredibly rapid and and we were left feeling very impressed at his peculiar skill.

The same sadly could not be said of the Rodeo. We headed here next and left halfway through. The rodeo itself was just about tolerable, but the ‘cow jumping’ that succeeded it left a real bitter taste. This spectacle involved two men on horses from opposing teams riding alongside a bewildered cow. The aim of the game is to be the first rider to pounce on the cow and wrestle in successfully to the ground. This often took a few attempts and looked like the cows back was about to break. It revealed a different side to Australia and made me feel proud that such ‘sport’ is banned in Britain.
 
Most of our Sydney weekends involved indulging in a night out and we followed the Easter show with a night out in Kings Cross – the city’s throbbing red light district. An average night out in Sydney, without skimping or splurging, will cost you around $100 (70) and as a disgruntled Boz pointed out 'You could have more fun with a tenner back home than you can with $100 out here.' Yes. You've got to be willing to spend in Sydney.

One night we were delighted to find a warehouse party hosting a strictly BYO policy (bring your own booze). Boz and Ben got a bit carried away with the novelty of it all and ended up guzzling goon straight from the box on the dancefloor. As a result they did not last the night and when we got out of the cab home they decided to curl up for a little nap on a comfy spot of pavement outside. As me and Sare tried in vain to pull them to their feet, the police rocked up. Rather than roughing them up and chucking them in a cell overnight, as the police back home thrive on doing, these officers seemed genuinely concerned. They had a little joke with us and then helped lead the lads down the road and into the safety of The Zodge. While Australians may treat their animals with less respect, they certainly treat their citizens with more. 
 
Every year Australians have a national holiday in honour of their war dead – ANZAC day.  Many people get up at 4am to participate in Dawn services across the country and a gambling game called 2UP is legalised just for the day in all public places. 2UP was played extensively by Australian soldiers during WW1 and as its citizens congregate together to play it on ANZAC day they participate in a shared experience with soldiers through the ages. 

We spent the day in Newtown, home to Sydney’s alternative scene - a cool kooky suburb with the bustle of Manchester’s Curry Mile and the edginess of Berlin. It’s lengthy main street heaves with young punks and quirksters flitting between vintage shops, cafes and bars. Street art and graffiti thrive and a huge urban portrait of Martin Luther King supervises the fun from the centre of the strip.

We ventured to The Courthouse Hotel to engage in a spot of 2UP, arriving at around 11am. The crowds and sense of excitement swelled as the day progressed. The game is essentially an elaboration of a coin toss. ‘Spinners’ are plucked from the crowd and given the task of chucking two coins up into the air. Before this flip, the rest of the players hold their money in the air and bet with strangers in the crowd on whether they think the coins will both land on heads or both land on tails. If you fancy your luck on tails you pair up with somebody shouting something similar to ‘TWENTY ON HEADS!’ The winner is the member of the pair who guesses the outcome of the flip correctly and thus gets to pocket both the crisp $20 notes. If the coins land one on each side, they are flipped again until they land identically. There is no skill involved, apart from maybe knowing when’d best to call it quits and as a consequence ti actually has better odds than any game within a casino.

Me and Ben got really into the whole thing - getting a real flutter of excitement and tension as the coins twisted through the air. We emerged from the game $50 and $15 up respectively, feeling very smug with ourselves indeed. It is an incredibly, fun, honest game. Everybody is up for having a laugh with strangers and nobody’s out to rip anybody off. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine it working in England too well. 2UP down at our local, The Wolds, would most likely descend into scheming, cheating and beatings. 

One Saturday when Boz was doing some overtime and Ben was suffering in bed with a hangover me and Sare completed the Manly to Spit Bridge Scenic Walkway. This 10km track is one of Sydney’s premier walks and snakes around the inside of the harbour, passing through national park, tiny secluded beaches, lookout points and an aboriginal engraving site.
Every time you looked the view was different. The walk, despite the distance, is absolutely beautiful and comes a close second in my affection to the Bondi to Coogee one. Doing a walk like this enables you to explore little known pockets of harbour and views and really helps you appreciate just how special Sydney is.

Contrary to what the promotional literature for the walk claims, it is very poorly signposted. A couple of times we nearly veered off the obscure track into dense bush. At one point we accidentally went off piste, along an abandoned beach. We only cottoned on that something wasn’t quite right when this family friendly walk gave us no other option but to clamour over a cluster of rocks blocking the beach. In our disorientation, I slipped on a particularly slimy rocks and grazed my arms and legs. As I stood composing myself and trying to hold in the pain, the tide came in with perfect comic timing and soaked my feet. I don’t know how Sare managed not too laugh as I squelched the last 3km of the walk back.

On another weekend I dragged everyone along to The Justice and Police Museum. Here you can wander through the original site of early Sydney’s Police station, court and jail. An array of sinister weapons confiscated from convicts are on display as are their often hilarious mugshots. We explored the old cells where Sydney’s underbelly where one confined; imagining who had lain here before us and what sticky situation they'd got themselves into.
There are also displays on crimes that shook the nation which make for grizzly reading. Amongst these is a study on Australia’s first kidnap for ransom money, the case of Graeme Throne. Graeme was the child of a lottery winner whose good fortune had attracted much publicity in 1960. Whilst waiting for a lift to school one morning, Graeme disappeared and a ransom demand was followed by silence and then the discovery of his body five weeks later. The perpetrators were eventually caught by matching dog hair from the crime scene with that of their Pekingese dog. This very dog now takes pride of place at the front of the display, stuffed and with a slightly guilty look on his face.

At the time of our visit One Direction were on the Australian leg of their world tour and their contented little faces stared out at us from buses and billboards cross the city. Their hotel was coincidentally next door to the Justice and Police Museum and so our trip round was accompanied by the screams and singing of 50 hysterical fans. When we emerged from the museum, the crowds had dissipated and Ben found a forlorn teen sobbing on the steps, a limp poster at her feet. She'd waited out all night for them and they'd just driven past without so much s a cursory wave. It was some comfort to know that despite cultural differences, Australian teens could be just as sappy as their British counterparts.    
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