The story so far

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The first month in Australia

We've been in Australia for a month now and certainly have found it difficult to find time to make new posts.  When you have no schedule it is really hard to fit blogging into your schedule.  Therefore I'm going to try and summarise the first few weeks in Australia with as few words as possible.  I will probably ramble on as ever though.

I had a look through our photos.  We take lots of photos, so it's a good way of remembering what happened when we arrived in the country.  The first photo on the camera is below and as can be seen, our first week in Australia was dominated by the arrival of baby Lucas.  Between Hannah and I and David and Lucy, we had managed to contrive to have the baby born on the day after we arrived.  It's almost as though it were planned.  Obviously the baby was planned, or at least I think it was, anyway it's probably best not to go there.  What I mean is that the scheduled arrivals of baby Lucas and family Wiltshire occurred within about 24 hours of each other.  On receiving news of our flight times, Lucy even booked herself in for a Caesarian just to ensure that the dates all tied up.

Now the standard thing to say when a baby is born is "isn't he/she beautifu?l"  I reckon it's enough that the baby is not as ugly as sin.  I mean, it's been in a slime pit for the last nine months and although some women appear to treat themselves with mud and goo into a ripe old age, I don't reckon this is the best environment to  foster beauty.

And if the baby is ugly, so what?  It doesn't mean they'll stay ugly.  Esme was not a looker but she relies on her charm and good looks now to get away with all manner of naughtiness.  Anyway, Lucas was not ugly so that's fine, but he was wrinkly and squashed as you would expect.

Of course the other thing that is always said is "Doesn't he look like his father?"  According to Hannah, there is a genetic reason for this.  In the old days, when fathers were able to come and go as they pleased, have a few different ladies and rely on them to bring up the child without the unreasonable expectations that go with fatherhood today, they had to know which kids were theirs.  In today's conservative society, there's not much chance of the father getting away with that kind of behaviour.

Anyway, Lucas does look like his father, although I think the resemblance may be artificially enhanced by Dave's choice of hairstyle.

In the action packed first week in Australia, we went to Manly and Dee Why beaches and watched the surfers to remind ourselves one of the reasons we had come here.  Having been around Australia quite a bit recently there are some great beaches and the waves seem to be consistently good.

One of the best beaches for surfing in Australia is Crescent Heads.  We were there just last week and although i didn't get in the water (no board yet) I did take some video footage so people can see what it is like.

The other thing I did in the first week was to attend an interview with a company called SMS Management and Technical Consulting.  This was quite an informal chat with their HR director, who spent most of the interview advising me on what I should be doing to work out what i wanted to do and where I wanted to live in Australia.

I've now progressed with that company through to a second HR interview and a technical interview.  I have to sit an aptitude test on Jan 4th and if I pass that, have a final interview with the Sydney office director.  They make you work hard to get a job over here.

Other than that, I had heard nothing from any of the other ten or so applications I had made until yesterday when I was inundated with three phone calls.  One was for a role with a large commercial property management company in Sydney and the other two were roles with Optus.  I put my name forwards for the former and one of the Optus roles.  So all in all, on the job front things are looking good(ish)

Hannah on the other hand is not so fortunate.  She had to apply for accreditation both from New South Wales and the national teaching body and send off hundreds of forms.  When she got the accreditation back, she was provisionally entitled to teach biology but needs university level units to enable her to do Phys and Chem.  Not great since she has the A-levels and has been teaching in the UK for years.  Anyway, she has found a few loopholes (like a school can take you on a provisional accreditation and even then she could teach Phys and Chem) and has applied for a couple of jobs.

The first few weeks were packed with activities such as visits to Sydney's original Olympic pool, the Botanic gardens to see the flying foxes.  Above is a photo of Zoe, Esme and their cousin Thomas attending "baby beats" at the Opera house.

We hung around in Sydney for three weeks in the hope that job hunting would progress but since nothing much happened on that front, we decided to take advantage of the offer of a weekend with our extended family and sisters at Tim and Kap's place as the starting point for a trip up the coast to Coffs harbour and Brisbane.

Tim is Matt and Lucy's dad and if I've not explained it before Matt and Lucy are Hannah's step brother and sister via the marriage of their mother Sue (you know, the wicked stepmother) to Hannah's Dad, David.  Tim and Kap's house is pretty special, being built in the middle of hundreds of acres of their land and over a hundred km from the nearest supermarket.  All of us use telephones and computers every five minutes, but at their place, all you can do is a bit of physical work, play Croquet and drink beer in the afternoon it's a paradise where you can really switch off and let your mind wander and recover.  I'll write more about Putty I think, especially on the finer points of playing croquet with Tim and Matt.

Tim making sure the water emitting from the spirit fuelled boiler is not too hot for the sensitive skins of Thomas, Esme and Zoe (Left to Right)

Dave in a rather fetching Stetson pegs Thomas and Esme out on the washing line to dry.

Zoe and Esme on "The Rock" looking down the Valley over Tim and Kap's place.

After T and K's we decided to take a road trip up to Coffs Harbour taking a few days to get there.  We were going to stop at Stroud and Gloucester, where we are from in the UK to see how the Australian towns compared to the ones back home.

We left Putty in high spirits in our bomb of a second hand car, monitoring it carefully to see if Tim and Matt's temporary repair job would hold it together. There is so much to say, some good, but most bad....

Zoe and Esme (Who don't understand much about mechanics) love the car.  It is a fifteen year old 4 Litre Ford Fairlane with 230k's on the clock, two arm chairs in the front and a sofa in the back.  It drove smoothly and wonderfully on the test drive, but as I soon discovered, it is easy to get it going smoothly but it doesn't stay that way for long.

I bought the car an a sweltering Friday afternoon from a Lebanese dealer on the Parramatta road.  I had wanted a Ford Falcon or a Holden (Opel/Vauxhall) Commodore, but on seeing a couple of Fairlanes (Apparently the Falcon's luxury sister car) and hearing Sue singing it's praises based on her mother and father's love of them, I decided to buy it.  Apparently, according to Sue's offspring, she thought I was mad buying that car but I don't remember her saying that at the time.

Anyway, on the way home, I discovered it stalled at traffic lights.  A slight issue, but I was able to re-start it within a few seconds each time.  I later discovered through advice from Lucy, that turning the air conditioning off could and did solve this problem.  Unfortunately, the air con is a must in Australia so my procedure at the light became.  Aircon off, windows down, go to park, wait for lights, go to drive, pull off, aircon on, Windows up.

Anyway, this was the only issue, not a show stopper so we drove around Sydney it oblivious to the monster that lay sleeping in the deep.  The first indication of an issue was when we set out for a shopping mall a few days before we went to Tim and Kap's.  The cooling system warning light started coming on and going off and then it stayed on full.

We had been planning to go to the RTA to register the car, but Hannah started to have second thoughts.  "Let's just take it back and get out money back" she said.  I thought about the dodgy Lebanese b@&%$!d on the Parramatta road and thought that would be a waste of time.  Hannah then started the mental abuse she is so good at.  I should never have bought the car, it will be a money pit etc etc.  Of course she could well have been right, but I was not happy with her.

Anyway, she refused to let me register the car in our name and we had a big stand-off in the Chatswood shopping centre.  Sometimes I need her just to say, "Don't worry Nick, it will be OK" but her constant barrage of insults and complaints added to my already increasing stress levels and my own feeling of being a complete mug.  I just wanted to run away and did start to until I realised Hannah had the car keys, not that that was any guarantee of getting home.  I decided to follow her at a safe distance and not to bring up the subject of the car for a while.

Later, we were in a toyshop with the girls when I saw a pile of matchbox cars at a couple of dollars a pop.  I had a brainwave.  After a couple of minutes of digging, I found a toy Fairlane and suggested to Zoe that she buy it.  "I love our car" she said.  "Can we keep it for ever?"  "Of course, it's our beautiful Ford Fairlane", I said.  Unlikely it would last six months, I thought, but six months is almost "for ever" to a small child and they have to get used to dealing with disappointment.

We set off for the RTA, but although we had brought all the documents specified, we were sent away for not having our passports.  Bureaucrats are the same the world over it seems.  We did get the car registered the next day though and got an eTag which is the way you pay motorway tolls in Australia.

As we set off for Tim and Kap's the temperature was 40 degrees and once we negotiated the traffic lights and got onto the motorway we whacked the aircon onto full.  I was still convinced at this point that the cooling system light was nothing, just an electrical glitch, but then Hannah noticed the temperature going up.  I slowed down a bit and the temperature carried on increasing but less rapidly.  Eventually it reached the top of the guage but then, as I started going downhill, it dropped off a bit.  I went into neutral and coasted down the hill, this brought the temperature back down to halfway.

At this point Hannah asked me to get off the motorway.  She insisted that if we were to break down it should not be on the motorway.  I tried to explain that I had the temperature under control but unfortunately at that point I started to go uphill again and it played right into Hannah's hands.  I think we had another shouting match and this time I won.  Essentially, since I was driving, I refused to pull over.  At that point, my argument was that if the cooling fan was broken, then the worst thing would be to pull over and slow down, so I kept it going.

Eventually, we got to Windsor, where we left the car to cool down and looked round the shops.  After about 45 minutes we returned to the car and I checked the water level in the radiator.  The expansion tank had no water in it, so I added around two litres.  As we added water, the level came up and there was green water already in the radiator.  Hannah and I were both surprised to see antifreeze in the radiator in a country so hot.

I was halfway through doing this, when an Aussie called Karl stopped at the side of the road and offered assistance.  I don't think that would happen in the UK, not often anyway.  He had a look at the car for us and added some of the antifreeze.  He referred to it as coolant though and on further examination, he revealed it was needed to stop the water in the engine from boiling, not freezing.  You learn something every day.

Anyway, we limped to Putty with the water levels good, the overheating seemed to be less of an issue.  Both Matt and Tim had been primed with our route plan and instructions to look for black smoke on the horizon if we didn't turn up.  As we rolled onto the dirt track to the house, we saw three wallabies, beautiful, graceful and bounding through the short grass to the protection of the trees.  I had a moment to reflect that although the car had brought its share of excitement to the journey, it had distracted me form my true purpose of being here.  Getting to know and appreciate the beauty of Australia.  Still, there is no better way to get to know a car than in nursing it through an uncertain journey.

When we arrived, Tim, after offering greetings said "She's misfiring a bit isn't she?"  I agreed despite the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about.  After he and Matt had removed all the plugs and cleaned them and reset the sparking distance on them and I heard all six cylinders working together, I got the picture though.

The car is now in Coffs Harbour.  Tim and Matt's repair was only temporary, there is still water leaking somewhere and a quick test by Matt when we arrived indicated a blown head gasket.  Still there are worse things that can go wrong with a car.  Not many, but there are worse things.  It is booked into the local garage for diagnostics on Monday but so far I reckon I've discovered the following (well Tim and Matt have at least)

  • Blown head gasket
  • Hole in the radiator
  • Electrical wiring fault affecting idle engine revs when aircon on
  • Horn disconnected
  • Cracked front windscreen
  • Bald tyres
There might even be more.  Tim has been very helpful, suggesting that if the repair bill is to great, I could buy the parts and he will help me fix it.  I might well do it as I like spending time with Tim working, playing croquet and enjoying the peace and quiet of their valley.  I couldn't help noticing however, that the title of his email to Matt, which I was later copied on was "Nick's Bomb".  When I replied, I renamed it "Nick's Beautiful Fairlane"  This is how see her now and I finally understand why mini enthusiasts love their cars (I don't mean the awful BMW imitation, I mean the real one) the thing is, if a car works reliably every time, you can't have a relationship with it.  It's boring, you know what you are getting and there is no sense of excitement.

Stroud was around a hundred miles away and we would stop there for a break.  As it happened we were late getting there and needed a hotel in Gloucester so we had to stop very briefly indeed.  We were there long enough to remark that the countryside was very similar to that in Stroud in Gloucestershire, England.  It did almost feel like home except it was warm and dry.

Rather than give you a history of the town, read the sign.

The coolant light was on again so we had to fill up with water, but since we'd only given it twenty minutes, it was not safe to open the radiator.  Hannah was stressed though so I bought a pair of gardening gloves, put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes and gingerly unscrewed the radiator cap.  I reckon it's what an Aussie would have done and no dramas.  We filled it up and set of to Gloucester where Hannah found us a cheap Motel at the tourist info and we headed out for a nice, well earned meal.

When we got to the bank however, I checked the balance and it seemed we had spent a little more than we though and had only 150 dollars left.  With that money (75 quid) we needed to stay the following night, buy another tank of fuel and of course eat.  We were not even sure if we had that because Australian bank accounts work quite strangely and you have the choice of a delayed credit transaction or a direct debit.  We had no idea really.

No worries though, we had my English cards as back-up.  None of them worked at the ATM and Mum and Dad were inundated with calls from various fraud teams in the middle of the UK night.  We were stuffed.

That night we ate a scant meal in our hotel room and wondered what we could do.  I was dead against us calling anyone else in Australia because we had to do this on our own.  It was our fault that we'd allowed ourselves to run out of Aussie dollars before we transferred new funds in.  We planned to Drive to Port Mcquarie in the morning and work out from there whether we just drove straight to Matt and Fionas and waited there till funds arrived or we might be able to sort something out.

Fortunately, Dad, being a star had intercepted various messages for us and had emailed us so we were able to call the bank in the morning, tell them forty pieces of personal information and get our cards working again. That was not before though, I went into the bank at Port and was given a lesson in how to read my Australian bank statement to work out how much money I had left.

So, with cash in hand, we decided to spend the day at port Macquarie and look for somewhere to stay.

There, on Flynns beach, we spent a very pleasant couple of hours.  We had a picnic and I taught the girls how to dig deep holes in the sand with their feet without getting our hands sandy.

Hannah phoned a couple of places there but they were all too expensive.  After our scare, we realised we had burned through about a third of our money in less than a month and it ideally had to last for three or four plus enable us to put down a deposit on a flat (unit) We were being much more careful and decided that we no longer needed to buy cokes, coffees or other such items, plus we had been looking in the supermarkets at all the value ranges.

I can tell you now that Value butter is no different from expensive butter, but you can't get away with value peanut butter.  It is salty and disgusting.  Anyway, we decided to drive up the coast a bit to Kempsy which might be a bit cheaper.  There Hannah was aided by a very friendly tourist informer who managed to get us free linen in a static caravan/prefab unit in Crescent Heads.

As we sat around the table eating our noodles with tomato sauce with a $1 burger topping, Esme commented "I love this food daddy, this is the best meal ever"  I loved her for that because Hannah and I were already feeling guilty for laying off the caviar, truffles and other such fayre that they are used to.  Zoe's only sign of dissent was a throwaway one liner.  "Daddy, this hotowel isn't as good as the last one is it?"  If she was referring to the four star Hilton Hua Hin, she did have a point.

Anyway, that was one of the better days we had together.  We all went for a walk to the beach that evening, especially keen because we'd been told that it was the longest surf break in Australia.  We were not disappointed.  The beach was amazing and we walked up to the top of a small rocky peninsula called big knobby and watched huge waves crashing into it on the right and endlessly breaking waves being surfed hard on the left.

The Right!

The left

View back from the peninsula.

That evening we had a good sleep, came back to the beach to play in the morning and drove up to Matts and Fiona's where we are now being very well looked after indeed.

Having got through the trip, we feel great, what we've seen of Australia is awesome and we are looking forwards to more adventures to come.  Next part of our trip will be up to Surfers paradise and Brisbane.

1 comment:

  1. Ross insists that you should get your money back on the car but I think you like the adventure. I myself have had enough adventures with cars and would but one that worked if I could afford it!
    A good read, Nic, very funny.
    Love to Matt and Fi etc.