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15 things I have learned in the 15 years of living in Australia

I landed in Melbourne, Australia, on an Air France flight at 6:30 am on Anzac Day 2008. Our family airport routine was always the same–husband up front, followed by then 6-year-old daughter, pulling her pink Cinderella suitcase, followed by Mr 8 Years old, with his red Ferrari pillow and me, at the back, making sure nobody wandered off. 

Nobody told us it was Anzac Day and the city would be alive with people for the Dawn service. By 8 AM, when we passed the Shrine of Remembrance, everyone had congregated with friends and family in cafe’s, all hustling for tables. The early morning runners and cyclists had spilled out on the pavements outdoor dining. I honestly thought I had arrived in the busiest sports capital of the world.

Melbourne would be the ninth city I have lived or worked in; Australia is my fourth continent.  We had four weeks’ notice that we were leaving France, so there had been little time to plan for our arrival and investigate our new city–hence the reason I probably missed the public holiday memo. 

We stayed in an apartment in South Yarra, ten minutes from the city.  South Yarra had wide traffic lanes, with trams, but a really quaint French boulangerie and bistros. Little lanes fed off the main road that offered shade with the huge oak tree canopies. It seemed as though the expansive roads of America had intertwined with the quaint, cobblestoned lanes, old trees and bustling high streets of Europe.

I loved it from day one!

It’s been 15 years since then, and I have learned many things. Here are my top 15.

Spiders < Magpies

Everyone thinks Australia is overridden with the eight-legged, multidirectional, creepy things!

I personally don’t recall when I saw my first spider, but it was not for a few months at least.  Most importantly, it obviously was not memorable nor had any psychological effect on me.

What I do remember, distinctly though, is a Magpie swooping!

My daughter would have been around ten years old when it swooped her head, pecking her so hard it drew blood and a lump that looked like someone threw a rock at her!

Swooping magpies protect their nests in spring, so watch out for them!

This experience also answered my question about “Why do cyclists have cable ties sticking out of their helmets?”

Freedom and safety

I have learned to feel comfortable and safe enough to walk around alone at night. Except for those people who don’t pick up their dog poo!  Having been brought up in a country of violence, there is a natural instinct always ingrained in me to be careful. However, the thoughts in my head now are more about reassuring myself and reminding myself that I am in Australia.  I am also reassured that, unlike France, there are conscious dog owners, picking up after their dogs.

Don’t get me wrong; there are still people out there who might want to cause harm. Australia is not free from mental health issues and opportunism, but the warnings are not constant and not weighing me down.

Opportunities for children

There is no greater appreciation that I have for Australia than the opportunities and freedom my children have to grow and prosper in their lives.

Children have a future, and opportunities abound. The mere culture of Australians is to “give it a go” and to be good “mates”. I have learned, though, that the average Australian all too often takes this for granted.

Nonetheless, people here support each other, and that means children will be given space to achieve their dreams too. If they need a helping hand, they will get it.

Don’t take advantage, though; once you burn a bridge or get too “big for your boots,” they will cut you down too.  It keeps it real, trust me.

Respect is everywhere

Respect for women, especially in business. 

Respect for diversity.

Respect for people who might be covered from head to toe in tattoos or piercings or just be a “bit out there”.  

Everyone is given a fair go.  

Australians just don’t overthink anything. The paediatric nurse covered in tattoos will still be respected to look after a child. They are given the respect they have worked for.

Law and order

If you consider the countries where I have lived, South Africa, Singapore and France, I have had to learn to abide by the rules in Australia – and I think they have the right balance – for me, anyway.

In France, there is a lot of red tape for just about anything! “E’Ltat”, but the French thrive on finding “Le Systeme D” or a way around the bureaucracy – not easy if you are not a local.

In South Africa, well, there is just very little regard for law and order. Singapore, there are so many rules; you can be left quivering on the train if you step out of line. 

Australia has well-defined boundaries, and everyone knows the rules. They reinforce them regularly too!  

Some really don’t like all the Australian rules, laws and restraints. Truth is, it is easy to stay in your lane and do the right thing.

Footy

This is the Australian Football League–not soccer, not American football. It is footy, and when asked, “Who do you barrack for?” they are not asking anything else but “Which footy team do you support?”

It is a right of passage, a religion, especially in Melbourne. A normal Friday game will easily attract 60,000 spectators, and the finals will pack all 100,000 seats of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  

Footy tipping, ladders and what happened in the weekend games–I have learned enough to hold a conversation on a Monday morning!

Trust

“Just leave a key in the postbox.”

This took me a while to get used to. It would have to be extreme circumstances that I would personally do it, but you can trust to leave a house key to a tradesperson – or the pool guy (not that I have one). 

Also, for the most part, I can say that motor mechanics and tradies have not tried to “rip me off” because I am a woman, which I appreciate.

Medical

Having experienced the NHS in the UK, I would say that Australia’s Medicare is ahead of the game in response and service delivery in the state system. It is my opinion, and remember I was in the UK at the start of 2000 when it was said to be “world-leading state care”.

I have had the misfortune in the last few years to endure both public and private hospitals and doctors in Australia. The care has been just about the same.

When something is seriously wrong, you will get the best care. In the state system, you will have a longer wait time, but that is pretty much where it ends – in my experience, anyway.

Friends, acquaintances and colleagues

People have described Aussies as “hard to make friends with”.  Many new arrivals say they “only have other migrants as friends.”

I don’t take this to heart. 

Not sure I can say this is something I have learned, but more of an acceptance or an understanding that I am sharing with you because you, too, should be comfortable with this:

Most Australians I have met have a friendship circle, maybe dating back to school. They are not looking for more friends. 

That’s ok. Don’t take it personally.

Friends are about “like-minded people”, so go out and find yours. Aussies are not being shallow or aloof; they just don’t need a new bestie.

Trust me, though, if you are in trouble, an Aussie will roll up their sleeves for you. And then, quite comfortably, not need to talk to you again for months. Again, not being shallow. Just being a mate when they are needed. 

Country towns

I have never stumbled on a “bad place”. This country is so diverse, and every little town, city or village has a rich history you can learn about. That is just the thing; history is preserved, admired and shown off.

I had the pleasure of following my son in sports to the smallest corners of Australia, and there are some gems out there! From Greens Beach in Tasmania, Bagara in Queensland, Melbourne’s back lanes and the Sydney cliffs–in every turn, there is something to appreciate.

You can follow art trails, silo paintings trails, old railway tracks or run mountain trails for free. It’s a beautiful country to enjoy.

Meals

Never have I ever–and I hope I am not jinxing it–had a bad meal in a restaurant in Australia!  

Our rich migrant culture brings the best of just about any culture to the table. I have even learned how to cook some great dishes from around the globe.

The diversity in Australia means you can find most ingredients you need to cook something exotic. Indian, Chinese, and African supermarkets are in abundance. Australia is home to people from over 200 countries, each making their little impact on the food culture here.

There is much to learn in the kitchen – trust me, I need all the help I can get.

Weather

NOT ALL OF AUSTRALIA IS BONDI BEACH!

Despite the huge outback, it is not hot and sunny all year round. In Melbourne, we have four distinct seasons and, yes, sometimes all in one day.  

Sydney is seen as “always raining” but in fact, although it has higher annual rainfall than Melbourne, Sydney has twice as many sunny days! 

Brisbane is humid. 

Perth temperatures do get into single fingers in winter. 

A few months ago, the renowned singer Pink was in town. She had looked out of her hotel window to see what people in Melbourne were wearing so she could work out if it was hot or cold.

Lo and behold, the locals were wearing puffer jackets with thongs (sandals/flip flops). 

It’s not unreasonable, though. This eclectic combination highlights how Melburnians prepare for any weather conditions. They do have to dress for any eventuality – sunglasses and an umbrella.

Time zones

I have learned to work around the time zones, which I quite enjoy.  Australia is ahead of most countries in the world, so I can work in the mornings quietly and then move around the world as they wake up and respond.

Public holidays and RDO

I was chatting with a Scotsman the other day. In his industry, they work on public holidays. You will not find an Australian doing this as the norm–well, not for a standard day’s wages, at least. 

The annual leave in Scotland is usually 28 days versus 20 in Australia as the minimum. With our ten public holidays, you could say it levels the score. 

Learning what an RDO was and how it affects my daily life was an interesting lesson too.  An RDO is generally used in the trades sector, where the work is manual and demanding. They require time to rest but still earn a regular salary. So RDOs work on a four-day week or nine-day fortnight. 

How does this impact me? Well, traffic congestion is significantly lower on an RDO day. When you hear the radio traffic report saying, “It’s an RDO for the construction industry today,” then you know, “Ahh, easy commute today!” 

You might also like to know that RDOs are different for each industry and are negotiated in consultation with the Trade Union for the respective industry.

Learning everyday

Australia is changing, and that is good! I am learning not just to exist, but to embrace change, thought leaders and progress.

Every day I am seeing innovation, ideas and new concepts. I don’t think I saw this in any other country I lived in. 

There are business incubators and accelerators to help get ideas off the ground, both big and small. 

Some universities astound me with their advances in research and cutting-edge technology. This is a first-world country on the rise, and not a day goes by that I don’t learn something.

I know that sounds cliche, but honestly, the country abounds in diversity, growing and being the best.

The culture of mateship and giving everything a go is building a tapestry for generations to come.

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