Saturday, January 29, 2005

A day in the life of Lenny Utomo

Part of the route home...

The day before Australia Day I got a call from one of the many temp agencies I had signed up with - one of the two I'd met in person - I've still had no response from the six I signed up with online. They had a job for me! Starting the day after Australia Day, no less. So I jumped at it.

I'm working at a pension company (which I won't name as blogging about your work has been in the papers back home as not a good idea). It's based in the North Sydney suburb of Milson's Point, just at the far end of the Harbour Bridge. I turned up on Thursday morning after my first ever train-based commute (ten minutes and two stops, but very full). They gave me an ID pass with the name Lenny Utomo crossed out with marker pen, and I was in.

The work isn't exactly demanding, being temp-standard. I was put to work opening letters and then sorting them into piles based on the response of the writer. But hey, I need the money, and it's a pretty good rate for temps in Sydney apparently. The people there are great, and I can listen to music, so it's not too bad. Plus I can walk home! People who know me know how keen/mad I am on walking to and from work, and this job I can walk home via the Harbour Bridge and through the central Hyde Park, so I'm well happy. It takes me about 70 minutes, so it's similar to my old Edinburgh walk I did for all those years. Except it's in 25C heat, which is never similar to Edinburgh...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Australia Day

Australia Day and the packed harbour

The 26th of January is Australia Day, the once-yearly celebration that's a bit like the 4th of July in the US. I asked my flatmate why people celebrated it, but he had no idea, so I watched the TV news to find out. Apparently it was the date that the first fleet of convicts landed on Australian soil in 1788. I doubt they were celebrating at the time, but these days it's a national public holiday and the barbeques are put through their paces. The pubs were all full when I passed them at 9am, anyway.

I took a walk down to the harbour to watch the procession of boats and ships. It was a good spectacle - there were dozens of them, from large naval destroyers from the base at Wolloomoolloo to tiny dingys and canoes. According to the paper there were even two men paddling around in an inflatable garden swimming pool, sitting on crates of beer. The police launch stopped them, but let them go.

Everywhere was packed, there were fairs, classic cars on display, music, fireworks, the whole lot. Someone asked me if the UK has a similar event, and the answer really is no. Nobody gets worked up about St George's Day (most people won't even know when it is), only people over 60 care about the Queen's birthday. Really the closest I could think of was Bonfire night, which isn't really a national celebration so much as a celebration of anti-terrorism. How apt for these times.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The quiet and the storm

A storm sweeps through Sydney, as seen from our back garden

For the past few days Sydney has been once again suffering from some decidedly un-Sydneylike weather - heavy rain and storms. On Sunday it rained almost all day, in the morning it was coming down in torrents. There's something good about lying in bed listening to the rain battering the windows, and not having to get up. Lots of thunder and lightening too. It takes the edge off the heat, so I'm not complaining too much.

Still waiting for that call from the temp agencies. It's a difficult time to look for work, as (and this came as a surprise to me) people in Sydney often take long holidays at the New Year, until Australia Day - which is tomorrow - the 26th of January. Workers in the UK don't get a month's holiday at Christmas, that's for sure. But I should get something to start next week, as things will be busy - due no doubt to people returning to a month's worth of work...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

On the temp trail

You can't escape them for long...

It's been a few years since I was last at the mercy of a temp agency. In fact, the agency that time put me at the NHS in Trinity where I've been on and off ever since, so there's a reason to be nervous. But thanks to the visa restrictions placed on foreigners over here a temp agency is my only way of getting employment - no 'proper' employer wants someone who can only work for 12 weeks, after all.

The other week I signed up with seven agencies - 5 online by submitting my CV, and 2 that I called as they'd been recommended by friends. I got two responses (I'll let you guess which two). I had my first meeting yesterday, so got dressed up in my Sunday best and headed over. In an anonymous office on the 17th floor of a CBD tower, I met with a bloke who fortunately for me was sympathetic with the lot of the working traveller, as he'd just come back from cycling around Vietnam.

After a chat about my skills and what I was after, he went over my CV and then had me take 'the tests' - which any temp knows only too well. Seeing as it had been years since I did the tests, I had no idea of my scores so had to take them again. They consist of a five-minute typing test, data entry test, and alphanumeric test - then a 35-question test on MS Access and another on Excel. I'm a pretty good typer, thanks to years of hurriedly-typed illicit emails, but the test was cunningly desgined to contain lots of works like disappearing, necessary, superfluous and other nightmares for spellers (I'm not sure those are right even now).

The data entry test I aced, after all those fun years typing in dental treatment forms at the NHS - I scored a 'very good' with 8816 keystrokes an hour - not that I ever want to have to do that for an hour. Fortunately for my prospective temping I also did very well on the Access and Excel tests, so maybe that's where my potential employment will be going. The bloke came back and said my results were 'excellent' and that 'with results like this, you'll be snapped up in no time'. He said things were speeding up in Sydney so much that I should have work by Monday...

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Something on the horizon

The NSW/Queensland day-nighter at the Telstra (Olympic) Stadium

Almost immediately after I wrote my last post bemoaning the slowness of temp agencies here, I got an email from one of the seven I joined asking to meet with me. So this week I have two meetings with prospective employers - both of whom said that despite the slow nature of January's in Sydney, they have plenty of jobs in. So hopefully I should get something fairly soon. This weekend I had a relatively quiet time, on Saturday I went to another cricket match - this time at the Telstra Stadium, the Olympic athletics stadium, which they have converted into a cricket venue. It's an impressive stadium, especially at night with all the lights on - but for a domestic cricket match with 15,000 spectators, it was a tad empty...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Starting the daily grind

An entirely unrelated photo...

After the sheer excitement of a trip away, it's now time to get back to the serious business of getting a job here in Sydney. Of course the one thing going for me before I arrived was the NSW Cancer Council, and the contacts there I'd softened up. After my interview in November, which went very well, I was quite hopeful of getting something with them - but alas the dreaded 'thin envelope' was posted out (to England, as it happened) and that was the end of that. Having visited them, I think the reason was because their unit is so small - for instance they have about 25 employees and 1 statistician. Our smoothly-running NHS dream-team in Edinburgh has almost 70 people (that's just our unit, there are over 2000 in the building), and we have 15 full-time statisticians just for our Cancer team. So when they said they couldn't fit me in, I don't think they were kidding.

Still, it was a disappointment, but it's not the end of the world. The next step is to start wading through the various temp agencies and become a piece of meat in the system again. I sent my CV off to half a dozen places this morning, so we'll see what happens. I called a few of them, but here it seems to be CV's first, then personal contact. Fair enough - I think my CV is pretty good so I'll wait and see (not that there's a lot else I can do)...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Politics old and new

Anzac Parade with the new Parliament building in the distance

Another hard day slogging along the roads of Canberra today, I must have walked miles. I started off at the Old Parliament House, which was built in 1927 and lasted until 1988, when the Australian MP's decided they would be better off in a swanky new parliament building on another site (where have I heard that before?). It was an interesting old building, although I know almost nothing about Australian politics (apart from Harold Holt vanishing at sea). It has all been opened up, and you can get inside the Prime Minister's Office and the Cabinet rooms.

After that I walked up the considerable slope to the New Australian Parliament, which cost a whopping $1.1bn - these Parliaments are expensive affairs. Another guided tour but with less to see - the current debating chambers were open, but as this is the summer recess there was nothing going on. It was still quite interesting though.

In the afternoon I went to see another couple of places, but before that had become completely disorientated by the identical-nature of Canberra's street pattern. I had wanted to find somewhere to get lunch, but after walking for ages in a promising area I found only the Sri Lankan consulate. Eventually I did find a row of cafes and food shops - and they were crammed with people. So that's where everyone had been hiding!

One quick thing - I've now been in about six tourist attractions, museums and so on - and in only one was there an entrance fee. The vast majority of the things to see here are free. The exception was the Old Parliament House, which cost a decidedly reasonable 81p to enter.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A day out in Sydmelperadbrisho

The sobering National War Memorial, Canberra

In March 1913 the wife of the Australian Govenor-General mounted a crimson-draped platform and declared in a clear English voice: 'I name the capital of Australia, Canberra – the accent is on the Can', so ending over ten years of negociations. After accepting the location for the new planned city - an equal distance between Sydney and Melbourne, the plans had been submitted, and now at last the name had been decided. There had been plenty of wacky suggestions - 'Meladneyperbane', 'Cookaburra', 'New London', but eventually the aboriginal name for meeting place, Canberra, was decided upon.

Yes, I've spent the day in museums! I now know all there is to know about the selection process for building a new capital. I've seen details of Australian history from the first fleet in 1788 to a portrait of Kylie Minogue in the Australian National Gallery (I kid you not). I even learned that people were transported here as criminals for such heinous crimes as 'impersonating an Egyptian'. I didn't even realise that was illegal.

Canberra is a nice place, however I'm still wondering where everyone is. They must all be out in the suburbs somewhere, because the centre of the city is still as quiet as it was yesterday. In the morning I went to the Australian Museum, and then later to the lake shore and the sobering National War Memorial. It's easy to get around, although it involves long walks - there are hardly any buses and no trains at all. With all the people shoved out at the edges, away from the wide boulevards, maybe that's why other Australians are snooty of Canberra - they don't like the design. Which seems a shame, as it was specifically designed for the purpose of being a national capital. But more of that tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

On the road again

Lake Burley-Griffin, Canberra

Although the whole living and working in Sydney thing is my main focus, let's not forget that I'm also here to see a bit of the world outside the harbour city. So with that in mind I've come on a three hour bus trip to the nation's capital, Canberra. I'll be here for three days exploring and generally mooching about, trying to discover just why most Australians look on it with disdain. How does it compare to Sydney? Well, maybe I can already answer that.

The first impression you get on Canberra is the space - for a start it's surrounded by mountains, and the regimented street design makes it seem like a city in North America. With good reason as it turns out, the city plan was chosen from a design submitted by an American, Walter Burley Griffin - who also designed Washington DC. There are plenty of long, straight roads with trees down the sides and a central strip of bushes. In fact, this seems to be what 90% of Canberra looks like - the other 10% is a lake...called, incidentally, Lake Burley Griffin.

But it's a nice place, it's cleaner and quieter than Sydney - you walk around the city centre and wonder where all the people are. My arrival co-incided with a custom car rally - who decided the long, wide, straight roads would make Canberra the perfect location for hundreds of souped-up cars? Not the police, I wouldn't have thought. The car owners were loving it though. Even as I write this I can here revved-engines piling down the street outside. Max power!!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

After the big night

Photos of fireworks always come out like this

Well here we are in 2005. The other night I walked several miles trying to find a good spot to see the fireworks, or so it seemed. There was a large public area at the top end of King's Cross, in Embarkation Park, so I went there first, at about 8:30. I actually went there at about 1pm and already there were people queueing to get in, so I don't know why I was surprised when it was busy. I managed to get a decent view of the 9pm display - they have an earlier fireworks thing for people who don't want to stay until midnight. They were pretty good, I've got to say.

After that, I really couldn't wait there for three hours, as being King's Cross it was full of drunken Brits. I dunno, am I getting old? Maybe. Anyway, so I left and walked into the city to see if I could squeeze into one of the good spots by the Opera House or Circular Quay. Absolutely not, as it turned out - it was madness. There were dozens of police herding people away from the Opera House area, which had filled to capacity by 5pm. That's 7hours before the midnight display. The bottom of the hill at Macquarie Street was fenced off, with large flashing traffic signs saying things like 'AREA FULL' and 'NO ALCOHOL'.

So I walked around for a bit more, looking at the crowds, and eventually found myself back at King's Cross. The park I was in before, you just couldn't get near it - so I settled for a space on the road with a good view of the bridge. The sheer volume of people had stopped traffic on the road, as everyone waited for midnight. When it came, it was a good display, although I could only see the bridge - the other fireworks were obscured by trees (which is why the best areas had been full for seven hours). Sadly the total lack of wind meant the smoke obscured the finale - a 'disco ball' suspended from the bridge. But it was a good display, and a good way to bring in the new year.