Deciding on Australia
Deciding on Australia is the Second Part in a four part Series. The Series details how we came to be living in Sydney, Australia. In Part 1 Part 1 I talked about deciding on leaving South Africa and the difficulty we faced in making that decision.
In this Part I talk about how we came to chose Australia.
Talking about Australia as a South African
As a South African it is so easy to write Australia off and especially the people that immigrate to Australia from South Africa. The people who immigrate become THOSE people who ran away. THOSE people who gave up, ‘traitors’ if you will.
This public opinion weighed heavily on me. For some reason it always sat in the back of my mind and made me anxious to tell people that we were coming to look at Australia with a view to immigrating.
“You become THOSE people who ran away”
Additionally, Australia is one of the top sporting opponents of South Africa, on the cricket pitch and on the rugby field. For some reasons South Africans loathe Australia when it comes to sports and that often translates into a latent dislike of Australians in general.
What is amusing is that the Australians display no negative attitudes towards South Africans they haven’t even noticed that we don’t like them.
I knew nothing about Australia
Personally, before we came to visit in 2014 I did not have a single positive thing to say about Australia.
I had made up my mind that it was located at the end of the world. That it was thousands of miles away from any civilized society and full of mediocre descendants of criminals. Harsh? Definitely but really, what could it offer other than Tim Tams and a beach or two.
I was so ignorant about this part of the world I thought that Aukland was in Australia and couldn’t be bothered to remember it wasn’t.
Convincing me to go look at Australia
It took my husband a while to convince me that we should travel all 14 hours to Australia with an 18 month old only to do a whirlwind tour of the major cities. We were going to see Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth in that order. Eventually he persuaded me and off we set.
If you’ve read part 1 you’ll know that we visited Australia over Easter 2014 in order to decide whether we could settle there. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here
The flight itself was a great introduction to Australia
We flew out of Johannesburg on Qantas (this is not an advert for Qantas, I’m not affiliated) and I remember thinking that if these flight attendants were indicative of what Australians were like, we were going to meet a lot of really nice people. The poor flight attendants were still smiling when our 18 month old son pressed the ‘call’ button for the 100th time. They would look at him, smile at us in commiseration and ask us if we would like some hot chocolate. What a nice bunch of people. This view of Australians persisted, much to my surprise.
This was a Look, See, Decide Trip
Had it been just a holiday this would have made for a very good holiday. But this trip was more than that – this trip was an ‘LSD’ – a Look See and Decide.
We saw the sights but more importantly, in each City we drove around looking at suburbs and schools. We went into shops to see the cost of things and what was on offer. Pubic transport become a research exercise as we travelled on trains, buses and ferries to understand how the transport systems worked. We scoured map after map after map.
Deciding on Australia – could we live in Brisbane?
In Brisbane and Queensland everyone seemed chilled. People were laid back, tanned, tattoed and friendly.
What I couldn’t get past was how shockingly expensive everything was. It’s not fair that this realisation hit in Brisbane because Brisbane isn’t as expensive as some of the other Cities. This just happened to be our first stop.
Brisbane was lovely and relaxed close to the beauties of the Hinterland and the Sunshine Coast. But it didn’t seem right for us. At this stage I thought that if the rest of Australia was like Brisbane I could immigrate but only if no other country worked.
Could we live in Melbourne?
In Melbourne everyone was a foodie dressed for winter. People were cultured but friendly.
Next up we hit Melbourne and within hours of arriving we were in the bustling City. What an amazing first evening in a gorgeous City. Dinner along the Yarra River and a walk along the beach in the dark. In the dark, without fearing for our lives. The cogs in my brain were beginning to turn.
Melbourne reminds me of a european city. It’s not exactly the same but the culture at the City’s main streets scream sophistication.
I realized what Australia had to offer South African expats by the time we left Melbourne. The climate not wildly unfamiliar, the sports that are played are not unrecognizable and could form the basis of random chit-chat with a neighbour or a stranger. It is also an English speaking nation which is a huge issue you wouldn’t even think about until you were faced with the dilemma to immigrate. Likewise there is a massive network of other South Africans. We wouldn’t be alone on our journey.
Deciding on Australia – could we live in Sydney?
Off to Sydney next. What a beautiful city. I could stop there and end the story. Sydney is that special.
Sydney is naturally a beautiful city with the water and the beaches but it has also been well developed. Walking in the CBD you could be in a large American city but with wider streets and more sunlight. Sydney’s suburbs are lush and green.
In Sydney, the Sydneysiders were all wearing slip-slops (thongs) and shorts, hair still wet from swimming or surfing. Most people were smiling from ear to ear. There is a feeling of happiness in Sydney that doesn’t exist in most other places.
On top of environment there was also the familiarity we experienced in Melbourne, you could strike up a conversation with the person next to you because of language, cultural, sporting a social similarities.
The day I knew that Sydney was for us
For me these things I’ve listed above ticked a lot of boxes and I was accepting that this was the logical decision.
Then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. I can remember the minute it happened and the exact spot I was standing when I realized that Sydney was the place in which I would raise my children.
We were waiting for a bus to take us into the City and I looked out towards the beach, over the clean cut lawns of a park. There were birds chirping, moms pushing their babies in prams, some older ladies walking in their track suits and some others walking dogs. A group of people were doing yoga and it was perfect.
That image will stick in my mind for years to come and will hopefully be one I bore my grandkids with.
What about the Australians?
Australians also have a very distinct, special nature. It is so clearly evident in the way they talk, the expressions and attitudes. There is a realness, a rawness about Australians. For me, I loved that everyone loves a bargain and will loudly proclaim how cheaply they managed to get their car or their bacon.
Australians are fiercely loyal to their country and are committed wholeheartedly in being Australian. When someone acts badly you’ll hear someone say “that’s so unAustralian”. Australians believe in trying things out “give it a go” they say and they also believe in giving everyone a fair chance.
How would we be received?
However nice they were I was still worried about how we would be received and how my children would be treated as expats.
Wherever we went and I met genuine Australians I would ask them about their feelings of foreigners and on the most part it was positive and welcoming. I got told of close friends being Italian, Irish, English and Brazilian.
Contextually, this on the back of the Xenophobia I had witnessed in South Africa on a daily basis.
Australia is not perfect
Yes Sydney was for us but this doesn’t mean that I’m blind.
Australia isn’t perfect, it has its flaws. The cost of living is a huge issue especially in Sydney and Melbourne where things are unbelievably expensive.
Housing is more expensive than you could dream of. For many people buying a home is just not possible.
There are big issues with the Australian governments treatment of refugees and their exclusion. It goes without saying that some laws are also downright ridiculous but the bad comes with the good and for us the good is good enough.
For the other posts in the series you can click on the links below