The Ups And Downs Of Life Down Under
Vicki and I recently flew to Australia to visit friends in Brisbane and Sydney.
By coincidence we were in Brisbane for the grand finale of the Brisbane Festival when 16 tons of explosives lit up skies. In my experience, fireworks usually shoot up from a platform or two. But, in Brisbane, the 30-minute Riverfire show shot up from numerous river barges and three bridges. We were treated to 360 degrees of lights, color, sound, and movement.
We like Australia and have visited numerous times during the past 25 years.
When I was small, growing up in Los Angeles, adults often told me at one time or another they were going to move to Australia. Taxes too high? Move to Australia. Too many Mexicans? Move to Australia. Medical care too expensive, government too intrusive, lousy education? Move to Australia.
Later on when I was at Occidental College in Los Angeles, troubled students told me they wanted to move to Australia. Can’t find a job? Life lacks meaning? Weary, disillusioned, searching? Move to Australia.
In all those years no one I knew actually moved to Australia. Just talking about it seemed to solve problems. After all, how seriously can you take the high national debt when you’re about to move to Australia any day now?
Fast forward 40 or 50 years or so, and Australia long ago lost its place as an imagined refuge from America’s problems. Today, Australia finds itself firmly in Asia’s orbit. Australia shares time zones with Asia, and Sydney and Tokyo financial markets trade first in the 24-hour cycle. Australians travel to Asia on vacation. Asians move to Australia to start businesses and buy houses. Asian immigrants are encouraged to blend in and become Australian rather than stay buried in a former identity.
Australia exports natural resources—iron ore, metals, and so on—to China, Japan, and Indonesia, and imports cars and other manufactures.
Vicki and I see Australia as a cultural refuge when living in Asia. We like to be able to talk shop in proper English, read the daily paper and road signs, and find our way on a bus map. We enjoy the largely English culture. Sure, Australians speak with an accent and use different words at times. But we remain at ease while talking or reading.
Australia makes a perfect destination for perpetual travelers, house sitters, and those wanting to do a couple of months of hiking, sailing, diving, or driving. Australia has three fine cities, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, that offer the urban good life.
Remember the seasons are reversed here. Snowbirds from the north can come to Australia to enjoy the hot summer months of December, January, and February.
Australia makes great wine at reasonable cost. A very drinkable Shiraz or Cabernet-Merlot blend costs between US$10 and US$15. I like the pub grub—bangers and mash, beef and mushroom pies—and the steaks and cheese. But your dining choices are many. In Sydney, I saw Malaysian, Japanese, Lebanese, Greek, American, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Argentine, and French restaurants.
On this trip Vicki and I used Airbnb for the first time. Take a look at airbnb.com, which connects travelers with homestays around the world. Instead of staying in a hotel, we bought three nights in an apartment in downtown Brisbane. Usually, we like to show up in a place and find somewhere to stay once we’re on the scene. However, this time, because of the festival, we wanted to book ahead. We searched online for hotels without finding one that suited our needs. Airbnb made for a good alternative.
Americans and most Europeans get 90 days in Australia with a simple electronic visa, available online. To obtain residency, you have to submit to a point system. The rules change every so often, but if you’re young, educated, and have skills the country needs, you’ll come up with the required points. If you’re retired and living on a pension, forget it. Australia wants to avoid having to pay for your medical expenses. Or at least that’s my guess. Bottom line, Australia makes it difficult for retirees to settle here.
Australia’s main drawback is its cost. It’s expensive. The Australian dollar appreciated so much over the past decade that prices of everything from food to real estate shot up in U.S. dollar terms. Lately the Australian dollar has backed off a bit, mainly because of low commodity prices. Some experts see the local dollar going back to historical levels. But until the exchange rate moves, figure on US$25 fish and chips in a pub or US$35 three-hour parking in town. Housing prices rival those of New York. In Brisbane we paid US$6 each for a short ride on the city bus.
Think Asia, think Australia. Include a trip Down Under as part of your itinerary to the region, do a holiday here to escape your daily life in Vietnam or Thailand, or come for relief from European winters. Just don’t try to live here; they won’t let you in.