“Sydney was my husband’s idea. For me, it conjured up ‘Crocodile Dundee’ clichés and was a place for people with rucksacks on their year off, before returning to the safety of Europe. I said we’d give it 6 months and as we arrived in October, at least I’d get a suntan. Ten years later, I am still here. Sydney has converted me.”
Culturally, America and Australia are probably the easiest places to adapt to. There is no language barrier (just a few strange new slang words) and despite being on the other side of the world, it doesn’t feel that far from home.
First you have to get here, a marathon 24-hour journey that left me crying for a shower and a desire to burn the clothes on my back. I remember the captain announcing that ‘We are now flying over Australia’, and being amazed that meant there was still another six hours to go. Now, it seems easy-It’s just a day.
Finding a place to live is relatively easy. The websites www.domain.com.au or www.realestate.com.au have the most comprehensive list of rental properties available. You can specify number of bedrooms, areas, price range and up pops a list of what is available.
Most properties have specific open times (usually Saturday morning) but you can make appointments direct. The agents can be lazy in returning calls, so you need to be a bit proactive and if you find something great, take it, as they don’t last long. I wish I had known the rents are also sometimes negotiable (by about $50 a week or a lot more if you offer 3/6 months up front).
The Courier papers (delivered free during the week to cafés, homes, newsagents) also have good listings, as well as The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturdays. If you are using a relocation agent they will find you a home, but bear in mind they often place people in the same buildings and suburbs that may be functional but less charming and maybe more expensive.
Be specific on where you want to live so they don’t sway you. The most popular locations are the Eastern Suburbs (think Chelsea, Kensington and the like) and the North Shore (bit quieter and home to the yummy mummy pram brigade). If you can afford to be on the water, do, as you will see the best of what Sydney has to offer.
For me, it was all about the harbour. The Bridge, the Opera House, the boats bobbing, the twilight yachts races and the fireworks. If you don’t get the view, I urge you to hire a boat or a tourist tour ride or just a ferry. It is the best way to get your bearings and soak up the good life. If you are lucky enough to meet a new friend with a boat, be especially nice to them.
The Climate is part of the pleasure. Summer is hot with rain mostly at night and the winters, although brisk, are usually blessed with deep blue sunny skies. The sun here is strong-factor 30 is standard procedure in the summer (and you still get brown). Hats and sunscreen are essential for kids. If you yearn for snow, in July and August you can be on the slopes in six hours by car.
A helping hand
Domestic help is not a given, like in other ex pat destinations. Most people have a cleaner once a week, but housekeepers are usually restricted to those with big houses and large wallets. Prices are pretty comparative with Europe.
HELP!?! I NEED A....
Cleaner/Housekeeper: You can advertise in your local Courier newspapers (delivered weekly) or call one of the many listings in the back of them. Agencies (see nannies below for details) can find you domestic staff but you will pay a bit of a chunky finders fee (but they do the legwork for you). Best bet is to ask locally to ensure someone trustworthy.
Nanny: You can hire maternity nurses, nannies, au pairs and cleaners through agencies (try www.nanniesandhelpers.com.au or www.thewrightnanny.com.au )or by advertising in the local papers. For last minute help, from cooking, cleaning, gardening, babysitting etc., ‘Dial an Angel’ (1300 721 111) can be a good last minute resource.
Babysitter: A good starting point is www.findababysitter.com.au -for a small registration fee you have access to loads of babysitters in your area-you can also advertise for babysitters, nannies and after school help. Often you will find notices pinned up at playgroups or you can post your own advert-the local schools are also a good place to advertise.
Best bet is asking neighbours if they have older kids-which means no driving them home, a parent near by in case of a drama and far cheaper than an agency (for agencies see above in nanny section). Expect to pay $12-$15 an hour ...although an agency and some experienced child carers may charge $20 an hour.
Tradesman: Rental agencies have contracted plumbers/electricians/maintenance men they use on their properties. You may have to chase them a few times but work is generally reliable-be careful booking your own as they may not agree to cover the costs. www.sydneytradesmen.com.au are a pretty reliable source if you can find your own. For those annoying DIY home issues-like hanging pictures or building IKEA furniture you can call ‘Hire a Hubby’ on 1800 803 339 who might be happier to help than your own.
Driver: If you were hoping for a regular driver like some ex pat destinations, you are in the wrong city. Only recommended for one off occasions-races, hen nights and the like....
Getting connected - Phone/Internet/Cable TV
Getting set up with phones at home and Internet connection takes a few days. It’s worth researching different providers as Telstra, (the largest telecommunication company), is not usually the most competitive. Mobile phones can either be ‘pay as you go’ (more pricey) or on contract. The best deals are on the fixed priced contracts (like $79 a month on Vodaphone for $500 worth of calls).
Foxtell (the local version of Sky/Cable) is available in most areas-some places already have connection-if not you will have to pay for the privilege of watching the movie channel and re runs of The Bill [NB Long running UK police show following the ups and downs of the exciting suburban English station of Sunhill]. Foxtell IQ and TIVO are now also available for those who love their TV and want the power to record their fave shows.
Out and about
Transport is pretty good. Ferries go direct to Circular Quay (one end of the city) and buses and trains are surprisingly punctual and clean (less graffiti and abandoned chewing gum lodged under your seat)-see below for more info.
Ferries: Quite a fabulous way to travel and livens up the morning commute (although it can get bumpy on windy days). For a day trip take the ferry across to Manly and have lunch at Hugo’s Pizza and feel like you have had a mini holiday only 30 minutes from home. For timetable info: www.sydneyferries.info
Buses: This is the most widespread transport option and they run fairly well and on time. Timetable info: www.sydneybuses.info. For the full tourist tour you can take the open top bus round the city-go to links for Sydney Explorer.
Trains: Pretty fast and efficient within metro areas. More info: www.sydneytrains.info
Cars: You may want to start with a rental-the cheapest option is Bayswater Car rentals (www.bayswatercarrental.com.au ) good bet if you don’t mind driving around in a white Toyota Corolla. Mid range-the usual options, like Thrifty and Hertz, are all available. For something a bit flashier, or for special weekend break, go to www.sportscarrentals.com.au and take a ride on the wild side.
Taxis: Taxi’s are less pricey than London but many drivers don’t know where they are going. The famous London ‘knowledge’ (NB two year training and killer exam taken by all drivers of London black taxis) is not required. Best to be armed with address (even if it’s a hotel) and if possible the nearest cross street. The nicest cabs are Silver Service and can be pre-booked.
On foot: If you love walks you can’t go past the coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte Beach-all lean bodies and ocean views disguised as exercise. Centennial Park is also popular with mothers pushing prams, joggers and people walking their dogs. The annual City to Surf walk/run in August is a fabulous 14km run from William Street in the city to Bondi-thousands of Sydney-siders join in and there is a real carnival atmosphere. Check out city2surf.com.au for all the info.
To buy or not to buy...
Shopping is easy and there is plenty of choice. Fashion wise, Australians, are about a season or two behind, so if you pick up clothes on a trip to London you can be sure to remain cutting edge for at least eight months. Probably because it’s so humid in Sydney, everyone is just much more relaxed and casually dressed - no need to dress up- so leave the taffeta at home (or back in the 80’s where it belongs). If you are looking for the whole ‘mall’ experience Westfield is where to head (Bondi Junction store covers all bases-from shoes, to groceries, to TV’s to toys.)
Supermarkets are getting better but I still have the odd pang for Marks and Spencer prepared meals and marmite (bring a jar with you if addicted). The main big supermarkets are Woolworths (www.woolworths.com.au ) and Coles (www.coles.com.au) - for a small per bag charge they will home deliver to your door to save you lugging bags to the car-if you can’t be bothered to leave the house you can order on line on their web sites. Those counting their pennies should head to Aldi (www.aldi.com.au) -the discount chain that has starting sprouting up all over Sydney-Edgecliff Centre will probably be your closest bet. Due to stricter licensing laws you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket-there are separate bottle shops for this. Some are drive through for a bottle of wine or a six-pack on the run! Quite a few restaurants are BYO (bring your own wine), which brings the cost down on dining out. The quality of produce is great and the village notion of butcher, baker, and greengrocer is still alive and well. For great food and a fun morning out visit the Fish Markets (in Pyrmont)-with it’s cheap flowers, huge vegetables and oysters the size of your fist. Or try the rather trendy Fratelli Fresh (www.fratellifresh.com.au ) which is located in Waterloo-wander round choosing fresh Italian produce (think fresh herbs, jars of passata and tubs of buffalo mozzarella) and then treat yourself to lunch at Café Sopra which is on site and serves yummy pastas and deep fried zucchini flowers you would kill for.
Fun and games
Socially, Sydney can be great fun. It took us a while to find out feet with the locals and a lot of English (and other ex pats) stick together out of comfort or laziness. But Sydney is a very transient city, so friends we met, then left and we had to start again. This is where some of the locals reserve stems from. They are very proud of their city and once they know you love it too (and are here to stay) they are very welcoming. A fellow ex pat advised us to say ‘yes’ to everything to start with. It resulted in a busy social life, the odd bizarre or boring dinner but it’s a great way to see whom you want to make friends with. Life revolves much more around the outdoors and eating out (no dinner parties pre planned three weeks in advance). Be warned the sexual divide is still fairly strong-it’s not unusual at a BBQ for all the girls to be huddled together chatting and all the boys drinking beer and discussing the footy *.
If you are looking to learn new things and meet new people, there are plenty of courses from cooking to creative writing to computer skills available, Try www.sydneycommunitycollege.com.au or The University of Sydney (02 9036 4789)-both run day, evening and weekend classes. If culture is your thing, try and get on a few art gallery mailing lists-they hold regular openings with free wine and fun people. The beautiful Art gallery of New South Wales also holds workshops, courses and lectures. Log on to www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au and search under events. They also organise entertainment for kids, from classes to live, interactive shows.
It is a great city for kids and many friendships are forged through mother’s groups or schools (especially if you’re the type to raise your hand to helping with fundraising events). Day care and pre school places can be hard to get into but you can often be lucky mid year when there is movement. Your local library will have a booklet containing all the day care/pre school places (for children up to 6years old and up) and it is a matter of perseverance. The Department of Family and Community Services (1300 53227) can help with what’s available and what your options are. (See the GSGI Educational Overview for Under 5’s for more details).
Child's play - Sydney for kids
Entertaining children is easy. Try the fabulous Taronga Zoo, The Sydney Aquarium, Fox Studios (with a great indoor play area for rainy days when you want them to mess up someone else’s space) or any of the many parks and beaches. If you need a break a lot of gyms (The Temple, Fitness first) have crèches if you are feeling virtuous and a bit wobbly.
The best of the city is outdoors, so if you’re feeling brave, climb the harbour bridge to get a bird’s eye view. Or if you are feeling flash, take a seaplane to Cottage Point restaurant and toast yourself for being clever enough to discover it. Don’t just settle for Bondi Beach-Bronte, Balmoral, Neilson Park and Palm Beach are a few other favourites. Or take a picnic and watch a movie under the stars at the open air cinema. Visit Chinatown at 11am on a Sunday and queue up for a greedy Yum Cha brunch. Find a front row seat for the fireworks on New Years Eve. And then tell me that Sydney hasn’t seduced you too.