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This Wasn’t In The Brochure, Part 3:

The Land Down Under

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It was late January 2005 when I arrived in Sydney.

No pre-booked itinerary, just 6 months in Australia to do whatever.

Which initially meant finding somewhere to live and a job to build up some funds for my travels round the country.

The housing options for backpackers passing through Sydney were plentiful, cheap but basic. I moved into a house with an ever changing cast of residents from around the world.

In the few months I was there, the constants along with me were five Irish backpackers. At any one time there were up to ten of us in a four-bedroom house. And that was just the human inhabitants.

Most noticeably there were large and abundant cockroaches.

Disclaimer:
Well, sure, we could have gone with something a lot more disgusting.
But since many of you are likely eating while reading JJ’s article.
we were inclined to go with “cute cockroach.” Enjoy.

The kitchen and bathroom were their favourite hangouts but they also had a habit of squeezing through the light fitting in the living room ceiling and dropping onto unsuspecting residents provoking a reaction like an electric shock.

Then there were the mice.

Disclaimer:
See above disclaimer. Enjoy.

At least they didn’t drop from the ceiling but it was still a shock to open the kitchen cupboard to find one in there and the mouse droppings they left behind weren’t the greatest gift.

And lastly: the Huntsman spiders.

Disclaimer:
We tried. We gave up. There are no “cute Huntsman Spiders.”

These are large (as in their leg span is wider than your hand), fast, and they bite – similar to a wasp sting apparently. One night a housemate came home drunk to find one in the bathroom. With all the confidence of the inebriated he attacked it with his shoe. The spider got away but the wall wasn’t so lucky, a gaping hole left in the plaster.

The landlord thought it was hilarious. A few weeks later one turned up in my bedroom. It moved too quick to catch. My housemates wondered how I could sleep knowing it was still in there but I reasoned it had likely been in there all along and hadn’t bothered me.

Outside the house was just as interesting.

Turns out it was one street over from The Block in the area of Redfern. This was an area on traditional Gadigal People Land. The Block was established as a residential area in the early 70s as social housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It appears to have been largely torn down since my visit and is being redeveloped. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2010 described it as ‘Sydney’s notorious aboriginal ghetto’ and that it was; ‘synonymous with heroin abuse and violence’.

I didn’t know any of this when I moved in.

As one of my housemates put it; “Turn right out of the house and you’re on the sunny side of life, turn left and it’s certain death.” The reality wasn’t as bad but it did contribute to the only house rule which was don’t turn left after dark. The shortest route to the train station did mean turning left and passing a patch of wasteland.

Regardless of what time it was there’d often be a bonfire going with groups of men on sofas and chairs pulled up round it. Walking past men who would shout over and ask for cigarettes, beer, money or whatever I was carrying. There was also the odd occasion when rather than asking for something they instead told me to f— off out of the area. Across the street from my bedroom was a basketball court. I never saw anyone using it for basketball but there was plenty of traffic from drug users getting their fix.

Despite that and the area’s reputation neither me or any of my housemates saw any real trouble. As well as the negative side it was a vibrant area full of life and colour with a community working to improve things. 

A word on the issues at hand here:

  • The use of Aborigine or Aboriginals is now outdated and doesn’t reflect the diversity of cultures and identities. My writing up isn’t meant to deride or suggest this is representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But at the same time, I didn’t want to just ignore the reality of being there.
  • There’s a whole world of issues in the discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that have contributed to the current state of affairs, where some are left disenfranchised. The newspaper article I quote from demonstrates what appeared to be a typically dismissive and sensationalist response from those on the outside.

One tour guide I had when the subject came up, said that he didn’t see what ‘their’ problem was as the white people had gotten over everything that had happened so why couldn’t they?

A statement that was jaw droppingly insensitive in its willful misinterpretation of history.

Again, its not representative of all white Australians but there were plenty that it did apply to.

Moving to less controversial matters….

To find temporary work, it was off to a recruitment agency.

The first agency sent me to a job in telesales – not my kind of thing at all. 

My new employer was organising a home improvement exhibition. My job was to cold call businesses and get them to pay for a stand at the exhibition.

“Yes – that’s correct!
With each order, we’re throwing in a free, six-week supply of cockroach repellant.”

Training took up the first morning and was basically a tutorial in how to lie. Promise them anything, they won’t find out until they arrive to set up at the exhibition that the prime spot you promised them is taken by someone else.

I was given a copy of the Yellow Pages (very old school despite being in the Internet age!) and told to work my way through the home security section.

I approached this with a complete lack of enthusiasm and spent a dispiriting day trying not to do it. Partly through a sense of personal integrity and partly just laziness. I’d spent 6 months in the open air getting back to nature.

A few months in a shirt and tie doing the bidding of the moral vacuum that was my manager didn’t appeal.

I surprised myself by turning up to work on day three. It was touch and go. On the way in I changed my mind, turned round then changed my mind again and went in. Which I quickly decided was a mistake. I spent the morning killing time and avoiding making calls. When it was time for lunch, I left without a word and didn’t go back.

It was an incredibly liberating feeling to just walk out of a job. Being a temp and not having any real responsibilities made it an easy decision but still, it felt good.

tnocs.com contributing author and creative resignation expert JJ lives at leeds

I called the recruitment agency and told them what I’d done. Its fair to say they weren’t as enthused. They insisted I call the manager to apologise and explain otherwise I would be blacklisted. My year of living dangerously had rubbed off on me. I decided now would be the appropriate time to lie, assured them I would call, and then, didn’t bother. In a city the size of Sydney I didn’t think it would take too much effort to find a job and sure enough within a couple of days I found one that didn’t involve lying.

It was data entry for an insurance company. It was a stopgap for 3 months to earn a little cash so it was fine by me. The most positive aspect was the location. It was right next to Sydney Harbour Bridge, looking back across the water to the city.

Each lunchtime I’d take my sandwiches and sit on a bench at the waters edge alternating between taking in the view and reading a book. Never got bored of that view.

The people were nice too. Though there was one guy who delighted to have a Brit in the office told me all about his impending trip to the UK where he would be touring Stonehenge and other stone circles as he believed these were all made by aliens. He was part of a group of like minded followers of their mystic leader.

He described her as ‘out of this world’ which I took to mean she was an amazing person. But he quickly put me right and informed me that she literally comes from another planet.

I smiled and made a mental note to avoid passing his desk too often.

“…And this was from our week at that lovely Airbnb on Zorgoff 9.”

Job done, money saved it was time leave the city and partake in another backpacker staple:

Fruitpicking.

I stayed on a farm outdide the rural town of Leeton with its own orange grove and where the owner hired us out to neighbouring farms. Mostly fruitpicking, but one guy was selected to go help out with castrating sheep on the basis he was the biggest and strongest looking out of us. The rest of us thanked our lucky stars for our puny frames. He reported back that there was surprisingly little blood.

Orange picking was hard work, appallingly paid and living conditions were….well, the male dorm was a tight squeeze in a portakabin for five.

Fun experiment: If you hold your screen about 3 inches to you nose, you can actually smell this photo.

Roasting hot during the day and freezing at night. It was a fun few weeks largely due to being with a great group of people. It was an early start each day then 8 to 10 hours up and down a ladder with an ever filling sack on your front.

Spiders were our biggest worry, but for me it was bees that gave me the biggest shock. I was at the top of the ladder and heard buzzing. Which quickly gained in volume as I looked round and saw an awful lot of bees whose home I’d obviously disturbed. Never mind the height I leapt off the ladder and ran. As ever in this year of invincibility I got away without being stung once. I wasn’t going anywhere near that tree again though.

The positives of the job were being in the fresh air all day.

All the oranges you could eat, and I got to drive a tractor. Which wasn’t so much fun the day I broke it. I spent three days picking for the sweariest person I’ve ever met. He collected me the first morning and I was pinned back into my seat by the sheer force and volume of profanity. Every expletive you can imagine and a few you probably can’t.

He sounded angry. But once I got up to speed with his way of talking he was a nice guy. Just with a vocabulary that required him to say ‘f—‘ several times per sentence. When I told him that the tractor starter pin had come off in my hand he reacted with a laugh rather than a volley of obscenities.

We went to his pick up to drive over to the tractor, at which point I somehow broke the pick up door so that it wouldn’t open.

I attempted to joke that I’d been sent to destroy his farm. He didn’t find that so funny. 

Having eaten my fill of oranges and done my best to wreck one farmer’s livelihood it was time for sightseeing…

… more on that next week…

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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thegue
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thegue
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August 31, 2022 6:57 am

In 2008, I suffered my midlife crisis: the breakup of an engagement, learning of my brother’s illness, and a complete lack of enthusiasm for the teaching job I was in. Fortunately I’d invested well, so I resigned and moved to the North Shore (Sydney) for a year. A close friend I’d played cricket with in the States had moved there with his family, and invited me to “get away and figure shit out”, so I did.

I played indoor cricket, outdoor cricket, squash, wrote a manuscript about my travels, studied French and for the GREs, and had an amazing time.

I’ll have to write about it later, but one thing on the spiders:

I was looking out my bedroom window one night, and in between the interior window and the paned exterior class was a web of considerable size. There was an insect caught in it, struggling to escape. I watched with interest, when a fairly large spider (not a Huntsman, but no idea what it was) came from its hiding place to inspect its catch. When it was about an inch away, this…SPEAR came out and impaled the insect, which spasmed for a short time, then froze.

Never looked out that window again.

lovethisconcept
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August 31, 2022 4:06 pm

I may be missing a spirit of adventure, but it’s a big fat no from me on the cockroaches, mice, and spiders. Not crazy about carrying heavy bags of fruit, either. But I love reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

Phylum of Alexandria
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August 31, 2022 4:38 pm

Yeah, I am more tolerant of critters than some, but cockroaches and mice are a big no. Maybe the spiders.

I am okay with house centipedes, and they are similarly fast and can bite, in theory. In practice, they just want to be left alone. My wife wants me to kill every arthropod she sees in the house, but I managed to work out an agreement not to kill the centipedes (you know, they eat other bugs, etc). I figured a name would help to engender sympathy, so we call “it” (really them) Cyndi. Cyndi seems to grow or shrink at random, being different size every time we see her, but she’s a quiet enough pet, so it’s okay.

mt, your coffin joke had me laffin.

mt58
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August 31, 2022 8:05 pm

Fun and crazy coincidence:

The yellow pages billboard is real. It was one among a series of faux ads that were conceived by local college students and erected in their home area of…

Leeds, UK- the home of our author!

cappiethedog
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September 1, 2022 2:10 am

African snails would reach the kennel in my backyard time and time again, after I’d place them in the front, the farthest distance possible from the uneaten kibble of a finicky Black German Shepherd. The same three snails. I didn’t name them. But they sort of turned into unofficial pets.

Aaron3000
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September 1, 2022 9:21 am

I’m not a fan of mice or cockroaches, but you always hear these horror stories about the crazy deadly Australian wildlife, so on that sliding scale a known pest like rodents and roaches would seem almost friendly to me…

Spiders, though… *shudder*

Last edited 3 months ago by Aaron3000
Aaron3000
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August 31, 2022 7:45 pm

Great read, JJ… can’t wait for next week!

Also, mt, I don’t want to get a reputation for finding broken stuff, but the “helpful explainer” link gave me a 404 error. I was able to poke around and found this which appears to be the correct page: https://www.narragunnawali.org.au/about/terminology-guide

mt58
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August 31, 2022 7:57 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

On the contrary; I always appreciate the feedback.
There’s 1 million things that can go wrong with formatting these articles, and if anyone finds something askew, absolutely let me know!
I’m driving in a car right now, but when I get back to, I shall fix.

cappiethedog
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September 1, 2022 2:38 am

In my neck of the woods, there is a lot of resentment towards the indigenous Hawaiians because their protest prevented the construction of a telescope on Mauna Kea. I was pro-TMT, too. And then I started reading the comments section in my daily. Opportunists would use the anger towards the Hawaiian community as a launching point to promote their revisionist history about our islands.

My uncle died recently. We viewed his body in the ICU. I was there to provide support for the family, but in particular, my male cousin. A very sad occasion. My cousin took it hard. But as soon as we stepped outside of the ICU, in the midst of crying relatives, he asked me, out of the blue, quite pointedly: “Since when did you become the voice of the Hawaiian people?” I laughed so hard; he laughed harder, and this bleak day became slightly brighter. The reaction of my relatives ranged from funny to moderately funny, except my mother, who was horrified. Once a year I see my cousin at Thanksgiving. Somehow, he could recognize my voice in print.

The overthrow of the monarchy in my neck of the woods is just a fact. Most of us are neither for it nor against it. But there is an academic in my state whose m.o. is to erase the official record. He has acolytes. And it just runs a chill up my spine.

That film by Jennifer Kent The Nightingale is hard to watch, but essential, not so much to guilt-trip anybody, but just as an important filmic document to edify what has been academically proven to be the truth about Australia’s native population. Great job, JJ Live at Leeds, mentioning the Torres Strait Islanders. I had to look it up. Melanesians. Torres Strait Islanders make them sound more like people than numbers.

I thought Peter Garrett was only singing about the Aboriginals.

I learned something new today.

lovethisconcept
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September 1, 2022 1:19 pm

Funny how different the viewpoints are. I would say that in the U.S. the stereotypical view of Australia is of the Outback. A place that is vast, arid, and where everything wants to kill you, animals and plants alike.

dutchg8r
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September 1, 2022 10:36 am

Getting caught up on the articles from this week; this was another fun entry JJ!

That was the thing about Florida’s critters – they all seemed ginormous compared to what you’d see in colder weather climates ….. stupid humidity. Not only that, but then things would fly when you weren’t expecting them to as well, which just amplified the creepiness (they’re not roaches there, they’re “palmetto bugs”….). I recall once being on a road trip through South Florida, and we encountered this massive staghorn beetle in a hotel pool. Like, jaws that look like it’d sever a finger kind of massive. Eventually the one guy found the pool net and scooped it out, tossed it over the fence….. only to have the damn thing take flight, fly back at him, chase him for a bit, and eventually settle back in the pool. We gave the beetle that win; pool was his.

Seeing that Huntsman spider though, ugh, that puts the Wolf Spider to shame. Same approximate leg span, but at least the Wolf Spider had a body about a quarter of the size of that Huntsman one. Blek.

Cats are handy in FL whenever a lizard makes its way in the house. And we had a dog once who was determined to make any entity pay for daring to encroach on her yard. She would leave all kinds of ‘gifts’ by the back door that never ceased to blow my mind creatures like that existed in our FL back yard.

Last edited 3 months ago by dutchg8r
dutchg8r
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September 1, 2022 12:09 pm

ROUS’s can be found in The Fire Swamp….. and just outside of Kissimmee, FL!!

Don’t worry, it’s called Disney-fied for a reason; as long as you are on their property, all standard creepy-crawlies are magically vaporized.

My coworker drove his daughter down from DC to Miami the other week for her to start college, and he asked me for suggestions on what to visit. I told him stick with the natural side of Florida, you can’t go wrong there. And to drive across the Everglades on the non-interstate road; maybe he’ll be lucky and get to see some Python hunters in action at the end of their hunting season! He actually was not deterred by that, lol.

cappiethedog
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September 2, 2022 2:11 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

“Puppy rescued from jaws of alligator in Florida,” that’s all I’ve got.

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