Moving to Tasmania
As you most probably already know the characters involved we shall not go into the sordid details about Walter and Katherine…
The story as most of you know it left off when we left the Coconut Crew in Cairns, where we worked as managers of The Beachfront Hideaway, and did odd jobs such as waitressing and tour bus driving. We had packed up the trailer and headed south, from one extreme (the hot tropics) to the other (semi-Antarctic Tasmania). The Pintara belted along, and without too much delay we found ourselves in Canberra, 3500km, 1 pint of oil and a cup of water later.
The 'Spirit of Tasmania'
Canberra is where the van Praag family lives, as well as most of my friends. A jolly time was had by all… Two weeks later we continued our journey South and soon found ourselves on the overnight ferry ('The Spirit of Tasmania') to Tasmania. Being Shoulder-season cars were meant to go free, but, since we had a little box-trailer with our most prized belongings we had to pay for the car as well as for the trailer. The government subsidy that provides the car-discount is only for tourists with cars, anything that is more then car does not qualify for the discount at all.
Since our trailer contained Katherine’s treasures and Walter’s junk - including our mountain bikes, climbing and camping gear – we had to pay up. We noticed other cars that had mountains of gear stacked meters high on their roofs to avoid having to pay for car and trailer - no extra costs there. We tried hard, and even asked if I could take the car for free, and my wife had 'a little car' (which looked very much like a trailer!) that was broken and she would just push it on and off the ship since each individual was allowed a car under the scheme. Our scam did not work.
Additional costs were inccurred when we discovered there were no seats available and we had to upgrade to a cabin. The end result was a costly one-way trip to Tassie in comfort. Eating gourmet food from Melbourne Delicatessen shops kept us from roaming the ship, and we woke just as we arrived in Tasmania having slept soundly the entire overnight trip.
We drove to Launceston and had coffee at the Metz Café in town. The next few months were spend walking, hiking, cycling and camping around Tassie… You can find photos of us at Maria Island, the West Coast,….
Earning the Beans
In the mean time we had to figure out our ‘next move’. Who was going to earn ‘the beans’, and how! We figured out that since getting Katherine’s ‘Cardiac Technician’ ('ambo') qualifications from the USA recognised here was seemingly impossible (long story!) we would try and get her into a nursing course at the University of Tasmania. If she were to do a 2 year accelerated course she would be able to work as a nurse anywhere in NZ/Australia, and if I were to do a Diploma of Education (1 year course) I would be able to teach.
Interesting links: The Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Stations
By the time we applied, we were told we were two months late with the application. Katherine was encouraged to still apply and we occasionally got a letter from the university that she was still in the running. We were gearing up for two years of living in Launceston, where the nursing school is situated.
The last three weeks of our ‘freedom’ we decided to travel to New Zealand to meet friends from the USA, and then go full steam ahead into nursing! On our return Katherine was due to start immediately, and whilst in NZ we had heard that she was indeed accepted into the University of Tasmania!
Soon after we arrived back in Launceston to start lectures we discovered she was accepted for a BA only. She was to be a full-fee paying student and was only allowed to do one unit of nursing in the first year. This was not what we wanted. Katherine has a BA already, and she only wanted to do nursing… Our plans had to change.
Settling in Launceston
We decided to find a rental in Launceston anyway, and just work in town to begin with. We went to the local campground as the hotel was too expensive to stay in. Having camped for about 4 months we were well and truly ready for a house! Although we stayed in hotels regularly to catch up on internet, TV and get a real bed, we were tired of not having our own bed, kitchen, bathroom etc.
After a few days of intensive searching we found a place we liked. In the mean time I had applied for some government income assistance on the basis of having Cystic Fibrosis and required to get a medical. The doctor told me in plain English that Launceston was not a good place for people with bad lungs. In winter everybody uses wood heating and Launceston becomes engulfed in smoke. If I had a chance he recommended we move to Hobart.
The manager at the campground heard we were also looking for work and told us that he just heard he needed people in his Hobart campground as one of the two managing couples had resigned. We had seriously considered Hobart too, we loved the mountains there, and liked the city luxuries. Hobart is much more cosmopolitan then Launceston. Despite the fact we were less then an hour off paying the required rental deposit for our new place, we skipped town.
OK, SETTLING INTO HOBART
Two hours later we were in Hobart at the Treasure Island Caravan Park. We pitched our tent, introduced ourselves, and started work a few days later. In the mean time an advertisement for the job was put in the local paper, but we did not apply. We felt we did not want to be there for any extended time, but figured we would fill in till they found a couple willing and able to move into the allocated residence and start work. We were dying to move into a relatively normal house – it was more of a mobile home actually!
As fate would have it they found a couple willing to do just that in two weeks time, and were kind of relieved as it was an intensive task with very long hours and very average pay. We did not get to move into the house.
In the mean time Centrelink in Hobart wanted to get me out of a tent - when they heard we were still camping. They told us that I was allowed to go anywhere in Australia, and they would provide financial (rent) assistance for anything from mooring fees to caravan upgrades! Fortunately the caravan park had a caravan for us to live in. We decided to look for a real home quickly!
Looking for a house is a painful job. It requires stopping at every real-estate in town to pick up a current rental list. Then looking at the map to see which one is near a reserve, in a location we could live. We needed a park nearby where I could walk, it had to be away from busy streets and the house had to be relatively clean. The house listings tell you none of those details! It tells you price, bedrooms, and proximity to schools and shops!
Every time we found a place, walked around the local reserves and approved of the location the real estate would either tell us it had gone already, they were processing someone’s application already, or that we could leave our name and number for the property manager to get back to us to arrange a viewing.
Sometimes we were not contacted for days, or the ‘open house’ dates were weeks away. The situation seemed hopeless. We would go from real-estate to real-estate and get the updated list, look for new properties to appear, drive there, check them out, call up, and leave our name with some dumb young office girl. We would also follow up with them to see why the property managers had not been in touch with us. We would go to the library and get on the internet to apply for the same rentals on-line. All to no avail it seemed. Even if we requested to put in an application before seeing the property so they could get the paperwork ready, check with our references etc, they said that was against their policy. We had to see the inside first. Given the condition we found some of these rentals this seemed a good policy.
Occasionally we did get to see a rental. The ‘freshly painted’ description in the add could mean ‘this is a real dump of a place, we covered the worst spots with a rough paint job but the rest of the house is still a disgrace’. And the ‘new bathroom’ could mean that a new shower curtain had been hung up, but the place still smelled like a stable and seemed structurally unsafe. It was disparaging all up. One new looking 2 bedroom house in a luxury suburb, at $200 per week, turned out to be badly scratched up and dirty inside. A follow up visit to the area on Sunday revealed lots of rubber on the road from hoons and vandalised cars where dickheads had gone around the suburb with a can of spray paint randomly marking cars! We decided against this suburb.
Other areas had used syringes on the footpath, and others had parks that were closed before dark due to vandals and criminal activity. Australia seems to have a huge problem in urban areas with petty crime and vandalism, and Tasmania is no exception. We were unimpressed to find anti-semitic markings on a water tank near one of our favorite parks (the Knocklofty Park).
One house we really liked to see as the location was perfect we could not get through to the person listed as a contact. The number listed was of a Salvation Army hostel! The real estate told us it was the tenants number. Later on they admitted there was a problem with it and we would be contacted. As it was the tenant we had to deal with we left a note on the door, which was never answered. The real-estate was visited a few times, and we were told there was lots of interest in that property but no one had managed to inspect it yet. A workman working on the neighbours house told us that these tenants were being kicked out according to what he knew. The real-estate eventually told us the tenant was meant to be out by Tuesday next week… We had lost interest at this stage. We needed a house now!
In the end we wondered into a house in Sandy Bay, very close to the University of Tasmania, where we caught the owner’s parents cleaning up. They saw Katherine peering through the windows and let her in. I was investigating the nearby path into the hills. The real-estate could not refuse our application as we had viewed the property.
Another weekend went by, and when checking with the real-estate about the Sandy Bay place we were told they were showing it to potential tenants this morning. We continued looking for a place, but within hours we were called by the real-estate to advise that we were approved for Sandy Bay!
In the mean time our car’s Queensland registration had run out and we had already renewed it in Tasmania with our Caravan Park address. We had also obtained driving licenses with that address. In order to get these documents with this address we had to show official looking stuff addressed to us there. So we had changed our bank details to that address, got a road service membership using that address, and some other easy to obtain letters with that address in order to convince the state our license could show that address too. We had to change a few!
We moved into the Sandy Bay house within 24 hours, as soon as we had a new purchased bed delivered! One more night in the caravan! By now the caravan was a little place of torture. It was full of mosquitos that appeared to mostly come from the sink (once we knew that half the problem was solved). I kept on hitting my head on a cupboard corner. We had to walk outside for bathroom facilities, the bed was tiny, we could not both move around the caravan without tripping over each other. There was no fridge so we mostly cooked in the public camp kitchen. There was no comfortable place to sit in it, and the one redeeming feature was a small TV we could watch. We were done with the caravan in the two weeks we were in there!
The house was luxury! Despite it being a modest two-bedroom unit we had space galore! Space we had to fill. The first evening there we went to an auction and came back with a nice little round wooden dining table. Our camping chairs are a little low for it, but the rest of the furniture will eventually be acquired. Another auction tomorrow. We found new stuff we wanted as well, but will wait till we tried the second hand market for the bigger pieces first.
Still without TV, but now with phone (and hence internet access), electricity, bed and table and a nice path in the back leading up Mount Nelson and other reserves we are very happy. Even drove back to Launceston to pick up our trailer and other household goodies that were in storage there, and now have our own sheets to sleep in, our own plates to eat off and a choice of clothing in the cupboard!
Walking in the Skyline reserve behind us is fantastic. The bush path goes right up to Mount Nelson! There is a neighbour's dog I can pick up to walk with, lots of fresh air and views.
All we need now is a job and some more furniture!
The furniture turned out to be easy. We went to the weekly furniture auctions and picked up really cheap stuff that really was pretty good! An awesome wooden office desk for $10, comfy recliner seats for a few bucks! We drove past a few garage sales (‘yard-sales’ for the USA readers) and picked up some more bits and pieces. In the end we got a good heater for $10, a microwave, a TV stand, coffee table, dining chairs, a bedside table…. Katherine saw a Target brochure with TVs for $299, so we went and picked one up. It is a huge 68cm TV, bigger then we have ever had. But still no job!
On the job-front we had found a brochure about seasonal fruit picking work. It was a government initiative with free call numbers to match up casual staff for seasonal work on the land Australia wide. We called the number and were referred to ‘an agency’.
The agency turned out to be one of many employment agencies. The same ones I had (‘fruitlessly’) tried to get a job from in Canberra. These are the agencies that advertise jobs that practically say ’20 Walters and Katherines required for immediate start’; jobs that could not possibly be more suitable! And you excitedly put in your application and they tell you to come back for an interview in 10 days. You come back to the agency all dressed up for the interview, and they just tick your name off somewhere and tell you to go away again. No matter how often you call/email/visit, you never even get to see, or even know, the employer!
The way it works, and they do not tell you this, is that these agencies get paid by the government for placing the unemployed. If you are not receiving government benefits you do not count! The longer people have been unemployed the more the agencies get paid by the government! Not only that, but the employer who employs long term unemployed people gets government wage subsidies for extended periods!
What this means is that no agency is interested in finding you a job unless you are receiving benefits, and the longer you have been unemployed the better for them.
Needless to say we are not being called for the casual apple picking jobs! It is also kept secret as to who to see for these jobs! A serious scam! But we went to visit ‘Centrelink’ to get ‘Job Network Cards’. On the form you had to specify which agency you like to be your ‘Job Provider’, and they listed a few large job agencies.
Not knowing what the difference was between them we just said STEPS. STEPS is the one that we went in for the fruit picking work. STEPS has all these computers and job vacancy boards, and seemed as good a pick as any of the ones we had not heard of. Centrelink was not allowed to tell us about the different agencies as that might be seen as biasing towards one of them!
After a week Katherine got a letter with a Job Network card, and a letter from STEPS to come in for an interview another week later. Bring all your qualifications and certificates, resume etc. The letter also advised her that if she were not to attend the interview her unemployment benefits will be jeopardised and some other intimidating threads. The tone of the letter was basically intended for the people who are receiving benefits but are not willing to work. Those people apparently need threats to get them to attend these work-finding activities! Note that Katherine is not in receipt of any benefits in the first place, she actually wants to work and not 'collect welfare'!!
During Katherine’s interview I looked on the boards, and found some other ideal things to volunteer for. They have schemes called ‘Work for the Dole’ and ‘Volunteer Work’. I called them up from the agency and was told I was not eligible for them. The people on the phone were apologetic and explained about the red tape. Red tape that you could wind yourself up in a million times over I was told. Even to volunteer! I was invited to come and speak to them personally.
At Katherine’s 90 minute interview, where the agency lady dutifully entered all her resume details into their data base and nothing else. She was still left hanging about the fruit picking work too! Afterwards we went to Centrelink to tell them I had received a cheque for $190, and to follow up why I had not received a Jobseeker card. The reason was because I was still ‘pending’, and that could be a few more weeks, just relax and wait for the letter they told me!
Next was a visit to the volunteer people I spoke to. They were with another job agency, the Salvation Army one (!) and they could not do anything for us as we had not been unemployed for long enough to qualify for these voluntary activities (such as Riding for the Disabled, Training the public in basic computer skills, work for the Asthma Foundation,…). In terms of red tape I asked her if I had progressed about 3 meters. She told me it was more like only 1½ meters out of a few million! Not only that, but since we had now registered with one ‘agency’, and we now had to do all our job searching through that agency; STEPS. If a job was from another agency that did not matter, we had to be referred via STEPS since that was ‘our agency’ now.
In the mean time I had also tried to get a job as a Qantas tele-sales person in their Hobart Telesales office. They always need staff, temporary as well as full time. I was emailed an information packet. I called and emailed them back several times, but kept on getting answering machines from this ‘agency’. They eventually left a message on my phone to tell me not to panic as time was not important. Not to them obviously! I want a job ASAP!! Don’t they understand? To them it makes no difference, that is obvious! The longer I am unemployed the more they get, I see why time is not important!
The day after the interview Katherine checked the internet to see how her job searching was going. We found her resume as was entered by the agency. There were no ‘job matches’. But looking through the listing we saw about 10 jobs that seemed suitable.
We also visited the St.John’s ambulance office to get our first aid certificates recognised, and they sold us the book with Australian first aid protocols and registered us for the next re-qualifying course so that we will soon - at least - have a valid ‘First Aid Certificate’.
The ‘Riding for the Handicapped’ also called us back, or rather the ‘agency’ that looks after the volunteers for this program, and we were advised to contact our agency, STEPS, to refer us to them to refer us to the Riding for the Handicapped…. The red tape is phenomenal!
Settling in Tasmania - Part II