Australia Diary: First 6 Weeks

This is a follow on from my previous post Australia Diary: First 2 Weeks. After living in England for the last 18 years, I finally returned to Oz with my wife and 2 youngest children 6 weeks ago. This is a bit of a public diary of the my personal happenings and observations (no tech content in this post – it will resume shortly)

Working From Home

I have arranged with my employer that I will work 3 days a week from home (in Canberra), and 2 days a week in the Sydney office. I’m very grateful my work gave me the option to work like this, as it reduced my stress levels considerably during the move from England to Australia, knowing I didn’t have to search for work.

As it currently stands, my team is based in London, Zürich, Pune and now myself in Canberra. I also have a line manager based in Sydney, but he is not actively involved in my day-to-day work. Essentially, this means that I’m relatively isolated from the rest of my team. In the Australian summer, south-eastern Australia is 11 hours ahead of London. I have no overlap in normal working hours with western Europe, which gives me some challenges.

For the days I’ve been working from home, I’ve come up with a schedule that seems to be working well for me, given my situation:

  • 7am – 9am: breakfast, kids to school and nursery
  • 9am – 2pm: working on individual activities
  • 2pm – 4pm: possible working, depending upon how much meetings/etc I have in the evening
  • 2/4pm – 8pm: pick up kids from school and nursery, family time, dinner, bedtime routine for the kids
  • 8pm – 11pm: work again. This corresponds with with 9am – 12pm in London, so it’s a good time for me to catch up with my colleagues in Europe. I don’t always have meetings at this time, but I try to keep in touch and make myself available.

All in all, I like this routine. There are some aspects that have been a challenge on a number of different ways:

  • Convincing my family that I can’t be disturbed. The first couple of weeks was a bit of a challenge, with some fairly constant interruptions (it’s school holidays in Australia right now, so the kids have been around much more than usual). They’ve gradually got the message, and I’ve had a much clearer run recently. The house that I’m renting actually has an external studio, which would help with privacy a lot. However, there is no air conditioning in the studio. Given the current heat-wave in Australia, I’ve had to work in the spare bedroom, which puts me much closer to the rest of the family (and distractions).
  • Getting into a routine while working alone. For my entire working career, I’ve always worked in close-knit teams. In recently years, I’ve always worked in a very agile way, with daily stand-ups, pairing on tasks, and close access to people who can help me achieve my goals. This is very different for me now, and I’m still coming to grips on effective ways motivating myself without the close collaboration of my team.

Jono Bacon recently published an article that I found very helpful: Remote Working Survival Guide. I’m still absorbing his excellent set of guidelines.

Commuting to Sydney

For the 2 days I work in Sydney, there is a 3 hour drive between Canberra and Sydney, which is quite a commute. The current pattern I’m trying to apply is to travel to Sydney on Wednesday morning, work the day and part of the evening, stay overnight, work on Thursday, and then travel back home Thursday evening.

The first few times travelled via car.  It’s a nice enough drive between the two cities, but the more I think about it, the less keen I am, for a number of reasons:

  • I have to concentrate on the road for 3 hours, which I feel to be wasted time when I could doing something else (like blogging or coding!)
  • It’s not cheap. At current fuel prices, it costs me about $80 to travel from Canberra to Sydney and back, plus motorway tolls, plus wear and tear on the car.
  • It’s tricky to find a place to leave the car while I’m at work. Parking in Sydney is very expensive, so I’ve tried parking near a train station further out. It’s not always easy finding a parking spot, though.

There are alternative modes of transport, though:

  • Train: the train between Canberra and Sydney is very slow, taking between 4 to 6 hours, depending on the schedule, and costs about $65 return.
  • Plane: not cheap. When I searched just now, the return price came out at $635. I think if you book well in advance you can get cheaper, but it’s not going to come down significantly. It’s a 1 hour flight, plus a lot of rigmarole to get on and off the flight at either end.
  • Bus: this one is actually pretty good. There’s an express bus that leaves every hour, and costs about $40 each way. For the same price I would pay in fuel to drive myself, I can get a bus with pretty much none of the other downsides of driving myself. Hence, this is what I’m travelling on as I write these words now (it’s best to grab the front seat, though)

The New Car

When my wife and I were planning our move back to Australia, we discussed our values, and how we wanted to live our lives after the big move. Topics covered included eco-friendly living, low energy usage, reducing our waste footprint, sustainable living, and so on. In light of this, we pondered the option of not having a car at all. We decided that this was not feasible: the urban design and planning of Canberra almost assumes everyone has a car – widely dispersed shopping centres, and transport links that don’t quite cover our needs. We needed a car.

Our first thought was a small electric or hybrid vehicle. Friends and family gave us strong warnings against this. Unlike Europe, electric vehicles haven’t really caught on in Australia (yet). The infrastructure isn’t really in place to support it.

We did have a very close look at the hybrid option for a Toyota Corolla. It was very economical, and drove beautifully. However, we found it a bit small, and probably not good enough for some of the activities we like doing (such as camping), or the ability to fit overseas visiting family into the same car.

In the end, be bought a rather large family SUV: the Toyota Kluger. It seats 5, with the option to stuff a huge tent in the back, or seat an extra two people back there. We’re happy with the purchase, but I’m still thinking about how our de facto values are quite at odds with our aspirational values.

Reconnecting with Friends

After 18 years living away from Australia, I had let a lot of old friendships lie fallow. People who had been a huge part of my life in my 20’s were a long way away, and I didn’t make a huge effort to keep in touch. It’s been a huge joy for me to chase down old contacts and catch up. My frequent travel between Canberra and Sydney gives me plenty of opportunities to reach out and meeting people for lunch, or in a couple of times stay overnight. I’ve caught up with at least 15 of my the old friends so far, but there’s still a few people yet who I’d like to chase down.

Connecting with the Canberra Technology Community

I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of connecting with the local tech scene. I’ve joined a few meetups, but as yet haven’t managed to make an appearance at an event. Andy Palmer did point me in the direction of the folks at Icelab, so I dropped in to say hello to Michael and Daniel one morning. They had previously ran a number of workshops in Canberra, and I was keen to meet some other like-minded folks.

I’ve got a lot of ground to catch up. Before I left London, I did promise Jeff Fredrick that I would help organise a CITCON event, so I’ve got a lot of work to do to make connections, find a venue, sponsors and so on.

Planning for the Future

At lot of the hard stuff has been done: job, a place to live, school, nursery, transport. There’s probably one major thing still left to resolve: buying ourselves a new house. We sold all our property in the UK, and have been slowing transferring the cash over to Australia. We tried to send it in a single transaction, but our UK bank had transaction limits in place. In a truly “what the whatting WTF” moment, the only way we can change transaction limits is to send them a fax. I think it will be easier to build a time machine.

We have enough cash to buy about half a house in Canberra. This means we need to get a mortgage. Given my age (I’m now 46), we’ve only got effectively about 20 years to fully pay off any mortgage, so there are limits to how much we can borrow.

House prices in Australia are generally falling at the moment – except in Canberra, where they’ve been flat for the last year. The prevailing trends seem to be that properties prices will fall further. I’m not in a huge hurry to rush our and buy something straight away. We did rent our current house for a year, which gives us plenty of time.

As a place to live, we’re really liking Aranda. As a suburb, it doesn’t have much in the way of shops, but it’s quite near the Jamison Plaza and Westfield Belconnen. Apparently, Aranda is famous for exactly one thing. Without fail, every single person I’ve spoken to who lives in Canberra, when you mention you live in Aranda, will immediate reply: “There’s a really nice coffee shop there” (Two Before Ten, if you’re interested). We might have to stay, just for the coffee shop.







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