For many Australia has become a place for starting afresh and testing the waters of a different lifestyle, and from February to July 2013 I was fortunate enough, not only to study at the University of Sydney, but to build a life on the other side of the planet in this refreshing, beautiful and empty place.
Growing up I had forever heard of people departing for Australia, and I can see why. Whatever one’s reason might be for traversing the globe in order to reach this charismatic and charming outpost, you rarely hear a disparaging review. Most of my time was spent in Sydney, an incredibly diverse, cosmopolitan and young place. When I first tried to describe the atmosphere of the city to relatives at home I resorted to the following comparison, ‘Think of an American city with a Caribbean attitude’. This was because, compared to the age of London’s infrastructure, much of Australia’s networks are somewhat Americanised in the sense that they are that much younger than those over on the land of its colonisers. Yet at least one exception can be found in the southernmost Bohemia of Melbourne; home to the vintage and the niche. After residing in the metropolis of Sydney I found Melbourne’s architecture and the city’s dynamic to be somewhat modelled after European paradigms.
Bearing in mind the isolated nature of the driest country on Earth, I gained the impression that (in comparison to the UK) many more of its people were actively aware of the issues facing their country, as well as the rest of the world. Many were not akin to shying away from vocalising one’s views. Even on a University level, the likes of the Socialist Society were orchestrating Staff and Student Strikes at an average rate of once every three weeks (strikes that were implemented in protest against the cutting of jobs at the expense of sizeable salaries higher up the University’s hierarchy). Elsewhere I even got involved in various campaigns myself; one particular campaign was fighting to save a region of North-West Australia (called the Kimberly) from having an oil refinery being built at the cost of severe destruction of ecosystems both on land and at sea. With the state of the Great Barrier Reef being an issue of utmost importance amongst the world’s environmental agencies I generally found that, all in all, the majority of the Australian people were very aware of the battles facing their country’s outstanding natural beauty.
Another prevalent issue is that of aboriginal integration, as in the seventh most expensive city in the world, an unfortunate circumstance was that a high proportion of the homeless were of aboriginal origin. On the flipside, there are various integration programmes in effect and the degree of racial equality has vastly improved over the past years, yet there remains a lot of work to be done and this is something that it seems the government have recognised.
It has often been said that Australians are the ‘Happiest People On Earth’, an accolade that seems rather hard to grasp. However I can safely see why they were considered for such an award as, besides the amount of beaches and beautiful women (that seem to adore the English accent), the average wage for part time work is infinitely higher than in the UK. Depending where you’re living, for the most case you could earn 24 AUS dollars an hour for bar work. 24 dollars an hour. After working in a bar at home for £6.20 I found that rather astounding. This goes to say that although there may be clear similarities with the oh so cynical mentality of its colonisers, one finds that its people can be characterised by a residual brutishness that resonates potently. Sydney itself, like many urban hotspots, I found to be a progressive place, rather different to places such as my home (Essex) and Southampton. There were more bohemian coffee-shops, niche book stores, underground record shops, whilst the diversity of the night life enhanced the social element of the experience.
The University itself fulfilled every romantic idea I’ve ever held of what a campus should be like. With the majority of the campus mirroring the likes of Oxbridge and the rest embracing more abstract and modern designs, walking into and through the place was, at the start at least, rather majestic. Especially with the city’s skyline looming in the distance over the canopy of Victoria Park. I’m aware that here I sound rather in love with the place, and that’s simply because I was.