Jörg Rothermel
Monday February 2nd, 2015

(Deutsch) Ist da was faul – in Australien?

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Jörg Rothermel
Thursday October 18th, 2012

Report from Melbourne #2

Immigration

Since I myself am now also an immigrant, I made myself knowledgeable on the subject.

For information about Australia as an immigration country, you might wish to start with the Victorian Immigration Museum. Up until the 1960ies, the government encouraged Australian citizens to talk to friends or relatives in Europe about immigrating to Australia.

Without the immigration waves between the 19th and the middle of the 20th centuries, the conquest of this huge country would not have been possible. (It is a separate story how the rich Aborigine culture was almost totally destroyed in the process).

By now, much has changed. To be sure, in absolute numbers, Australians with origins in Europe and the USA are still the majority. But immigration from India and, above all, China, increases considerably.

A few days ago, there was a long article in the local newspaper „The Age“, announcing that apartments in a new building in the district of Glen Waverly were open for inspection on the weekend (that is standard procedure if someone wants to sell or rent out property: a certain day for inspection of the objects is set, and then they are sold according to the principle „first come first serve“). For the agent, it came as a total surprise that the interested parties were almost exclusively Chinese. Some of them were actually prepared to pay up to 40,000 $ above the asked price for a certain apartment. The fact that 16 apartments were sold for a total of 40 million dollars on that day shows how solvent the interested parties were.

By now, the ratio of Australians with Chinese origins (who have a permanent permit to stay) in those 15 districts of Melbourne where Chinese like to live is between 27% and 16%. According to a survey, these districts are chosen because they have good schools, good public transport and an active Chinese community. For the Melbournians of Caucasian descent, this situation is a challenge, because they witness how – right under their noses and quite obviously for everybody – Melbourne is changing. Unfortunately, it also causes numerous racist escapades.

The name of the first Chinese school in Melbourne is quite remarkable: „Xin Jin Shan Chinese Language and Culture School“. Xin Jin Shan roughly translates into ”New Golden Mountain“. Incidentally, that is the name the Chinese gave the Australian gold mines in 1850 to distinguish them from the Californian gold mines that were running dry at the time. Those were called Jiu Jin Shan (”Old Golden Mountain“).

Mind you, today the majority of modern Chinese who immigrate to Australia are no longer looking for their one chance in life; they are already a success and wish to secure and maintain their prosperity.

Downtown Melbourne

Here is a totally different issue: to be sure, we live quite nicely in the outskirts of Melbourne at Williamstown, but downtown Melbourne (also known as CBD “Central Business District”) has an inimitable flair. In fact, it can even hold a torch to Paris.

Traffic is more or less what you would expect to find in a city with 4.5 million car enthusiastic citizens. Even a reasonable public transportation system, along with the fact that one hour parking at the garage is 16 $ and a parking ticket costs a minimum of 180 $ do not seem to make any difference. In between the densely packed cars, you will frequently find bike couriers maneuvering their way through the traffic. They must either have finished all they ever wanted from life and are thus ready to die, or else are practicing for the next Tour-de-France.

Information for all car drivers: in the city centre, you will find so-called Safety Zones where you will have to use the left (!) lane if you want to turn right – it is the notorious Melbourne ”hook-turn“. It is supposed to make it possible for those on the right lane to go ahead unimpeded; however, it will only work if the first driver who wishes to make a turn starts in Formel-1 fashion; if he fails to do that, there will be an ear-splitting signal-horn concert, because, naturally, nobody behind him wants to remain sitting in the middle of the crossing.

Melbourne hook turn

Many houses in the city centre were built in the middle of the 19th century, when Melbourne was the world’s richest city. Of course, this was due to the gold rush – at the time, around 1/3 of all the world’s gold was mined in Australia, with the most yielding gold fields in Victoria, not far from Melbourne. To this day, this prosperity is obvious if you look at all those noble bourgeois and business houses.

The special flair of the city centre is also due to the arcades and lanes, the creative (sometimes also endearingly scurrilous) shops and the thousands of bars, coffee shops and restaurants. The most beautiful and elaborately decorated one of them is the Royal Arcade.

The Royal Arcade is guarded by the biblical giants Gog and Magog.

Gog & Magog i. Royal Arcade

Apparently, some of the arcades in a side lane simply came into being because the owners of the restaurants and bars joined forces and had some protection against rain spun over the street; all you need after that is a few chairs and (in winter) an electric heater and the place will quickly be so crowded at lunch and in the early evening hours that you can no longer pass.

The place is particularly full on Fridays after 4.30 p.m. – because that is when almost all employees working in the CBD offices go to the pub for a pre-weekend drink. Now, in spring, you can hear street musicians playing at almost all corners. To me, it seems that the quality of the music is considerably better than, for instance, in Munich. In Australia, Blues and Country are particularly popular.

Haigh's i. Royal Arcade

Chocolatiers and candies shops are currently very much loved in Melbourne. In fact, the Melbournian love of sweets sometimes borders on the bizarre. For instance, there is an Italian restaurant in Carlton where you can get “Chocolate Pizza“.

In the CBD, there are excellent restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine (Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Moroccan,…). Melbournians are enthusiastic about European cuisine – if you want to eat out for dinner, you have to make a reservation no matter where you are going.

For the critical immigrant from Munich, it remains to be noted that the price-performance ratio cannot always come up to Munch standards. To make up for it, many restaurants and bars have the sitting-room atmosphere of first-class English pubs.

I will be back with my next report – No Worries

JRO
(Translated by EG)

Jörg Rothermel
Friday July 20th, 2012

Report from Melbourne

Two months ago, I ended up in Australia (or, to be precise: Melbourne). After a scientific career in heavy ion physics at the Garching Maier-Leibnitz Laboratory and 30 years of work in various IT functions, I started the time-off phase of my old-age part-time in March 2012. Late in 2011, my wife had received an interesting job offer for Melbourne. After an intense discussion – where the fact that our daughter lives in New Zealand played a considerable role – we decided (so far on a tentative basis) to emigrate to Australia.

Here is some information up front: by now, we managed to do the most important tasks (rent a house, gas, electricity, water, cable TV, telephone, internet…). In a few days, the container will arrive with all our stuff. Then we can start furnishing our house.

Let me start describing some of my(totally subjective) impressions of Australia.

The Weather

Of course, the first thing you notice on a trip to the Southern Hemisphere is the weather: the astronomical winter on the southern hemisphere lasts from June, 21st to September, 23rd. Since Australia is situated between 10 and 44 degrees latitude south-east, this does not say a lot about the entire continent, does it? As far as Melbourne is concerned, we can say: in the daytime, the temperatures are between 17 and 11 degrees Celsius (dependent on how long the sun shines). At night, you might well get 6 degrees Celsius. There is comparatively little rain, but when it rains, it really rains.

Sunrise is currently around 7:30, sun-down at 17:20. Fewer than half of the trees have shed their leaves, some plants already start blossoming – so it does not really look like winter at all.

There is a famous proverb: ‘If you don’t like Melbourne’s weather, wait five minutes and it will change’!

That is totally correct. Here is what it means: as far as clothes are concerned, you have to be prepared for everything at all times. In extreme cases, you can experience all the four seasons on a single day.

In short: winter is roughly what you would see in Germany late in April or early in May, but dryer.

Due to the short period of cold weather, central heating is almost unknown. In our house, the only heating is air conditioning in the living room. It can be switched to heat pump. Since our house, like almost all houses, is made of Rigips, wood and corrugated iron, it gets rather cold in the morning.

Apparently, the Melbournians try to ignore the winter. For me, this seems the only explanation why girls going to school wear mini-skirts and boys shorts. Cool young people like to wear t-shirts – even in inclement weather.

I wonder if such a thing as season-jetlag exists. Some way or other, I miss the summer I was cheated out of (let us wait and see how I will feel about it five months from now)….

Here is a picture of Downtown Melbourne seen from Williamstown Marina

Pelikane in Williamstown

Pelicans near our house

The city of Melbourne

In many sectors of the city, Melbourne seems very European (no surprise, after all, there were many immigrants from Europe – according to a well-known joke, Melbourne is the second biggest Greek city after Athens).    
That is also the reason why they have suburbs like Altona, Brunswick, Coburg and Heidelberg.

Melbourne can boast a huge number of excellent museums and art galleries (for example the National Gallery of Victoria).

It is truly enjoyable to walk through the city centre and look at the thousands of shops – especially in the beautiful historical pedestrians’ arcades. Now is a time when you can buy high-quality clothes at reasonable prices. As a general rule, however, you will always want to be careful with prices (I will tell you more about it in another article).

Comparison with Sydney: Melbourne cannot quite compete with Sydney’s spectacular location. The Sydney skyline with the opera house and the Harbour Bridge is unique in the world. And the beach not far from our house, too, is not quite as wonderful as Bondi Beach. Regardless, Melbourne has some charm of its own, in particular through its lively downtown, which seems European.

Willamstown Beach

We live in Williamstown, a suburb around 13 kilometres from the city centre. Here is where the first harbour for sea ships used to be at the Port Phillip Bay. The place is older than Melbourne. We do not yet have a car of our own. That is why this place is ideal for us: if you take the metro, you will reach the city centre (Central Business District – CBD) in 25 minutes. We have a good infra-structure and all necessary shops (and the beach) are within walking distance. Near the beach, you will find the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary.  With a multitude of oceanic birds – mostly pelican, cormorant, booby and ibis.

Eating out and food

Melbourne (and most of the rest of Australia, as well) is very prosperous – and you will notice it instantly from what things cost: if you want a good dinner for two at CBD, you will have to pay 500 $[1]. Two weeks ago, I went there for a hamburger and a glass of beer and paid 31 $ (incidentally, the beer tastes rather well – they have a number of small, creative breweries).

We often eat Vietnamese or Chinese – where you mostly get excellent quality for reasonable prices.

Locally produced vegetables, meat and fish are often considerably less expensive than in Munich. For me, it came as a surprise to find that there is a huge variety of locally produced, high-quality meat specialties, for instance Salami (you can even get high-quality Bavarian collared pork).

Wine:

In Australia, they grow excellent wine, but, as everywhere, quality has its price. The first time we went into a Vinothek, I asked the salesperson to offer me a bottled wine under 30$; well, that is what he brought – but he looked at me like I had ordered canned wine.

If you go and drink directly at the vintners’, you will also find excellent wines. But even there, you will hardly get a bottle for less than 25$.

The People

Mostly, the people are friendly and helpful. Unfortunately, this is not always true for young persons: the first experiences my wife made with young Australian co-workers were not exclusively positive. Many young employees are egoistical, pampered and basically have not enjoyed a good upbringing. Moreover, the training of Australian IT professionals mostly cannot hold a torch to that in other countries (for instance India). Demanding technological problems are almost always tackled by Indians or Asians.

The people are disarmingly honest if something does not work as it should (and there are quite a few things that don’t). Here is an example: on weekends, metro-trains often change their routes. At those times, friendly metro-link employees will walk all the way through the trains and apologize to the passengers, asking them to listen to the announcements.  Unfortunately, they cannot do anything about it, but the train is doing a different route this time ”no worries mate“…

As far as language goes, I still have a few problems trying to understand some of the people around this place. To be sure, I knew from earlier vacations in Australia and New Zealand that the people here speak English in a way that sounds like they have a hot potato between their teeth. The problems start when I communicate with immigrants from Asia (practically everything physically demanding is done by Asian immigrants). Those are the times when I can only guess what the speaker means (incidentally, this is not true for young Chinese. Their English is excellent).

So this was the first of my highlights – more to follow.

No Worries

JRO

(Translated by EG)