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Friday, 25 October 2013

Australia, the Unlucky Country

Saturday, 26th October, 2013

I always thought I was a proud Australian.  Throughout twenty years of living in the United Kingdom, I often met with those well-tested and worn out clich├ęs of “convict pasts” and Skippy the bush kangaroos, and mostly laughed them all off, except in the early years when the stereotypes all became a bit much, and I would bite back with a sarcastic remark when my sensitivities were wounded. 

I woke up this morning with a rude start at 4:15 this morning to the stark realisation that I am, at this precise moment, not proud to be Australian at all. 

When I met my husband, I said outright to him that I didn’t want to get involved romantically with anyone, as I would want to return to Australia to live and grow old.  Well, it took a lot longer than desired, but true enough to his word, Paul first flew to Australia with a valid permanent spousal visa in November 2011 in order to activate it. 

The process of emigration was long, painful and expensive.  As the main driving force behind the progress of his visa, I stuck the process out and doggedly persevered, even whilst undergoing IVF and maintaining a full time job.  It was a closure of one link in the chain that finally saw us managing to sell our house in Hertfordshire and a lot of our possessions by the end of August and saw us touch-down on Australian soil at Brisbane Airport the evening of 12th September, 2013, with four suitcases and two over-tired toddlers in tow. 

Paul has attacked the job search with enthusiasm and determination, and I can say that I am very proud of him for that.  These qualities have diminished and faded as the weeks have gone by, and I have often said to him “keep going – don’t give up” or much stronger words to the same effect. 

He is a highly qualified railway engineer with twenty years experience of one of the most sophisticated locomotive systems in the world.  Eurostar International was regarded as an elite institution within the rail industry and Paul mostly took a lot of pride in his work. 

During the latter years, Paul has undertaken a lot of extra-curricular study in order to gain new European standard “F gas” qualifications in air-conditioning and refrigeration.  He has garnered enough certificates over the years to be able to plaster half the rooms in this house.  But for Australia, this is not good enough. 

When Paul has become dejected or disheartened thus far in his job search, he would say to me “this country is de-skilling me”.  I never believed this was true, until this morning. 

I have accepted that Australia (or more importantly and objectively, a section of its employers) won’t recognise his prior qualifications in electro-mechanical engineering.  Most of the jobs Paul has applied so far for have been considerably beneath his skill and competence level.  So after a bit of research, we both have started the process of getting the above recognised through the “Recognition of Prior Learning” route which Paul has discovered through conversations with trades people.  This is conducted by “Skills Tech”, an organisation allied with the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) colleges which teach most of the qualifications for “tradies” here, if not throughout Australia, then certainly in Queensland. 

I originally thought that this particular piece of work was going to cost $400, but discovered by email late yesterday afternoon that we would, in fact, get a bill for $2,400.  I thought “ok, another financial hit” – but kept that information to myself for the time being. 

After thinking a bit further about options, Paul has yesterday come to the agreement to seek temporary work while this process would be completed, as we have now realised that it would be futile and soul-destroying to continue to apply for jobs until he has obtained that first raft of recognised Australian qualifications. 

He is not even sure whether he will pursue the recognition of his air-conditioning and refrigeration qualifications at this stage – our money and equity for a potential future home are disappearing faster than a lottery winner’s intent to spend it. 

When I made an appointment for him with a temporary recruitment agency yesterday afternoon, and mentioned that Paul had a forklift driver’s licence, the agent on the other end of the phone said “nope – not even that is recognised”.  And that was the end of the line for me.  Amongst the myriad of higher and tertiary qualifications in Paul’s arsenal, for not even a forklift licence to be recognised – that is truly a de-skilling process indeed and an absolute disgrace. 

And it is totally not fair.  When Paul has said to me “if I knew then what I know now I would never have come” – the first time, it made me really angry.  The second time, I cried and was so upset at the thought that we would potentially turn around and return to the UK.  Now I realise that I totally agree with him. 

It is an appalling arrogance and at worse, a total con for Australia to have recruitment fairs in London and one year to say “we need you – your skills are in short supply – please come over”, and in the next year turn your back on someone who has spent a lot of money and sacrificed a great many things to get here. 

We have spent too much money to go back.  We will have spent a great deal more money on getting Paul trained and re-skilled, armed with the appropriate Australian equivalent qualifications.  Our dreams of having a decent standard of living in our own home by the ocean somewhere are rapidly disappearing. 

I believe in dogged persistence and determination to achieve your goals.  I have often raised a harrying war-cry and had angry outbursts at Paul or other close friends who didn’t want to see things through to a particular end.  I will grit my teeth and stand by Paul to see this painful and expensive process through – but with the realisation and the awareness that this system is not right.  Australia – I wonder how many other skilled tradespeople you have conned like this.  My family now believe that these organisations are set up to make money.  I am not talking about the appropriate training and experience for apprentices, but about recognising the skills and qualifications of immigrants who make it through Australia’s stringent process.  (I do agree with a very stringent immigration process – you have to absolutely want to come, and have researched it through to the end – no argument with that, whatsoever.) What I am talking about is opening one door in invitation to come to that country, and then closing that door before an appropriate job can be obtained.  By the way, the door marked “exit” to the country is closed, too – because we would have lost too much to go back. 

So the only way is forward.  I am (mostly) very happy to be home. I am delirious to be able to spend a lot of quality time (maybe too much!) with close family.  I hope to spend more time with friends of very long standing, in the foreseeable future.  And I am also very happy for my twin sons to be able to grow up as Aussies, and be granted the chances to travel the world; for whatever path they take or whichever global location in which they choose to live, to have their professional skills and experience to be recognised and valued internationally in order to be able to live and work in different lands and to experience different cultures. 

 Because I would hate for them to have to go through what we are living through now.  When Paul quipped about how living in a shack on the beach would be all we could afford to do in Australia, I laughed and thought he was joking.  Now, we am faced with that possible reality.

Australia – at the moment, you are not our lucky country.  If I didn’t know any better and believed everything I heard on the news, it would seem that your only qualities are a thriving criminal culture full of violent, organised bikies and lying, corrupt politicians.  I hope that within a relatively short space of time, our perceptions can be changed. 

I ordered an abundance of good luck the other day.  I am waiting patiently for it to arrive!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Wednesday, 23rd October - a good day

Yesterday, after a series of knock-backs and hits from negativity, Paul and I took the boys for a walk in the beautiful Centenary Park near Mum and Dad's home of Bald Hills in Brisbane's northern suburbs. 

The Pine River adjoins one side of the park, and feeds into a lake which hosts a plethora of wild life - black swans, ducks, fish, and even snapping turtles. 

After a stifling hot day, it was so beautiful to be out in the fresh air with a very healthy breeze blowing off the river, and for the boys to enjoy some outdoor time in the local park. 

It was the second day Lewis and Henry have been able to climb up onto the slippery slides on their own, and Henry even tackled the metal grid to get up to the other slide. 

Lewis, yesterday you said "Dandad" which made Grandad very happy, after weeks of "Mummy", "Daddy", or "Mama".  Henry, you said "bless you" to Grandad after he sneezed, and we all thought it was very funny. 

Yesterday morning, before the sun got too hot, you boys were helping Grandma to water her garden with the washing water.  Seeing that Queensland is in the middle of a drought, every bit of water is saved and  re-used where possible.  You both put your hats on in anticipation of getting outside - it is quite a routine now, and you have been known to even wear them at night! 

Henry in this photo of you, you had a sticker on your face. I had recently bought you both sticker books for $1, and you love playing with them. They end up more underfoot and are tracked throughout the house, but such is life!
We gave you buckets and containers for the water.  More of it ended up on both you and the patio, but not to matter at all! 

Lewis, you love being out in the garden when it is not too hot and I often find you in one corner or cranny examining things in minute detail. You love playing with dirt and scoop it from one hand to the other. You don't ever seem to get bored with this kind of activity and can repeat this kind of thing over and over for a seemingly long time.

Daddy and I made more progress on the job seeking front at lunchtime, and after the official business was done for the time being and you got up after your sleep, it was then nearly time for the evening meal.

Daddy bought some chicken and cheese rissoles, and I decided to experiment on you, but it was a good meal night and then we went for the walk. It was the second time you had eaten corn on the cob, and you both loved it.
About 5 o'clock, the sunlight streams in through Mum and Dad's back windows but then it doesn't take long to transition into evening.  It is pitch black by 6:30 - there is not much twilight here, and once the sun is over the horizon, the night sets in. 

Last night, after the cobwebs and the bad stuff had been blown away, I ordered some good luck for all of us.  Today is the start of it! 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

First Weekend in Australia ....

After a long and seemingly never ending journey which of course did eventually finish, we arrived in Brisbane on Thursday evening, 12th September to record winter temperatures.  Our first outing was to my brother-in-law Michael's birthday party on the south side of Brisbane on Sunday evening, 15th September. 

I think we were all still in the depths of jet lag, and I was developing a nasty cold, but it was wonderful to have such a family orientated function on our first weekend in Australia.  With two brothers and a sister, and numerous nephews and nieces, an O'Shea gathering means lots of noise and movement, but this time the Brierley side of the family was more represented with our additional presence.  Food is done on a LARGE scale, and a definite highlight was the butterflied shoulder of lamb on the barbie - DE-LIC-IOUS! 

Grandma Brierley and boys.  Their first experience of an Aussie barbeque! I think their personal favourite was strawberries with marshmallows on skewers - I think I will be leaving off the marshmallows!  

Bronwyn O'Shea with Lewis applauding the happy birthday singing to Uncle Michael and Benjamin! 

Lewis approving of Uncle Michael's caramel birthday cake with Michael's mother, Lee O'Shea.  Michael's brother, Chris, in the background with Lachie at the side. 

 Michael with Ryan (his younger son) preparing the birthday candles and anticipating that caramel cake .....
Watch out, Uncle Michael .... here comes Lewis!  
And here's Henry with Aunty Nerida, joining in with the birthday singing. 
Our first week was full of the jobs which took priority - applying for our Queensland drivers' licences, signing onto Medicare (the Australian health system) and getting our bank accounts sorted out - all of which took a LOT of time. 
It was therefore especially significant to escape the bureacracy to spend some time with family - and what is more Australian than a large-scale, noisy barbecue?  Looking forward to much more of the same in time to come.