The Beginning of the End

19 Sep

I haven’t been blogging much for the past few months and I’ve recently decided to wind down this blog. This might not be my last post ever, but I definitely won’t be writing again for a while.

When I started blogging, I had just moved to Australia and everything was a novelty. I was also pretty lonely and didn’t have much to do or anyone to talk to.

While I’m still on my expat journey and probably will be for a long time, my desire to write about it has waned and the time I have to devote to it has dwindled. I now have work, volunteer, and family commitments to keep me busy.

I have also found that the longer I’ve been here, the less happy I’ve become. Australia is a great country with a lot to offer, but I don’t fit in here. Combined with my personal depression and a lot of bad circumstances, I don’t feel that I have a lot to say that is very positive at the moment.

Now, this is my space and if I feel like writing about all the things I don’t like, that’s my prerogative and anyone who doesn’t like it can suck it up and leave. I am not now and have not ever written this blog to please anybody else. If you want a happy expat blog filled with cupcakes, rainbows, and dancing unicorns, look elsewhere.

Some comments that I have received (and not published– that’s my prerogative, too) have been very nasty because apparently some people are upset that my blog isn’t upbeat enough for their tastes or they can’t accept that not everyone thinks Australians are the greatest creatures on earth. I don’t know why people feel compelled to say they hate my blog and are going to go find another one that suits them better. I don’t care one way or the other and I’m not sure why an announcement is necessary or why some people feel it’s appropriate to direct cuss words and name-calling at me when making their announcement. But I’m not going to publish or respond to comments like that. As I said, this is MY space.

I think it’s important to remind people that not every expat experience is a positive one. There’s nothing wrong with that. Every expat has good days and bad days, and some people have more good days while others have more bad days. There is nothing wrong with not gelling with a new host country or culture.

I think there is far too much snobbery among expats with this subtle expectation that if an expat can’t adapt, there must be something wrong with them. This is why I don’t hang out much with other expats and why so many expats keep it to themselves when they are unhappy.

In any case, I’m here for the foreseeable future, since I do need to get my citizenship. H is unlikely to get US citizenship and doesn’t want it anyway (can’t say I blame him!). As we do need at least one country where we both have citizenship so that we don’t face any problems in the future where one of us is no longer allowed to live or work in the other’s country, the best option is for me to get my Australian citizenship and probably for all of our kids to be born here, as well.

It’s not that I think America is the greatest country ever, because I don’t. In fact, I deeply hate America in a lot of ways and I’m not sure I really want to go back there, either. I think some people may have the impression, after reading one or two posts, that I’m some uncultured redneck who can’t deal with anything different. Since I’m actually very well travelled and I grew up in a non-redneck state in a white-collar family, that assumption is pretty far off the mark. My dissatisfaction with Australia involves a lot of complex factors, most of which I have never mentioned on this blog, because they are private. That’s another reason I’m not going to acknowledge some of those comments– they are woefully uninformed.

So I’m going to keep muddling along in my own way and probably not sharing much of my journey anymore. I’ve left up the relevant and popular posts. I may occasionally come back to make a post on the immigration process (since I’ll be doing PR in a little over a year) or something similar that other expats may find useful as a resource. And I’ll probably keep reading other people’s blogs that interest me. But otherwise, I think I am pretty much done here.

I’ll leave you with one last expat tip: There is a new-ish store in Prahran on Greville Street selling USA products called USA Milkbar which is similar to USA Foods, but smaller and a bit more conveniently located. Check it out.

Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog for (nearly) the past two years.

Are You a Melburnian?

6 Aug

Today the Herald Sun has an article up called, “You’re not a Melburnian until…

There are 18 items on the list and I have to say, pathetically few apply to me. Like maybe about five? Perhaps that’s because so many of them have to do with coffee (which I don’t drink) or sports (which I don’t follow). Melburnians do seem obsessed with coffee and sports. That’s probably why I have a hard time making friends here. :-p

But I have acclimated to the bad traffic and the crazy weather. And in my very first week here, when I ventured out by tram to the CBD by myself for the first time, I did in fact look just like this guy:

“But it was sunny when I left!”

So how many items on the list can you check off? Anything you would add?

Edit: And now I bring you Part 2, which, in my opinion is a slightly better list: “Part 2: You’re not a Melburnian until…

Touring the Great Alpine Road and the Bogong High Plains Road

17 Jun

After our excursion to Raymond Island, we embarked up the Great Alpine Road, starting in Bairnsdale. The Great Alpine Road was the main reason for our weekend away and touring that area was something we had both wanted to do for a while.

We had actually intended to do it over summer, but due to the bushfires near Harrietville, we didn’t go, as it’s not really safe to go driving through a bushfire and of course, parts of the road were closed. Unfortunately, the road is still sometimes closed while they work to repair it (if you’re going up that way, check VicRoads for the latest road closure information). Even though it is not closed on weekends, it is down to one lane and we decided that we would drive the Great Alpine Road as far as Omeo, detour to our bed & breakfast for the night, and the continue our trip along the Bogong High Plains Road to avoid the construction.

Now, Australia doesn’t really have true mountains, being such a geologically old landmass. But the Great Dividing Range is as good as you’re going to get in this country and there are some snow covered peaks up there. I love mountains, so I was excited to see it.

Don’t ask me why they call it “Alpine”. You’d think they could have come up with a more creative name instead of using one that was already taken. It doesn’t really look anything like the real Alps, but it is still very beautiful. I was so busy just enjoying the scenery that I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but I have a few that I would like to share with you.

One of my favourite kind of mountain or wilderness landscapes is the kind with a beautiful blue river and lots of trees.

One of my favourite kind of mountain or wilderness landscapes is the kind with a beautiful blue river and lots of trees.

Be prepared for lots of windy roads!

Be prepared for lots of windy roads! Our SUV got a great workout on this drive. I recommend trading drivers now and then, as it is challenging driving and it’s hard to enjoy the scenery when you are concentrating on the road.

The landscapes along the Great Alpine Road seem ever changing, from quiet woodland to rocky outcroppings to rolling hills and farmland.

The landscapes along the Great Alpine Road seem ever changing, from quiet woodland to rocky outcroppings to rolling hills and farmland.

We found a rest area and lookout point here. It's called Conner's Hill and is the first glimpse of real mountainous terrain.

We found a rest area and lookout point here. It’s called Conner’s Hill and is the first glimpse of real mountainous terrain.

One of the stopping points along the Great Alpine Road is a town called Omeo. I thought it would be bigger than it was, but it was a tiny, sleepy town with not much going on. We arrived there at about 4pm. Our bed & breakfast hosts had told us that for dinner, we could either bring our own food and cook it there, eat at the Blue Duck Inn “in town”, which we assumed was Omeo, or they could cook for us. We had figured on eating at the Blue Duck Inn, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

So we stopped at the cuckoo clock shop to look around while we decided what to do. My phone hadn’t had signal since leaving Bairnsdale, so my GPS wasn’t working and we weren’t even 100% sure how to get to our bed & breakfast.

The cuckoo clock shop was run by a sweet little old lady who told us all her clock were imported from Bavaria. She had SO many of them! They were all gorgeous and I would have loved to have gotten one, but as our budget for the weekend was a measly $500, we had to pass. We learned later that she had bought the shop as a business for her daughter to run, as she wanted her daughter to stay in Omeo, but the girl had met a man in Melbourne and moved there, leaving the shop for her mother to take care of. She sells maybe two or three clocks a year and the shop is propped up by the hardware store in town, which is run by her husband. How sad is that? We did buy some Christmas ornaments from her, though, since last Christmas I was very sad that we had left all our ornaments in America and didn’t have anything to decorate a tree with.

We then went to the Foodworks grocery store, which was one of the saddest grocery stores I’ve ever been to, and the lady working there told us that the Blue Duck Inn was actually in a town called Anglers Rest. She then proceeded to tell what a great restaurant it was and that she’d even had a customer that day who had eaten lunch there. Another customer chimed in that she knew someone who had eaten dinner there the night before. (Having grown up in a town not much bigger than Omeo, I can appreciate this sort of conversation.) With all the rave reviews from locals, we decided we’d try to find it and off we went.

It is here that we diverged from the Great Alpine Road and headed up Omeo Highway, which is even windier than the Great Alpine Road. I was glad we still had some daylight to drive that road.

We arrived at the Blue Duck Inn around 5pm, only to find they didn’t open for dinner until 6pm. So with a sigh, we continued to drive on to our bed & breakfast.

Now I’m going to take a commercial break to tell you about this bed & breakfast, because it is the worst accommodation I have ever stayed in. I’ve stayed in some $30 a night roach motels and some 5-star luxury hotels and everything in between, so I’ve pretty much seen it all, but this place takes the cake.

It’s called Payne’s Hut and it’s near Shannonvale, but really it’s in the middle of nowhere, which is why we picked it. If you’re going to get away from the city, you might as well go all the way and get as far away as you can.

I’ll start with the good bits to take the sting out of the rest of what I’m going to write. Our hosts had actually prepared supper for us. I had forgotten to call ahead and tell them our dinner plans, so they graciously cooked us a wonderful three course meal. (Yes, there is an extra charge for that!) They are very, very good cooks! And really, they are quite nice people, so I feel a bit mean talking bad about their place, especially because they built it themselves and are very proud of it.

But the fact that they built it themselves sort of shows. The entire place is off the grid and powered by solar panels and generators. We were staying in the hut and, as it turns out, the hut isn’t connected to the generator. We were asked not to use the lights because they hadn’t had much sunlight in a while. The room had about four single watt light bulbs and it was so dark in there that it was hard to find anything in our suitcase. There was also no place for us to put our suitcase, except on the lone chair we were provided. We were told there was a flashlight in the room… and there was. But it didn’t work!

It was FREEZING cold inside. There was a gas heater in the corner and even turned on full blast, it could not heat the space. All night long, we shivered, despite being dressed in layers and the blankets piled high. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep.

But the real sticking point for me was our inability to have a shower. The water appears to be gravity fed, which means there is no water pressure. Might be okay for someone with short hair, but when you have long hair, you can’t rinse anything out of your hair without water pressure. And because it was so cold, there was no hot water. Who wants to have a cold shower when you’re already freezing cold? No one!

Then there was the issue of the power outlets. THERE WERE NO POWER OUTLETS! Not a one. So even if I had showered, I still would have died of hypothermia from being stuck with wet hair and unable to use a blow dryer.

We hoped that maybe a nice, hot breakfast would make up for it and had high hopes, given our lovely dinner the night before. But it was not to be. Breakfast was bread and jam and there was not even a real toaster. To toast the bread, you had to do it over a flame. A flame has two settings: off and on. Hope you like burnt toast!

For the privilege of staying in accommodations that were the equivalent of if we had slept in a tent in the wilderness for free, they charged us $230. I wasn’t expecting the Hilton, for Pete’s sake, but even a roach motel comes with power outlets! We left there in a terrible mood, feeling ripped off and like they had grossly misrepresented their property on their website.

Anyway… on to a happier subject. From there, we went up the Bogong High Plains Road. And for the first time since coming to Australia, I saw SNOW!!!! Yay!!!!

Yay, snow!

Yay, snow!

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

Partway through our drive along the Bogong High Plains Road, we came upon a town called Bogong. And there was a sign saying there was a hydroelectric plant there with an information center. H said he just HAD to go see this. I thought it would be boring, but it was actually very interesting.

The power plant is owned by AGL and is part of the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme. The water in the photos above is part of the first reservoir in the system of damns. The Bogong plant is about halfway through it and has two huge turbines that are powered by what looks like a rather small creek outside. What I thought was neat is that they have a system whereby they pump water back up to the top and reuse it again.

This creek produces massive amounts of electricity.

This creek produces massive amounts of electricity.

The lady working there told us how they worked and we had a long chat with her about renewable energy sources and such. She told us the plant actually didn’t run on Sundays because Victoria generates more electricity than it needs. With the shrinking of the manufacturing industry, there is far less need for electricity. And as for solar panels, it’s great if you want to use them to generate your own electricity, but they don’t really want you feeding it back into the grid because they already have too much. It was very informative and if you are ever in the area, it’s worth stopping in for a visit.

From there, we drove to the town of Mount Beauty, which lies beneath Mount Bogong, the one of the highest peaks in Australia.

Mount Bogong

Mount Bogong- I love the ring of clouds around the peak.

Mount Beauty is the town down below the mountain. I bet it's a really nice place to live!

Mount Beauty is the town down below the mountain. I bet it’s a really nice place to live!

From Mount Beauty, the drive to Wangaratta- the end (or start, if you come from the other direction) of the Great Alpine Road- it is not too far. We stopped and bought some HUE chestnuts from a roadside stand on the way.

As our long weekend away came to a close, we drove back to Melbourne feeling sad to leave it all behind.

I know I criticise Australia a lot, but mostly I criticise the people and the cities. When it comes to Australia’s natural beauty, it’s hard to think of any other place that could beat it.

Getting out of the city and away from stupid city people and city traffic and city noise reminded me how much I do like this country. It made me realise that I should stop trying to make myself like city living and just start working towards building a future where we will be able to move away from big cities. As a city, Melbourne has some good things going for it, but it’s just not for me. I’d much rather be living on Raymond Island or up in the mountains- somewhere small, quiet, and peaceful. And Australia has plenty of amazing places like that. I hope that soon we can go discover more of them.

Raymond Island

15 Jun

I know I haven’t been updating my blog very regularly. Life is sort of getting in the way, so I don’t have as much free time for blogging as I used to. Eventually, though, I will get all my posts up about our recent trip (well, okay, it was about three weeks ago, now, so not so “recent” anymore).

After Walhalla, we stayed the night at a great bed and breakfast in Bairnsdale, the Dalfruin Bed & Breakfast. We had the BallyVista suite and it was one of the nicest, coziest rooms we have ever had the pleasure of staying in. And by cozy, I don’t mean small. It is a very large suite. This bed and breakfast has a self serve breakfast, which helps keep the price down and is kind of nice because we could just eat in our pajamas and not have to wait to be served. Also, they have a beautiful back garden, with a Canadian maple. I really liked that maple tree, since it reminded me of home and you don’t often see them here.

We debated about whether to go to the Buchan Caves or to Raymond Island. Since we did have to make some headway up the Great Alpine Road to get to our next overnight stop, we could only do one. Raymond Island won out on account of it being less out of our way and because they have KOALAS! And anyone who has read my past posts knows that I am NUTS about koalas! Besides, we’ve seen caves before and once you’ve seen one, you’ve kinda seen them all.

It’s about a 20 minute drive from Bairnsdale to Paynesville. The island is accessible only by ferry. It’s free to cross as a pedestrian or $10 to take your car across. If you’re going to do the koala walk, leave your car in Paynesville (plenty of parking near the ferry), because the koala walk starts in the park right by where you get off the ferry. We took our car across, though, and I’ll tell you why it came in handy later.

The marina as seen from Paynesville.

The marina as seen from Paynesville.

The koala walk takes about 20 minutes on the near side of the island. You can buy a little guide from the honesty box in the park for $2, which I did, because the money goes to help sick and injured koalas. Then you just start walking and follow the signs.

Of course, koalas sleep for something like 22 hours a day, so most of the ones you see will be curled up in a tree, dreaming of eucalyptus leaves. We did find a couple that were just waking up for breakfast though. :-) In all, we saw about two dozen koalas.

This fella was wide awake and didn't seem to mind being photographed.

This fella was wide awake and didn’t seem to mind being photographed.

This one was so busy chowing down that it didn't even seem to notice us staring and pointing and telling it how cute it is.

This one was so busy chowing down that it didn’t even seem to notice us staring and pointing and telling it how cute it is.

I tried to convince this one to come down and let me hug and pet him, but he was more interested in scratching himself.

I tried to convince this one to come down and let me hug and pet him, but he was more interested in scratching himself.

We also saw tons of bird life, mostly noisy squawking parrots.

The lorikeets were making a terrible racket! There must have been dozens of them on this person's house and in their yard. I guess they probably have a hard time sleeping in.

The lorikeets were making a terrible racket! There must have been dozens of them on this person’s house and in their yard. I guess they probably have a hard time sleeping in.

The two birdies were cuddling each other. So cute!

The two birdies were cuddling each other. So cute!

I don't think I have ever seen this particular species before, so I don't know what it is, but he was soooo pretty!

I don’t think I have ever seen this particular species before, so I don’t know what it is, but it was soooo pretty!

But we didn’t see very many people, which was nice. The island seemed very peaceful and calm and it was just what we needed on our getaway from the city. No people, no cars, just plants and animals and a cool sea breeze.

Sometimes I wonder if these birds think humans build piers for their convenience.

Sometimes I wonder if these birds think humans build piers for their convenience.

After our koala walk, we wandered around the town a bit and then decided that, since we had brought the car across, it might be nice to drive to the other side of the island. The striking thing about the island is that most of the roads are just dirt. I’m sure that’s fun in the rain! But it does give it a very secluded feel. We drove through large stands of eucalypts and reached the far end of the island, where there were only a few houses.

If this were my commute every day, I don't think I'd mind a bit!

If this were my commute every day, I don’t think I’d mind a bit!

On the Paynesville side of the island, it is quite busy with people coming and going by ferry and all the boats going through the marina. Even though both Raymond Island and Paynesville are small towns, they are sort of holiday towns for retirees and being a weekend, there was a bit of hustle and bustle.

On the far side, there is a quiet beach and nothing else. We saw one sailboat far off near the horizon and that was it. We ended up spending nearly two hours on this beach and it was honestly the best, most perfect part of the trip. I’m not usually one for beaches, but this was nice. It really made us not want to go back home. So when we got back to Paynesville, we went straight to a realtor’s office to look at what sort of properties are for sale out there!

How cool would it be to have this for your backyard?

How cool would it be to have this for your backyard?

And yes, we’re still thinking about moving there!

 

Edit: I couldn’t figure out why this post was getting so many hits and then I found out it has been mentioned on RaymondIsland.net. So hello to all the Raymond Islanders who are stopping by! I am insanely jealous that you get to live there and I don’t. If the day ever comes when my husband and I don’t need our jobs anymore, we’ll be packing up and moving out there straight away! Until then, your little sanctuary will remain one of our favourite getaway spots. :-)

Walhalla – An Australian Gold Mining Town

7 Jun

For the first time in what seems like forever, we were able to go away for the weekend and explore a new part of Victoria that neither of us had been to before. Woohoo! I’m a bit delayed in writing about it, but better late than never!

We spent the first day of our long weekend at Walhalla, which was once a major gold mining town, but is now largely abandoned. Only 16 people currently live there. However, the town is set up as a holiday destination, with plenty of accommodation from bed and breakfasts to campgrounds.

We didn’t stay overnight, but we did spend a very pleasant afternoon there. Being a Friday and non-peak season, many of the shops were closed and there were very few people around the town.

The highlight of our visit was the tour of the gold mine. Walhalla isn’t like crappy, rip-off Sovereign Hill with all its tourist traps and fakery. Walhalla is the real deal. It’s not a living history museum. It’s a genuine ghost town. And for that reason, I think it is a far better place to visit than Sovereign Hill, not to mention a better value for money.

The Long Tunnel Extension

The Long Tunnel Extension

It took the miners several years, but they finally intercepted a gold containing reef.

It took the miners several years, but they finally intercepted a gold containing reef.

That over there would be the teeny rest area where the miners could eat their lunch.

That over there would be the teeny rest area where the miners could eat their lunch.

Our guide, Sue, had all kinds of stories about people getting killed in the mines and how long it took to dig the mine. Here she was explaining that they had cleared all the trees within 30km of the town to provide fuel for the boilers.

Our guide, Sue, had all kinds of stories about people getting killed in the mines and how long it took to dig the mine. Here she was explaining that they had cleared all the trees within 30km of the town to provide fuel for the boilers.

A neat cross section map of the mine. If you worked at a level about halfway down, it might take you over an hour to reach your post.

A neat cross section map of the mine. If you worked at a level about halfway down, it might take you over an hour to reach your post.

Some interesting factoids from the mining tour:

Ned Stringer, a former convict, was the first to register a gold claim in the area, but he died from tuberculosis before he could return to Stringer’s Creek to profit from his find. However, his find generated over 50 years of intense mining activity.

A boy could start work in the mines at age 16. If he made it to the ripe old age of 24 without being killed, he was considered lucky. If he made it to age 30, they pulled him out to do topside work.

If a miner was killed on the job, the other miners would pool their days wages (£3.10 a day, which was a lot of money back then, especially compared to the national average wage of 50 schillings a day) and give the money to the widow. The widow could use the money for a funeral (there are a lot of very big headstones in the town cemetery- probably not cheap!) or use it to leave town and set up a new life somewhere else. She might stay if she had a son old enough to send into the mines or if she could remarry.

The quartz reef in the mine yielded over 42 tons of gold by 1900. The entire Walhalla goldfield produced 70 tons of gold

The gold found in Walhalla largely funded the building of Collins Street in Melbourne.

The last death in the mines was in 1986 when a company wanted to try to reopen the mine. A man was killed when a section of rock collapsed on him and it took 6 months and $3 million to recover his body. After that, plans to reopen the mine were abandoned.

After the mine tour, we explored the town a bit. One of the coffee shops was open and we had a snack there and I got some postcards in the post office.

The Walhalla Fire Station is actually built over the creek, due to lack of flat ground in the area. The original station burned down in a bush fire, ironically.

The Walhalla Fire Station is actually built over the creek, due to lack of flat ground in the area. The original station burned down in a bush fire, ironically.

Stringer's Creek. Supposedly contaminated with arsenic. I did notice that there were signs warning that the tap water was not suitable for drinking.

Stringer’s Creek. Supposedly contaminated with arsenic. I did notice that there were signs warning that the tap water was not suitable for drinking.

A pretty crimson rosella, doing bird things.

A pretty crimson rosella, doing bird things.

Not sure what kind of parrot this is, but there was a lot of very colourful, noisy bird life around.

Not sure what kind of parrot this is, but there was a lot of very colourful, noisy bird life around.

Peaceful. So nice to be away from the city!

Peaceful. So nice to be away from the city!

This is the former bank vault. The rest of the bank was moved to Moe and the vault was left behind. Naturally, the bank closed when the mines closed.

This is the former bank vault. The rest of the bank was moved to Moe and the vault was left behind. Naturally, the bank closed when the mines closed.

I also wanted to see the cemetery. I don’t know why, but I always like seeing old cemeteries. They do run a ghost tour of the town on weekends, but as we weren’t staying the night, we figured we’d just go visit the ghosts ourselves before leaving.

The cemetery is set on a very steep hillside and doesn’t seem to be very well maintained. The footing is pretty treacherous and we both tripped and slipped a few times.

Many of the headstones are made of wood and the names have worn away long ago. Others are crumbling stone. But a few seem to be cared for on a regular basis and some old graves have had the headstones replaced with new ones in recent years. I always wonder about the forgotten, neglected graves- who those people were, what happened to their families. I suppose it’s not very nice to be lying cold and forgotten in the ground where no one remembers that you ever existed and I always spend a bit of extra time at the forgotten graves, in case no one else does.

Most of the graves are from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. The rest are from the 1980s, probably from when people were drawn back to the town by the prospect of the mines reopening. Some graves contain entire families, including several where none of the children lived to see adulthood and many with teenaged boys who likely died in the mines. It’s quite sad to think of all the families that lost their sons, husbands, and fathers to the mines, all so that other people could get rich.

I have always found cemeteries to be hauntingly beautiful and the cool, autumn day, with the sun already dipping below the tree line, made the cemetery a very peaceful place to be. I suppose if you have to die and be buried, there are much worse places to seek eternal rest than in a quiet, abandoned mountain town.

The path up to the cemetery is lined with all the prehistoric looking plants that are so common in Australia. I love them and half expect to see a dinosaur crossing the path in front of us.

The path up to the cemetery is lined with all the prehistoric looking plants that are so common in Australia. I love them and half expect to see a dinosaur crossing the path in front of us.

This kookaburra didn't seem to mind at all that his constant laughter was disturbing the peace!

This kookaburra didn’t seem to mind at all that his constant laughter was disturbing the peace!

This lonely grave was tucked away into a far corner of the cemetery and was completely inaccessible, due to all the overgrown flora.

This lonely grave was tucked away into a far corner of the cemetery and was completely inaccessible, due to all the overgrown flora.

As you can see, the ground is very steep. There are lots of roots and prickly things just waiting to snare an unwary visitor.

As you can see, the ground is very steep. There are lots of roots and prickly things just waiting to snare an unwary visitor.

We left Walhalla after our visit to the cemetery, as everything was closing up and we still had to make our way to Bairnsdale for the night. On the drive down the mountain, we saw numerous lyrebirds running around, which I have never seen before in the wild. If you’ve never seen one and want to, this is apparently the area to go to!

I definitely recommend Walhalla for anyone interested in gold mining history or anyone who just wants to get away from the city and go somewhere peaceful for a while (like us). There is a lot more to do during peak season and on the weekends, but going on a Friday and being some of the few people there was really nice and relaxing. It’s a place I’d love to go back to.

http://www.visitwalhalla.com/

Good night, LaTrobe Valley!

Good night, LaTrobe Valley!

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 5

11 Apr

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

For Part 3, click here.

For Part 4, click here.

In my previous post on this subject, I mentioned how and why I came to be stuck with having to satisfy Schedule 3 requirements and explained that the outlook was rather bleak.

I’m pleased to say that story has a mostly happy ending, resulting in me being granted a temporary residency visa! Woohoo!

The only unhappy part to the ending is owing our migration lawyer another $14,000. Ouch! But I guess he got the job done, which is what matters.

Here’s what went down. With the help of our lawyer and a barrister who specialises in immigration law, we filed three statutory declarations, along with several supporting letters, with DIAC in response to their request for information. We decided to ask for the waiver, but also supply all the information to satisfy the Schedule 3 requirements at the same time.

To waive Schedule 3, the applicant must show that there are “compelling circumstances” to warrant a waiver. These circumstances are defined as 1) having been in a relationship with the sponsor for two years or 2) having a child.

However, there is legal precedent which states that compelling circumstances cannot be limited to just those two items and there have been instances where an applicant was found to have compelling circumstances for other reasons, such as health issues, etc. In the letter our lawyer wrote, he outlined these precedents and made his case for why other circumstances must be taken into consideration.

In our case, our compelling circumstances, as outlined to DIAC, were:

1) H’s frail aged mother requires daily care, which I provide (supported by letters from her and her GP)

2) H would feel compelled to leave Australia with me if I were sent away

3) That would cause harm to his employer (supported by a letter from his boss)

4) It would put both H and his mother in a bind, in regards to her need for care and his need to be with me

We left out any references to financial hardship, as the lawyer did not think DIAC would care as much about that and he felt it would detract from the bigger issues.

Our lawyer advised that, failing to get a waiver or satisfy the requirements, I would not have to leave Australia, but would be able to appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal. In such a case, I would be on a bridging visa until my hearing, which would be in about two years.

But fortunately, that wasn’t an issue because my case officer at DIAC was apparently happy enough with our explanations. I was expecting to wait at least a few weeks, if not months, to hear what the decision would be.

Imagine my surprise to get a response just two days after filing our paperwork! Not only did my case officer say that the waiver was granted, but that my temporary residency visa had also been granted. Hooray!

However, even though I am now officially a resident, I still have to wait another two years to become a permanent resident and at least two more years after that to become a citizen, so this is by no means the last post in this series!

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration agent. I’m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 4

24 Mar

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

For Part 3, click here.

Some serious sh*t has gone down recently at immigration. Take this post as a warning and try not to make the same costly mistake.

The short version of the story:

Our migration lawyer made a very basic error and because of that, not only might my application for a spousal visa be denied, but I might have to go back to America (without my husband) and apply again.

The long version of the story:

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that in mid-2012, H and I hired a migration lawyer to help us with the application process for a spousal visa. I first arrived in Australia on a regular tourist visa (called an ETA), went back to America after three months for a short visit, and then returned to Australia on the same tourist visa.

Because airfare to America is expensive, we put in what’s called simply an “Application for Further Stay as a Visitor” which would allow me to stay for a period of six months instead of three. That would work out great, since our wedding would be in September, towards the end of that six month period, and we planned to marry in America anyway. This application cost $300, but we figured it was better than paying $1800 for airfare, right? We thought we were saving ourselves some money.

I printed out the details of this application and went on about my life. Shortly thereafter, we retained our lawyer and began the process of getting ready to apply for a spousal visa.

I could not apply before our marriage, because a fiancee visa can only be lodged off-shore. Our lawyer advised that we apply after returning from our wedding. I was sent to immigration to ask if my tourist visa had any “no further stay” conditions on it that would prevent me from lodging an application for another visa. It did not. The lawyer said we were good to go.

Fast forward a few months to after our wedding in September. I returned to Australia with my husband on what I believed to be my original tourist visa, thinking it had an expiry date of November 22, 2012. Plenty of time to lodge our application and get all our marriage documents in order and such. As it was, we ended up cutting it close, as we had a lot of trouble getting statutory declarations from our friends and family that were properly notarised. Our lawyer lodged the application on our behalf on November 21, a day before my tourist visa was due to expire. I was then granted a Bridging Visa C, or BVC.

Fast forward again until about two weeks ago. I had finally gotten a new passport with my new married name in it from the consulate and I went in to immigration to update my passport information with them. I also wanted to ask if I could apply for a Bridging Visa B, or BVB, instead of the BVC I was on because my grandfather in America is very old and very ill and if he dies, I wanted to be able to attend his funeral with my family. Or, you know, maybe even fly over there for a quick visit while he is still alive.

On a BVC, you have no travel rights. You are not allowed to leave Australia and they are really strict on that. The girl I spoke to said there were absolutely no exceptions. I asked her why it was that I was granted a BVC in the first place, since that is usually used for refugees and asylum seekers or people who had been here unlawfully.

You’re not going to believe her answer. I could hardly believe it myself.

She said I was on a BVC because I had been here illegally!!!

I thought, surely there must be some mistake! My application for a spousal visa was lodged the day before my tourist visa expired, so I couldn’t have been illegal! I told this to the girl and she said that my visa had expired September 29th, not November 22nd.

“But,” I objected, “I was on a tourist visa that was valid from 12 months from the date it was first granted. There’s no way I would have applied for it as early as September because I hadn’t even met my husband at that point and hadn’t made any plans to come to Australia.” And also, it says pretty clearly on my ETA that November 22nd is the expiry date. Right there in black and white.

Random photo of cute koala. :-D

Random photo of cute koala. :-D

“Not your visa,” she said. ‘Your visa wasn’t for twelve months.”

At that point, I couldn’t argue with her because I didn’t have that print-out with me, not having anticipated having that sort of conversation. But when I got home, I checked it, and sure enough, it said: “Expiry date: 22 Nov 2012″.

I immediately fired off a letter to the lawyer asking HOW ON EARTH HAD THIS HAPPENED?!?!?! Okay, I wasn’t that hysterical about it, but I did ask politely how my visa expiry was different than what we thought it was and how was it that I ended up being here illegally without knowing it?

He did not reply.

I went back to immigration about five days ago with H’s mother who is having visa problems of her own (she is a permanent resident) and while she was talking to her case officer, I asked someone about my alleged illegal status. I showed the girl the print out of my original ETA.

She told me that visa was cancelled when I applied for a further stay visa.

“I didn’t realise it was a different visa”, I explained, “I just thought it was an extension of the original one.” You see, when you apply for it, it doesn’t say anywhere that any current visa you have will be cancelled when the further stay is granted. It’s easy to assume that it is literally just an extension on how long you can stay on any on visit, more like a change of the visa conditions than an actual change of the visa itself. Also, nowhere does it say when you apply for it what your new expiry date is. The girl at immigration was a bit surprised that our lawyer hadn’t caught this and said I might want to file a complaint at www.mara.gov.au.

Then the girl dropped another bombshell on me that didn’t scare me as much at the time as it does now because I didn’t really understand what it was. She told me that because I was illegal when I lodged my partner visa, I now had to satisfy what are called Schedule 3 criteria. She said a letter had been sent to my migration lawyer about it five days previous. I said this was the first I had heard of it. She kindly printed out a copy of the letter for me and said that I had 28 days from the time it was first sent out to my lawyer to respond.

I left there feeling pretty ticked off. Not only had my lawyer not responded to my email about how it was that I ended up illegal under his watch, but he had also not passed on this information about Schedule 3 criteria to me.

For the record, this lawyer charges $400 an hour and prior to this mess, we had already paid him almost $13,000, which does not include the fees for lodging the application itself. For that kind of money, I expect him to get things right.

Why didn’t he check, double check, and triple check my visa status? Why did he not run it through VEVO to make sure or walk across the street to DIAC and ask? Why didn’t he send me to DIAC to check? We could have made this mistake on our own without paying him all that money, for crying out loud!

When I got home, I called H and told him what happened. He said he would call the lawyer. The lawyer took all day to get back to him. When he did finally call back, he admitted that he also did not know that the “further stay” was a separate visa to the ETA. Uh, that seems like a pretty basic thing that any registered migration agent should know…

I’ll be honest and say I haven’t like our lawyer from the start. He is loud, pushy, and self-important. He wasted a lot of our time (which we were billed for) just telling us how great he was and how we couldn’t do this without him. Numerous times, I left his office not having discussed things that I wanted to because he wasted our meeting time talking about how great he thinks he is. Another time, he screamed in my face for two hours because I hadn’t finished filling out the forms and blocked my way when I tried to get up and leave, before even hearing me out on why I hadn’t filled them out completely (because I wasn’t sure how I should answer a question in some cases or because I didn’t have the information to answer it).

H met with him in his office on Friday to discuss this problem. It was only after that that the lawyer then forwarded me the letter about Schedule 3.

H phoned me afterwards to say that the lawyer was now saying he didn’t know I had been on a “further stay” visa. Well, he did know because he took photocopies of all my paperwork and even if he hadn’t, he should have wondered how I was staying there for six months on a visitor visa. Or he should have just checked for himself what visa I was on and what my expiry date was, since that is what we were paying him to do. Like, duh?

Oh, and he also said he had no advice for us at this stage and wasn’t sure how to handle this situation and he’d need to check with someone else for advice. I guess that’s as much admission of guilt as we are likely to get from him.

If you’ve never heard of Schedule 3 criteria before, you are probably wondering what the big deal is and, more importantly for you, is it something you need to worry about in your own application?

This is Schedule 3, as described in the letter from DIAC:

Criterion 3001 requires that the application is made within 28 days of the last day on which the applicant held a substantive visa or from the time notice is given.

Criteria 3003 and 3004 require that the applicant satisfy several sub-criteria which include the following:
-the applicant is not (i.e. at time of application) the holder of a Substantive visa because of factors beyond their control’, and
-there are compelling reasons for granting the visa; and
– the applicant complied substantially with the conditions of their last visa (apart from any condition breached simply because the applicant ceased to hold a visa); and
-the applicant would have met all the criteria for grant of the visa in this application apart from the Schedule 3 criteria, on the last day they held a substantive visa.

Why is this a big deal? Basically, it’s a big deal because it’s something that can be used to deny your application. In other words, they will deny my application unless I give them a DAMN good reason not to.

I need to explain to them why I became illegal and show that it wasn’t my fault AND give them a compelling reason to grant the visa.

I’m told there are two ways to tackle this problem. One is to apply for a waiver. According to the letter DIAC sent, a waiver can be granted for “compelling reasons”, including cases where there is a child from the relationship or where the relationship has existed for more than two years. Neither of these apply to me, but a migration agent from up in Sydney said I could offer up reasons such as how it would affect our marriage, the financial burden it would place on us, how my Australian citizen husband might suffer without me, etc.

The second way is just to try to meet the criteria. For me, the hardest one to meet would be proving that I became unlawful due to factors beyond my control. Giving your application over to someone else to handle doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to make sure things are done right. Now, if you have Schedule 3 slapped on you because you became unlawful while you were in a coma in a hospital, that’s pretty easy to prove that there were factors beyond your control.

Since I wasn’t in a coma, I don’t have some stellar excuse as to why things got stuffed up. The lawyer didn’t do his due diligence. The immigration website where I applied for the further stay wasn’t clear. Then that website sent the details of my new visa by email to my husband, but not to me. And my husband just thought it was a receipt for payment and never forwarded it to me, so I never knew it existed. An honest mistake, to be sure, but it may not be good enough for DIAC.

If you fail Schedule 3, you have to leave the country and apply again offshore. For most types of visas, there is an exclusionary period of three years during which you cannot apply for any visas. For spouses, that may be waived, but you’d still be facing up to a year or more apart, just because the processing time for offshore applications is currently 12-15 months, PLUS you’d have to pay the application fee all over again, which isn’t cheap. Or you can appeal the decision to the Migration Review Tribunal, and I’m told the current wait time for a hearing is two years (!!!).

If, like me, you basically dismantled your life back home when you came to Australia, being sent back would be pretty devastating. I sold almost everything I owned and someone else is currently occupying my house, so it’s not like I could just evict them.

Some of my family has asked why H wouldn’t just come to America with me if I get sent back, but let’s be realistic. Who would look after his mother? Who is going to look after his property? Or why should he have to sell his property? Why should he have to quit a job that he likes and that pays reasonably well, a job where an entire development team is counting on his expertise and a job where a major hospital depends on him keeping their computer systems in tip-top shape? And more importantly, how would he even get a green card to come to America? I can’t sponsor him as a spouse. I don’t meet the income requirements laid out by USCIS since I’ve not had any income in America since coming here.

The only practical and realistic option would be that I go to America alone and we just tough it out. But I feel like that is very unfair.

It’s not like I’m some criminal or dishonest person who was trying to get around the immigration rules. On the contrary, I bent over backwards to get everything in by what I thought was the deadline to avoid becoming unlawful. I left the country when I was supposed to.

I know why DIAC has these rules in place and I’m glad they are trying to weed out cheaters, but I think it is a bit harsh to give someone a Schedule 3 just because they made a genuine mistake. I know DIAC is under strain and they have way more applicants than they have the manpower to process, but it would be nice if they would take some of these things on a case by case basis. Splitting up H and me at this point would basically ruin our lives together as a family and nobody at immigration even gives a rat’s behind.

Anyway, that’s the latest development in what I thought would be a relatively boring migration saga. I suppose an unexpected plot twist always makes for good reading, though, right? I’m hoping to have an update on the prognosis of this situation sometime next week, so cross your fingers for me, please! We need all the luck we can get.

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration agent. I’m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

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