Tag Archives: australia

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.

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 (Ā£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. Iā€™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. šŸ˜€

“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. Iā€™m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

How to Drive Like an Australian

14 Mar

The sign is supposed to read “Don’t drive like a wanker.” Get it? W + anchor = wanker. Only in Australia!

You may think that driving is the same no matter where you go in the world, but you would be wrong. Every place has its own unique driving culture, including Australia. Here’s how you can fit in if you’d like to drive in Australia.

Australian driving tends to be based around two premises. The first is that any car you are driving is too big for the road. The second is that the road is made solely for you. When in doubt, default to either or both of these assumptions.

One of the trademarks of Australian driving is treating lane markings as suggestions, rather than hard and fast rules about where you car should be on the road.

Always let your passenger side wheels ride right on or just over the line. Not only does this convey to other drivers that you believe your car to be too big to fit on the road, but also that you are selfish. After all, you wouldn’t want anybody to be able pass you and beat you to that red light.

A common Australian tactic to prevent other drivers from "budging" in front of you (or "passing", as it is known in the civilised world), is to take up more than one lane, as seen here.

A common Australian tactic to prevent other drivers from “budging” in front of you (or “passing”, as it is known in the civilised world), is to take up more than one lane, as seen here.

In the same vein, you should never let other people get around a tram. When passing a tram, be sure to drive slowly, right next to the tram until the absolute last possible moment you have to actually pass it. Then quickly cut around in front of it and laugh because all the fools behind you cannot pass the tram and must bottleneck into a single file line behind it. Meanwhile, you are home free and have an open stretch of road to yourself. And heck, you can take it a step further by applying this passing etiquette to pretty much any other road situation. Like on the motorway.

On the motorway, if you are going slower than most people, be sure to hog the right lanes so that people are forced to pass you on the left. You can make this even more fun by ignoring the lane markings (see above) and taking up two lanes.

Another thing you can do is when you see that someone is trying to merge on, refuse to move over for them, even if the lane next to you is completely clear. It’s always fun to try to cause an accident and what better way to do it than by playing chicken with someone whose entrance lane is merging into yours?

Where you are from originally, it might be common practice to move your vehicle completely into the near lane to make a turn. That’s just simply not how it’s done in Australia. You must never move more than halfway into the near lane, even if it is a dedicated turn lane (which are very rare) to make a turn. Remember: your car is SO BIG that you can’t possible make that turn without swinging out and also, it’s perfectly acceptable to make everyone behind you slam on your brakes while you slowly negotiate that dangerous street corner with your oversized sedan. If you want to make it convincing, try to manage to hit the curb anyway, despite having made an overly wide turn.

These decorative signs add so much character to the street!

Also, those signs saying “no right turn”? Yeah, just feel free to ignore those. They are only there for decoration.

Then there’s the use of turn signals. In Australia, signalling your intent is incorrect. It’s always better to leave other drivers guessing for as long as possible. You must wait to put on your signal until after you have begun whatever move you are wanting to do.

Please remember that the road was made just for you. Be as selfish as you like and pay no attention to other drivers. A good way to do this is to intend to make a right turn and pull up to a red light in the right lane (which will usually be demarcated for right turners and for those going straight). Then wait until a bunch of cars get behind you and let them think you will be going straight. When the light turns green, THEN you can put on your right blinker and block the entire intersection for the duration of the green light and cackle with insane glee at all the poor sops behind you who can’t get around.

How a “keep clear” zone is theoretically supposed to work. (Click to view larger image.)

Often in Australia, you will find that certain intersections are marked as “keep clear” zones, indicating that drivers should not block the intersection if they need to stop. This is so that people can continue to make right turns in or out of said intersection. Believe it or not, most Aussies are pretty good about following the “keep clear” rule when they come to a stop. (Don’t ask me why this is the one road rule they choose to obey- I really don’t know.) The problem here comes from people who are turning onto the main road from a side street.

Here’s what you should do if you are ever trying to turn left onto a main road from a side street and find that the other drivers have conveniently left the “keep clear” box open: Pull into the box just enough to claim your place in line, but not so much that anyone behind you wanting to turn right can get through. When the line starts moving, pull forward so slowly that the right turner behind you doesn’t have a chance to sneak through the line before the other cars start to close in. After all, he’s probably not in any hurry to get anywhere.

Yeah, that sign for a bike lane? That’s just for decoration, too. Notice how skillfully this driver manages to block the cycling lane to get revenge on any cyclist who might try to pass him. Well done, sir!

There are often a lot of bicycles and motorcycles sharing the road. This can cause some Aussie drivers to become very angry in heavy traffic when they see that someone on a pushbike is moving faster than they are. Try to be a true-blue Aussie yourself by sharing in the communal rage of your fellow drivers and cooperating with them to block the offending two-wheeled vehicle. Do this by once again ignoring your lane marking and drifting into the bicycle or parking lane so that the offender either can’t get through safely at all or must slow way down to avoid hitting your mirror. After all, if you have to sit in traffic, so should everyone else! Take it up a notch by driving onto the sidewalk to block pedestrians. The only thing more insulting than a cyclist moving faster than your car is a pedestrian moving faster than your car!

Lastly, when driving in Australia, pretend every day is a lazy Sunday and you have nowhere important to be. Drive slowly, leisurely. Spend more time looking at your surrounding than at traffic or road hazards. Expect people to be forgiving of your mistakes while being completely intolerant of theirs. In general, adopt a laid-back attitude to driving. If you are never in a rush, you won’t mind the traffic so much and you’ll find it’s easier to ignore the honking behind you.

Tampax Pearl in Australia!

28 Feb

I normally wouldn’t make a post like this one, but about a year ago I made a post bemoaning the lack of tampon selection in Australia, specifically my preferred brand, Tampax Pearl. That post has been one of my most viewed posts (usually from people googling how to find Tampax Pearl in Australia) and recently some commenters have said they have started seeing them in local stores.

That’s great, but I have even better news: You can now get them online!

I just got an email this morning from Fishpond alerting me that they now have Tampax Pearls in stock. They are a bit pricey by my American standards, but tampons aren’t that cheap here anyways, and I guess if you’re desperate… well, beggars can’t be choosers. And they do currently have a wide variety of absorbencies, including ultra, super plus and lite, which are extremely hard to find here in any brand, let alone the coveted Tampax Pearl. Hooray!

They ship from a USA supplier, so I have no idea how long it would take to arrive by mail, but since Amazon US won’t ship them overseas and I haven’t found any US drugstore that will ship overseas, it’s definitely an improvement.

I have no idea how long they will keep these in stock (I’ve been on their list to be notified for months) or if they will be a permanent fixture, so if you need them, if it might be wise to stock up. Plus, if they sell a lot of them, they’ll be more likely to keep them in stock.

Update- 17 May 2013: Amy from Proctor & Gamble’s marketing agency very kindly got in touch with me about this blog and arranged to send me some samples of the new Australian Tampax Pearls. Thanks, Amy! Check out what she sent me!

That's a lot of samples! :-D

That’s a lot of samples! šŸ˜€

As you can see from the packaging, they are pretty much identical to the American variety.

As you can see from the packaging, they are pretty much identical to the American variety.

She sent me four boxes of the new tampons, which is pretty awesome because within the last two months, all the stores near me have stopped carrying any kind of Tampax and my stash was starting to run low.

Now, a lot of people have commented that they have been able to find Pearls in their local stores, so I’m hoping that eventually they will start to become easier for everyone to find, no matter where they live. If you’ve seen them near you, please post where you saw them.

My Tampax posts are both still among my top viewed posts and I get a lot of traffic every day from other women looking for Tampax tampons in Australia, so it would be great if they could be directed to specific shops that carry them. Besides, the more that get sold, the more likely it will be that other shops will start carrying them, too!

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

16 Jan

Today I want to talk about a really disgusting phenomenon I’ve noticed as the summer has settled in and the days have become reliably warm.

While by no means the majority of people are engaging in this, I’ve seen it often enough now that I can no longer classify it as an “exception”.

I’m talking about people who walk around in public barefoot. I’ve seen people walking along the sidewalk without shoes on, going into eating establishments without shoes on, riding their bikes without shoes on (ouch!), or doing their grocery shopping without shoes on. Yesterday, the girl in line in front of me at the OfficeWorks copy center was also barefoot.

I understand that Australia is pretty laid back and maybe a lot of people just want to bring their beach lifestyle into the city, but walking around barefoot is not only dangerous (I hear there are a lot of needles lying around in the vicinity of Victoria Street), but it’s GROSS.

Seriously, I don’t want to see your grody feet and I don’t want to think about what kind of foot fungus you’re sharing with all the people who walked on that floor barefoot before you did. Put some freaking shoes on! Even flip flops would suffice.

So anyway, I was remarking on this unhygienic habit to H and something occurred to me. In Australia, I have never, not once, seen one of those signs that say “no shirt, no shoes, no service”.

Americans, you know what I’m talking about. You see them everywhere in America. I remember the local gas station where I grew up put one of those signs up because so many kids came in barefoot or wearing swimsuits in the summer after having been playing in the sprinkler.

I asked H if such signs existed here and he said he didn’t think he had ever seen one. So now I’m going to be on the lookout for people who aren’t wearing shirts either.

In A Sunburned Country

9 Jan

Normally, travel books are not my thing, but my mom sent me a copy of Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country as a Christmas gift. And being that I’ve been sick in bed for quite a long time, I had nothing better to do than start reading it right away. I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be pretty good.

Bill Bryson is a humourous travel writer. While I haven’t read any of his other books, I hear they are all similarly filled with wit and cleverness. The book was published in 2000 and there are certain parts that may come across as a bit out of date (I could have done without the appendix on the Sydney Olympics), but for the most part, I still found it relevant.

Bryson made several trips to Australia, exploring both the usual tourist locales and places off the beaten track. Of each adventure, he gives an amusing account.

But this is not a travel guide. This book isn’t about what to see and do. Instead, it’s about Australia. It’s about the people, the places, the history, the culture. Bryson makes Australia come alive in a way that a travel guide doesn’t. If you want to know which five star hotel is the best in Sydney, look elsewhere. If you want to know what it’s like to stop in a dusty roadside pub in the middle of the Outback as the sun sets and kangaroos hop across the horizon, then this book is for you.

For example, Bryson visits the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s biggest tourist attractions. But does he gush about how beautiful it is, how exotic and exciting? No… of course not. That would be boring. Instead he tells you about an American couple who got left behind when the boat departed without them and were never seen again. Probably eaten by sharks, he speculates.

Likewise, his account of the Great Ocean Road gives only a cursory nod to its beauty, before skipping ahead to the Mornington Peninsula where he tells you what none of the guide books do: that it’s filled with persistent, voracious, man-eating flies that WILL crawl up your nose and ears if they want to and there is nothing you can do about it. It is here that he perfects the “Aussie salute” on his way to pay homage to the spot (Cheviot Beach) where a prime minister, Harold Holt, mysteriously disappeared, swept out into the sea never to be seen again.

Here is what I’ve taken away from the book:

World’s most venomous snake – the inland taipan

1) Australia is dangerous.

Well, anybody who’s been here already knows that, but the armchair traveler might not. Yep, just about everything here is deadly and what’s not deadly will usually cause you intense pain. Snakes, insects, spiders, fish, sharks, jellyfish, crocodiles, you name it. Bryson relates several stories of dangerous animals, including an infestation of bluebottles (also known as the Portuguese Man O’ War) at a beach in Sydney, a swarm of box jellyfish at a beach near Cairns, and a few deadly but dead snakes in museums. Because he doesn’t mention any fatalities associated with them, I’m going to assume that sheep are at least relatively safe.

“You probably won’t see any redbacks out there,” Sonja reassured us. “Snakes are much more of a problem.”

This intelligence was received with four raised eyebrows and expressions that said, “Go on.”

She nodded. “Common brown, western taipan, western puff pastry, yellow-backed lockjaw, eastern groin groper, dodge viper…” I don’t remember what she said exactly, but it was a long list. “But don’t worry,” she continued. “Most snakes don’t want to hurt you. If you’re out in the bush and a snake comes along, just stop dead and let it slide over your shoes.”

This, I decided, was the least-likely-to-be-followed advice I have ever been given.

Canberra- a sprawling park with not much to do

2. Canberra is boring.

I haven’t personally been to Canberra, but I’ve always thought it would be a nice place to see until I read Bryson’s account. He describes it as one giant sprawling park, where you can walk a long way without seeing anything or anyone, with not much to see or do and even less to eat.

Downtown Canberra was primarily a series of plazas wandering between retail premises, and devoid of any sign of life but for a noise of slap and clatter that I recognized after a moment as the sound of skateboards. Having nothing better to do, I followed the sounds to an open square where half a dozen adolescents, all in backward-facing baseball caps and baggy shorts, were honing their modest and misguided skills on a metal railing.

[…] If there is anything more half-witted than asking six adolescents in backward-facing baseball caps for a dining recommendation, then it doesn’t occur to me just at the moment, but I’m afraid this is what I did now.

“Are you an American?” asked one of the kids in a tone of surprise that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to encounter in a world capital.

I allowed that I was.

“There’s a Mcdonald’s just around the corner.”

Gently I explained that it was not actually a condition of citizenship that I eat the food of my nation. “I was thinking of maybe a nice Thai restaurant,” I suggested.

They looked at me with that flummoxed, dead-end expression that you have to be fourteen years old to produce with conviction.

“Or perhaps Indian?” I offered hopefully, and got the same no-one-home look. “Indonesian? Vietnamese? Lebanese? greek? Mexican? West Indian? Malaysian?”

As the list grew, they shifted uncomfortably […].

“Italian?” I said.

“There’s a Pizza Hut on Lonsdale Street,” piped up one with a look of triumph. “They do an all you can eat buffet on Tuesdays.”

“Thanks,” I said, realizing this was getting me nowhere […]. “It’s Friday today,” I pointed out.

“Yeah,” the kid agreed, nodding solemnly. “They don’t do it on Fridays.”

Painting by John Longstaff of Burke and Wills at the “Dig” tree

3. Most of the early explorers of Australia were really bad at their jobs.

I never knew much about the history of Australia, being an American. What American does? Or for that matter, what non-Australian does? As Bryson frequently points out, Australia isn’t really on most people’s radar, largely due in part to its geographical isolation. But he makes an effort to find out and share some unique points of Australian history, including the story of the most famous of Australian explorers, Burke and Wills. Burke and Wills are basically like the Lewis and Clark of Australia, except, well, they died and Lewis and Clark succeeded. They were sent on an expedition to find a passage through the interior of the continent by which a telegraph line could be built, but they unfortunately were not very qualified and did everything wrong.

They chose as leader an Irish police officer named Robert O’Hara Burke, who had never seen real Outback, was famous for his ability to get lost even in inhabited areas, and knew nothing of exploration or science. The surveyor was a young English doctor named William John Wills, whose principal qualifications seem to have been a respectable background and a willingness to go. On the plus side, however, they both had outstanding beards.

This kangaroo is definitely a true blue Australian.

4. Australians are a generally friendly people, except in Darwin.

Bryson’s book is full of examples of friendly Australians. In fact, right up until the chapter on his visit to Darwin, you’re led to believe that all Australians are cheerful, happy-go-lucky, and neighbourly. And really, this does sort of fit the stereotype. I think most people imagine that Australians don’t do much besides smile, surf, drink beer, and say “G’day, mate!” to everyone in the vicinity. But not in Darwin, especially where hotel staff are concerned. Visitors be warned!

Our troubles began when we went looking for our hotel. We were booked into a place called the All Seasons Frontier hotel, but no such establishment appeared to exist. […]

Eventually we stopped outside a large hotel on the seafront and Allan ordered me to go inside and seek professional guidance. At the front desk a young man who had evidently invested a recent paycheck in a very large tub of hair gel stood with his back to me regaling two female colleagues with some droll anecdote. I waited a long minute, then went “Ahem.”

He turned his head to give me a look that said, without warmth, “What?”

“Could you point me to the All Seasons Frontier Hotel?” I asked politely.

Without preamble, he reeled off a series of complex directions […] and I couldn’t begin to follow. On the counter was a pad of maps and I asked him if he could show me on that.

“It’s too far to walk,” he said dismissively and just a bit oddly.

“I don’t want to walk. I’ve got a car.”

“Then ask your driver to take you.” He rolled his eyes for the benefit of the girls, then continued with his story.

How I longed for a small firearm or perhaps a set of industrial tongs with which to clamp his reedy neck and draw his head close to me, the better to hear what I next had to say. It was: “Do you think if I had a driver, I would be asking directions of you? It’s a rental car, you snide, irksome, preposterously glossy little shit.” I may not have said the words precisely in that order, or indeed at all, but that was certainly the emotional gist of it.

[…] Ten minutes later we pulled up outside a hotel that announced itself, in large letters, as the Darwin City Frontier Hotel. […] I stalked through the front doors.

“Is this the All Seasons Frontier Hotel?” I barked from an unsocial distance.

The young woman behind the counter looked up and blinked. “Yes,” she said.

“Then” – I came much closer – “why don’t you put a sign up saying so?”

She regarded me levelly. “It says on the side of the building.”

“Well, it doesn’t.”

She favored me with a thin, knowing, supremely condescending smile. “Yes, it does.”

“Well, it doesn’t.”

Torn between her training in customer relations and her youthful certitude, she hesitated, and in a soft voice said, “Does.”

I held up a finger in a way that said, “Don’t move. Don’t go anywhere. I’m going to check this out and then come back and throttle someone. You actually.”

I went out and ranged around the building in the manner of a demented building inspector […] then came back in and announced, “It doesn’t say ‘All Seasons’ on it anywhere.”

She looked at me and said nothing, but I could see she was thinking, “Does.”

Kinda like baseball?

5. Cricket is an oddity among Australian sports.

Anyone who knows anything about Australia knows that Aussies are a very sporting people who excel in a wide range of different sporting activities, with special preference given towards anything dangerous, like surfing or Australian Rules football. It might therefore baffle the outsider to encounter cricket, quite possibly the most boring sport known to mankind, even more boring than golf or baseball. Cricket is a leftover from British culture and is, for some reason, quite a popular sport in Australia, to the bafflement of the rest of the world.

I had stumbled onto the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.

After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect.

I don’t wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of the awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players- more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the of the day as you were at the beginning.

[…] Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes, autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see these?!

6. There are lots of interesting things off the beaten path, if you take the time to look.

One thing that I particularly liked about the book was that Bryson makes a lot of stops in small towns in the middle of nowhere and manages to find something cool about each one of them. If you want to know what is interesting in the touristy places, there is no shortage of literature to advise you. And you can go and see the same things millions of other people have seen, if that’s your thing. Bryson does some of that, but he doesn’t spend much time talking about it. Instead, he’ll tell you about an amazing museum with a lifelike hologram in the some small forgotten town and he’ll visit the nowhere places where interesting bits of history occurred, like Lambing Flat, where a riot among gold miners broke out when the white miners became upset that the Chinese miners were finding better fortunes than they were, or Myall Creek, where in 1838, was the very first time any whites had ever been punished for the murder of Aborigines (seven were hanged). Or if history doesn’t interest you, there is always the Big Lobster.

The Big Lobster, you see, was something- or more properly a species of something- that I had longed to see ever since I had hit the road.

One of the more cherishable peculiarities of Australians is that they like to build big things in the shape of other things. Give them a bale of chicken wire, some fiberglass, and a couple of pots of paint and they will make you, say, an enormous pineapple or strawberry or, as here, a lobster. Then they put a cafe and gift shop inside, erect a big sign on the highway (for the benefit of people whose acuity does not evidently extend to spotting a fifty foot high piece of fruit standing beside an otherwise empty highway), then sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

Australia is home to Uluru, the world’s largest monolith.

7. Australia is a pretty amazing place.

Australia is truly unique in the world. The majority of its flora and fauna exist nowhere else on earth. It’s totally inhospitable to life, but has more biological diversity than anywhere else in the world. New species are being discovered all the time. It’s one of the few places on earth that still has vast amounts of uncharted territory. The history of its founding is unique and the Aboriginal inhabitants are an anthropological anomaly. It’s one of the best places in the world to live and possibly also the most beautiful.

Crocodiles would attack, bushfires would rage, ministers would depart in shame, amazing things would be found in the desert, and possibly lost again, and word of nine if this would reach my ears. Life in Australia would go on, and I would hear nothing, because once you leave Australia, Australia ceases to be. What a strange, sad thought that is.

I can understand, of course. Australia is mostly empty and a long way away. Its population is small and its role in the world consequently peripheral. It doesn’t have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn’t need watching, and so we don’t. But I will tell you this: the loss is entirely ours.

You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I’m saying.

This is the kind of book that will make you want to start packing your bags for an extended road trip around Australia. It will make you want to tempt fate by driving into the Outback to see if you could survive from drinking your own urine any better than the unfortunate souls who came before you or by taking a motorboat into crocodile territory just to see how many sets of chompers you can attract with the engine noise and then escape from unscathed.

Australia is generally not on most people’s radar, which is really an unfortunate thing, being such a beautiful and fascinating country. Bryson laments the fact that the rest of the world rarely takes notice of Australia and in his book, sets out to share why the country is so interesting and deserving of a closer look.

Bryson has a deft and sarcastic way of brilliantly poking fun at the country while simultaneously praising it. He really does love Australia. Naturally, he engages in a bit of hyperbole to tell his stories, which non-Australians will find amusing and Australians might not, but it’s all a matter of perspective. In any case, his affection for the country and its people shines through and by the end of the book, you will feel the same special place in your heart for Australia that Bryson has.

Melbourne Christmas Square

20 Dec

Welcome to Christmas Square!

Nutcracker sentries

I’ve been surprised by the number of public Nativity displays in Melbourne, considering the country’s overall obsession with political correctness.

There is an animated display of the Nativity story for children to enjoy.

A random Christmas wombat?

A beautifully decorated tree stands out among the surrounding high rise buildings.

People enjoying the little hedge maze, looking for all of Santa’s reindeer.

Santa’s reindeer are hidden throughout the maze. Here is Cupid, along with a short story on how he got his name.

Here’s Blitzen. According to his story, he is electrically charged!

These nutcrackers are stationed at each entrance.

A quiet respite among the hustle and bustle of the city.

The square was packed with people enjoying the nice weather, or perhaps just taking a break from Christmas shopping.

Giant sized ornaments!

I noticed the hedges had Christmas lights running through them. Maybe worth visiting at night time when they are all lit up.

Schoolchildren out enjoying the day, maybe an end of term celebration. They are so cute in their little hats.

The Melbourne Christmas Square is located at the corner of Swanston and Collins in the CBD and runs through January 3.

This blogger has posted some nice shots of the Square at night time.

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 3

17 Dec

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

If you’re applying for a partner visa within Australia (or just about any other substantive visa for residency), you will be required to submit a police check from your home country and any other country that you’ve lived in for at least a year (including Australia if you’ve been here for a year or close to it by the time you submit).

For Americans, that means you need to get a criminal records check from the FBI. I’ve already mentioned this previously, but I’ll walk you through it again in more detail, along with the fingerprinting process.

You will need to submit an Identification Record Request to the FBI. The instructions for doing so can be found here, and all the relevant links you need for the documents can be found on the right side-bar.

Most people can probably figure out how to fill out the forms required (if you are paying by credit card, which is easiest from abroad, note that the credit card form needs to be downloaded separately- see the sidebar with all the links).

The biggest hassle is getting your fingerprints done. As I’ve said before, there is only one fingerprinting facility in Melbourne. You must make an appointment to have your fingerprints done. The wait time for fingerprinting in Melbourne can be 2-3 months. If you can’t wait that long and are willing to travel, there are several regional offices that you can contact to see if you can get in earlier.

You will need to take your passport with you, along with the fingerprint card used by the FBI. It’s fine to print this from your home computer on standard paper. I recommend printing at least two copies and having two sets of fingerprints taken, just in case you get some prints that don’t come out right according to the FBI regulations. Think how much it would suck to wait all that time for an appointment and travel all the way to the police station, only to have your prints messed up somehow and not have a spare card for them to use. I brought four with me (only needed two), just because I used to be a Girl Scout and I like to be prepared.

Equally important is to arrive early. Yes, your appointment might not be til 11am and you might not be seen until 11:30, but aim to get there at least 15 minutes early so you can check in and they can go over your paperwork.

If you arrive late, even just a little bit, you risk losing your appointment. I was in line behind a woman who was five minutes late and throwing a fit because she hadn’t been able to find a parking spot and was upset that the police wouldn’t accommodate her anyway because their entire day for fingerprints was booked up. So it’s much better to arrive early, and if you are a lot early, there are a few cafes inside the building you can hang out at.

It isn’t too difficult to get there. It is within walking distance from Southern Cross train station and several trams run by or near to it. If driving is your thing, there are parking garages available (but not much in the way of on-street metered parking).

If you GPS the address (637 Flinders), it will take you to a police station at that address. But this is not where you get your fingerprints done. Instead, you need to enter the World Trade Centre building from the Siddeley Street entrance (there is conveniently a parking garage located right next to this entrance) and go up the escalators, where you will see the fingerprint facility right next to the Victorian Police Museum.

Location of Melbourne fingerprinting facility

Location of Melbourne fingerprinting facility

(By the way, if you’ve never had your fingerprints taken before, it can be quite messy, so don’t wear anything that you’d be upset about getting ink on it.)

Now, when I called to make an appointment, I was told the charge for fingerprinting was $141, but when I got there, they told me there was no charge for the service. So I didn’t actually pay anything, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t a fluke. Bring your credit card, just in case.

Once you’ve finished with your fingerprints, you’re good to go. They’ll be given to you in an unsealed envelope, to which you can add your FBI form.

Lastly, go over the checklist and make sure you have everything you need, then post it all to the FBI at:

FBI CJIS Division ā€“ Record Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

And then sit back and enjoy waiting on American bureaucracy! šŸ˜€ It will be up to six weeks before you get a response back.

For Part 4, click here.

*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. Iā€™m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*