Sign O’ the Times

What self-respecting blog about life in Australia could go without at least a passing mention of the wonderful world of Australian road signs. So, in memory of the great purple one, here are my Sign O’ the Times.

Bush fire.  Sadly a fact of life for much of Australia, reminders of the dangers are never far away…


Wildlife. We’ve got some fabulously bonkers animals here. This type of sign you’ll see fairly often…img_0679

These less so…




And then there’s the completely surreal…img_2960


Yes, there is such a thing as the Surfer’s Code. I’m looking at you Tony AbbottDSC_5537

You find road signs in the most unlikely places…

So good they named it (after me) twice 😄DSC_4971

Those of you from northern England may find this amusing; we always have a little snigger…

So not really that secret then?DSC_8134

Bullet holes. Might I suggest running pace?img_1989

Ok, ’nuff said!

And then there’s this.img_1944

Thanks to Edith, Terry & Claire for the use of their photos.

Prince: Sign O’ the Times

Slip Inside This House

…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four

There have been some odd moments since our arrival in Australia; possums falling down the chimney into the living room fireplace, having to rescue friends from their own back garden, kangaroos trying to steal cutlery etc etc but none stranger than the events of the last week. 

We moved house – lots of packing and unpacking, lots of lugging stuff around and lots of cleaning of the old place – and finally, Sunday lunchtime, we’d finished. The house was empty and more sparkling than it had been in years. All that remained was a professional steam clean of the carpets as required by our tenancy agreement so we locked up and went back to our new house, pleased with a job well done. 

Tuesday morning I met the carpet cleaners at the old house, unlocked the door and noticed a large hole in the floor of the living room. And another. And another in a different room. Strange, I thought, someone’s removed the brass floor vents. Upstairs some old paint pots had been taken out of a cupboard and put on the side. The bathroom had been used. Someone, clearly a man, had been to the toilet leaving drips of urine on the seat. The downstairs toilet had mud all over my newly washed floor and a big dusty footprint on the toilet lid. Inwardly cursing the estate agents contractors who’d obviously been in to do a few jobs before the next tenants moved in, I set about cleaning up the mess they’d made. Then the carpet cleaners noticed the back door was open and I realised the key was missing from the lock. So not only had the contractors made a mess of the house but they’d left it unsecured too. The carpets finished, I went to the rental agents to drop off the keys and to complain about the shoddy job their workmen had done. 

Only it wasn’t their workmen. Our property manager looked at me blankly when I started complaining about the mess. “We’ve not sent anyone in.” she said. I started to feel uneasy. So who was it? Someone with a key as there was no sign of forced entry. The owners. It must be the owners. It took a day or so to get a reply from the owners and it wasn’t them either. The following day the estate agents went round to check on the house and found a light on and the back door, which I had managed to lock using the button in the door handle, was unlocked again.

So someone, with keys to the house, had waited till we’d moved all our valuables and other stuff out and had gone in, unscrewed four scratched and bent brass floor vents, taken a look at some old pots of paint, stopped for a pee, stood on the seat of one of the other toilets, gone out into the back garden and then left, taking the vents and another key with them. Then they’d been back a day or two later, unlocked the back door again, switched a light on and left again.

But why? It didn’t make any sense. Why not pinch all our valuables when we were away on holiday over Christmas? Or when we’d moved out but left some stuff there ready to bring over later? Why risk a criminal record for brass floor vents which retail at $20? 

I reported it to the police, unable to shake the feeling that I was making it all up as it sounded so preposterous. And, of course, I had carefully cleaned away all the evidence.  The police officer’s eyebrows got higher and higher as I went on; “It sounds ridiculous” she said finally. Yup.

Following the logic of Sherlock Holmes, the improbable conclusion I have come to is that a previous tenant, so enamoured by these $20 scratched brass floor vents, bided their time, waiting for 16 months until we moved out, watching the house to make sure we’d finally gone and then slipped inside and pinched them. Having a sudden moment of doubt that they’d missed one they came back just to be sure. Or… it was someone with a serious DIY obsession who was intending to return with the newly polished vents and some brushes to paint the walls. Or… (a friend’s theory) there is treasure hidden somewhere in the house and someone is looking for the ill-gotten gains.

So come on all you amateur sleuths, you whodunnit fans – what do you think?

Primal Scream: Slip Inside This House

Days on the Mountain

When we first arrived in Melbourne, one of the many things we had to do was buy a car. Although there is some overlap, Australia tends to have different makes and models to the cars we were used to in the UK – Holden Commodores, Toyota Camrys, Mitsubishi Tritons etc – so we didn’t really know exactly what we were looking for. The clock was ticking too; our lovely friends who had so helpfully lent us their house for two weeks had also let us borrow their car but they were returning from holiday and, not surprisingly, needed both back. We’d seen enough of Australia to know that there are some seriously remote places here that your standard saloon or hatchback just can’t get to and we also knew that we wanted to go to places just like that! So we went round various used car dealerships wondering about an old Ford TerritoryToyota Kluger or Subaru Forester; so-called ‘soft roaders’ which basically means they can cope with a bit more than your average car but aren’t in the rugged terrain league of the more expensive true 4WDs – with no income and relying on our savings we had to be very mindful of cost. At one of the endless car places we happened to come across a Mitsubishi Pajero. Now this was more like it! A proper 4WD that you had to step up to get into. We’d never heard of one before but it looked like just the ticket. And it was completely unaffordable. We lingered for a while, sat in it a few times and then went away.

On the ‘used cars for sale’ websites a bit later we spotted a Pajero. It was old and with a lot of kms on the clock but it was just about within our price range so we went to take a look. It belonged to a family just about to emigrate to the USA who had been on some adventures in it and were regretfully having to put it up for sale. A couple of days later it was ours.

We went on a few easy off-road trips – the Dandenongs rainforest, the Tasmanian beach and wilderness, to Wreck Beach off the Great Ocean Road – and it was great. On the lookout for something to do one weekend I saw there was a Explore Australia Expo at the Melbourne Showgrounds so we went along for a day out. Amongst the stalls there was one for the Pajero Club of Victoria – ‘Hello’, we said, ‘we’ve got a Pajero’ and before you know it we’d joined the club, been trained on the bundled 4×4 Proficiency driving course and booked ourselves on our first 4WD trip to Mount Tamboritha in Victoria’s Alpine National Park. That was a week ago and this is the trip report we’ve just written for the club magazine.

Hi Country Mount Tamboritha Trip Report, 21-23 Aug 2015

As brand new members of the Pajero Club of Victoria, we didn’t know quite what to expect on our first trip. The description sounded perfect – an ‘Almost Beginners Weekend’ in the Hi Country staying in a chalet on Mount Tamboritha – so we booked ourselves on. While our Paj already had a CB radio from its previous owner, we had to get ourselves kitted out with a couple extras; a snatch strap and a shovel so we were prepared for any ‘getting stuck’ moments.

In the days leading up to the trip we kept an eye on the weather forecast.  Melbourne was forecast a glorious weekend of 17 degrees. Mount Tamboritha, on the other hand, was showing 2 degrees and snow. The forecast steadily improved during the week to 6 degrees and showers and we loaded up the car with winter coats, scarves, gloves waterproofs, blankets, hot water bottles and enough food to feed our family for the weekend. Plus extra food, just in case.

Day 1

We met our fellow adventurers at a service station in Officer; a friendly bunch of people who made us feel very welcome on our first outing. We set off in our convoy of 14 or so vehicles, mostly Pajeros with the odd Land Cruiser and Jeep for good measure, keeping in touch on the CBs as we went. The radio chat about ice-creams clearly made everyone hungry so when we stopped for fuel at Licola, about 250km from Melbourne, it was ice-creams all round. We were delayed in Licola after someone, not a member of our group, left without paying for their fuel. Rather than leave the General Store out of pocket, we had a whip round and everyone contributed to covering the cost. We’ll never know whether it was deliberate or an honest mistake (given the specific circumstances I’m inclined to think the former) but the incident showed the generosity of our group and that we were travelling with a good set of people. 


Then it was onwards, through the foothills and up to the Sambain Chalet. We stopped en route to let a bit of air out of the tyres to give us a more comfortable ride on the dirt road and also at Bennison Lookout at about 1000m. We arrived at the chalet before sundown and set about choosing bunks and getting our things sorted out while the kids made good use of the basketball hoop outside.  The view from the chalet was lovely.


The kitchen was well equipped with fridges, cooking facilities and more crockery than we’ve ever seen in our lives and the evening was a great opportunity to be sociable over food and drinks and get to know our companions a bit better. With the fires burning, it was plenty warm enough and there was certainly no need for all the blankets we’d brought along. The sleeping arrangements were comfortable, though there wasn’t much headroom in the bunks and the noise of being in a large shared dormitory was a little distracting but we all got a reasonable night’s sleep and woke up ready for a full day on the mountain tracks.

Day 2

Our planned departure time was 9:30am but we were all ready about an hour earlier and keen to get started. Others had arrived during the previous evening and our convoy now made 18 vehicles. We set off up the mountain and fairly quickly made it to the snow line where we stopped for photos and a spot of snowball throwing in the sunshine.  

Then it was onwards and upwards to the absolutely amazing views from the Pinnacles Lookout.  

On the way down we passed signs for the Billy Goat Bluff track. We hadn’t used this track to get to The Pinnacles as it is considered a bit more challenging than the ‘Almost Beginners’ rating this trip had but, after a quick radio chat, we decided we were all up for it.

Due to time constraints we decided to go over the Razorback to the helipad and then turn round and come back. The track was very rocky and driving was slow and bouncy and our large convoy meant we needed to be very mindful of others on the track. After a quick photo stop on the Razorback (more stunning views), we continued on down a very steep hill and then up to the helipad where we just about squeezed all 18 cars onto but it was tight!  

 Back the way we came, more bouncing around, until we reached a good spot for a lunch break. Then off again, this time to the Moroka Hut via some muddy tracks through the woodlands.  
We headed back to Sambain Chalet via yet more muddy tracks and, much to the delight of the kids, a river crossing:  
It was after 5pm when we got back with time for more socialising, food and drinks before heading off to bed, tired but ready for more adventures the next day.

Day 3

Again, we were all up early and had everything packed and the chalets cleaned by 9:30am – keen!  Mount Margaret was the plan for this morning, again a challenging track so a few people decided to head back home. This track is tough from the outset. No sooner are you off the paved road than you’re in low range and heading up a very steep and rocky hill. Some of the more experienced members of the group went first and posted themselves at various stages along the track so they could tell the rest of us which line to take, which parts to avoid, etc.   

We went up carefully, one by one, each car waiting at the bottom of the hill until called forward. We got stuck once with our wheel on a large rock and had to pull back before trying again but we made it, along with the rest of the group to the first stopping point. Once we were all together, it was off again up more steep rocky hills towards the top of Mount Margaret.  

At the top we stopped for a break, a snack and a chat with, you guessed it, yet more beautiful views of the Alpine National Park.  We returned the way we’d come and it was certainly easier going downhill although our car did ground a couple of times on rocks and made a few graunching noises. A few of us stopped at the bottom to re-air our tyres while others headed off to Licola to do the same. We all met up in Licola a bit later to refuel, clean our headlights & registration plates so as not to get pulled over, and eat yet more ice-cream in the warm sunshine before saying our goodbyes and heading home.

Our verdict on our first 4WD weekend? We loved it. We had a fabulous time, saw new places that we couldn’t have got to easily on our own, met some great new people (special thanks to our trip leader Barry Walker and our various Tail End Charlies) and the kids, the eldest in particular, were in their element. We probably need to invest in some car upgrades – bash plates would have been handy, the suspension could do with raising a little higher and the kids are angling for a chainsaw.  We’ve already booked ourselves on our next trip – sand dune driving in Portland – and we can’t wait…

Tom Verlaine: Days on the Mountain

Should I Stay or Should I Go

We arrived here a year ago today; Australia is the new normal. Looking back at my early blog posts, all the trauma of leaving and making sense of everything over here seems like it happened to someone else. It’s certainly been a busy year; as well as getting the basics of a new life in place (house, job, school, cars and an enormous amount of official documentation) we’ve made some lovely friends, done a lot of exploring, had close encounters with wildlife and visited some fabulous places both locally and further afield:

I’ve been in a rather reflective mood of late. I suppose once the initial madness of such a life change settles down into the day-to-day routine of normality it’s not surprising that I find myself taking stock and pondering some fundamental questions. Were we right to make the move? Is Melbourne the best place for us? Should we have chosen to live in the city or the bayside suburbs instead of heading north into the bush? And now we’re here, do we commit to staying in Australia permanently or do we say ‘it’s been fun but we’re ready to come home’?

Although moving here was the hardest decision I’ve ever made I’m pretty sure it was the right one for us. It’s really not easy to do something like this – it’s certainly not a permanent holiday – and inevitably you have ups and downs. Good days when I find myself grinning like an idiot because I can’t believe my luck to live somewhere warm and a short drive from a wine region and a rainforest. Bad days when I feel a bit lonely or homesick and look back at the UK in a ‘grass is always greener’ way and think about what we’ve left behind. Overall though, the good days outweigh the bad and with so many new things to do and opportunities to make the most of we’ve certainly shaken off the ‘stuck in a rut’ feeling that led us here.

Our visa allowed us to settle anywhere in Australia and we chose Melbourne. There were some fairly practical considerations for our choice; we’d been here several times before and liked it, there’s a lot to do, it’s a large city and jobs were easier to find and we had friends already here. I wonder if, subconsciously, we opted for possibly the most British place in Australia – in the midst of so many other changes perhaps we were looking for something familiar. But it wasn’t only about choosing Melbourne it was also about ruling out other places:

  • Perth – hot and sunny but scary costs of living, high dependency on the mining industry which is currently in major downturn and seriously isolated; in fact it’s the second or third most isolated city in the world (depending on your definition of ‘city’), being over 2000km from its nearest city of Adelaide;
  • Adelaide – while Melburnians can look down their noses at Adelaide, we all liked it; a small city with a good feel about it, beautiful architecture and lovely beaches. But with jobs hard to come by it wasn’t the place to turn up without a firm offer of work;
  • Hobart – nice city and fantastic scenery nearby but a bit cold, a bit small, and a bit not near anywhere else;
  • Canberra – it gets frosts. That’s no good, you don’t come to Australia for frosts! Most of the jobs are in federal government which would be great for me until I found out that they only employ Australian citizens so I’d have to live here for 4 years and legally become Australian before I was employable;
  • Sydney – lovely warm climate but with twice the rainfall of Melbourne and very, very expensive. The Opera House is iconic and the harbour immense but it’s never particularly grabbed us as somewhere to live. Neither could we have found the same affordable balance we have here; in easy reach of the city while living out in the countryside – the best of both worlds;
  • Brisbane – we’ve not been before (apart from flying in and out when we went to the stunning Fraser Island) but there’s a reason for that. Each time we planned our Australian trips we always found that there were always more interesting places to see elsewhere. The coastline north looks beautiful but I’m not sure I could face the tackiness of the Gold Coast to the south. While warm for the most part, the tropical climate with its humidity and big storms seemed rather daunting;
  • Top End – now this would have just been silly. We may have daydreamed about buying the fabulous Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm which we spent a happy week at a couple of years ago, but the relentless humidity, the monsoons and the saltwater crocs? I think not.
  • Alice Springs – er, no. Just no.

So Melbourne it was and we like it here. Our friendly suburb is quite reminiscent of Bath in its hills and greenery and although there is a conspicuous absence of Georgian architecture, Montsalvat does a pretty good job of making you feel like you’re in a village in Wiltshire. Our suburb is not a place to visit so much as a good place to live and it’s about half an hour from everywhere – the city, the rainforest, the wine region, the airport and the middle of nowhere. Well, everywhere apart from the beach and the office which are really the only downsides about it; it would be good to be close to the sea, to be able to pop to the beach after work and school and the long-distance commuting does tend to put a damper on our mid-week evenings. But you can’t have everything. Jobs change but I really don’t think we’re going to be able to drag our suburb 30km to the south and stick it on the edge of Port Phillip Bay.

So, what next? Do we make plans to stay here for the long-term or do we think about going back to our previous lives in the UK? The honest answer is that we don’t know yet. Settling into a new country takes time and it would be foolish to make any big decisions too quickly. It would be perfect if we could bring all the people most important to us to live here too but clearly that’s not going to happen. At some point we are going to have to make a decision on where our future lies. UK or Australia. Either or. While I know that choice doesn’t have to be forever – we can always change our minds at a later date – it becomes more difficult to leave and go back the longer you’ve been away and what you go back to gets increasingly different from what you left, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it does make it harder to compare your choices.  The only thing I know for sure is that there’s still an enormous amount to see and do here and we’re not ready to call it a day just yet; I imagine we’ll be here for at least another year – three lovely families are currently booking their flights to visit us during their 2016 summer holidays and we wouldn’t miss spending time with them here for the world…

The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go

Something Changed

It’s time for a few random observations on day to day life in Australia. Many things are similar here but the differences are not necessarily what I expected…

On Shopping

Cheese and fresh fruit juice are really, really expensive. As are books and cosmetics.

Despite the fact that Australia is a such a massive country, as the map below clearly illustrates, there’s not nearly as much choice in where to buy things.

Maybe this isn’t surprising; as well as being huge it’s also pretty empty. With a population of nearly 24m, this is less than 40% of the UK population and around 3% of Europe’s. No wonder there’s less choice – there’s clearly less demand.

Shops still give you endless carrier bags and there doesn’t seem to be any push to get people to reuse them.

Amazon is a shadow of its UK self and only sells ebooks.

Marmite can only be found in the English section of the ‘international aisle’ in the larger supermarkets. You can’t buy Jacob’s cream crackers, vegetable Oxo cubes or Terry’s dark chocolate oranges. McVities digestive biscuits come in boxes.

Banks are back in the dark ages. Money transfers take days to clear and banks like physical paperwork signed in triplicate.

On Transport

There is an art to buying petrol. In the UK you fill up when you need to. Here it could cost you over $20 more if you fill up on the wrong day. Australia has this strange idea of a fuel price cycle; in our neck of the woods petrol prices go up on a Friday. Not every Friday mind you, they run on a two, three or occasionally a four week cycle and when prices go up they go up by 20%. So you’re always keeping an eye on prices as you can have a good guess at the length of the cycle by seeing how quickly they’re dropping and then you either fill up when you don’t particularly need to or you try to make the contents of your tank stretch for as long as possible.

Taxis are astoundingly useless. Drivers haven’t got a clue where anything is or how to get there. If you book them in advance, they turn up late. They refuse to accept bookings to pick up from train stations. If you say “Canberra Street” they ask you to spell it because they’ve never heard the word before despite it being the name of Australia’s capital city. This is not just a Melbourne phenomenon, where over 98% of taxi drivers failed the recently introduced Knowledge Test, we’ve had to get our own sat nav out in a taxi in Adelaide and direct the driver to our destination. As I said, useless.

Parking in the city centre on a weekend is cheap and easy – you can prebook a space at $5 (£2.50) for the day.

On Schools

It is entirely normal, expected in fact, for children to stand and sing the national anthem at school. And nobody thinks you’re a rabid right-winger for doing so.

It is considered perfectly acceptable to take your child out of school for a family holiday. Even one lasting four weeks. No fines, no court action, no school truancy officers knocking on your door, just an expectation that the child will keep a diary of their trip and a recognition that there is value (educational and otherwise) in family time and trips to expand your horizons.

On Language

Farewell is used as a verb.

Manchester is not a city in the north-west of England. No, in Australia, Manchester means bed linen. Very strange.

Boy racers are known as hoons. This is also a verb i.e “stop hooning around”.

People often start a sentence with ‘Look…’. This is a bit unnerving until you get used to it as it feels like they’re telling you off.

Many places have English names but they’re absolutely nothing like their UK counterparts. We live near Doncaster, Blackburn and Preston to name but a few. But there’s no Manchester here, that would be silly; Manchester is what we sleep in.

On Wildlife

Australia has so many dangerous animals from crocs to sharks to spiders, snakes and jellyfish. And what are Australians worried about? ‘European wasps’ that’s what. Yes, your standard UK wasp that we get every summer. Those.

Despite what everyone thinks Australia is not swarming with spiders. They are around, certainly, but it’s not like you see them constantly. They have just discovered 13 new species of spiders in Queensland though…

There are many more birds here. And they’re much noisier.

Possums make strange noises outside your windows at night. They run around on your roof and fall down the chimney into the fireplace in your living room. Imagine how surprised we were one evening to see a creature the size of a large cat with a big bushy tail suddenly appear in our fireplace.

Koalas sound like a cross between a donkey and a chainsaw. This is particularly disconcerting when it’s 3am and they’re in the tree above your tent.

On Weather and Seasons

Anything under 15 degrees is really cold and below 10 degrees is considered ‘bone-numbing and teeth-rattling‘.

In the main, trees are evergreen so you don’t get to crunch through leaves much in autumn and winter doesn’t feel quite the same with the trees in full leaf.

We live nearer to guaranteed snow here than we ever did in the UK with the nearest alpine snow resort a mere 1.5 hours drive from our house.

Halloween trick and treating takes place in daylight as it doesn’t get dark until 8pm. Seeing all the kids in their scary outfits in full sunshine just looks wrong.

You don’t get such long summer days as the latest the sun ever sets is 8:45pm. Mind you, the winter days are not as short as in the UK either, the earliest sunset being at 5:10pm. The really odd times though are when you have a lovely warm winter’s day and then it’s dark at 5:15pm; now there’s a combination we’re really not used to.

On Housing

Melbourne houses are *freezing* in winter. It’s frequently warmer outside the house than inside. I, and most people I talk to, spend the winter months wrapped up in blankets or wearing coats or dressing gowns around the house because it is so cold inside. The reason? Poor quality housing. There’s a complete lack of insulation, astonishingly thin windows, no double-glazing and high cathedral ceilings. So while I wander round in a blanket or clutching a hot water bottle most of the time my heating bills are also astronomical.

“Hydronic heating” is the next big thing here. We know this as radiators.

Pulp: Something Changed

The Game

Yesterday we went to our first AFL match. For the uninitiated, AFL is the Australian Football League.  It’s also known as Aussie Rules, though for quite a while for some reason I thought it was Aussie No Rules, but I can now vouch for the fact that it does have rules and, by the end of the match, I actually even knew what some of them were.

AFL is verging on a religion over here. On election last November the incoming State Government of Victoria promised an extra public holiday for the eve of the AFL Grand Final and I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been asked who our team is. It is, apparently, completely out of the question not to have a team. When we first started to be asked we used to say “we’re English, we don’t have a team” but that didn’t go down very well.  Now we just say “the Cats” and everyone leaves us alone. The Geelong Cats are our accidental team; the boys were kindly given a Cats “Mighty Members” (!) scarf each by a work colleague, so the Cats it is. They also happen to be rather good, I understand, so all the better.

With nothing specific planned for Sunday we had a quick look online on Saturday evening to see what we might do the following day.  Melbourne were playing Fremantle at the world-famous MCG and, at $50 for the family, it seemed like a reasonable way to spend an afternoon. Without any difficulty we managed to get tickets, drive into the city centre and park directly outside the front door of the MCG.  Can’t imagine doing that in central London.

AFL is more like rugby than football (or soccer as it is known over here). We went to the rugby very occasionally in Bath and we have also been known to go to a football match in the UK but it’s generally not really our thing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither was AFL. With a 100,000 capacity the stadium was only a quarter full so there wasn’t that much of an atmosphere and there were as many Freo supporters as there were Melbourne ones, which was odd because Fremantle is a 4+ hour plane ride away in Western Australia. At two and a half hours it seemed very long, but maybe that was because Melbourne got thumped 50-118. Our eldest son got bored and spent most of the match reading a book, our youngest son complained it was too loud. I didn’t go a bundle on the tight shorts and vests worn by the players, though the referees’ pink outfits were quite fetching, and there seemed to be an unnecessary amount of pushing and shoving player petulance. 

Saying that, it was an interesting enough way to spend an afternoon but I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back in a hurry.  But that’s not a problem because Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia and we’re spoilt for choice with top level events to go to – Australian Open Tennis, the Grand Prix, more cricket than you can shake a stick at – all of this on our doorstep. Now that sounds more like my cup of tea…

Echo and the Bunnymen: The Game

Pillar Box Red

I hate our mailbox.  I’ve never been keen on it but I’ve just got so fed up with it these last few weeks that I feel the need to write about it. 

It is a topic that vexes a few of us Poms (like my friend and fellow blogger A Life On The Flipside) as, before moving to Australia, we were used to having our post delivered directly into our home through the letterbox in our front door. This, admittedly, did have a few drawbacks; like not being able to open the front door when you came back from a long holiday or if a parcel managed to get itself wedged under the door, but generally it was a pretty good system.  Here we have a mailbox in the garden. There are lots of different types of mailbox; many are metal and out in the countryside most of them seem to be converted milk churns but ours is essentially a wooden box with slot in the front where the postie puts the post and a door at the back where we take it out and it looks like this:   


Not that beautiful, but definitely better than one down the road:


All I want to do is collect any letters we may have. That’s all. Nothing complicated, nothing difficult. Oh, I wish…

You wouldn’t normally think that getting a letter would be a dangerous business but last week I found a redback spider lurking in the mailbox. We have found a scary-looking but completely harmless huntsman spider in there before but this was treading new ground. So before I could get the post I had to don a pair of rubber gloves, find our trusty bug tub, scoop up the beastie and get rid of it.

Yesterday there weren’t any spiders but there was a whole colony of woodlice along with a few snails and a couple of worms for good measure. So before I could read my post I had to brush the woodlice away and peel the snails off the envelopes. Nice.

A couple of days ago I went to collect the post only to find that it had disintegrated into mushy pulp where the rain had got into the mailbox. Thankfully there didn’t seem to be anything important, though it was difficult to be totally sure.

On returning from our Easter break we found that someone had pushed a rolled up free newspaper into our mailbox so hard that it had forced open the door at the back. So when the postie put our letters in the front they fell straight out the back and onto the ground and we came back to damp, muddy post strewn over the garden. Good thing there weren’t any high winds while we were away. Or maybe there were and some our letters just blew away somewhere – we’d be none the wiser.

So this is why I’ve had enough of our mailbox.  Getting post shouldn’t be dangerous, messy or down to pot luck. But it is. 

The The: Pillar Box Red

If Everybody Looked The Same – oh, wait a minute, they do!

My youngest son’s primary school has a uniform, my eldest son’s high school does not. When we arrived people would ask which schools the boys were going to and our reply would often be followed by a short, sharp intake of breath and the words “You do know that it doesn’t have a uniform?”.  While the issue of school uniform does seem to be somewhat divisive amongst many, we don’t have particularly strong views either way.

A point that’s often made in support of having a uniform is that it removes the fashion element from school, the competition around who has the latest brand or style and therefore makes the children more equal.  I was pondering this thought as I waited for my eldest son to come out of school the other day; he was a bit late so it gave me plenty of time to observe what all the kids were wearing as they came out of class. Now anyone who knows me will know I’m not exactly what you’d call a fashionista; I have no idea which brands are popular, no idea what this season’s colour is, no idea whether skirts are long or short or trousers flared or skinny. In short, I haven’t got much of a clue.  Looking at these kids, the overwhelming majority were in shorts and t-shirts, some girls wore leggings, but, to my untutored eye, there didn’t appear to be a single brand name in sight and actually everyone looked pretty much the same, albeit in different colours. There were a couple of skater types and one lad with long blue and green hair and a scarily realistic horses head mask (an interesting look) but other than that nobody appeared to have any sort of fashion allegiance at all. I was also interested to note that I saw only one girl in a skirt and only one girl wearing any sort of make-up (a very pale eyeshadow). So maybe when you do give kids carte blanche (or near enough; there are a couple of rules) to wear what they like, they all choose to look pretty much the same anyway.

On the subject of schools, there’s a particularly irritating thing I’ve noticed over here which always makes me cross. [rant approaching] Now I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to live within walking distance of their child’s school. I also know, from personal experience, that even if you do live within walking distance, work or other commitments can mean you end up driving the kids to/from school as it’s the only way you can get all the places you need to be on time. What I really don’t get though are the people, and there are a lot round here, whose need to park directly next to the school is *so* pressing that they arrive 45 minutes before school finishes and sit in their cars waiting for the bell to go. If they arrived 5 minutes before the end of school they’d be able to park, oooh, a 3 minute walk from school, but clearly that’s not close enough. They’d rather spend 45 minutes of their lives every weekday during term time [quick calculation], that’s 150 HOURS PER YEAR sitting in their car waiting.  Have they really nothing better to do?  In summer they’ll leave the engine running too so they can have the air con on so not only are they spending all that time sat in the car unnecessarily, they’re adding to pollution levels and global warming at the same time – win win!

Groove Armada: If Everybody Looked The Same

Black Saturday

Today, 7 February, marks the sixth anniversary of the devastating bush fires which struck Victoria in 2009. Known as Black Saturday, a series of fires engulfed the state killing 173 people and injuring 414, destroying over 2000 homes, thousands of animals and a million acres of land.

It had been very hot the previous week, over 40 degrees and peaking at 46. The long-running drought meant everything was extremely dry. These conditions in conjunction with a 100kph northerly wind meant that when fires began, they spread and spread quickly. A number of fires were started deliberately, others began as the winds took down power lines, some started when people ignored the fire ban and used equipment which generated sparks. As the fires developed, they grew larger burning up fuel in the form of trees, grass etc., burning embers carried on the wind spawned new fires and the wind pushed the fires onward. In all, 400 fires started that day, the fastest moving at over 1km a minute. You can see the location and scale of the bushfires on this map.

Everyone will be able to tell you stories of that day; the heat, the smoke, the smell, what it felt like when the air temperature dropped from 45 to 30 degrees in 15 minutes. Our own suburb was saved only by an unexpected wind change but many other areas were not so lucky; their testimonies make harrowing reading and the photos are shocking. Australia’s worst natural disaster has lead to changes in the way in which communities are warned and advised of fire danger, the implementation of most of the 67 recommendations of the Royal Commission and a class action law suit against power companies alleging they failed to maintain power lines properly which has just been settled out of court with residents receiving $500m.

Major bush fires remain a fact of life for many Australians. It was Victoria in 2009, the Blue Mountains near Sydney in 2013, Adelaide Hills in South Australia earlier this year and as I write there’s a bush fire raging in Northcliffe, Western Australia. This is clearly not something we have had to deal with before so we’ve been on our bush fire training, we’ve got a basic plan (essentially it’s get out of the area early, head to the city and seek refuge with friends), we keep an eye on the fire danger warnings and we have alerts set up to warn us if there’s a fire within 20km. What we should also do is have a list of the things we would want to take with us if we had to evacuate – it’s really no good having that conversation at the time (“Shall we take this?” “Hmmm, not sure, what do you think?”). We should also have a detailed map of the local area to easily identify potential escape routes so we have alternatives in the event of heavy traffic (a lack of bridges across the river does not work in our favour). We’ve had one day so far when the fire danger rating has reached “extreme” but thankfully nothing more.

Today, though, is a day for people across Victoria and beyond to wear their yellow ribbons in support of the communities affected by the fires and in remembrance of those who lost their lives and those who risked theirs to save others.

British People in Hot Weather

This was too good a song title not to use for a blog post so I’ve been saving it till the height of summer. And here we are. The height of summer. Apart from it’s not. Not really. It’s very pleasant, don’t get me wrong; lots of mid-twenties centigrade days suits me down to the ground, it’s just not what I expected the middle of summer in Australia to be like.

Last October and November were both substantially hotter than average – in fact Victoria had its second warmest spring on record – and we were forecast a “scorching summer” with severe heatwaves but it’s not yet materialised. We had a couple of 40°C+ days right at the beginning of 2015 which were a bit toasty but January had only six days over 30°C, just two more than October. The rest have been mid-twenties ish, occasionally dropping into the late-teens (but only when we were camping in our tent of course – typical!) and with some rain here and there.

Everyone says this has been a particularly cold summer but the stats don’t necessarily back that up. Across Victoria, December was 1°C warmer than average and January 0.1°C cooler. Perhaps it just feels like a cold summer because last summer was so hot; everyone here will talk about the week of over 40°C in January 2014 and how unpleasant it was. But it was unusual, not so much for the temperatures in themselves but for the number of consecutive days they ran on for. In Melbourne it is said that if you don’t like the weather don’t worry because it’ll change in a couple of hours (or less) – the thing about last summer was that it didn’t, it just went on and on.

I’ve heard that the beginning of February can be very hot and it seems we are in for a blast of heat this weekend with temperatures forecast to be in the mid-thirties, followed by a week of around 30°C or so for before cooling down again. Warm, certainly, but not the sort of heat I thought we might be having to deal with.

All in all, I’m quite happy with my average summer. What I would rather like, though, is a warmer than usual autumn to coincide with my trip south to Tasmania. And lovely warm winter, of course 😄.

The Fall: British People in Hot Weather