Taking On Big City Sydney

It was time to leave Lake Moogerah and my nomadic soul was cheerfully impatient. My travelling companion Anton and I had done the agreed 3 months of work at the adventure camp in exchange for an incredible life experience, a gift on so many levels if not financially. We were running low on dough and the plan was as old as the industrial revolution: Hitting the big city in search of well-paid work – we were going to Sydney.

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A view of the City Business District from Darling Harbour. Strange to know that there are so very few places in this incredibly big country where you can see skyscrapers instead of just bush, bush and more bush.

Near the end of our stay we had visitors from home. Kir and Ruth Anna are down under for a holiday from the Freetown and it was surreal and wonderful to suddenly see them in this tucked away corner of rural Australia. When the time was up, they decided to come South with us. With Swedish Jen from the camp also heading South, we came to be 5 people with luggage for 8, trying to fit into a regular sedan. It took us a whole day to pack up the car.

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Australians generally find it too strange that I’ve never had a car before in my life. I find it too wonderful! It might look like a gran’pa car, but with leather interior, electric sunroof and a powerful V6 engine it feels more like a luxury cruiser when you drive it.

That’s right, I have a car now. My very first car actually. It’s a legend, Honda Legend, V6 2,7 liter from 1989 to be precise. Her name is Goldie and we got her for $1500 and a carton of beer. Brother Anton and myself got busy under her hood out of equal measure curiosity and necessity. Everyone who ever bought an old car knows the song, same old one; always something to fix. I’ve had to pick up non-existent mechanical skills faster than my brain could handle, but at the time of writing I seem to be on top of things. She’s a beaut though, and she drives like a dream.

Around New Year, Anton and I went to the renowned Woodford Folk Festival where we made a new friend, the amazing Corrie who lives in Sydney. Corrie is one of those people you meet who seem too great to be true. But Corrie is real, really real and a live wire with nothing but good intentions. After only a few days in her excellent and highly amusing company (she’s the best boob-spotting companion I’ve ever had), we realized that she is a special kind of kind, and anyone is going to have a hard time keeping up with her level of compassion. When she heard that we would eventually head for Sydney, she offered us to stay in her apartment on the beach front whenever we wanted. “I’ve got elastic walls in my house” she said and continued with a raised finger, “you have to promise me to come and stay if you’re in town!” Thank you universe, we’ll take that one.

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Beautiful Corrie showing myself and Anton one of Sydney’s great views. She took a day off work just to show us around because she loves her city and we love her!

Sydney is a big city. You can fit everybody from my home country into it for a start. It also seems like somebody attempted to fit the whole world into it. Every house is different to the neighbouring house, with styles ranging from delicate Chinese to bombastic Greek, and every nationality apparently has a neighbourhood to go to for a bit of their home culture. Built across one of the world’s most ideal natural harbours and with an abundance of rolling hills, Sydney really delivers when it comes to urban views.

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This is the view from Bronte Beach were Corrie lives. Imagine how we felt when we realized that this was our home in Sydney instead of the typical run-down hostel in a back alley of the red light district, deep in the smokey city…

It’s also an expensive city. We were holding our breath as we drove the Legend towards a goal that millions of opportunistic poor people fail to achieve every day around the planet: making the Big Money in the Big City. Anton had one up his sleeve though; last year he met an Aussie dude, Craig, who runs a carpentry outfit in Sydney. Craig had challenged Anton for a drinking match on the grounds of him being Irish. After winning that match 5 nights in a row, they had made solid friends and now we were hoping Anton’s drinking skills would land us a job as carpenters.

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Despite working quite a lot, we did also have time for some fun stuff. Here we are on a friend’s father’s boat trying to be useful to the racing crew. We came in last, but we sure had a good time!

In Australia, a professional craftsman is called a Tradie. Tradies do what they are trained for and only that. In most other places I have worked, a carpenter will also do concrete work and a welder will also do a bit of plumbing if that’s what the job calls for. Not so Down Under. A mixture of hardcore union politics and mile after mile of red tape has made it nearly impossible to get a tradie to do anything but what traditionally lies within the limits of his or her trade. As it stands, Australia’s economy is still booming and it seems that people can afford to hire 13 different tradies to refurbish their homes, but I can’t help wondering how the construction industry will fare when the boom eventually becomes a bust and people no longer can afford all the one-trick-pony tradies anymore.

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Hard at work at a building site for a brand new old folks home. I mostly did the decking which was a massive job. 80.000 screws went into those floorboards…

For us, however, it was a new and interesting experience. With close to 30 years of experience in construction work between us, this was the first time any of us ever had a labourer clean up our mess. That, and 30 dollars an hour made me feel like a proper carpenter, which evidently everyone on site, except our boss, thought we were. “Fake it till you make it” is one of my handier mottos…

For two weeks solid we got up at 5 in the morning to go to work, often returning at 7 or 8 in the evening. Hard yakka as they call work around here, but when we arrived home to the comfort of Corrie’s snug appartment and the refreshing waves of Bronte Beach, we could only feel fortunate to not only live rent free on Sydney’s extremely popular beach front but also raking in $200+ for every day we donned the carpenter uniform.

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This is me with my boss Craig. I must admit I had a bit of a weird feeling when I found out he’s born in 1990. Made me feel like an old fart at first, but that changed into a deep respect for this young man’s skills and ambition. 11 years my junior and still one of the best bosses I’ve ever had!

In other words; we actually made the dream happen. Knowing, however, that work isn’t always so easily gotten in the Northern Rivers area where I was going next, I figured I should get as much money together as I could while in Sydney. I trawled the Gumtree website for casual work for a couple of nights and came across a great little gig: Cleaning up and a bit of serving for a wedding in the picturesque Kangaroo Valley just south of Sydney. Judging from the ad I felt that I had found some cool cats throwing a wicked party and my instinct was spot on.

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The lovely Christo & Johanna’s wedding invitation. Just looking at this great picture I knew that they’d be good people…

Christo & Johanna are two creative professionals, freelancing their skillfull way through one inspiring project after the next. They were having a love celebration more than a wedding, although there was an authority present to do the formal bit of legally marrying them. That happened to be Christo’s mother who is a certified celebrant. With a Lord Of The Ring-ish valley view, a lamb on a stick over a massive fire and an old barn for shelter, it could hardly have been quainter. For a whole day, night and following morning I went from one great laugh to another, working while partying with some of the most random and lovely characters I have met so far in this country. I left with a big grin, a fat wad of cash and a handful of new contacts.

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Brother Benedict serving us a freshly squeezed lemon juice for an enhanced alkaline interior environment experience.

One of them is Benedict, a handsome and pleasurably excentric artist and entrepeneur. He runs one of Sydney’s famous shared-workspace warehouses, and a beautiful one too. Coming from hodgepodge Christiania with its many quirky houses I instantly felt at home when we went for a visit. Benedict welcomed us with a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a job offer starting the next day – a new work deal was on.

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On top of the white dividing “wall” is a lounge area that opens up to the rooftop. The massive office table doubles as a bed for friends and drifters.

Benedict works with wood and he’s got tons of it in his workshop. Self-taught and super talented, he is much sought after among Sydney’s cafe-crowd and jetset for his unique interior designs, when he isn’t busy creating sculptures from century-old ferry-hulls. He is cool and collected and yet dreamy and a bit fuzzy but very obviously tuned in and switched on. Working with him was a breeze despite the heavy nature of the job: Anton and I moved his entire stock of hardwood by hand at the rate of 1 tonne per hour. Thankfully my good old back still serves me well.

There's about 10-12 tonnes of wood on this wall here alone.

There’s about 10-12 tonnes of wood on this wall here alone.

Yet again, it was time for me to move on. This time I was going to travel on my own as Antons visa was coming to an end. He was flying out of Sydney and I was going back up to Northern Rivers for my creative pursuits. As much as I appreciate and feel grateful for everything I experienced and gained in Australias unofficial capital, it is still a big city for a country boy like myself. With a heavy heart but an uplifted soul I said my tearful goodbyes to wonderful Corrie and Anton and all the other great folks I met in generous and beautiful Sydney. From now on it was just me and my Legend…



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Martin Kargaard Thomsen
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 22:45:53

    Jesus Christ on the cross, I would love an ol´ legend!


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