What You Need To Know About Claiming Back Taxes And Super After An Australian Working Holiday Visa

I normally don’t write how-to posts like this, but since struggled in this process I believed it was important for someone on the internet to search for and find.

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You’ll need that money if you get your car stuck in the sand like this.

Foreigners working in Australia on a Working Holiday Maker Visa (subclass 417 and 462) are ‘residents for tax purposes’ and eligible to claim back superannuation and taxes (note that as of 1 January 2017, the first $37,000 earned will be taxed at 15%).

When I filed for my tax return in Australia in June, I got money back within a week. Now, after leaving Australia and filing for my tax return, it’s a completely different story. It’s not the quick turnaround I banked on. If you’re leaving Australia before the end of the fiscal year and you want to claim back taxes, don’t plan on getting it back quickly. Claiming superannuation was another obstacle. Make sure that even though you’ve left you haven’t lost track of any crucial information, such as your tax file number (TFN), Australian bank details, all previous Australian residential addresses and login details for online super and banking.

Below are some tips to making your process less stressful. But first: Here’s the key to getting back a ton of money after your working holiday visa:

DO NOT WORK CASH-IN-HAND.

It might seem tempting and it might seem like the best option at the time, but working cash in hand means that more likely than not your employers are cheating you while cheating the system. They’re not paying taxes which does nothing to help you, because  you don’t have to pay taxes! (at least not prior to 2017) This also means they are not paying into your superannuation, which you are also eligible to claim back.

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This describes the process to getting all that $$$$.

LODGING YOUR TAX RETURN

The most important thing to note here is that this process takes time if you do it before the end of the fiscal year, so don’t expect to get your money back quickly.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Collect payment summaries from all of your employers. Sometimes they will resist (most frustratingly, Hays Recruitment), so if they do print out every pay slip you received.

2. Read this from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Make sure you fulfill the requirements to lodge your tax return early, which for those on WHM visas means you’ve left the country, your visa has been cancelled or is expired, and you will no longer receive income from Australia. Note that you have to mail in your paperwork if you lodge it early. It cannot be done electronically.

3.Download and print the tax return for individuals form for the appropriate year. To lodge mine this year, I downloaded the most recent, which was from 2016, and crossed out 2016 and wrote 2017 on every page. Nailed it!

FINALLY: Collect all your payment information paperwork and with your tax return form (#3), mail it to Australia. If you are mailing it from abroad (which you probably will be), address it to:

Australian Taxation Office
GPO Box 9845
Sydney NSW 2001, Australia 

Now,  all you have to do is wait. The ATO says it will take up to five weeks.

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Maybe you worked in a cafe like this one in Alice Springs. 

CLAIMING SUPERANNUATION

Also known as ‘departing Australia superannuation payment’ (DASP). Claiming DASP seems simple, until you realized that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is giving you a headache. That’s right, they’re a pain in the ass. Even though you may have left Australia four months ago and your visa has expired, you still have to cancel your visa before you’ll get your DASP. In fact, they won’t even let you submit your application for DASP before the DIBP clears you a runaway. (I only found this out after a week of confusion and finally messaging the ATO on Twitter.) So here’s how to do it:

1. Email Super Hobart (super.hobart@border.gov.au) with the following information:

  1. a clear statement that you wish to have your temporary visa cancelled,
  2. your full name and date of birth (and those of all people who hold a visa because they are a member of your family unit, or hold a visa only because you hold your visa.),
  3. passport number when you visited Australia,
  4. subclass of the temporary visa you wish to have cancelled,
  5. current residential address,
  6. the date that you departed Australia.

Note that this process can take up to five weeks. Once this process has been cleared, you can complete your DASP application, or if you’ve already completed it, finally submit it.

2. Read the DASP application instructions on the ATO website.

3. Complete the online DASP application.

Now,all you have to do is….

WAIT.

Have you claimed your taxes and DASP after a Working Holiday Visa? How did it go?


Featured photo: Degraves Espresso, on Degraves Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

 

 

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Read These Books & Watch These Movies Before You Travel To Australia

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AUSTRALIA


The country-continent Australia may only have a population of 23 million (compared to the U.S.’s 318 million), but it is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Films and books are an ideal way to begin to understand the history and society of this grog guzzling, coffee-obsessed, friendly country, even before you embark on your trip. This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but I chose some of the most informative and entertaining for me. I’ve put an * on my favorites.

Film/TV

*Tracks A 2013 film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. The film follows the story of a young woman who treks solo through the Australian outback in 1977, where she confronts physical as well as emotional challenges. This film is not only one of the  most aesthetically beautiful works of art, but gives the viewer an understanding of the dangers, distance and isolation of the outback. Robyn has to handle sexism, a changing tourism industry and the wisdom of local indigenous people she comes across.

Red Dog A friend at the mine told me, “Everything you need to know about the Pilbara, you can learn by watching Red Dog.” While I do think this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, this 2011 film will inform you about the 20th century European immigration,  the mining industry and the inhospitable region of Western Australia, all while making you laugh and cry.

Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures This 2001-2 mockumentary series starring Glenn Robbins was also recommended to me while working at the mine. The hilarious take on the travel genre gives viewers insight into the outback and Australian slang and humor.

The Castle This 1997 comedy focuses on one family who is faced with the threat of being kicked off their property. Viewers get an understanding of some of the most quintessential Australian values, including supporting the underdog. In 2010, 37% of Aussies chose this movie as representative of them.

Muriel’s Wedding Toni Collette’s first major role is of Muriel, an underappreciated girl in society and in her family. Muriel takes a journey from her home in Queensland to Sydney where she starts a new life and seeks to find the love her life. This movies gives a fictitious look at Queensland in the 90s.

*Prison Songs One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen (no expert here, but it’s amazing), it’s not just a documentary but a musical documentary. The filmmakers capture the lives of the prisoners of Berrimah Prison in Northern Territory, mixing sad histories with comedic interpretations of their present circumstances. It takes viewers into the complications of being indigenous, highlighting domestic violence, identity, alcoholism and tradition.

*Stingray Sisters Stingray Sisters is a (very) recently released documentary series that follows three half-indigenous, half-white Australian sisters in the indigenous community of Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The sisters showcase the confusions of having multiple identities and the grassroots struggle of modern day aboriginal land rights. Buy the series on their website. Trailer below.

Chasing Asylum Is a startling 2016 documentary that examines the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. They are detained indefinitely on Australia’s offshore detention centers on Christmas, Nauru and Manus Islands. This is a film that anyone with interest in current migration issues needs to see.

Books

In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson Bill Bryson shares his tales of traveling through Australia, giving insight into social issues, history and travel. This book is a great way to get overview of the Australian character

*Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over, by Geraldine Brooks A lovely memoir of Brooks’s journey from being a child in a working class neighborhood in Sydney and dreaming of exotic locations, to her adulthood as a foreign correspondent and reconnecting with her childhood pen pals. Brooks teaches her readers about working class Australian life and gives a first-person look at Australia’s changing cultural scene with the influx of European immigrants in the last half of the 20th century.

*Different White People: Radical Activism for Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972, by Deborah Wilson An adaptation of Wilson’s doctoral thesis, this dense (yet fascinatingly informative) recount of the aboriginal rights movement and its relationship to the communist party of Australia. This book teaches about Australian history, politics and aboriginal land rights through a rarely examined lens.

*Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton One of Winton’s most famous novels, Cloudstreet tells the story of two families during the span of 2o years, 1943-1963. These families, coming from rural and working class backgrounds, live through the end of the war and the transformation of post-war society in Perth. This novel teaches readers of fundamental Australian themes and Australian vernacular English while Winton writes in profoundly lyrical language. (Note from a non-literary critic: I love this book in part because it reminds of Latin American magical realism.)

*The Crocodile Hotel, by Julie Janson Anyone traveling or living in the Northern Territory or other primarily indigenous populated areas would be interested to understand the identity, marginalization and history of indigenous communities in colonized Australia discussed in this novel. The main character, a half-indigenous single mother, who by her appearance passes as a white Australian, leaves Sydney in the 1970s and accepts a teaching position in a remote aboriginal community hours from Katherine. There, she encounters disgusting racism and sexism, becomes involved in the land rights movement and faces intense personal struggles. This beautifully written novel gives so much inspiration to work to combat the issues we still encounter today.

Praise, by Andrew McGahan Reading Praise feels a bit like reading The Catcher in the Rye or even On the Road. Not much happens. There’s a lot of doing nothing. Of contemplating. Of taking drugs and feeling worthless. But that’s just the point. The book explains that the 1990s in Australia was “A time when the dole was easier to get than a job, when heroin was better known than ecstasy, and when ambition was the dirtiest of words. A time when, for two hopeless souls, sex and dependence were the only lifelines.” What I liked about reading this book was that even though it was written in the 1990s, I saw so many parallels between the attitude of the characters and some millennial Australians I met. It was like they were a misinterpreted version of relaxed Australian attitudes, that instead of being ‘chill’ formed into utterly lazy people.

Great Australian Ghost Stories, by Richard Davis This suggestion is coming from the unabashed ghost tour participant. These short stories are sometimes scary, sometimes boring but most of all historically interesting, giving readers a glimpse into Australian culture and colonial rhetoric. Especially interesting for those residing in Victoria and New South Wales, as many of the scary stories come from those states.

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As seen on my road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.

Are you Australian or lived in Australia? What books and films would you recommend to visitors? 


Featured photo: a tree with fabric hanging out of it, taken along the Red Center Way near King’s Canyon.

Want to learn more about Australia? Check out these resources for visiting or living in Melbourne:
where to learn something new,
websites to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening around the city, and
how to find feminist events.

Character Tuesday: The Happiest Yoga Instructor

I took my camera to Abbotsford Convent on afternoon last fall in Melbourne. Practicing photography with my friends, we sat down to eat at Lentils As Anything, a vegan, pay-what-you-can buffet restaurant. The staff, who are all volunteers, are all ages and backgrounds, but often backpackers dressed in colorful, vintage clothes.

One waiter (pictured above) saw me taking photos and, despite his busy shift, posed for several shots. He was from Japan, but I can’t remember his name. After he posed, he invited us to his weekly pay-what-you-can yoga class on the lawn in the same convent. He smiled calmly as he walked with a lightness in his step and made each person feel welcome in his space.

The next week, I went back for his yoga class. When I looked around for me, the other volunteers told me he was at an immigration appointment. The next week, I left Melbourne, so I never got to his class.

This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

 

Photo Friday: Toilet Signs Of The Outback: Stuart Highway

Toilets in the outback were few and far between. After all, often buildings and people were few and far between. When they did come along, though, the toilets signs we saw had personality. With the exception of bathrooms around Uluru, the figures on the toilet signs were of white Australians, playing off of the ‘sheilas’ and ‘blokes’ theme. Maybe it was the image of the rough and tough outback explorer that sold well to the tourists, or maybe it was a deliberate political decision to ignore the original residents of those areas.

In northern Queensland, the toilet signs were typical.

Heading towards Alice Springs and Uluru, they began to gain more character.

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Going north towards Darwin, the toilet signs were more tourist-oriented.

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Interesting in other toilet signs? Check out toilet signs of Southeast Asia and the Camino de Santiago

Interested in other stories of the outback? Read about the best roadside pub barman, naughty signs in the outback, and how Erin escaped from the job from hell


Featured photo: toilet sign at Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock.

Where To Continue Your Learning In Melbourne

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Sign originally featured in this post.

Long- term traveling makes me loose intellectual capacity and critical thinking skills. That’s a big issue if you consider the fact that I’ve been traveling for more than two years. Going from the demanding readings and essays of university to a different type of learning, I yearn for the “ah-ha” moments of critical analysis and experience of group learning.

I learned a lot at the mine, but it wasn’t the same sort of education I’m referring to. Sadly there was little opportunity in the middle of nowhere in Northern Territory, unlike in Melbourne.

If you’re on a working holiday in Melbourne, just visiting or living, may be looking for some intellectual stimulation. During my four months there on a working holiday visa, it was hard to motivate myself to expand my horizons only by reading and watching documentaries.

Luckily, Melbourne is a city full of innovation and ideas. Anything from art to music to film can be easily accessed throughout the city. I was grateful to find places that hosted the type of learning I missed. Whether you’re like me and love the classroom or are just looking for some extra inspiration, these centers or organizations offer workshops, lectures or weekly classes on a variety of subjects.

Some of the organizations and centers on this list overlap with those mentioned in my post about how get your feminist on in Melbourne

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Electrical box in Melbourne.

The Wheeler Center 

Born out of Melbourne’s declaration as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008, The Wheeler Center is a center focused on writing and ideas. Aside from publishing videos and original writing they host hundreds of talks a year on subjects ranging from human rights to technology at location in the Melbourne CBD. Their free events fill up fast, so make sure to follow their calendar of events and reserve your spot quickly.

Can’t make it to a talk? Find them on social media, subscribe to their newsletter and subcribe to their podcasts for learning on the go.

Center for Adult Education (CAE)

Melbourne’s CAE offers accredited courses for adults to finish secondary education and certificates and diplomas. It also offers short courses on a number of subjects from the humanities to practical life skills. You can learn anything from Swedish, sewing or floristry for a relatively low cost. Courses can last anywhere from one day to a few months. 

Photoh 

If you’re interested in learning photography in a non-competitive, relaxed setting, Photoh offers individual or group classes and weekly photography workshops in Melbourne from seasoned photographers. I took May’s Photo Challenge of the Month photo on their workshop on storytelling.

Melbourne Free University

Started in 2010, Melbourne Free University provides a space and opportunity for anyone, no matter their income or education level, to learn and discuss from experts and researchers. Topics include anything from social issues around the globe to the international politics of weapons. The free uni offers some six week courses as well as one-off seminars. The best part about it? Unlike most university experiences, participants get to enjoy learning the information without stressing about their grades.

Libraries in the City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s libraries aren’t just beautiful (see the branch in the Docklands) buildings with good coffee nearby and free Wi-Fi. The library also hosts mostly free events, including history outings, recurring book clubs, lectures and art exhibitions. Check out their “What’s On” section for the latest events and don’t forget to reserve your spot online.

The School of Life Melbourne 

The School of Life was first founded in London in 2008 and opened its Melbourne branch in 2014. A bookshop cafe and learning space, it scatters provocative question ideas around for the purpose of facilitating meaningful interactions, The School of Life writes. The space also hosts various lectures on “how-to’s,” such as their upcoming January 2017 lectures “How to Find A Job You Love” and “How to Have Better Conversations.” It’s academically minded, critical and unique approach to various life skills will inspire you to think differently about your life. The only downside to this center is its hefty attendance fees. Ouch, that hurts the budget traveler’s wallet.

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You first met this koala triste in this post.  Now she’s sad because she wants to learn so much!

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Do you live in Melbourne? What other places do you go to learn? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Want to simply learn more about what there is to do in Melbourne? Check out these websites you should be reading.


Featured photo of my friend Erin (author of this post on escaping from the outback) and I in front of a mural on Hosier Lane, one of the most famous graffiti spots in the city. Don’t forget that, of course, the city itself is a great place to learn.

Things You Find In Darwin

The mine isn’t the only place where you find things. And by things I mainly am referring to creepy-crawlies and fear-inducing arachnids, among other vermin. Just three hours away, Darwin’s landscape is a different kind of wild.

While the mine’s most entertaining spectacles often involve the natural world, unsurprisingly (most of) the things you find in Darwin are the product of humans. And not just any humans, but an odd mix of a vanguard, alternative rodeo-loving, fish competition-going crowd. And like those that I love best, they are sassy.

So here are a few things you find in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia:

Vandalisms and graffiti

That’s a no-brainer, right? Where there are people, there are those peoples’ ideas that manifest themselves on posters, walls and signs.

Take, for example, the vandalism of this famous political protest to Peter Dutton’s immigration policy.  Looks like some people (at least one person) in Darwin really can’t handle the concept of an Australia as more than just white, Anglo, beer guzzling, meat-and-three-veg eating people. (Read more about what’s behind Peter Drew’s campaign on his website. It’s truly inspiring.)

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Vandalism of Peter Drew’s “Aussie” poster campaign.

Then there’s the kind of vandalism I enjoy more.

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Then the kind of vandalism I love most of all.

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I am sorry to the girl who agreed to model for City Dentists.

BUT IT DOESN’T END THERE. “Graffiti artists” in Darwin also give out practical advice. In my opinion, the graffiti pictured below (“Noddles are a good snack”) is a rather kind gesture, one that not only is inclusive of the city’s diverse culinary scene but offers a very counterproductive solution to beating the intense humidity.

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Are they, now?

Political activism

While people in Darwin aren’t visibly bothered by the right-wing government’s policy toward asylum seekers (as evidenced by the vandalism of the “Aussie” poster above), they are bothered by certain policies that will absolutely, without a doubt, affect them and their daily lives.

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Signs seen around Darwin during the recent election.

While of course there were many issues being debated during the recent Territory elections, the one that was most visibly seen? Lockout Laws. What are lockout laws? A recent trend across Australia, this means enacting legislation that forces clubs to close earlier and stop serving alcohol earlier. O sea, the worst thing that could possibly happen! The move to stop serving alcohol earlier in the night is related to startling statistics regarding the alcohol-related assaults in the area, which decreased for the first time this year. Medical professionals also report being in favor of these laws, citing that they are the ones to deal with overconsumption. Those against lockout laws say that its the local hospitality industry that will suffer.

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On a more serious and less judgmental (on my part), one of the things you also find in Darwin is a beautiful mural depicting the joining of Cuban and Aboriginal flags. If anyone has information on the artist or story behind the art, please let me know.

Unexplainable things

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When I saw this in the stairwell of my friend Erin’s apartment building, no one could articulate to me, 1) where someone got a terracotta warrior, and 2) why it was being hanged with a jump rope.

Parties that make reference to Ibiza

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That face is “why”

Remember when I said “I will literally never be able to escape my past” when I saw Ibiza signs in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand? That’s how I felt when I saw these signs in Darwin.

Bakery items that can’t get any more Aussie

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This cheesy vegemite scroll from Baker’s Delight was one of the most nauseating things I’ve ever eaten. By after my hairdresser claimed it was her “hangover cure,” I had to give it a try.

‘Kiss and Go’ signs

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This sign, located below parking indications in the Darwin CBD, has been of great confusion to me since I saw it. I haven’t been able to find any information online regarding what it is. Nevertheless, it’s something you find in Darwin, and something of mention on this list.

I was able to discern that it was of great distress to some who refers to him/herself as “a ratepayer,” who wrote an emotive and passionate complaint on the City of Darwin’s Facebook page, reproduced below.

Allison O’neill en City of Darwin17 de mayo de 2013 · Darwin, Territorio del Norte, Australia ·

 Dear Council,The Kiss and Go parking you installed on Lindsay Street may have some serious implications which perhaps you did not consider and as a conscientious ratepayer I feel duty bond to comment: Is it compulsory to Kiss if you park in these areas? What if you are alone in the car – can you snog your wing mirror and will that suffice? Why stop at a kiss? In fact, could these signs be interpreted as a reckless promotion of sexual immorality – is that why I voted Tanya Fong Lim in for? Is that the kind of council we really want for Darwin? What about philemaphobiacs (those with a fear of kissing)? Does this mean that these poor souls, in addition to their terrible burden, are actively discriminated against in their parking choices? Is this right I ask myself? What if you have herpes? Does this not become a public health issue? The council haven’t really thought this through have they? What about those with halitosis? Should the street perhaps have kissing ‘zones within zones’ so that those with bad breath are obliged to park ‘downwind’ of those with good dental hygiene? I hope these issues will be raised at your next meeting, A Ratepayer

 The “ratepayer” does bring up important points, such as, what do you do if you have bad breath? What if you don’t want to kiss your mirror? Why is the City of Darwin concerning itself with the personal sexual choices of its citizens? I hope you, too, ponder these existential questions throughout your day.

Lizards

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If lizards had cousins, they would be meerkats. Why? Because although they are different species, with different habits and customs, they have a commonality. The dramatic, neck-jerking stare-you-down faces. And I love them.
Do you live in Darwin? What other things do you find there?

Guest Post: Erin Escapes From The Outback Roadhouse

Yasmine’s note: Two days ago, I got a frantic email from Erin after not having heard from her for a while. She wrote: “allison. i only have a second but i want to tell you that this town has no wifi or cell phone service apart from telstra. i stole the office computer but i dont think ill be able to use it again.” Well, this isn’t looking good, I thought. And as you’ll read below, it wasn’t. I was even more shocked to get a text from her later saying “Allison I left! And I didn’t leave a note.”

Erin went to work at a roadhouse in a remote town over 500 kilometers from Perth (Roadhouses are known to be lucrative places of employment for those on working holiday visas in Australia. You can find some job listings on Gumtree or The Job Shop). She discovered the truth about working in the outback: it’s not as glamorous as people make it out to be and it can be sad to witness the realities of social problems. And most importantly, she discovered it wasn’t the right place for her. She had a lot of strength in taking the opportunity to remove herself from the situation. Her story shows us more than a hilarious and simultaneously depressing outback experience; it shows that there is no “right way” to spend a year on a working holiday experience. If you appreciate a space of your own with a functioning light bulb, than never let anyone try to convince you that you don’t need it.


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Taken from Lonely Planet. Try to guess where Mount Magnet is!

Mount Magnet: An Introduction

Mt. Magnet, named so for its surrounding hills’ high iron content which skew the readings of any compass in their vicinity, is the longest surviving gold mining town in Western Australia. Gold was first discovered here in 1891 and soon enough, it became quite a bustling town. As the madness faded, however, and large mining corporations gradually took over, introducing their “fly-in, fly-out” schemes (where city workers are recruited to spend two weeks on-site in all-inclusive mining camps before flying home for a one-week break), the town has slid further and further into obscurity. As of the 2011 census, its population counted 532 and a conversation with a young schoolteacher revealed that there are only five students enrolled in this year’s kindergarten class. There is a degree of resentment among locals towards the mining companies for their continued failure to reinvest into the community. Walking down Main Street, half of the buildings can be found boarded up (one of those, to my disappointment, was the “internet café”). Employment opportunities are few and far between and entertainment is more or less nonexistent apart from gambling and drinking. I spent a whopping 2 ½ days here—just 57 ½ days short of what I promised my employer.

Here is a humorous recap of my experience.

The Town

Stores at my disposal remaining open post-Gold-Rush-era:

  • Insanely priced local grocer (capsicum was $15/kg compared with the $2.50/kg found in select grocers along the east coast).
  • Coffee shop open only on Tuesdays & Saturdays.
  • Post office (which I was glad to see as I almost had to resort to snail mail just to tell my parents I was alive. With the 2 week delay, of course, they would have already called the number of Mt. Magnet’s other roadhouse which I had mistakenly given them, been told no “Erin Morris” works there, and immediately called the authorities).
  • Fitness center blasting Ariana Grande’s latest hits (this came as a surprise).
  • Pool open only in the summer.
  • Minimalist library where books were checked out on the honor system (rather admirable, really).
  • Hardware store.
  • Aforementioned roadhouse.
  • Then of course where I worked: A combination restaurant (only serving dinner)/bar/hotel (above which I stayed) and a pub/hotel across the road. The latter pub’s main attraction was the TAB machine, which allowed for betting on horse and greyhound races. These were mostly frequented by local aborigines, who spent all day in front of the TVs asking me to issue them vouchers with whatever change they could find in their pockets. Winnings were mostly spent on alcohol. Apart from the gamblers, the drinking crowd at both facilities was comprised of the same few people. The regulars seemed to find great entertainment in crossing the road every now and then just to see what was playing on the other TV….or which barmaid was working at the other bar.

There was no Wi-Fi, no cell service apart from one Australian network which I coincidentally didn’t have (it actually took me 5 hours to obtain service on the drive home), and as the hotel owners wouldn’t grant me use of the office computer (except the first day when I pleaded to send a 5-minute email to my parents), I had to go to either the Visitor Centre or the local library and pay $2/15 min of internet access.

Going those few days without internet and without being in the presence of at least one good travel-mate made me reflect on all of my “travelling” up to that point. I’m told I’m brave for being away from home, but with technology the way it is today, my friends and family are never more than a call or text away… so in reality, have I left them at all?

My Accommodation

We were forced to stay in the old, decrepit area of the hotel which the owners didn’t have the funds or interest to fix. I had to scour multiple rooms before obtaining a functional lightbulb for my room. The kitchen’s cleanliness was equivalent to that of a low-budget hostel (thanks to my amazing coworkers) and the only available cooking appliance was a microwave. As someone who enjoys cooking, it was difficult to accept the thought that I’d have to cook all my meals in a microwave for the next two months (eggs, chickpeas, vegetables, rice – you name it). I’ll admit this was a major factor nurturing my hatred for Mt. Magnet.

The recruitment agency had promised three meals/day but this was a blatant lie as the owner only gave me one (at dinner), not of my choosing (most items on the menu were too “expensive” and therefore off limits). Usually, the dish consisted of mashed potatoes, overcooked cauliflower and a slab of roast beef or chicken wing.

My Coworkers

  • An ex-meth-head (26 y/o) from Melbourne who’d been there for 14 months because cities brought too much temptation. She kindly gave me a tour of the town with her almost broken-down car. We couldn’t turn off the car at either site in case it didn’t turn back on. This, she told me, was standard precautionary behavior in the Outback. She showed me two sites, one of which was the garbage dump. All she seemed to talk to me about in the three days I was there was her new diet and workout regimen (which included walking one mile three mornings per week). She showed me her refrigerator shelf about four times just to emphasize how many vegetables she was eating. She also warned me that one of the truckers was off limits even if he tried to hit on me…. And then she felt guilty, so she told me if I could do it if I really wanted. I didn’t know how to tell her that we may not have the same taste in men.

 

  • Large Irish lady (30 y/o) who was finishing off a two year visa in December. She’d been there three weeks and upon news of my quitting, was intent on telling me how glad she was that she had pushed through the initial two because of how the place had grown on her. She was also raised behind a bar and had a deep fondness for truckers and alcohol so it made sense. When I had the nerve to complain about cleaning the maggots out of our kitchen trash can or the significant amount of mold in the shower stall, she pointed to this as a sure sign of privilege. While I will certainly admit to a fair amount of this, I would be more apt to call the willingness to clean one’s apartment a sign of maturity rather than privilege.

The Escape

On my third night at the pub, God sent me a guardian angel. I served two youngish, normal, decently educated guys: one of whom had just finished a one-day job as a diesel mechanic and was heading back to Perth in the morning, the other of whom had the following day off, so they were drinking pretty heavily. As they were the most relatable people I’d encountered in my time there, I ended up having a few beers with them after work, at which point the mechanic called me out on hating the job. I tried to stay positive, telling him halfheartedly that I thought it’d get better and that I came there in hopes of having the “authentic outback experience”, even if it meant pushing my comfort zone (that being the availability of Wi-Fi, a working kitchen and any sort of entertainment or friends). He divulged that he didn’t think it would get any better…that this was it….that he could tell I didn’t relate to my coworkers, whose only thoughts were (in his words) “he has a cock, he has a cock….  he has a cock”… that my bosses were assholes (truth) …. And that this wasn’t my only option for an “authentic outback experience”: I could work in a mining town with more than 4 stores (such as the magical Kalgoorlie).

I was still resistant at this point, especially since my boss was hovering within earshot on the other side of the bar, but the mechanic drunkenly gave me his number and told me he was leaving at 6AM the next morning if I changed my mind. I took the crumpled receipt back to my room and considered it for all of five minutes before I started packing. I asked the Irish girl if I could use her phone (as mine was inoperable) and desperately dialed the number only to find that he had already passed out. I then spent a sleepless night praying that he would answer in the morning. Once that seed had been planted, I couldn’t bear the thought of another day in that fucking town. Luckily, he picked up the phone at about a quarter to six, and by 6AM we were cruising down the highway towards Perth. I didn’t leave a note.

Conclusions

I’ve never experienced such a strange distortion of time in my life… my 2 ½ days felt like 2 ½ weeks, and I’m not exaggerating in the least. It was actually confusing and albeit a bit disappointing to realize I had, in fact, only lasted 60 hours in that town (and worked only 15 of them….not enough to even pay the placement fee I owed the recruitment agency). I think I got more than enough exposure to outback life, however, and have a thorough understanding of what I’m (not) missing. I’m thankful to the kindness of strangers, even if those strangers may be a bit racist (the mechanic actually told me Africa was better off when the white folk were governing the “blackfellas”), and grateful to myself for having the confidence to trust my instincts. I now return to Melbourne with a renewed appreciation for all of life’s comforts, which, in a way, is exactly what I wanted to gain this year.

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About the author:

ALY_0315

Erin is an avid traveler and reader who enjoys learning about different cultural perspectives and approaches to life. She is Yasmine’s #1 supporter.

Want to know even more about Erin? She was previously interviewed by Yasmine about her favorite hiking trails in Ibiza and how to make Melbourne your workout playground. If you read through archived posts, you can also find a lot of incriminating pictures of her. (Cough, Outback)


Featured photo taken at Barrow Creek Pub in Northern Territory. Originally appeared in this Character Tuesday post