Living not travelling: in Brisbane

Published: October 17th 2009
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Settling in

So, I was staying at the Billy Tin Backpacker Hostel on George Street and like other backpacker joints I’d previously stayed in there were a lot of-long termers. In amongst all this were the other the transient folk from Germany, France, Korea, Taiwan who were working as slave labour in fruit picking. Or the Germans/French who were out here and were so bloody young it was painful.

It was a strange environment to be in; half-student house, half-hostel, with everyone cooking in the kitchen of an evening and DVDs/TV being shown constantly. You then saw the same people on a daily basis, either coming in from work or just waking up and making some lunch.

Getting to know Brissie

As you can probably imagine I was rather keen to sort myself out with a job and a place of my own. Living in a hostel is not ideal. During the day I walked around the city in my flip-flops (called thongs here) with the bright sun constantly overhead. I'd then visit the Queensland State Library (which had free wireless internet) and looked for jobs online. When I wasn't doing that for hours I'd pop into coffee shops

...out at the Queensland State Library
which seem to be on every corner here and I discovered one called Archives Fine Books - stocking over one million second hand books, and it's needed because new books are so expensive here. I’d also become such a shameless cheapo by this stage that not only was I in McDonalds picking up the free wireless internet but also Fitness First which offered a free access 3 day offer. (I’m still getting phone calls and text messages from the manager asking me when I’m actually going to join.)

In the evenings I went for jogs along the South Bank, taking in the night time cityscape along the Brisbane River. In the hostel itself I met two young girls from Ireland who were not knackers - see below... but university-educated and we went for drinks a couple of times: bumping into friendly locals along the way- who frequently asked us who we were, what we were doing in the city, how we were etc. Very friendly the locals.

Aussies are an easy-going bunch, this I knew from back home but literally it’s the national trait over here. No one ever seems to be moody or sour. They are always helpful. I find myself going along with it too, ‘hey, how ya goin’?’ it suits my countenance, even thought I sound like a misanthrope in these blogs.

Culture innit

I’d managed to do quite a few cultural things since I’d arrived in Brisbane...the art-talk- gig at the Queensland Gallery of Art and I’d also managed to catch the 150th anniversary of the political creation of Brisbane as a city. This entailed a free day of bands at the Botanical Gardens. I managed to see the Aussie headliners of international repute The Cat Empire. However, there was no bar at this event and so it was quite sedate, plus the band despite fine musicianship didn’t have a melody I could remember.

More enlightening was going in to the Billy Tin bar one night where I’d asked two chicks over for a game of pool. They were students in the city but were from some country Hicksville towns...and as a consequence they were hard-work. Over here when guys talk to girls they automatically think a guy is trying to bed them and thus there’s this irritatingly cagey attitude to everything. Regardless, after a few drinks in me I became witty, erudite (lost on them I might add), zany and charming English gent. After our game (duh, of course I won) they invited me to The Normanby Hotel pub where they were going to meet friends.

So, off I go upstairs to my dorm for my passport (ID is needed here even though I'm nearly 30) and off we go in their old banger of a car to the huge and illustrious 19th Century pub known as The Normanby Hotel. Despite it being a Sunday, it’s heaving. Sunday drinking sessions are very popular here. I've never seen a pub as busy as this before, we normally have banging bars or clubs back home, but this place is crammed with tarts and beef. Oh, did I mention that it’s a Sunday evening! No work anyone?

Anyway, I of course forgot that I had flip flops on and the doorman won’t let me in. So, very kindly the girls drove me back to the hostel to change my footwear, this despite the driver being over the drink drive limit. Returning we managed to avoid the cops in the car park of The Normanby and got back into the pub and it was a pretty good night, all in all. I lost the girls - they weren't much for conversation anyway, but I did get talking to a friend of a friend of theirs, a Danish-Aussie guy who played drums in bands and knew a lot about football. So we chatted away, talking to 19 year old girls along the way who seemed to have bread for brains.

Brother’s gonna work it out...

Now by this time I had three homes where I spent the majority of my time: 1. The Hostel. 2. McDonalds 3. Queensland State Library (QSL); the latter two were for using the internet (thank you Queensland and, er, McDonalds). But as a result I’d managed to send my CV to and to register with a few recruitment agencies in the city. Despite not knowing precisely how these companies ‘work’ yet knowing how fickle they can be that they would be next to useless; and I was right. The few that bothered to reply either stated that there was ‘no work’, or they’d keep my CV on file (résumé and CV are both interchangeable here). I wasn't prepared to wait around hoping that anonymous nail-polishing dimwits would see the light
Queensland State LibraryQueensland State LibraryQueensland State Library second home
and contact me about a job and nor was I interested in looking for bar work or labouring jobs. Two degrees and seven years work experience has got to count for something I thought. So, instead I decided to put some foot work into it. I’m a firm believer in showing your face to people if you want something. (I actually got a job a few years ago because of all the CVs that were sent in asking for work, mine had my mhush on it).

I’d emailed my CV to Randstadt but to make sure they did something with it I also found out which office it went to (government and education) and decided to pop in on a whim to see if the person had received my CV or not. As I stood in the reception of a high rise office block in the CBD (‘downtown’ isn’t used here in Aus) the agent actually came out to see me - she’d not received my CV but did I have a copy? Well, I had my CV on a data pen…would that do…? She then got the receptionist to copy my CV and then to email it. Somewhat
Laptop and me Laptop and me Laptop and me the Queensland State Library
fortuitously the agent was from England and so we sat down for a friendly chat in the foyer to go through what I was after (work), what type (any non-shitty ones). She then invited me to a formal interview on the following Monday at 09.30am and advised me to ‘dress smartly’.

Smart. I hadn't looked smart for months whilst travelling. I went next door to open a bank account with Commonwealth Bank and then went to Target in the Meyer Centre to buy a pair of trousers, a shirt, a leather belt and some shoes. I’ll be honest by saying that it was a bit strange kitting myself out for a proper job after so many months of wearing what I want and being loose like a traveler. But, this is what I’d come here for and money wasn’t going to last forever, in fact, I had to work.

Come the Monday, I’m all suited-and-booted and make the walk from the hostel to the office feeling a bit stiff in the collar and ‘sensible’ shoes. However, when I got there the English woman didn’t deal with me but some other ‘lower’ agent who was way bubblier. We
Huntsman spiderHuntsman spiderHuntsman spider

...huge thing that crawled into our dorm - caught by Chinese room mate!!!!
went into her office where she asked me lots of questions about my work experience, what I was looking for, and (somewhat worryingly) what work I was prepared to do. She then got me to fill out lots of paperwork and take an online test of typing speed as well as MS Excel and Word. Feeling I’d probably not done very well in the test (I’ve barely used Excel in recent jobs and I’m no P.A. either when it comes to Word) I found that no one came back to see how I’d gotten on. So, I shuffled out of reception and the receptionist woman then put in a room to watch a dated video on ‘elf and safety’. After that I was told that the agent was busy and that I could now go but that I should ring them during the week. Agencies huh?

I did ring of course but the English woman never picked up but I was told to keep ringing to register myself as ‘available’ for work when things came up. I wasn’t very hopeful however, I wanted to be proactive and I just wasn’t sure if I’d actually get a job this way. I was a little down at heart.

However, one evening, on my usual jog along the South Bank, I decided to cross the Goodwill Bridge to the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where in between standing around puffing my cheeks and admiring the newly restored former Government House I had the idea to pop in their gym. After asking a few questions about prices I was offered a free day-pass. But I also had a brain-wave about jobs.

Fortune cookie

I’d remembered meeting someone from QUT at a work conference in Southampton a few years back. We’d hung around together in between sessions and kind of made friends in a way following it up with e-mail correspondence along work lines. I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could prospect myself with a job. After all there were quite a few universities in Brisbane and Queensland who were in my line of work. Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier?

Anyway, I e-mailed her my CV hoping she’d remember me and asking if she could have a look at my CV and maybe pass it around to people she knew in QUT or
Archives Fine BooksArchives Fine BooksArchives Fine Books

[url=]not short of reading material[/url]
other uni’s to see if they needed anyone. Here's her reply:

Yes of course I remember you. I remember you knew that Ross Noble was a Geordie, and I think I thought he was Welsh. And I remember the laptop incident. Wow, you are in Brisbane. That is great.

She even praised my ‘great CV’ and promising to send it onto the various people she knew our line of work. In earnest I then sent further emails to everyone in my line of work to all the universities in Queensland...

Paddy Knackers

Excuse the captiousness of this next section but the Billy Tin hostel was teeming with errant Brits and unemployed Irish lads; the latter more commonly known as 'knackers”. Shaven-headed, covered in ugly tattoos (or pointless tattoos of Chinese characters), and wearing the uniquely knacker uniform of Gaelic Football shirts and white trainers; they were a universally uncouth (every-second-word-a-fuck), shouting and balling group of knuckleheads I’ve ever had the misfortune to ‘live’ with. I predicted that the Taliban were probably more sophisticated then this shower of gobshites (gob is Gaelic for mouth by the way). And they were intimidating too - yet I could barely understand them; they were either so far West or thick working class Dublin that I could barely penetrate their aggressive shouty brogue. They might as well have been speaking bloody Pashtun for all I could understand in between the ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’. I often wondered if they’d be easier to understand if they spoke English second to Gaelic.

Anyway they seemed to spend a good chunk of their days together either watching TV, being pissed on secret stashed ‘goon’, smoking joints or most irritatingly of all...swearing and shouting loudly to each other - utterly oblivious to other people sharing a room with them. I found that they hadn’t an intelligent thing to say about Australia or an interest in seeing anything in Brisbane apart from inside a bar. Anyway, if anything made me feel estranged about the land of my forefathers it was this bunch of slothful, loud-mouthed, feckless (pun intended) Paddy knackers.

And then one night we watched a DVD on 19th Century Aussie outlaw (bushranger) and “folk legend” Ned Kelly (starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Naomi Watts). It was a pretty bad movie and utterly romanticized the horse thief turned murderer (I preferred Mick Jagger’s lippy role in 1970). And yet for the knackers in the room he was one of their own - one guy who’d put in on was watching it for the fourth time! They saw Ned Kelly as yet another Irishman
Ned KellyNed KellyNed Kelly

Picture taken before he was hanged
fighting against the injustice and oppression of the English - even if in Australia. Kelly was born in Victoria to an Irish convict father and he clearly grew up with tales of the home country because but he wrote a famous letter to a newspaper although it wasn't printed until 1930 (Kelly having been hung in 1880) and "one of the most extraordinary documents in Australian history": here’s just one excerpt:

I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent - and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied... who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police

The Irish certainly have a way with words... and Kelly’s braggadocio almost masks his notorious reputation. Not for the knackers in the room he was their hero, and couldn't help from making outbursts such as “English bastards” throughout the film. Thankfully the English are used to anti-English sentiment so it didn’t turn nasty. However, it seems to me the Irish never tire of being anti-English and coincidentally rather fits in with present fashionable Aussie sentiment as “colonial victims”.

Anyway here they were with their mates in Australia, ready to continue with the exact pissed-up lives they had back home. This is a surprising discovery; I'd assumed the sorts of people who came to Australia to work were wide-eyed youths straight out of university, they’re not. They are also bloody uncultured oiks who treat Oz as
Life in the hostel....Life in the hostel....Life in the hostel....

Blogging in dorm
one giant piss-up with their mates. But, why come all this way to do exactly what you did back home and with the exact same people?

Somewhere to Stay

I didn’t stick around to get an answer to that. After two weeks I'd gotten fed up with living at the Billy Tin. So I moved south across the river to the Somewhere to Stay backpackers hostel which was a good 9 dollars cheaper a day at 19 dollars per night (about 9 quid).

Immediately I felt at home at the S2S, not only did the owner come pick me up but the reception staff was manned by a really friendly lass called Kelly. She reminded me a lot of my mate’s sister in Scotland, Purdie, the same hair dyed red hair and cheeky elf-like mannerisms! It was definitely more run down though, everything was made of wood, the showers were grubby and the light switches on timers! Oh the fun I had being plunged into darkness using the toilets and showers and having to reach for the light switch for a further 3 minutes of light! Despite this, it was homely and despite the tiny and basic dorm room I was sharing with a Japanese and Taiwanese guy fellas, people were mostly long-term and I got to know people.

That evening I used the small and overcrowded kitchen, and was immediately reminded of being back at University; a weird thing to be reminded of. And just like then I made some friends. An English girl called Ashley got talking to me and we sat down to eat together with her friend Tracy from Tyrone. They’d both been in the hostel for a few months and were working in odd jobs. There were other people I got to know that week that had been staying there for up to 5 months! Just something I could not really understand - it wasn’t that bloody great!

Anyway, there were various conversations with people who were out of work including Tracy who reckoned she was struggling to find anything because her Tyrone accent. Tracy had been marooned in the city since June. Interestingly, another Irish fella from down south said the same thing, concurring with my own feelings. Even a bricky from Leeds who had replied to advertisements in the local paper, was rejected because they wanted to employ local
Tracy making us dinnerTracy making us dinnerTracy making us dinner

...God did she love using BBQ sauce in everything
boys instead. It was a bit depressing, but I began to think that I had it relatively easy in comparison.

Because alcohol was allowed in the place and there wasn’t a lot else to do I pissed it up. Goon was purchased from the bottle shop down the road and my new acquaintances sat around the hostel chatting and getting pissed. One Friday night Tracy and I went out to the West End - the bohemian side of Brisbane, lots of funky bars, veggie restaurants, bookshops and adults with skateboards...anyway it was just for one drink in some dodgy looking bar by day. But we ended up having a great night listening to a blues band with a great mix of young, old, middle aged, coolios and others just out on the piss. We were stood outside with the guitarist and ended up talking about our favourite scenes in Extras and Dylan Moran. Tracy and I ended up coming back at about half 12 and having a great boogie night. We also spoke to two Aussie chicks, one of them a ‘scientist’ but all I could remember was seeing her fall on her arse on the dance floor because she was so wasted.
I learnt that Tracy liked me that night but I'm not into in her that way. To compound things the very pretty English girl (who’s gorgeous) liked me as well but unfortunately has a severe personality disorder, which is sexy in a pitiful way, but it’s the fake superficiality of it that is off-putting, the constant checking of mobile phone and odd attention deficit s. Sigh.

You meet some interesting characters when you stay in these places. Take - let’s call him ‘Larry’ - a huge tall Donegal fella who seemed to be woman crazy - but he was off the drink since he broke up with his girl, and swiftly went on a three day booze and drugs fuelled bender and got bottled in the face. You could tell his nose had been broken and glass had snipped it like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown he was a nice enough guy, very well-read (although he clearly thought reading a book on something made him an authority) I just wouldn't want to cross him.

Martians land

One last event in this crazy chapter: The hostel was on Highgate Hill in the West End and it
Somewhere to StaySomewhere to StaySomewhere to Stay

The Veranda - ooh the drinking that happened here...
was about a twenty minute walk to the city centre so the free hourly bus shuttle was handy as hell, although I tended to walk a lot of the time. The other good thing about staying here, was it sat atop Highgate Hill which afforded great views of the city. And boy what great views we had when the great big dust storm hit the city...yes, you may have heard about the cloud that was visible from space that hit Australia - and in particular Sydney. On the ground the intense red-orange colour and drop in temperature made Brisbane look like nuclear winter or the planet Mars. An unprecedented day. I'll let the dust settled on this chapter for now.

Words Ive learnt: ranger - a person with red or ginger hair, from orang-utan - ranger.
Book Im reading Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan

Additional photos below
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Brisbane Dust Storm 23 September 2009Brisbane Dust Storm 23 September 2009
Brisbane Dust Storm 23 September 2009

View of Brisbane from the Somewhere to Stay hostel

17th October 2009

I am wise
So you did quote my ranga definition huh? you are so not up to date then with your blog if thats where ur up to - dust storms! Oh and u stole my pic! thatll be worth something one day ;)

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