Work Adventures in Sydney
If You’re Under 30, Apply for a Working Holiday Visa
By Alison Lapshinoff
The sidewalks were littered with debris. Clusters of scantily clad women lingered on the roadside, and portly balding men smoked cigarettes while trying to entice passersby into their strip clubs. It was barely noon. At the curbside, a beggar mumbled in a drug-induced stupor as a few backpackers took in their new surroundings and climbed the stairs to their hostel. Massage parlors, Internet cafes, raunchy sex shops, and strip clubs shared the same storefronts; outside, transactions of dubious legality were constantly taking place. Our search for budget accommodations had taken us unawares to the red light district of Australia’s largest metropolis—the suburb of Sydney known as King’s Cross.
Like so many before us we arrived in Sydney armed with working holiday visas and ready for employment in the service industry. One can apply for a working holiday visa for Australia by downloading the application form and sending it in with all the requested documents and required information. It will usually be returned within two weeks, visa stamped neatly into your passport. You must, however, be under 30 and complete this small chore before arriving in Australia. The only drawback to this type of visa is it only allows you to work for an employer for three consecutive months, after which you must move on or find employment elsewhere. No doubt a ploy by the Australian government to ensure that you don’t spend all your time working but spend some money in their country as well!
Well-dressed, employed, and homeless, the classifieds spread out before us at a trendy downtown coffee shop, we were confronted with an overwhelming array of accommodations options. Renting in Sydney was quite different to what I was accustomed to. Instead of meeting the owner, viewing the suite, chatting a bit, and casually coming to a rental agreement, in Australia the whole business is run by a real estate agent. Many ads list viewing times at which one can turn up and see an apartment—usually a 15-minute window around midday. Then, if the place suits you, an application must be filled out and the successful applicant is rewarded with a home. This turned into a long and laborious task involving maps of the city, bus schedules, carefully planned timing, and a lot of walking. Our new home was a single, unfurnished room, complete with a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet for the standard rate of about $200 a week. Incidentally, in Australia, the fridge isn’t a standard appliance that one can count on having in their new kitchen. It’s much like a couch; you buy your own.
King’s Cross and Pott’s Point are the most densely populated suburbs in all of Australia. Although radically different, the share an attitude of tolerance, whether it be toward sexuality, income, lifestyle, or just the unconventional in general; all sorts of fascinating characters are drawn to this small corner of Australia’s largest metropolis. King’s Cross never sleeps and this is just the kind of excitement that draws so many young travelers to this area today.
Sydney is a fascinating, diverse, and multi-cultural city. That being said, after a few months of living and working in its pulsing heart, I was dying for a reprieve. Employment opportunities were everywhere and working two jobs was wearing me down. I was cooking at a trendy Pott’s Point café owned by a temperamental gay couple whose kitchen was run by a fun but volatile and incredibly moody chef; and I also was working at a posh downtown hotel whose wealthy clientele pay top dollar to have their every whim catered to with a smile.
Sydney is an extravagantly expensive place to live and, accordingly, wages for service industry professionals are higher than most. Cooks can expect to start at about $17 an hour but servers will have to sacrifice some of the hefty tips they are used to receiving in gratuityfriendly North America. On a plus note, the Australian government has given weekends holiday status; thus businesses are required to pay time and a half on Saturdays and double time on Sundays.
Our new Australian bank account padded with the results of six months of hard work, we gingerly directed our newly purchased Land Cruiser through the heart of the city, concentrating fiercely on keeping to the left side of the road. Our flat’s meager contents fit nicely into our roomy vehicle, our home for the next few months. As we crawled over the Harbour Bridge we caught our final glimpse of the famous roofline of the Sydney Opera House. Ahead lay the long, sweeping beaches of the east coast, the largely unexplored vast expanse of the outback and an entirely different sort of Australian adventure.