After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Touchdown in Oz (20th July - 2nd October)

Charlotte with Eric (the Econovan).

We arrived at Perth Airport on a chilly and dull morning on the 19th July, the middle of the Australian winter. Being in Western Australia this rarely means much worse than 7 degrees and a few storms. We were due to stay with our old Withnelian friend Bruno, of Lets Not Lose Mars To The Commies (Liam’s old band) fame. After driving from the airport through sprawling, featureless suburbs, we eventually arrived on the outskirts of Fremantle. A knock at the door at 6am and we eventually managed to drag Bruno out of bed, and he welcomed us with bleary eyes and a bare floored room as he had expected us the following day. Having just come from the tropical sweatiness of Cambodia, we were woefully prepared for temperatures of even a mild nature, so we spent the first night shivering in our think silk sleeping bags and unsubstantial clothing. This was compounded by the fact that the houses here are built with baking hot summers in mind, very open and airy with no insulation. We marvelled that this would indeed be a lovely, cool house in the summer, as we shivered the night away.

The first few days we spent acclimatising ourselves and buying some more suitable clothing. Jeans, socks, jumpers and raincoats were the order of the day. As was a dooner - a duvet to you and I. We got the lay of the land in Fremantle and surveyed the various pubs selling myriad beer, a real treat after the limited offerings of the past few months (we like lager but sometimes its nice to have some variation!). We saw Bruno’s band play (Hand Stands For Ants), who were great fun live and met some of his friends. We spent the first month doing not an awful lot, just exploring around and about on the days where the weather was nice, and of course brushing up our CVs and applying for jobs. We got ourselves bikes and cycled up and down the coast paths, and to Kings Park in Perth.

Our first trip out of Fremantle was with Bruno and his girlfriend, Betty, to her parents holiday home in Dwellingup. We had plans for walks in the forest and maybe even some rafting on the river but in the end the weather was so bad we just ended up drinking and playing Scrabble. Still, a great time, and the opportunity for Betty to make us an amazing breakfast of poached eggs and tomatoes (she worked in a cafe in Fremantle that probably does the best breakfast going). Go Betty!

We spent a month or so living with Bruno, it just so happened he had a spare room when we arrived, unfurnished but we managed to find a spare mattress. It was a pretty decent sized house with a big garden and within walking distance from Fremantle. The only downside was that the trucks from the port were up and down the main road outside our window, not particularly conducive to a good night's sleep! Not the little trucks we have back home either, huge American Mac trucks with double trailers, roaring away as they pulled up the hill outside from the traffic lights at 4am. The only other inhabitant of the house was Bruno's legendary cat, Warhawk. We spent many a day with her while she howled for food constantly, and she kindly brought us a dead rat as a token of thanks for feeding her. Lovely!

After failing to get any casual work (winter is much quieter as the tourist numbers drop off), Liam decided to go through an agency in Perth to try and get a job in IT. Luck was on his side and a job at Fremantle Ports was procured, working on the Helpdesk in a similar role as with the NHS in Sheffield (an originally temporary contract now extended until the end of January). Charlotte tried her hand at bar work and charity mugging (sorry, fundraising) before settling into a job caring for people with acquired brain injuries, mainly from car accidents.

At the end of August we had to look for a place to live as Bruno's lease was about to expire and he was moving out. We wanted to get away from the main road and the road-trains rattling the windows all night, and decided to try and live out the Australian dream near the beach. We chose Mosman Park due to its proximity to the beach, although to be fair there are two highways and a railway line between us and the coast for those of you imagining us living in a beach-front tropical paradise! It is also 7 minutes on the train from Fremantle (or a half hour coastal bike ride, great for cycling to and from work for Liam) and about 20 minutes to Perth. The rent isn't cheap but unless you want to live in the back of beyond in suburbia, it wouldn't get much cheaper.

We have been enjoying the weather, although it has been anything but predictable. As we arrived in July, our spirits were lifted with tales of spring in September, but even as I write this in early November, the wind is howling and we have had some fairly epic storms recently.  That’s not to say we haven’t had some good weather too, half the week is usually beach-worthy and even in August we had some days worthy of a British summer, although actual summer here could see the temperatures rising to well over 40 degrees.

September the 11th saw a very special anniversary for us, our first year together as husband and wife. The night before we had tickets to see our Ozzy punk favourites Frenzal Rhomb, a blast from the past as we had both seen them around 10 years previously. It was great to go to a punk rock gig after all this time, and it was cool that another favourite of ours, Teenage Bottlerocket, were supporting. We had a meal at a Japanese restaurant beforehand, and enjoyed a nice bottle of wine in a trendy bar on the way to the venue. Just in case we were feeling a bit above our station, we were happy to be brought back to earth in the more familiar surrounds of a beer soaked rock club. Some things never change eh? The following day was our actual anniversary and the weather was on our side, so we had a scorching hot day down the beach at Cottesloe. Tapas was procured for the beachside restaurant a few minutes further north by bike at Swanbourne, so all in all a lovely day.

At the end of September we had settled into our jobs and decided it was time to buy a campervan, especially since Charlotte had been hiring a car for work. We looked at a few which didn't work out but finally bought a white 1990 Ford Econovan from a friendly German and Swedish couple. The van was basic but conveniently kitted out with a bed which folded up into a settee in the back, and was a little longer than most, giving us some extra storage space. The mileage didn't seem too high for its age and a further bonus was that it was dual fuel, so it also ran on LPG (pretty cheap over here). We bargained them down by a few hundred dollars and set off on our merry way. It was only when we came to register the van in our name that we came a cropper, as it was currently registered in South Australia, so we needed to get it registered and put Western Australian plates on it. We were assured this was an easy process as WA are pretty lax about things and there is no legal requirement for an MOT. However, when the license is being transferred interstate its a different story! So after some very expensive work was carried out to get it up to code (new brakes, LPG tank, tyres seat covers and more) we were road legal and had evaporated what little money we had but were just happy to have a van to call our own. In hindsight we should have been more careful when buying, but this is the peril of knowing very little about cars, from other people who know very little about cars, in a country which doesn't require yearly road-worthy testing. Lesson fully learnt! In reality though, the vans that had good service history and were well looked after were a lot more expensive, so ultimately we probably didn't pay all that much over the odds. The problem is that a lot of vans get passed around the backpacker circuit, and due to them being owned for a few months at a time get very little attention from the owners, who just hope for the best and drive them into the ground. It's like a game of pass the bomb in this respect, and we ended up taking the full force of the blast!

Our first day trip with our new-found freedom was to Walyunga National Park, where we enjoyed a barbecue on one of the ubiquitous public grills found in parks and on beaches all over Australia. On the way back we stopped off for a tasting at Houghton Wines in the Swan Valley wine region. We tasted some of their excellent premium range, and after some very generous measures Liam was drunk enough to buy a bottle of wine for $30, which we are saving for Christmas. Charlotte tasted a couple but was driving back (Liam would like to note that he would have offered to drive but Charlotte was due to pick the Parkers up from the airport later that night). The Swan Valley normally produces fairly cheap wines as it is a bit too hot (this also produces very high alcohol wines, 14.5% whites seem common!), but the wines we tasted were made with grapes from further south, where the climate is a bit cooler and less dry. Liam was blown away by the different flavours, and aside from being quite merry by the end, was definitely sold on the virtues of paying for high quality wine.

And with that, we have belatedly brought you up to date with our goings-on until the end of September. More to follow, covering the action-packed three weeks we spent with Kath, Mike and Joe Parker. A rollercoaster ride of eating and drinking like I was on holiday but actually going into work every day at 8am. Watch this space...
Fremantle & Perth, Australia

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