I’ve turned into someone with dual citizenship. And I have to say that navigating life with one foot placed in the sparkling city of Sydney and the other foot in the culture-and-cafe scene of Melbourne has its challenges. But I love the fact that I’m getting the best of both worlds.
Regular readers will now that I’ve been based in Sydney for most of my life. And when we decided to expand the Australian Writers’ Centre to Melbourne, I firmly believed that I could commute. You know, like all those people you see catching those early morning interstate flights, only to be home later in the evening after a full day of work in another city.
I was seriously DELUDED to think I could do this. Expanding to a new city is like starting a business from scratch. Despite the wonders of the internet and social media, you have to be there in person to: inspect new premises, deepen relationships and become a true member of the community. If you want to fast track your business growth, there’s certainly a lot that you can do online – but a lot MORE you can do in person.
I knew I wasn’t going to join the ranks of those early morning inter-city commuters (put it this way, early flights and me just don’t mix). So I thought I’d have to make a choice: Sydney or Melbourne?
There was no way that I was going to leave my beloved Sydney and my glorious dream apartment, a place that is truly my haven. But I had to do business in Melbourne.
So now I’m spending chunks of time (a couple of months) in each city, but FIFO-ing (fly in, fly out) for important meetings, appearances or speaking engagements in the other state. It seems to be working. (I’m currently writing this from a cafe in the Yarra Valley in Victoria).
Embracing this new southern lifestyle has certainly been eye opening. And if you’re contemplating a similar approach, here’s what I’ve learnt.
1. Ensure you have two of everything
This ends up being expensive but worth it. After multiple experiences of leaving key items in a whole other state (eg. essential makeup, GHD styler, contact lenses, VGA adapters, the list goes on), you’ll save yourself a whole of of pain if you just buy two of everything.
This includes your wardrobe. However, when it comes to clothes, you can’t just duplicate your wardrobe. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Melburnians wear a hell of a lot of black. This is not my colour. And my uber bright Sydney clothes just don’t cut it in Melbourne. So yesterday, I packaged up my hot pink jacket, bright orange tops and hugely bold prints and sent them back up to Sydney.
My wonderful friend Lulu, who runs an awesome boutique (Zulu Lulu in McMahons Point in Sydney) put together a Melbourne wardrobe that now lives permanently south of the border. It contains no hot pink, and lots of Really Warm Clothes.
Living down here has also allowed me to indulge in vintage clothes. Whenever I wear these in Sydney, it just doesn’t work. I look like someone who has stepped straight out of a Vinnies sale. But when I wear them in Victoria, they’re somehow stylish, people compliment me, it seems to work.
2. The infrastructure for internet in Australia is not only bad, it means that small businesses will never be able to truly complete globally
Another truth that’s universally acknowledged is that if you run a business, you have to be online. And if you want to run a remotely effective business, you need access to decent internet speed.
Living in Sydney, even though the internet can slow from time to time (often in the afternoons when kids come home from school), it’s passable. But in the Yarra Valley (which is a mere 1 hour and 15 mins from the Melbourne CBD) it’s nothing short of debilitating.
When the internet is actually working (yes, lately it’s been failing completely), the speed ranges from 0.25 megabits per second (mbps) to approximately 1.6mbps. This is slower that dialup in a third world country. Yes, really, I used to work in third world countries. One country I worked in was so technologically behind, it had NO automatic teller machines, but it had faster internet than the Yarra Valley.
To give you an idea of the speed in other countries, according to Netindex.com (at time of publishing), here are the mean internet speed of the following cities (based on the rolling mean throughput in Mbps over the past 30 days where the mean distance between the client and the server is less than 300 miles):
* Singapore, Singapore 40.90 mpbs
* Paris, France 33.79 mbps
* Stockholm, Sweden 28.89 mbps
* Plovdiv, Bulgaria 27.31 mbps
* Yarra Valley, Australia 0.25 mbps (but sometimes we are lucky to get 1.6 mbps)
Despite the government wanting Australians to forge a vibrant startup ecosystem so that we can potentially produce the next Facebook or Instagram, let me assure you, this ain’t going to happen at 0.25 mbps. Not in a million years.
It’s true. I could move from the Yarra Valley. And maybe I will if the internet does not improve. (Although 1 hour and 15 mins from the CBD is not exactly the remote Australian Outback. Surely, we should expect more than 0.25 mbps?). But I know that I’m not the only person experiencing these issues. We can’t all move to the CBD just to access better internet. We just won’t fit!
While my internet issues are certainly a pain, it’s reflects a much bigger national problem. Author and blogger Chris Guillebeau recently visited Sydney and waxed lyrical about its beauty. Chris called Sydney a “paradise”. But he also wrote in his post about Sydney:
The internet as it’s known in the rest of the world has yet to arrive in paradise. Rumor is it will get better with some sort of new pipeline, but until then it’s slow going, mate.
Two weeks from now, when their browser finally refreshes this post, the good folks who live in Australia can chime in with their experiences of going on holiday to some foreign locale and discovering that other people can actually watch videos online. Sometimes they can even transfer large files to someone else in a foreign land! Amazing.
I feel your pain Chris. If you think internet in Sydney is bad, try the Yarra Valley!
[According to NBN Co, construction for the NBN in this area “commences within three years”. But considering its recent announcement that its rollout has been delayed by three months, I’m not holding my breath. The NBN says it will finish its rollout in 2021. By then, watch the rest of the world take over as Australian becomes a technological backwater.]
3. Flying from Melbourne to Sydney is HEAPS easier than flying from Sydney to Melbourne
Until I became a dual citizen, I had always flown Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney. But, in case, you didn’t know, the Melbourne-Sydney-Melbourne route is a whole other (much more pleasant) experience. It’s so easy that it has certainly contributed to my decision to spend more time here.
For me, here are the key reasons why:
(a) The magical nirvana of the “Multi-Level Long Term Car Park”.
I know it’s weird that a car park can bring one so much joy but if you’ve experienced parking in Sydney, you’ll understand. In Melbourne, you can drive on a freeway right up to airport, park in the “Multi-Level Long Term Car Park” which is right next to the terminal and then simply … get on your plane. This is pure bliss.
In Sydney, any long term parking is so far away that you then have lug your bag on to a bus (which only appears at certain intervals), wait for other people to get on the bus and be ferried to the terminal. To ensure that you don’t miss your flight, you have to factor in extra time. And if there isn’t a bus nearby, your stress levels can go nuts!
Even if you take a hire car to the airport in Sydney, you often end up battling traffic and congestion because any routes to get were built so long ago, they can’t cope with the demands of today’s commuters.
(b) The Melbourne curfew
When you fly Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney, your latest flight out of Melbourne (on Qantas, at time of publishing) is 9pm. Presumably, this is due of the curfew at Sydney airport because of the nearby residents (wonderful town planning – not). So that means that you can’t really plan a dinner meeting; if you’re at a conference you can’t stay for the wrapup; and you’re more limited in what you can achieve.
However, when you fly Melbourne-Sydney-Melbourne, your latest flight out of Sydney is 10pm. You can get more done, you miss peak hour getting to the airport in Sydney and, when you land and float into the wonder of the “Multi-Level Long Term Car Park”, and have an easy drive home because there aren’t that many people on the road at that hour.
I’ve realised that I love both theses cities. Many people have asked me: “So are you moving permanently to Victoria?” And I’ve always responded with a resounding “No!”. Not because I don’t love it here. But because I don’t want to have to choose. Being a dual citizen has its benefits.
Now if I could just get the internet to speed up …