Leif's Initial Thoughts of Life in Australia

"Thought I'd send you a little compendium of my meanderings to date..." 


"The hardest part of the flight over was staying awake.  I set my watch to Aussie time in 'Frisco to try to reduce jet lag.  They must have shown five movies (all terrible) on the 12-hour flight, so it was kind of like being trapped in a cramped movie theatre for that length of time.  The food wasn't bad, and I had nobody next to me, so all-in-all about an 8.5/10.  Yeesh, but did I smell like a jungle after that.


"Rent is ridiculous here.  A furnished one-room bachelor with no view near the harbour or beach runs about $300.00 PER WEEK.   I am in a 2-bedroom shared place, across the street from the beach with an ocean view for $200.00 bucks per week ($800.00/ month) - no bargain, but clean and roomy enough to entertain guests.  I managed to find it during my hectic premiere work week.

(Note:These two photos are views from Leif's Bondi Beach apartment! Yeah, tough to take!)

   " At first facetious glance, Australia is like Canada, only with
(a) inscrutable accents;
(b) higher annual average temperature;
(c) monstrous trade deficit;
(d) no language tension;
(e) plastic money.

    "Distilling out the above differences, it is obvious we share:
(1) disdain of/fascination with the Monarchy;
(2) huge coastline;
(3) resource-based economy with concurrent weak and unstable dollar;
(4) aboriginal "issues";
(5) no domestic cuisine to speak of, other than "barbecue";
(6) monolithic beer consumption;
(7) distrust of Americans, and addiction to American culture.

    "I arrived on Sunday the 23rd of May, and started that Monday.  Needless to say I was a jet lagged civil servant that week.  So far the work has been very interesting and educational.  The Aussies have decided to copy European car emissions rules (they used to use the American ones, like Canada does) so its a time of sweeping change for them.  These folks here work their butts off (typically 8:00 - 6:00p every day) despite the fact that their official work week is about 2.5 hours shorter than that of Canadian Feds. The good news is that it is possible to collect "Flex Days" from some of the extra hours worked - I will be taking one on Friday.

   " Interestingly, thus far my new colleagues have been making fun of my accent. I find myself asking folks to repeat themselves, as half the time I don't understand some of the butchered pronunciations here.  Guess what?  In an office milieu, Aussies (at least the males) (1) gossip; (2) wear horrible
suits; (3) make loud bathroom noises; (3) "sprinkle" on the seat.  Just like Canadians!  In many ways, I feel right at home.

    "Almost nobody in Australia drives a Subaru Outback, and nobody drinks Fosters' (It's considered the "beeya foe pooftaas")!  The "Labatt's Blue" of beers here is Victoria Bitter, or "VeeBee", as in "Oil haive a schoona ove VeeBee ain a mueet pie.  Cheeas mate!"

   " I had a chance to do some mountain biking in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney last weekend.  I was just toodling through the woods when I ran smack into a troupe of kangaroos drinking from a large puddle.  It was neat to see them "live" for the first time; they looked harmless, but about as smart as a bag of hammers.  They stared at me, then hop-hop-hop, off they went.(This picture is of Manly Beach - snorkling and North Head hiking)

    "As a seasoned plebeian public transit frequenter (no car yet or planned), and crazy loner (or at least masquerading as one until Wendy gets here), I have gotten in touch with my fellow crazy loners on the trains, buses and ferries of this fine city.  There's this stuttering bean-pole of a Geoffrey Rush character who I seem always to bump into either at the Sydenham train station or on one of the harbour ferries.  Noting his pleasant demeanour, newcomers invariably make the mistake of asking him for directions; whereby he politely regales them with a protracted explanation of how Sydney public transit will survive the 2000 Olympics.  He cheerfully continues in rapid-fire staccato as they retreat, nattering like Mel Gibson's copter-pilot sidekick in "the Road Warrior" ("Neva seenaman baeet the snike befoea.  Ya queek!").

    "Mornings find me walking by another amusing iconoclast, the inevitable Bondi Beach shopping cart pusher.  His gig is a battery-challenged cassette stereo on which he blares his hits every morning as he steers his shopping cart along the mall.  Interestingly, last week his set list featured Quebec synthesizer artist Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene", which was just too scary...  Aussie's, even crazy ones, seem to have an affinity for Canuck music.  For example, Shania Twain has been on the hit parade for 84 weeks in Sydney; almost as long as "ABBA Gold" at a whopping 140.

    "Further vignettes from our elite loner corps include a toad-like New Zealander who spurted monotone word-salad through a jam-covered, expressionless face, refusing to exit the Bondi Junction train until evacuated by security.  My question is, how do these fellas figure out how to use transit in the first place?  Last but not least, I note the red-faced, bearded and be-shorted speedwalker screaming profanities tinged with a Scottish burr, while trundling along the scenic coastal trail at Bronte Beach("Yorrrrr alll @#$%&!!!!!!!  Sheetin' @#^&&#!!!!!!!").  You have a nice day too, sir.

    "Outside of such amusing diversions, I've had a chance to see more of the city (aquarium, harbour bridge, Manly ferry and beach) and make some decent acquaintances at work.  There seems to be no shortage of "extreme sports" aficionados, so much so that my own pursuits seem somewhat pedestrian by comparison.  Lots of biking, running, hiking, climbing, etc, but no golf yet.  One sport the locals seem weak in is roller blading - probably becausethey weren't raised with ice skates tied to their feet!  (A picture of Leif at KIRRIBILLI with Stu (not "Bruce"?)).

    "Still, I really miss friends and family.  I wish I could have imported you all, but unfortunately the cats would have been a tough go at quarantine."

    And we miss you too, Leif.

Here is Edition Two of Leif's Meanderings from Down Under ...


"Date: Tue, 03 Aug 1999 20:38:05 +1000
From: Stephanson Leif <STEPHANSONL@epa.nsw.gov.au>
Subject: More meanderings
To: "'Stephanson, Garry'" <gstephanson@sympatico.ca>

"Hi Dad,
 Thought I'd chuck together a few notes from the last little while:

"East Sydney, including my suburb of Bondi Junction, was pummelled by a multi-billion dollar (insurance claim) hailstorm shortly before I arrived. Apparently, the hailstones were as large as tennis balls; they dropped like carpet bombs, shattering car windows, denting fenders, shredding awnings, and even breaking roof tiles on many houses. About every tenth car resembles the lumpy back of an estuarine  crocodile, with flapping plastic residing in the empty sockets of ex-windscreens.  Local "smash repair" shops are still so backed up that bumperless, primer-slathered Bimmers, Saabs and Audis spill outonto the streets like ghosts of a yuppy block party.

        (Note: a picture of Sydney on a typical sunny, summer day. See "Bruce and Sheila" on the bridge, waving? Well, perhaps it's a bit too far ... )

"On my 8:00-19:30 work days (no more than 2 times per week tops), the 1.5 hour train/bus/walk adventure from Bankstown to Bondi Junction normally leaves me a narrow evening meal window.  As a result, my diet now features breakfast cereal as a unique food group.  My current favourites are:
(1) Toby's Vita Brits (or is it "Vita Bricks"?  Essentially rock-hard Weetabix)
(2) Toby's Nutra Grain "Iron Man" cereal ("ventilated, sugar-coated wallabee turds". Like most Australian-made cereals, it features a "famous" swimmer or "footie" star on the box)
(3) Kellogg's Corn Flakes (Consistently dull in any hemisphere!) Unfortunately for my health, skim milk is about 50 cents a litre more expensive than so-called "full cream" milk.  "Full cream" is a liquid myocardial infarction guarding the border between Homo and Half&Half - undrinkable solo, but "cheap" ($1.25/litre), and great on breakfast cereal.

"Last Friday I golfed with workmates Michael and Andrew, aka "Shuutz" and"Dainva" ("Shirts" and "Denver").  Great mates, and a good time was had by all.  They had a laugh over the Looney Tunes "Temper Taz" golf shirt that Cyn and Dan gave me. Fortunately, "Anger Man" did not make an appearance this day.  The municipal public course was no Hylands (sand traps and water hazards were deleted) but featured nice undulations and a paltry 13 bux for 18 holes.  Driving (with the "3" of course - the real driver is still a work in progress) and irons were okay; putting was impressively horrible. I shot a 94, not my best work for a short par 68.  Shirts, buoyed by beta blockers in the form of filterless Dunhills and tee-box yoga, recorded a credible 105.  Denver, an expert "canyoner" who can climb the red holds in any rock gym, sliced his way to a personal best of 124.  Featured on the course were at least ten alien species of birds prowling or circling  - from what looked a blackbird that shook its bootie back and forth in a little dance when we approached, to a flock of whistling pigeons with Mohawk hairdos; or maybe it was just the second-hand fumes from the Dunhills.

"Returning to the scene of my humble apartment, every second weekend I step onto the awning and squeegee the sea-salt off the windows.  Locals complain about how the salty air rusts their vehicles, inquiring if we have similar difficulties in Canada.  "Well, yes, everywhere but on the coast", I reply, followed by a description of Ontario's ingenious snow-clearing methods (mouths gape at this point, no doubt at the concept of  -20 degC and 2 metre drifts).  As a land-lubber Canuck, it certainly is a novelty playing in the ocean every weekend.  It's winter here (air and water temp. 17 deg C), so most locals find it too cold to swim.  Bondi Beach is virtually empty, so I have it almost to myself.  I am gradually honing my surf kayaking skills.  It's one of the toughest sports I've ever attempted, being seat-belted to an indented surfboard and attempting to ride looming two-metre crests.  Next I must learn a proper roll.  I have the first half down pat...

"Jogging, the hated non-sport that figured so prominently in my Ottawa regimen, has taken a back seat.  I have been getting a lot more walking than running into my schedule, thanks to public transit and no car. Nevertheless, I have registered for the City to Surf running event that winds from Downtown Sydney ("the City") to Bondi Beach.  I also entered a bike race in the eucalyptus-tinged Blue Mountains, which proved injury-free and Adrenalin-rich.

   { Dad's Note: Concerning Leif's entry in the "City to Surf Run", he ran it regardless of having a very bad cold. The following are his comments:

       "Well, I wasn't going to spoil Sunday nursing a mere illness.  I had previously signed up for the (locally) legendary City to Surf (a web surf will find it lickety split), a 14 km run from Hyde Park in Sydney central to my rented home turf of Bondi Beach.  Aches and delirium aside, it was a wonderful experience.  Over 50,000 runners and walkers basked in the 16 deg C cloudless chill of our coldest, windiest winter day yet. The scenic routewound along the shore, through ritzy neighbourhoods with names like Rozelle and Edgecliff, between cheering crowds, past sidewalk venues featuring canned and live music of every variety, up backbreaking hills, and finally down into Bondi.  In the end I managed a time of 70minutes 30seconds, 10 minutes shy of anything competitive, but at least two hours quicker than the request my body mailed in.  My aching, tin-man stagger was the subject of some amusement at Monday morning tea."}

"My work nickname has evolved to either "Stah Impote" ("Star Import" in a cheerfully sarcastic tone) or "Saiptik" (short for "septic tank", a nickname Aussies normally reserve for Yanks) depending on the day of the week.  I am now convinced that, if used at the end of a word, the letter "r" ceases to exist in the Australian dialect.

'till next time, have a great day Dad.


Leif Stephanson
Principal Program Officer, Mobile Sources Air Policy
New South Wales Environment Protection Authority
66-72 Corner of Jacob Street and Rickard Road
Locked Bag 1502
Bankstown, New South Wales 2200
Phone: (011-61-2) 9795-5202
Fax: (011-61-2) 9793-8913
Email: STEPHANSONL@epa.nsw.gov.au"

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