I arrived in Perth on February 11th 2013. I was 22 years old, fresh-faced and naïve with so many hopes and dreams for this new country I would call home. As I stepped out of the airport, the dry heat of a 40-degree summer day wrapped around me, I felt like the world truly was my oyster.
And so here we are almost 4 years later, my final days here in Perth having crept up a lot faster than I expected. While the fantasy often played over in my mind, I honestly didn’t think I’d be leaving Western Australia so soon. Nor did I expect in a million years that of all cities, I’d be moving to Brisbane. But tomorrow I fly out to my new life on Australia’s east coast. And so, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on my time here in Perth.
My struggle with Perth’s isolation and slow pace of life
Despite the amount of time it took to get to Perth from New Zealand (6 hour flight), I was still oblivious to its isolation. I was just excited to be moving to a city bigger than Hamilton, the last city I lived in which only had a population of 150,000. When I arrived here, the city was in a bustling phase of growth as people arrived from all over to profit off the state’s mining and resources. Over the last year, things haven’t been so great here with the mining boom pretty much busted and a lot of people returning home. However, I am optimistic that Perth will continue to develop and grow in the long run.
And while I have absolutely adored the beautiful natural environment of Western Australia – the brilliant red sunsets, the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean, the seemingly empty white sand beaches – I soon found the isolation incredibly frustrating. The fact that Perth is the only major city on the west coast meant that travel around Australia didn’t really excite me that much. For example, it takes 4-5 hours to get to Sydney – not exactly a trip you want to be doing every weekend. It’s probably cheaper just to go to Singapore, and it takes the same amount of time.
The slow pace of life has also been frustrating at times. Imagine my horror when upon driving around the city at 6pm on a Sunday evening I realised everything was shut, including the supermarket. I grew up in a country town, and shops would still be open till 7:30pm on a Sunday night. But imagine my greater horror when I realised shops don’t open until 11am on a Sunday. I’ve certainly become a lot more organised when it comes to shopping, that’s for sure.
Finding wonderful friends
I have made some wonderful, wonderful friends here in Perth, the kind I know I will have for life. And for a while, the idea of leaving them and starting again did scare me somewhat. But they have been so supportive and encouraging of my move, so I know I have made the right decision.
In saying that, nearly all my friends come from work. And that’s the reality when you move to a city where you have no established group of friends from school or university.
I’m not really going to have that same luxury, considering all my new work colleagues are males with wives and children. Maybe I’ll make friends with the wives. But I know I am definitely going to have to make an effort to meet people outside of work. In saying that, I’m not going to stress out too much about it and I know it will take some time. However I have enough faith in myself and my personality to know I’ll be OK.
But not feeling like I truly fit in (but learning to embrace my differences)
As we say in New Zealand (and maybe Australia?) I grew up “rough as guts”. I’d walk to and from school with no shoes on, even in the middle of winter. If I dropped food on the ground, I’d still eat it (I still kind of do this…). I would spend my weekends climbing trees, making huts in the garden and rolling down hills. So as much as I love dressing up, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty. While my friends are more likely to gracefully exit their seat at a concert or sports match by walking past everyone, I’m the one who’ll jump over the seats in front to get out faster. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve intimated people with my boisterous behaviour.
I also grew up on reggae, motown and r&b – music that has struggled to make it to Perth, although the reggae scene seems to be growing. Meanwhile it seems like alt rock is the choice of music here in Western Australia.
And of course, I am a huge, huge rugby union fan. But I’ve found that the only diehard rugby fans (besides Kiwis) are generally middle-aged married men. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask middle-aged married men to hang out with me on the weekends.
So for the longest time I just felt like this black sheep that didnt belong anywhere and I resented this place for making me feel that way.
And while I’m hoping I won’t feel like such a black sheep in Brisbane, I’ve learnt that I shouldn’t blame my physical location and that maybe I just need to learn to be more proactive in finding “my people”. I’ve also learnt that maybe I just need to embrace my differences and realise they help make me stand out. And at the same time, maybe I also need to learn to embrace and learn something from the differences in other people.
Starting my career and taking a lot away from my first professional job
The fact that I was able to get a position with one of Australia’s largest companies straight out of uni is something I will always be proud of. As you can imagine, the application process was incredibly competitive and has become more so over time – I am thankful I applied when I did. I don’t think I would have gotten in had I applied this year for example.
I learnt a hell of a lot: how to manage people’s expectations, how to communicate effectively, how to prioritise but also how to push back when it felt like I had too much to do. Many times I have felt the pain and stress of trying to meet deadlines and deal with difficult customers. I would often put myself under a lot of pressure to deliver, working incredibly long hours. And while it felt good to receive really good feedback from managers and customers, I don’t think it was worth all the stress.
I got to try so many different roles from SharePoint developer to UX designer, business analyst to dashboard developer, project manager to project support. And as a result of rotating around so much, I got to develop a huge network of people.
But it was also from this job that I learnt that I really wanted a career path that was more technical and geared towards the actual delivery of projects. At this stage in my life I am not that interested in pursuing a management career path. I really want to be able to specialise in a technology or programming language and I figured this is my opportunity now while I’m still young.
I will also admit that I sold out somewhat when it came to taking this job. I knew deep down that I could never be passionate enough about working in the oil and gas industry, especially coming from a country that is so environmentally conscious and anti-mining. But the high salary and remuneration perks had just been too good to pass up.
And as much as corporate life is often full of red tape and politics, I made so many good friends through this job – something I never expected.
Becoming a home owner
In September 2013, I bought my very first house at the age of 23. House prices at the time were pretty high and as much as I wanted a house by the coast or a townhouse near the city, I ended up “compromising” and buying a house 24km south east from the CBD and a good 30 to 40-minute drive from the coast.
And for the longest time I absolutely resented it.
I wanted to be somewhere more happening and exciting or at least somewhere closer to the ocean.
But over the last year I came to peace with living inland and decided to make more of an effort to get to know my own area a bit more. And to be thankful and proud of myself that I could get myself in the situation where I am a homeowner.
I’ve also learnt a lot about home DIY and maintenance and the importance of educating yourself so that you don’t get blatantly ripped off by tradespeople.
The dating scene
When I moved to Perth, I thought I would meet the love of my life. Because Perth is a “big” city after all.
Errr, not quite.
Over the last almost-4-years here, I have gone on a lot more dates than I care to admit. The vast majority were with expats and travellers primarily from the UK and Ireland. I must have some strange thing for guys that hail from rainy countries.
And while dating was probably more draining than successful, I certainly learnt a lot about myself and the kind of person I want to be with in the future. I also learnt that the next time I date someone, I just need to learn to chill the eff out and enjoy the process rather than stressing out about whether the guy is into me or not.
I haven’t been on a date in over 3 months and I’ve been pretty happy with how things have gone so I don’t think I’ll miss dating in Perth. When you feel like you’ve pretty much exhausted the entire dating pool of eligible, single men who want more than just a hook-up, you know it’s probably a good time to move on.
My regret at not having seen much of Western Australia
While I try not to have any regrets, I do regret not having travelled around Western Australia as I would have liked.
The distances and costs were off-putting. But surely I could have thrown caution to the wind every now and then and toughened up. Surely I could have put more effort into finding good deals, rounding up a group of friends to split costs or being more willing to join other groups of work mates who’d go off travelling in the weekends. I probably could have spent less money on shoes and clothes too but I digress.
There are so, so many places I want to visit in WA: Albany, Esperance and Denmark down south. The Coral Coast, Broome and the Kimberley up north. Rottnest Island. The Wheatbelt Region out east. I also really want to complete the entire 1000 km of the Bibbulmun Track (so far I’ve only done the first 20 km). Moving away is going to make completing the remaining 980 km slightly more difficult.
At least I have friends and family here to keep me coming back to visit.
Leaving my family
When I moved to Perth, the relationships with my mother and sister probably weren’t the best and I was glad to leave them behind.
My sister moved to and from Perth several times over the last few years and my mother moved here two years ago. For the longest time, I held a lot of resentment towards my mother living in the same house as me. I felt caged in when I yearned to be the free, independent woman I came to Perth to find.
Things have improved significantly over the last few months with my family and while people think I’m leaving to get away from them, in all honesty I am going to miss them so much. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate having family around a lot more.
As I finish writing this up, I am astounded by just how far I have come and how much I’ve managed to accomplish in my time here. I’ve done an awful lot of growing up since the 22-year-old-me stepped foot in this city almost 4 years ago.
I now know I am more than ready for the next chapter of my life. I am full of hope and optimism. Sure there will be a few bumps along the way, but I am just going to go with it and enjoy the ride.