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The day before yesterday was a red letter day, the culmination of an interminable wait that had us holding our breath for some time now. An email notified us that our status in this country has been dignified with some semblance of legitimacy. We are now, finally, “permanent” residents.

The red sticker in my brand new US passport says “permitted to remain in Australia indefinitely.” The idea that one is going to be around indefinitely is very pleasing, in Australia or anywhere else.

We began the process that led to this point back in the spring of 2006, when my wife was offered the position at the University. It didn’t occur to me what a time consuming business it was going to be until I started assembling the supporting documentation for the first visa– subclass 457, a short-term, temporary business visa.

In October of 2006, we sent off certified copies of our birth certificates, marriage certificates, New York, California, Ontario and Quebec bar certificates, all my wife’s academic degrees (which had to be removed from picture frames, photocopied and certified), employment references, and passport picture pages. Along with the pre-departure questionnaire.

Then, we needed health certificates and chest X -rays by doctors living in our part of Florida who had been certified trustworthy by Australian immigration. The nearest clinic offering this service was a two hour drive away. The doctor appeared to be from India, though he may have been Australian.

The medical exams and x-rays would be repeated here in Melbourne later, toward the end of process that would stretch well over a year.  I failed to comprehend the time scale involved, the grinding bureaucracy, the big wait.

I have no doubt the same process would be an absolute nightmare in my own country. It would no doubt have me extracting my last remaining hairs in absolute despair. We were like amateur mountain climbers making an attempt on the bureaucratic equivalent of Everest wearing tennis shoes (trainers).

The application for employer sponsored migration to Australia (form 47ES) is 26 pages long.  It requires careful consideration and still more documents, as well as the production of clean police checks from every country in which one has lived a year or more during the last ten years.  Considering the first immigrants on record, you would think we would be required to prove that we were criminals in good standing.

Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the F.B.I. were asked to look into our nefarious backgrounds.  This was not exactly a priority for the federal bureau of investigation, and I was warned it would take some time.  I used to say that everything that taxed my patience was glacial, but I’ll have to come up with a different metaphor.  It’s a brave new world.

We now have the opportunity to consider taking out citizenship. According to a recent article in the “Age,” fewer and fewer immigrants are taking a run at that one. Thanks to a newly-introduced citizenship test, the numbers of applications have plummeted.

A dense, 42 page booklet, from which questions are drawn, describes the use of the “stump-jump plough,” the location of Phar Lap’s heart, and, in the sports section (which should, by my reckoning, be the size of a city telephone book), questions such as, who is the “greatest cricket batsman of all time.”

There is some concern that the booklet may be “impenetrable” for newly arrived migrants, and that potential citizens fear they may be deported if they fail.  Eventually, 95% do pass the exam as long as they know the name of Sir Don Bradman’s bat.

Next time I’m coming back as a cat. She just had a rabies shot, a chip and quarantine. I’ll take that any day.

P.S. The movie, by-the-way, (see a previous post), the Canadian one we waited forever and a day to get in the mail. It wasn’t very good. If you have “Away from Her” on your list of DVDs, you may want to reconsider. Get “Kenny” instead.

It is hard to credit now, but I actually arrived in Melbourne for the first time ten years ago this month. We were living in Hong Kong at the time, which needs some explaining but that will have to wait another day.

My wife had been invited to teach an intensive ten day course at the law school where she is now employed on a permanent basis. We decided to make a fortnight of our trip and squeeze in a little sightseeing at the end.

For my daughter and I, the whole trip was a holiday. I can no longer remember how it transpired, but we convinced the parents of my daughter’s best friend to let her come along. Her name was Leesa and she was a fine companion for my daughter, the absolute opposite of the spoiled, expat child one sees so often in Hong Kong.

While my wife was on her feet lecturing, we were at the zoo or down along the Yarra or in a museum or at the Aquarium. I remember renting bicycles and going for a ride along the river. It is hard to believe I was only ten years younger then than I am now. During certain decades, age no longer creeps, it takes big leaps instead. The sixties (my sixties), fall into that category.

The furnished apartment was modern and roomy and it was located on a charming, Italian-oriented avenue two blocks from the University of Melbourne. Lygon Street.

If I had done my homework, I would have realized that Lygon Street was a mecca for tourists and locals. The tree-lined street is absolutely packed with all things Italian, from pasta to gelato, vino to the latest Italian shoes and clothing. And restaurants! There are far too many to mention. It has the best selection of movies in the City, and quite possibly the best book store, in addition to a theatre company.

It was the dire threat of the Japanese invasion during World War II that convinced Australians they needed more people to protect the land. The slogan “Populate or Perish” gained credibility, and there were large numbers of displaced Europeans to chose from. Along with the “ten pound” poms whose lives had been devastated by battle and the blitz, boatloads of Greeks and Italians were eager to escape poverty and destruction in their own homelands.

They settled anywhere cheap and where their countrymen had previously put stakes in the ground. The area to the east of Melbourne University was not the posh destination it is today. Italians settled in and built their homes, started their restaurants and introduced two new concepts to the City on the Yarra– brewing good coffee, and eating outside, al fresco.

The legacy of Lygon Street was born, and it has never looked back. Stay tuned.

Quickflix, our Australian version of Netlix, has some quirks befitting its home base. We are living on a continent in which the word “quirky” almost defies definition. How does one explain the kangaroo or platypus or a word like “spruik”, pronounced sprook, meaning, to hold forth in public.

Quickflix appears to work in the same fashion as Netflix, offering one the option of creating a list of DVDs organized in a queue in the order in which you want them delivered. So far, so good. The postal service is excellent and the movies are delivered expeditiously from their distribution center.

The quirkiness lies in the order of delivery. I can never anticipate what might come next, for it has nothing to do with the order of my queue. They seem to ship out the movies they have on hand, not necessarily the films at the top (or even near the top) of my list.

It looks like we’re getting the movies no one else wants to see– the Australian movies. Not that I mind all that much.

One of the Age movie reviewers wrote a scathing op ed piece recently about the state of Australian cinema, suggesting that Australian directors and producers were picking perverse projects (art pictures) and running the industry into the ground.

A perspicacious reader responded the next day with the suggestion that it was virtually impossible for an Australian film to compete with a Hollywood picture even in Australia thanks to huge Hollywood budgets, advertising, distribution deals and exhibition contracts. I would bet that is true.  Canada had exactly the same problem.  It took protectionist measures after a brief, unsuccessful period of rolling over and playing dead.

Three of our latest titles from Quickflix had to do with the perils of promiscuity in one way or the other. Two of them were based on memoirs, “Romulus, My Father,” and “Home Song Stories.” Both were set in the early sixties.

Despite the title of the former, the central characters in both films were beautiful, immigrant mothers, dreadfully unhappy with the path their lives had taken. Even though the “heroine” of Home Song Stories is much more calculating than the mother in ‘Romulus’, they are equally desperate, unbalanced, and unable to face the future in what appears to be a bleak new land.

The third is an aboriginal movie called “Ten Canoes,” a story within a story, one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. In this case, the central parable serves as a warning to a young warrior of the dangers of infatuation with one of the wives of his brother.

All were exceptionally well done, Keep ’em coming, Quickflix. We’ll get to the top of list eventually, that Canadian film we want to see. I suspect some other Canadian has rented it and lost it or is just keeping it too damned long.

I have been remiss in my reportage on the major tourist attractions in Melbourne. One of the biggest draws in the City, (loved by locals as well as tourists), is Queen Victoria Market. It is huge, covering some seven hectares (17 acres), smack in the center of the city.  It has been bustling since March of 1878.

It opens at 6 AM on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, generally closing at 2 PM, although in the summer there is a night market as well.  On Sunday it opens at 9 AM, since fresh produce is not available that day.  During the week, half the space is given over to fresh produce, fish and meat. The remaining stalls are dominated by souvenirs and inexpensive clothing.

Prior to its incarnation as a market, it was the city’s largest cemetery. Although most of the underground residents were disinterred to make room for commerce, there are some 9,000 corpses still buried beneath the car park. They include the bodies of the first people executed in Melbourne. But don’t let that put you off your lunch.

The Lower Market was set aside in 1857 for fruit and vegetables, but the location was unpopular and the market gardeners wouldn’t use it. Instead, it was used as a livestock and hay market until it was permanently reserved as the Market in 1867.

The following year, a substantial brick building was erected on Elizabeth Street and this became a Wholesale Meat Market. This was relocated, however, and the building became a Retail Meat and Fish Market and slaughterhouse. In 1878, the Market sheds G, H, I & J were built. Wholesaling and retailing of fruit and vegetables started up.

In 1880, the Elizabeth Street shops were constructed. This allowed the Meat Hall to be extended, and the present facade to be constructed in 1884. The Dairy Produce Hall (also known as the Deli Hall) was the last of the buildings to be built on this part of the Market, and was constructed in 1929.

A-F sheds were constructed in the Upper Market in 1877. By 1930, the remainder of the site had been built upon. The City of Melbourne constructed 60 brick stores on the current car park to house wholesale agents and merchants.

However, allegations of corruption and racketeering and a Royal Commission in 1960 led to the decision to relocate the Wholesale Market to Footscray in 1969. A single row of the Agents stores along Franklin Street is all that remains of the Merchants section of the Market.

They do a wonderful job of marketing the market. Check out the latest video on the website at  Better yet, come for a visit.  The Market offers a cornucopia that is irresistible on an  empty stomach .

When I mentioned at the end of my last post that the weather was getting back to normal, I was telling a whopper that would have made George Bush blush. I didn’t know it at the time, but our fair city was under siege from a cyclone named Pancho. Its ferocity generated 130 km an hour winds, toppled huge trees, shattered scores of yachts and killed at least two people. Two hundred housand people lost their power and some are still in the dark, four days later.

It has been reported since as an event that happens only once in a hundred years. Foolhardy as usual, yours truly took the wife for a walk right in the middle of it. I did notice that the sky was an odd, dirty yellow and there were not many pedestrians about. But we marched blithely on, cursing our lack of perspicacity only when the rain began pelting down and soaked us before we reached the car. It didn’t seem all that scary where we were, but when you read about the wind blowing over a brick wall, you know something is amiss.

The weather that has affected me most of late is a dark cloud that arrives every year, and it seems to come earlier and earlier. I used to think it was seasonal affective disorder. I did resent the dwindling amount of daylight in the Northern hemisphere as winter set in, but it finally dawned on me that my cranky mood didn’t really kick in until March. By that time, winter was almost over. It was the tax cloud.

When I was younger, taxes never bothered me. My income/outgo financial situation was not large, and moving from place to place simply meant pulling up stakes and getting a passport renewed. When your stuff can no longer be packed in a suitcase, when you begin to buy property, when you buy stocks and bonds, start small businesses, then the great black tax clouds begin to gather overwhelming force.

Your life may still be that of a nomad, but it gets very difficult to truly leave anywhere behind. We are no longer residents of Canada or the United States, but we are filing taxes there. Next year we may add another country to the list, if only as a one off. And none of the preparation is easy anymore. I would guess that many Americans over the age of twenty-five can no longer prepare their own taxes. The best government money can buy has created a tax act so convoluted that even CPA’s are bewildered.

Canada used to be relatively simple, but more and more it seems to take its cues from the U.S. I nominate this country as the best of the bunch. Our filing in Australia last year was straight-forward enough that I could actually do it myself online. But we don’t own a house, a business, or any investments here, so I’m not in a position to judge how we might fare in different circumstances. It does seem more like an honor system than any other jurisdiction we have lived in. I like that. It shows a remarkable faith in the essential honesty and decency of the people.

Of all the places we have lived, Hong Kong was the best by far from the tax point of view. A flat fifteen per cent of income. You could do your return in fifteen minutes. It was heavenly. If only we had their tax regime available in a more livable location, say Melbourne.  If only you didn’t have to put up with Hong Kong’s terrible air pollution, exorbitant rents, rudeness and spitting, not to mention the tornadoes….

If only….. Never mind. I’ll keep my mouth shut. Get out the calculator, buckle down and just do them.

Yesterday was a red letter day in more ways than one. The weather, first of all. Melbourne goes through more weather in an afternoon than Florida gets in a year. Take a look at the forecast on any given day and you are likely to see a dozen different predictions that would, in an ordinary place, be mutually exclusive. Heavy rain, sunshine, high winds, gentle breezes.

Cloudy with meatballs. On April fool’s day, you would expect the weather gods to have conjured up something strange and spectacular–lightning, thunder, hail, hurricanes, a snow storm or two. Instead, we got a wonderful day– a long day of late summer sun at its finest.

It was a perfect day for a ride but I’m attempting to condition body and brain to a workout routine, so I made my way to the gym instead. The one device that makes a workout (or dentist appointment or a long plane ride) tolerable is an Ipod or MP3 player loaded with good books.

For the last couple of weeks I have been listening to “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. Its intensely human, argumentative, passionate, obnoxious, intelligent and idiotic characters made themselves at home in my brain. I worried about them, railed against them, cajoled them out of their self-destructive tendencies and helped them over their heartbreaks. All to no avail. The story was spun, after all, and it had to come to an end eventually. Yesterday, I bid them all farewell.

I do not, as a rule, learn very well from listening. Names go in one ear and out. I am absolutely hopeless with directions unless someone actually shows me a map. I have to see foreign words on a page or screen to have any chance of remembering them. But I did grow up on radio and I’m mesmerized by a well-told story on a speaker box. I’m a true Prairie Home Companion. I’ve been known to remain transfixed (in the driveway) at the end of a long automobile journey until the narrator of the audio tape has come to the end of the story and all is right with the world.

Listening to a book seems like the ideal way to take in narrative, no matter how long. We have been programmed, after all, to be in tune with the oral/aural transmission of stories. Audio books reach into us at a very deep level when we allow them time to settle in and entrance us with voice and words, setting, character and plot.

I download my books from but there many classics available for free. I’m amazed to see that Zadie’s stunning debut novel is the fiftieth book in my audio library, which ranges from nail-biting mysteries like Karin Slaughter’s “Blindsighted,” to challenging non-fiction like Stephen Pinker’s “The Stuff of Thought” or encyclopedic works such as Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” The longest book in my library is Richard Russo’s “The Bridge of Sighs,” but I don’t mind long. Flying from Australia to anywhere takes a long time.

In addition to the author, of course, the narrator of an audio book gets to be a real magician. The actress, Barbara Rosenblat, is my all-time favourite. Whenever we had a road trip coming up in North America, I would head down to the library and stock up on Elizabeth Peters Egyptology mysteries. We loved Rosenblat’s marvelous evocation of Amelia Peabody and the rest of her eccentric family. This was back before the days of digital downloads.

In my quirky collection, the matching of voice and text on Sue Monk Kidd’s poignant “The Secret Life of Bees” seems absolutely perfect. Peter Carey’s “My Life as a Fake” and Ron McClarty’s “The Memory of Running” are runners-up. The two narrators of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” are brilliant enough to make you weep. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I’m a big fan of books, audible and otherwise.

The weather, you’ll be happy to know, is back to normal. A shower or two, tending to rain periods, strong to gale force winds.  We got drenched on our afternoon walk.  All’s well in Melbourne.

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April 2008

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April 2008
April 2008