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When you move to a new city in a new land, you don’t arrive with any prejudices about the myriad of communities which make up the place. Melbourne is very spread out. With its 8,800 square kilometres, it is twice the size of Sydney. Despite a tiny central district, greater Melbourne eats up more land than London. The burbs spread in every direction for kilometers and kilometers, serviced by an extensive train system. Most of the homes in the older suburbs are quite small, but everyone who settled here wanted to have his own roses, his own backyard and his own garage. For 3.2 million people, that takes a lot of land.

You can get a strange look when you say you are living in Essendon. Everyone seems to think it is far away, although it is only 9 kms north of the main station, a twenty minute train ride. From where we live, the tram is more convenient, but it takes twice as long and can be held up by heavy traffic. Two weeks ago, my daughter’s tram was hit by a car, which was being driven somewhat erratically, according to her firsthand report. Perhaps the driver was on drugs. Drugs might be another reason for the strange look when you admit you live in Essendon.

A lurid story was splashed across the newspaper the other day about an underworld drug dealer who had apparently ordered the deaths of at least ten rivals. He has been behind bars for the last two years, but he just pled guilty to three of the murders and been sentenced. He may get out of prison before he dies. His name is Carl Williams.

In 1999, an amphetamine dealer by the name of Jason Moran shot Carl in the stomach. They were rivals and there had been some disagreement about finances. Jason thought that the shooting would give Carl a message that the Moran gang was not to be trifled with.

Instead, the baby-faced Carl decided to wipe out Jason’s gang. When you read through the long, dismal background of the murders, investigation, etc., it slowly seeps in that much of this sordid story took place in our area. The children of both drug dealers were enrolled in the same private school in Essendon. In one desperate attempt to bring Jason out into the open, William’s wife picked a fight with her counterpart out in front of the school. It didn’t work. When Carl’s hired killers finally caught up with Jason, the murder occurred at a football practice field in Essendon North.

Our placid-looking suburb would appear to belong to the pages of Miami Vice. Mind you, the gangland slayings over the last eight years don’t put Melbourne on the world’s murder map. In 2003, there were 302 murders in all of Australia. 12,658 in the United States. This country does have a much smaller population, but you can do the math. In terms of personal safety, we’re in Disneyland here.

Essendon is also known for its airport, its football club and its big box stores. It was the launching point for the Victorian Exploring Expedition– the disastrous trek across the Australian outback now known by the names of its ill-fated leaders, Burke and Wills. More about that in the next post.


You are normally not confronted by the question of your pet’s value until it reaches an age it would probably never achieve if it didn’t have things pretty cushy. The prospect of a move to Australia forced us to consider some big questions: what stays and what goes? Appliances of 110 voltage didn’t make the cut. The television stayed. It simply wouldn’t function down under. Our pets, on the other hand….

There seem to be two issues that make bringing pets into Australia both difficult and expensive. One is the simple fact that this is an island. Its distance from other land masses has helped protect it over the years from nasty things like rabies. The other issue seems to be that despite this huge moat around the island, Australians have been known to make some rather large mistakes importing flora and fauna over the years. They make Floridians look like pikers.

Jared Diamond was unkind enough to point out in “Collapse” that rabbits were imported three times! The first two species, introduced from the home country for a “spot of hunting” were not adaptable enough to survive the harsh new continent. A breed of rabbit was finally discovered in South America that was highly adaptable and incredibly destructive. This led to things like the infamous rabbit-proof fence. Of course, foxes were necessary to chase the rabbits. Despite their adaptability, it took sixteen years to get them permanently established. Now, there are permanent programs aimed at their eradication. The list goes on and on. Cane toads are the most egregious example this pattern.

When the opportunity to move to Australia came along, we were blessed with a dog and cat. Neither was distinguished by pedigree. The dog, in fact, had been my daughter’s rescue project at the Humane Society. He was a brindle mix, and he had some very attractive features, but he was an energy intense creature. Fortunately, through the auspices of a good friend in our neighborhood, he was offered a good home as a companion to another dog who got lonely during the day. That left our cat, Tibbey.

Tibbey came from a litter born at the Wolfville Animal Hospital in Nova Scotia. She is a Maine Coon mix of some sort. We may have paid as much as $35 dollars for her neutered self, with shots. Now you can add a couple of zeros to that figure. The problem with Maine Coon cats is that they are notoriously difficult to give away. My wife had another one in her life and tried to find her a home (for very good reasons) several times. The cat refused to accept its change of ownership.

To bring a cat to Australia, you need to start at least six months in advance. There is a seventeen page document that has all the instructions. The initial cost of the permit is $250. Then the real costs begin to mount. The pet will need a rabies vaccination and a rabies neutralising antibody titre test certified by the Department of Agriculture, a subcutaneous microchip, other shots, exams etc. You will need the expert services of an animal forwarding company, who will make the arrangements necessary to get the cat from Florida to Melbourne, Australia ALIVE. That is trickier than you might think.

Tibbey flew from Jacksonville to Houston, stayed overnight there, then flew on to Seattle, where she was picked up and brought to Vancouver. She was then returned to Seattle for her final flight to Melbourne, where she was transported to quarantine for thirty days. Fortunately, we were able to see her shortly after we arrived. Needless to say, she was not happy. The holding facility in the outskirsts of Melbourne was huge. We called to determine the visiting hours, then took a tram and train to Spotswood. Then we walked about a third of a mile. We made our way through security, and were shown the temporary quarters of our cat. It was not spacious, but it was clean and there was access to the outside.

Tibbey gave us a baleful look. She had retreated into the igloo, ignoring the cats on either side of her as best she could. We were finally able to coax her out, but it was obvious she was not pleased.  She had been in quarantine three weeks when we arrived for our visit. We could not bring her into our temporary accommodation at University College, so finding a new home became a very pressing matter. Moving her to another “cattery” was not a cheerful solution.

All’s well that ends well. Tibbey survived. She is only seven years old, although the trauma of this move may have cost her a life or two. Now she comes and goes as she pleases, walks all over me when I’m in bed, sneaks up on my pillow, curls into a ball and purrs. The purr is priceless.

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