Surviving Australia: the First Year

Surviving Australia: the First Year

Stocktaking job shirt and name tag, housekeeping name tag, and kitchen apron

I woke up this morning and starred at the blank musky ceiling only to realize that I have been eleven months living in the Australia with the surviving mode on. I am grateful, as I always am when I open my eyes and find myself still heaving in one piece. Not all the good times, I can definitely assure you because I have always had this interminable thought of going back home. Just to remind you, my first intention was to fulfill a promise myself or someone, to take a career gap and looking for the opportunity of getting a PhD scholarship while savoring the moment of long self-discovery vacation a la Into The Wild. I would mention Eat, Pray, and Love but hell no. It might seem so exquisite, daring, challenging, and beautifully sounded while it is apparently not.

First three months are the most difficult period. To be brutally honest, there was no day I could spare my eyes for looking a ticket home just because I fucking hated living in Sydney. Everything was pricey and I was curbed in my own insecurity that I couldn’t either get my stomach simply filled or pay my rents. I had to pay 120 AUD per week for my rent (Wi-Fi, electricity, and gas included), a master 8 m x 12 m room shared with three other backpackers. First month I spent living there I was craving for my own room with full privacy where I can read a book without any clothes on. Okay, that one I just made it up but I am intent to try it as soon as I am back home as a compensation for losing my precious privacy. The room was shady probably because it lacked of sunrays coming in and the lights were dimmed and it was stuffed with bountiful objects that belonged to four people. Total living in that apartment was 10 people. Supposedly it was legally only for five or six people. I couldn’t complain if one day the apartment management kicked me out of the building because of rules violation. Plus, the living cost is pricey. I had been repressing my needs including my insatiable ego of consuming books, good coffee, and fancy food for the first three months. In a week I could spend 20 AUD for foods (I basically ate healthy food like high fiber bread, muesli and yoghurts, nuts and dried fruits, you can be hungry but you have to stay healthy, sometimes I brought food from the shop I worked in), 20 AUD for transport, 20 AUD for week-end entertainment (I deserved more than this actually), and 40 AUD for monthly mobile data. My monthly bills would be 680-ish per month with minimizing life style. Another thing to add to my first month bill was the bond money. Bond money is commonly used in Australia as a guarantee if the property of the building is harmed when the staying period is over or the tenant suddenly leaves the building without notification. Mine was 240 AUD which I fully received when I moved away. Speaking of notification, usually the tenant needs to notify the landlords if he wants to move away. Mine was two-week notice. In my tiny glasses’ perspective, I immediately felt like this is going to be the Year of Living Dangerously instead of Into The Wild. But I hope not, really.

Next to bond money and weekly rent cost, location is important. Location determines achievements. Okay, that’s too much nostalgia for millennials. Amidst of its lack of everything, my room rent was perceived as one of the cheapest as it was strategically located in Sydney CBD (Central Business District) in where everything was literally nearby: shopping centers, restaurants, hotel, parks (really important to me), and train stations that also provided more job opportunities. I encountered some of new-found friends who lived in two people shared room accommodation in the suburb, 30 minutes away by train from the CBD. They said it was less hectic and more private but they had to wake up earlier in the morning to catch the train and during rush hours the fare could peak to 4-ish AUD while the normal fare could only cost 2-ish AUD per travel. Well, I could have stayed in suburb for the sake of privacy and convenience but I had no sufficient time to look and inspect the rooms. I got my accommodation three days after I arrived in Sydney while others probably spent longer time for a better accommodation. If you have lots of money and time, just take your time and explore more of the Sydney to find the room that is your style.

Now, I already got a roof to sleep under and food to fill my tummy, what I needed else is to find a job to sustain my life. I perceived myself as an overseas graduate from one of the 200 top universities in the world with functioning English capability (plus French and Dutch) whose carrier in journalism and activism was more than enough. That was overly self-confident, indeed. To my excuse, that is the least thing I could do for myself: holding on to my self-esteem. Au contraire, the world (or one you may call the universe) was crushing my confidence to freaking pieces. For a month I had been looking for a professional job that fitted my qualification and of around 70-ish applications I sent, I got only three job interviews which led to failures. First, apparently some office job required skilled or full working visa (mine was working holiday). Second, they were being extremely picky for their candidates. This means they only look for people who are really best suited both in experiences and education. When I was having an interview and stating my education background was a mixture of political science and environmental management with four years career in journalism, they asked me simple questions: why is that and why they accept you. I started to realize that the common phenomenon of profession and education nonlinearity in Indonesia has become a serious problem. Third, I wasn’t good enough. The latter wrapped everything. Story short, I failed and gave up on professional jobs. I was sulking and wanting to go home so bad.

First Job
Lucky me, shortly after I arrived in Sydney I got three part-time jobs that didn’t require any overseas education, sophisticating English (My supervisor once asked me, “Dip, if you have friends who want job but can’t speak English, just let them see me, Kay), or even professional career. Four days after I settled in my room, I got a part-time job at an apartment style residence as a room attendant; housekeeping; room cleaner. The salary per year was 48K AUD consisted of normal rate for weekdays around 18 AUD per hour, Saturday 23 AUD per hour, Sunday 33 AUD per hour, and public holiday up to 47 AUD per hour, all before 15% tax. I was so lucky I quit the job less than in two months. I wasn’t good at cleaning in rush. Here in Australia, they value your efforts with their own high-standards. I didn’t get used to physical jobs even I got used to cardio sports like jogging and hiking, but this seriously was exhausting and demanding. I had only 60 minutes to clean one spacious apartment with two bed rooms and two bathrooms with one living room and kitchen. And everything must be perfectly cleaned dust free. Some days I got lucky that the guess left the room clean enough. Some days I opened the door I was standing freeze for a minute in awe just to process how messy the room was. What the hell I was doing.

New survival skill unlocked: making bed

Second Job
My second job was being a kitchen-hand that I got ten days after I arrived in Sydney. It was a Japanese restaurant owned by Korean who employed Asians that barely spoke English. I was roaming around the city and dropped my resume to the shop. The Chef interviewed immediately and I was asked to do trial work at that exact moment. Then he accepted me.

Every day was a struggle of minimizing language barrier. Sometimes this was funny because my Thailand work-mate once mentioned HA HA sos as order that apparently what she meant was Tartar Sauce. The other time was not funny at all when the Chef asked me to go to particular supermarket to buy veggies. He said, “Go to RULRULRUL and buy TUMAU and INAH.” I was thinking TUMANINAH? Is this a message God sent me to keep my sholat on time?

I was having difficulty to understand so I kept going back and forth to supermarket and asking him back and making sure I got it right. In the end, what he actually meant was, “Go to WOOLWORTHS and buy TOMATO and SPINACH.”


However, being a kitchen-hand was much better than a room attendant. I got some new skills such as washing dishes to the point of no stain in 3 seconds, standing up straight in one place for more than five hours, absorbing yelling and screaming from the Chef and the Boss, and learning how to make Japanese sushi, salads, and even cooking various Japanese foods including Chicken and Beef Terriyaki, Udon, and tofu-based dishes. At busy times, I wish I were dead. Many orders to deal, many dishes to wash. At quiet times, I wish I were dead too. They made me clean the dirtiest bathroom and tidied up the store room, and even washed the stairs. I sometimes accidentally cut my fingers or burnt my palm.

New Survival Skill Unlocked: making some fireeeee 

I was truly worn out every night for having two jobs at the first two months. But the fee was quite good. At the Japanese restaurant I got 16 AUD per hour for washing the dishes, then I got 18 AUD per hour for setting up the food and being a cook assistant. All was after tax, all days the same. The longer I worked, the more hours I got. And most of the time, I could bring food and some sushi home. I survived this job for six months not only because I had to pay the bill and this one I could compromise. But also, amidst of kitchen was really a hell job, my work-mates were fun and friendly, so I kinda enjoyed it.

One thing I could share is that I started to appreciate my Asian values and traditions. My bosses were Korean who acted cold-blooded and strict but still perceived their employees as part of their family. One night I once made a grave error and almost blew the entire kitchen and the Chef was terribly angry at me. But after that, things got back to normal. He said, “I know you not stupid. You learn from you mistakes. What happens in the Kitchen stays in the Kitchen.” So that’s why even someone made a mistake that night, the chef always said thank you and see you tomorrow at the end of the shift. Other than that, I was thinking that it was one way to keep their employees coming back to work because lots of people tried working in the shop but ended up quit in no time. They were fed up to deal with this hell kitchen. But then again, it depends on someone’s resilience. Even me who couldn’t even think would survive eleven months is still having this journey. Another point, when someone quits the job, they drink beers together after the shop is closed. In my case, my boss gave me candy money around 100-ish AUD when I quit the job and preached me with lessons in life, women, life’s values and principles yaddayaddayadda. My work mates were from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. We often went hang out before or after the shift and talked how shitty our job was or how our bosses and chefs were being inconsiderate assholes. This was the time I really made some friends and I missed them when I moved out of the town. After six months, I quit the job and move to Darwin to get the second year visa.
New Survival Skill unlocked: infiltrating 

Third Job
My third job in Sydney was being a stocktaker. The fanciest job I ever had here. First I had to wait for a month to get this job, made some appointments, went through writing tests and formal interviews, and got everything up to standard of fair work rules. I got 23 AUD per hour before tax, weekend and holiday rates apply. One shift was around five to seven hours. During odd days, I got like nine to ten hours per shift. My job was mainly to count and stock of the stuffs in big store or supermarket using stock counter. There was time at 5 in the morning I had to travel for almost an hour by train to go to K-Mart in the suburb. But there was also time I only walked 10 minutes from my place to go checking stock at Victoria Secret store. Yeah, one that sells underwear. It felt awkward touching those panties and undies bare-handedly. I saw some of my workmates even sniffed it. Yuck. So far this job was the easiest.

Fourth and Fifth Jobs
After six months living in Sydney, I moved to Darwin, Northern Territory, to get my second year visa. Essentially, the rule is if I want to extend my staying for another year in Australia, I have to work in hospitality field for 88 days in certain states including Northern Territory. I was almost unemployed for three weeks in Darwin. One important note, Darwin is a much laid back city. The job opportunities are not as many as in Sydney. My first job in Darwin was being all-rounder in a Kebab shop. I got 18 AUD per hour after tax and worked for five hours a day. I quit the job soon I found out it was a take away shop and working in a take away shop doesn’t count for second year. Fortunately I got another job before I quit. Unfortunately, it was housekeeping/houseman/porter, again. It was effing tiring but I managed to continue anyway. The rate was not bad, 19 AUD per hour weekdays, 24 AUD per hour on Saturdays, 33 AUD per hour on Sundays, and 47 AUD per hour on public holidays. Sometimes i got tip from the guess and it lifted my mood for the rest of the day.

New Survival Skill unlocked: Spying from Level 7

New Survival Skill Unlocked: Mastering Trolley

Lesson Learned
First thing first if you want to find a job in Australia with working holiday visa is try to decide what kind of job that suits your limit and how long you are willing to wait to get the job. I was once offered a waiter job that only paid me 12 AUD per hour. I wasn’t that desperate but some people took it because they needed money. The minimum wage in Australia was 18 AUD before tax. So think before you try. Based on my experiences, I dropped almost a hundred of resumes to the restaurants, coffee-shops, hotels, and sent the application online. Put away your shy and clumsy personality. I was reticent and introverted and still am, but to survive we often find things in ourselves we don’t expect. Making friends sometimes help you get a job. And you can use useful job-seeking application such as Gumtree Australia and Seek, or even LinkdIn.

Personally, I eventually started to understand that every single job bears different responsibility, no matter what. This leads me to appreciate people's profession and value their work because surviving and making money is always tough in any part of the world. Just make sure before you start your adventure in Australia, this is what your heart truly wants to do. Regretting decisions I made is never my style but sometimes I was upset I was missing lots of moments at home. Take this example. This could be major leap for my career, but I failed to attend. Then my close friends got married and I was unable to attend. This too was a disappointment for myself. Pardon me for my self-loathing.

New Survival Skill unlocked: coping up with the misadventure.

New Survival Skills unlocked: putting away my timidness 

What about your PhD, you ask me. I am not giving up yet. When I was in Darwin, I went to the University and met a professor who was willing to supervise me and even encourage me to take Australian scholarship. But I wasn’t sure yet if this was the right moment. I have been expecting getting back to school through scholarship, but honestly, at the moment I am looking forward to finishing my year of living dangerously slash into the wild and have my scuba-diving sessions soon in Bali. Before going back to Australia, maybe.

Catch up later.


  1. Nice Article dip.
    I can't wait for all the details when you arrive in Indonesia.

    Keep writing.

  2. Gilee bacanya aja gue ikutan capek dip, apalagi yg ngerjainnya wkwkwk
    but you survived the first year



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