Down Under: Part 3 – Working for a living

Distance Travelled: (to be calculated later- something like 25000km)
Date: 6th Feb – 12th March 2012

Once back in Melbourne, I immediately got into job hunting full-time. I’ve signed up for about half a dozen job agencies, and gone to talk to another ten that couldn’t help me. I’ve applied for maybe thirty or forty adverts on gumtree, and probably fifteen or so offered through hostels. I’ve applied directly to promising places, and even tried phoning a couple of places just because they were places that I would like to work.

All this has got me something like two and a half jobs, but none of them are any good.

The Convenience Store
The first one I got was one that I had applied for on gumtree, a convenience store position. I went in for a 10 minute interview that basically consisted of the manager saying: “you want the job? Sure, you got it. Come back on Saturday”.

The Store

On the surface it appears pretty good. I work alone, basically running the store. It would be nice to have someone else there to chat to, but there isn’t even enough for me to do alone; a sizeable portion of my day is spent standing around, reading a book or writing this. I’m allowed to eat things from the shop if I’m hungry for free (so long as I don’t abuse the privilege), and they sell Ben & Jerry’s. I’m trusted to lock up and deal with the safe, which is decent experience, although mundane.

The main problem is that it’s only part time, and I’m only paid $12/hour. As context, minimum wage is $15.51, and my accommodation costs $30/night. Working here I make enough to live on, but only just. It is cash-in-hand though, so that helps.

The store is about halfway between the CBD and St Kilda, the two main hubs of the city. It’s an area mostly made up of offices, with a few expensive flats. This means that it never really gets too busy, and most people that come in are office workers. I’ve only been working in the shop about three weeks, but I already know many of the regulars.

The only real exception to it never getting busy came last weekend, when there was a student protest in support of Palestine outside the building. After giving soapbox speeches over a megaphone, they set up rolling roadblocks up and down the main road between Melbourne an St Kilda. After this strenuous exercise in the sun, they seemingly all came in for drinks and ice creams, shortly followed by the police who had been in attendance. I never found out exactly what the protest had been for, only that it had something to do with the anniversary of a radical Jew shooting up a mosque, and an Australian businessman funding Israel somehow.

I think that long after I leave Australia, the part of the job that will stay with me longest is my hatred of anything that I’ve heard on the radio here. They seem to loop the same dozen songs all day every day. Bruno Mars is the worst offender, making me cringe every time I hear the opening notes. And the adverts; those are like a form of psychological torture. Yesterday I started turning the radio off when I heard the most heinous offenders.

The second and third jobs I got at basically the same time, and they’re both selling things door to door. Piece of advice: if you see a job with the words ‘sales and marketing’ attached anywhere, you can be fairly certain that it will involve trying to sell people things that they don’t want.

I had my pick of either, so I decided to reject the offer of attempting to sell electricity providers, and instead am employed in giving out and installing free power boards (as in those white strips with multiple plug sockets in them). I worked for half a day doing this (without being paid!) before going through the induction (which I had last weekend), so the induction itself was pretty easy. The job itself however has proved to not be as easy as you’d think; a surprisingly high number of people don’t want free stuff. A standpoint that is utterly alien to me.

These things

Basically, what the powerpacks do is plug into TVs or computers, and turn off the peripherals when the main system is off (e.g., turning off the DVD player when your TV is off). They also turn off TVs when they haven’t seen an IR signal from the remote in an hour. I’m not going to give you the full spiel about why I can give them away for free – I’ve had to tell people that hundreds of times in the past week and I’m bored of explaining it. Basically it’s because they’re energy saving and therefore reduce emissions, and this feeds into carbon trading.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a very high paying job either, and it’s demeaning into the bargain. I earn $8 for every powerpack installed, but I don’t know how many it’s reasonable to expect to get rid of in a day. Over the previous week I’ve been getting rid of something like two per hour, after you factor in all the faffing and travel time. I assume that rate will rise, but if it doesn’t then I’d be earning something like $750 per week. That’s about £500, and you have to bear in mind that everything is more expensive out here.

If you work those numbers backwards, you can calculate that I estimated around 48 hours/week doing this job. What that hides is the fact that a lot of the time at the job is spent not working, and that on a normal week I’d be doing something more like 60 hours at this job. 60 hours would be fine, except it’s not the only job I’m doing.

The majority of the time wasted I alluded to above is because of my boss. A nice guy, but terrible at doing anything on time. When meeting at a pre-arranged time for him to pick me up, I have an average wait time of an hour. He’s been trying to get me to commit to working permanently for him, but I don’t really think I want to. I think the main reason he wants me to stay with him is that I’m English (and therefore apparently a naturally excellent salesman), and the rest of the team are Bangladeshi, plus one Swede.

Most of the rest of the time spent in not working is wasted travelling. Australian cities are almost entirely made up of suburbs spreading across the surrounding countryside, and we’ve been regularly having to drive up to 25km to find unsaturated neighbourhoods. From that distance you can see the skyscrapers of the CBD off in the distance, helped largely by the fact that 95% of the dwellings are bungalows. It wasn’t until we went to an extremely affluent suburb with gated communities that I found houses with more than a single floor. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m running late for the other job and can see where I need to be off in the distance, and know just how far I am away from it.

Sadly, the power strips themselves are pretty shoddy. Considering we give them out for free, I shouldn’t be too surprised, but we buy them for $55, and they’re supposedly worth $100 (I just googled to find the picture above, and discovered that I could buy them online for $45, so either the company is lying about how much they’re worth, or they’re getting ripped off). They often spark when I plug things into them, and I’ve already been electrocuted twice. The current only ran across my finger and there’s a cut-off switch built in, so it wasn’t too bad, but I do worry slightly about them. They also feel low quality, with many of the plugs being pretty hard to get into the sockets.

Meeting Melbourne
Going door to door in the suburbs of the city has given me an interesting insight into a cross section of the Melbourne population. In general people have been great – it definitely helps that I’m not actually trying to sell them anything – but there have been quite a few interesting encounters.

This is a selection of the more colourful people I’ve met over the first few days.

  • A huge, mute, shirtless bogan, with an appropriately big goatee. He gave me the crazy stare, while slowly closing his squeaky door in my face. Unsettling, that one.
  • A crazy cat lady. Actually, there were no cats to be seen, except for one that ran away when it saw me, but there was cat hair absolutely everywhere. I left the house positively fluffy. The nauseatingly sentimental signs outside should have been a clue (Parking for cat lovers only; All others will be hissed at. etc ad nauseum).
  • A really friendly elderly couple, who gave me some home grown tomatoes when I’d finished installing the power strip for them.
  • A trucker who had just come off a 22 hour shift (the legal maximum is 14, I think). Seemed really friendly despite this.
  • The old woman with the Dolls. A great-grandmother who had lost all her money on the slot machines. She had those creepy porcelain dolls lining two and a half of the walls of her living room. She seemed a little starved for company, and kept me there for about 45mins talking very emotionally about the recession, strikes, her gambling addict of an ex-husband, her children, how she was anti-vaccination, how her youngest daughter was eventually vaccinated when she nearly died- although the recovery was put down to her throwing the child in the air, and all sorts of other aspects of her life. A fairly impressive display of cognitive dissonance there. She also kept trying to give me dolls or other kitchy trinkets, which I managed to reject relatively gracefully. She was fairly forceful. I later had to return to take it back, after she decided that she hadn’t understood how it worked after all.
  • A hostel for the mentally handicapped. The man working there (the minder?) was the friendliest guy ever, but the product really wasn’t right for them. I more or less told them that they didn’t want it, and left.
  • People who couldn’t speak English. There have been two so far, both Chinese middle-aged women. I hope they haven’t been in the country long, because otherwise it’s pretty shameful. If I were living in a foreign country permanently, I’d hope to be at least conversational within a couple of months. I’m pretty sure at least the second one I spoke to had been here a while, as she asked me to come back when her children were home from school, so they could converse with me.
  • Edward from Twilight. A life-sized cut-out standing in the window by the front door. I was fairly relieved when the woman who answered the door declined the power board and I could make my escape.
  • A pensioner who had recently crashed his motorbike. He was much more worried about the state of his Harley than himself. He had an amazing house, with a pool room and cinema, all secreted inside an ostensibly normal bungalow.
  • Spiders. I’ve found quite a few behind TVs. A huntsman that we thought was dead, but wasn’t, and a nest of small black ones that looked worryingly like widows. I was very careful with that one. Still, I was being paid $8 to install it, so I did anyway.
  • An old, slightly confused woman. She seemed scared of change, and didn’t seem to entirely grasp what the power strip did. I explained as best I could multiple times, but still feel horrible about it. When asked if she would like it, she replied ‘if that’s what you think is best.’

That last one led me to abandon any form of a hard sell, especially to people who seem like they wouldn’t benefit from it. Means I’m making less money, but it’s worth it. In fact over the last couple of days I’ve completely lost heart in the job, and have stopped trying hard at all.

The other job that I’ve been doing is temping, organised through an employment agency. Fortunately this doesn’t add to the hours I’m working, as when I accept temping work I just don’t go out and work door to door.

The only temping placement that I’ve had so far has been working for one of the city councils, doing some filing. Two days of filing some papers away. Strangely enough, this was the most enjoyable of the three jobs; I could zone out into some sort of meditative trance, and there was copious amounts of tea.

Having two jobs, plus the option of a third when it comes up, means that I have to keep juggling them- trying to maximise my earning potential while at the same time not pissing off my bosses. This has proved to be pretty difficult, largely due to the variable way that I earn money while on commission, and the fact that both of my major jobs are pressuring me to work longer hours- but the same ones.

I need to get a better job, but I’m spending most of my time earning enough to get by on. Averaging about 70 hours/week for the past fortnight. Oh well, I guess the immense fun I’ve been having for the past few months had to end sometime. I haven’t been able to afford to do much lately, so it doesn’t really feel as though I’m travelling any more. The point of working out here is to get some cash to go back to doing cool stuff though, so I can’t complain. I still haven’t moved out of the hostel and found somewhere cheaper to stay yet, and I realised the other day that a lot of my reluctance to move is because then I really wouldn’t be travelling at all any more. Having realised this, I’ve started looking at house-shares.

St. Kilda Festival
Despite it feeling like I’m not doing anything cool any more, I’m not just sitting around in a hostel doing nothing at all. At least not everyday. For example, the weekend before last was the St. Kilda Festival- a free music festival. It had been going on for a week but Sunday was the climax, so I went down with Will to check it out.

We brought a few ciders down and went and sat on the beach to drink them, watching the kite surfers out in the harbour. Sadly the weather wasn’t great, but it cleared up after a while. The highlight of the music was British India, an Australian indie, band who covered ‘Flagpole Sitta’ (the theme song from Peep Show).

There was also an area set aside, with a circus-y, festival kinda vibe going on. There was a handmade crafts market, giant fairground rides, and a skate ramp. On the ramp was a skate competition, between bikes, skateboards and scooters. Guess which ones were the most impressive? You’re almost certainly wrong- it was the guys on scooters. They were pulling amazing twists, tricks and backflips. It was damn cool.

I didn’t hang around the area too late and so didn’t get to see the penguins- they are best to visit around 11 or 12 at night. Remember earlier when I told you about jumping off the pier at St Kilda and destroying my phone in the process? I was on my way to go see the penguins at the time, and didn’t get that far. And I still haven’t seen them. At least there’s something to look forward to doing soon.

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2 Responses to Down Under: Part 3 – Working for a living

  1. Greg says:

    You may have to drive 25 k to get out but there are only five of them…. Try listening to triple J

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