Sunday 27 May 2012

A - Z of Australia - K is for Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie-Boulder as this mining town is know, is situated about 600km East of Perth in the region known as Goldfields. Gold is Australia´s third biggest export commodity, and every year 850 thousand ounces of gold are produced from the most famous Australian gold mine alone. This mine - the "Super-pit" is of course Kalgoorlie´s most visited site.

The "Super-Pit" where the gold mining operations take place is a massive man made hole - 3,6km long, 1,6km wide and over 500mt deep. This big hole is expected to reach the depth of 620mt by 2017, which would equal almost 2 Eiffel towers, 6,3 Big Bens or 2 Statues of Liberty!

Gold was first found here in 1893 by prospectors Paddy Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Dan O´Shea, while they were travelling through the area on horseback. When they had to stop to shoe a horse they noticed gold. Hannan filed a reward claim and hundreds of men flocked to the area that was later to become known as Kalgoorlie. The "Golden Mile", as the area is known is considered to be the richest square mile of gold on earth.
In the 1890´s up to 200,000 people lived in the area (mainly prospectors), and the area had a reputation for being the wild west with prostitution and bandits. In 1903 the population was around 30,000 and nowadays the regional centre has around 36,000 residents.

The mine operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there is a visitor centre that overlooks it. There is a mine blast at 1pm daily. The massive trucks carry 225 tonnes of rock to the top and the round trip takes 35min uphill. Employees must live in Kalgoorlie and not on a fly in - fly out roster like other mining operations in the Western Australian´s northwest.
Production is expected to last until 2017, then the plan is to abandon it and allow the groundwater to seep in and fill it, which is estimated to take about 50 years to fill.

When visiting, you can obtain a licence - West Australian miners right - to dig for gold by contacting the Department of Industry and resources, and who knows you might even find your gold nugget!
Otherwise, join "Finderskeepers" for a half day gold digging adventure and you even get to keep any gold you find!!  Join their tour to see up close the operations and the monstrous trucks being driven around the mine. There is a lookout that is open from 8am to 9,30pm.

In April 2010, Kalgoorlie was rocked by a small earthquake, 5,0 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre being 30km north east of town. The super pit stopped operations and the city centre where some buildings had minor damage were evacuated for a couple of days.

The Indian-Pacific rail services runs through Kalgoorlie from Perth on the West Coast to Sydney on the East Coast. Otherwise you can reach Kalgoorlie by road through the Great Eastern Highway from Perth,  either self-drive or by bus, or there are daily flights from all over Australia.

Another interesting aspect of Kalgoorlie is the fact that it´s well known for the "skimpies" that work at the bars and chat to the customers. If you never heard of the word, "skimpy" is the name given to the underwear clad barmaids, that apparently operate on a "fly-in, fly out" basis from Perth and even from the eastern states. They work for about 1 month and then new girls come in. During their shifts the skimpies pass around their collection tin - a beer jug called "titty-kitty" for tips, and then they would remove their bra for half an hour. Those collection tins can net them anything from $500 to $2000 a week!!! They earn an hourly salary, but the biggest share of their earning is from tips.
A couple of years ago, nudity laws were implemented and the barmaids have to wear nipple stickers or risk paying a $400fine.

 (image from "the West Australian" newspaper)
Mercedes, the longest serving skimpie, who worked for 12 years in Kalgoorlie, was the most popular and best paid, earning between $1200 and $1500 per shift, which is 6 or 7 times more than any of the other girls.
Her secrets - entertain, perform, make the patrons laugh, serve their drinks and remember what they like to drink, remember their names, their family, make them feel special. She has now retired!

Things are changing though with the Mayor, Ron Yuryevich, taking credit for cleaning up the town founded on girls, gold, gambling and grog. The iconic brothels are now being converted into hotels, the skimpies have been forced to cover up and tone down, no more see-through blouses, no more stickers on the nipples, the main street that once had the biggest number of bars per square kilometre in the world, now has a fraction of them - this mainly due to the tougher rules on alcohol and drug testing by the mining industry, so things are slowly changing. He believes the character of the town has to change to include families and not be a "man´s town". Kalgoorlie now ticks all the boxes for families - country living with the all the services a family would enjoy in a city, good weather, good schooling and medical facilities and great lifestyle.

The most colourful of it´s residents would possibly be, Leigh Varis-Beswick, who in 1999 made history when becoming WA´s first transsexual to win a seat on the Kalgoorlie-Boulder city council, where she worked for 4 years.
She was also well known as comedy performer in the local clubs, worked as a prostitute, later making the transition to brothel Madam, then to council chambers with the slogan "Dare to be different".
It just shows the in that town, people are taken for what they are - so being honest and straightforward earned her the respect of the voters. She can be credited with giving the "girls" better working conditions. She retired in 2011 to travel and write her memoirs, and she can be seen showing tourists around the brothels.

Well, what do you think of all this open-mindedness?
Would you live in this sort of town?
Well, I think nowadays it´s not as wild as it used to be, so it can actually be considered a family town.

Monday 14 May 2012

A lovely gift and Redecorating the lounge

I have been a lucky girl and received a beautiful silk scarf from Gill at Africanaussie in a draw to commemorate her blog reaching 100 followers.
I enjoy wearing scarves in winter (and necklaces in summer), so I will certainly use it soon.

Gill writes about her beautiful Queensland garden and sustainability, so if you enjoy gardening you might like to pay her a visit.
Once again, thank you Gill for the lovely gift!

I have painted the two boxes for my giveaway, but as I haven´t yet given them to the winners I have not yet posted the pictures. One of them is going to Portugal, and as I´m visiting Portugal in June, I hope to be able to meet up with Piglet to hand her the gift.

                                                         * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

During this week I have been making a few small changes in the decoration of my lounge - made some new pillow covers for the pillow on sofas, covered a small foot stool with the same material, and painted the frame of an old sewing machine, that used to be black and is now turquoise to go with the rest of the colour scheme.

The new pillow cases in brown/turquoise

The old Ikea footstool

The turquoise is a bit strong for what I had in mind, which was the dark turquoise in the fabric of the foot stool. But I´m actually liking the colour burst against the yellow wall. If I eventually tire of it I will give it another coat with a darker turquoise or otherwise just  brush it with a mix of brown oil paint (the craft type) and floor wax and the machine will then look a bit more its age.
Of course now I think my own art work behind this table setting does not go very well with the turquoise look, so I will have to put brush to canvas and come up with something.

The finished sewing machine table and the recovered foot stool.

A few days later - slightly darker now...

Hope you all had a lovely weekend and Mother´s day if you are a Mom! 

In Australia it was celebrated on the 13th May, in Portugal was celebrated on 8th May, and in France will be celebrated on the 27th May.

Sunday 6 May 2012

A - Z of Australia - J is for Jobs

Australia is going through a mining boom, which means more workers are needed to fill jobs mainly in the resources industries.
Of course not enough skilled workers are to be found in Australia, which means these companies are pressuring the Government to increase the quotas of skilled migrants, as they need qualified welders, engineers, riggers, etc.

The Super Pit - gold mine in Kalgoorlie  (photo from internet)

Right now 4000 workers are needed at Rio Tinto´s mines in northern Western Australia, and it´s been predicted that in the next ten years Western Australia will need 500,000 new workers.
A lot more will have to be done in the construction side to house all these people as right now we are having a huge housing shortage...

Most of the mining workers are in what is called FIFO (fly in fly out) roster. That means the mining companies will fly out the workers to their remote sites and then back home for a rest period. Usually it is a 21/9 schedule, which means they will work 21 days (1 day break in between) for 12 hour shifts, and then they will stay home for 9 days rest.
Since the cost of moving the whole family and establishing permanent communities would be higher, they prefer to pay the airfare and temporary housing at the work site. Each worker gets a room in a portable building, with daily servicing, they eat at the canteen, and as they spend so many hours working, sleeping and eating, there is no need for recreational facilities, although some mines now offer pools, tennis courts and gyms as a way to attract skilled staff. There is of course plenty of time for drinking too!
This type of arrangement although good for the worker, as they earn 30 to 40% more, had they been working in the city, is very stressful on the family life, with wives and children left behind for long periods.
It also does not promote regional development as those workers do not spend money in the area, since everything is provided in the camps.
Once all the mining is done, those camps close down and the nearby towns are left with few residents.

Giant trucks in the mines (photo from internet)

Full time salaries in Australia average $68,790 a year, and if overtime or bonuses are included the salary averages $71,560. ($73,700 for males and $60,610 for females).
The best paid workers are those employed in the mining industry with salaries averaging $115,960 a year. Western Australian salaries are the highest in the country, and Tasmania has the lowest average salary.

Of course not everyone is lucky enough to work in the mining industry and earn those fat salaries, but the cost of living in Perth has also rocketed which means people at the bottom of the scale struggle a bit.

UNEMPLOYMENT - Unemployment in Australia in March this year was 5,2%, which compared with many economies around the world is a healthy figure.
Australia has what is called a two speed economy: the resources sector growing at around 9%, while the construction, manufacturing and retail is expected to have a 2,9% growth.
The fact that the Australian dollar exchange rate to the US dollars is above parity, means that some sectors like the manufacturing, education and tourism industries are suffering. It is good for Australians to travel overseas and buy stuff online as it works out cheaper, but not good for the buyers of Australian products as they will be more expensive.

One thing that surprised me in Australia, is that people don´t always stick to their original chosen career path. Somewhere down the track, they might change to a totally different direction and start working in an field that has nothing to do with what they do at the moment. Maybe they got bored with what they were doing or they decided to work in a less stressful profession, or to do what they had always dreamed of doing... 
I´m wondering what I should study now or what skills to learn to change my career path!
Apparently Australians change jobs an average of 11 times during their working life. 
In a lot of countries if you move around that often you would probably be unemployable, as you would be thought as an unstable person!

MINIMUM WAGE - The minimum wage for a wide range of trades and professions is regulated by the Government and can be consulted at, where you can find information about leave, entitlements, work complaints, etc.
In WA at the moment the minimum wage would be $587.20 per week and part-time employees would receive that wage divided by 38h to get the minimum hourly rate ($15.45), casual employees would receive a 20% load on the minimum hourly rate, i.e $18.54. Other States would have different amounts.

WORKING HOURS - The working hours vary according to your employer, your position and the type of industry you work in, but the national average is 38 hours a week. Extra working hours would be considered overtime and paid accordingly. If you have to work on weekends, you will be paid a higher hourly rate on Saturdays, Sundays and Public holidays.

LEAVE - Full and part-time workers are entitled to 4 weeks paid leave for every 12 working months, and if you work shifts, you would be entitled to 5 weeks holidays.
I for example work 4 days a week, so I get paid 4 days x 4 weeks leave.
If you are just a casual worker you have no leave entitlements.
As a full time permanent worker you are entitled to 10 days of paid personal or carer´s leave per year - when you are sick, or if you need to care for a member of your family due to illness.
Part time workers accrue this leave according to the percentage of full-time hours they work. This leave is to be paid at the rate of ordinary pay.
You are also entitled to 2 days compassionate leave for each occasion that a member of your family contracts a life threatening illness or injury or dies, and you would have to give notice of this as soon as possible and provide evidence of the circumstances.
As for Parental leave, you are entitled to access up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave once you have completed 12 continuous service. Pregnant workers may begin their leave up to 6 weeks before the expected due date, but no later than date of birth of the baby. For the partners, the parental leave begins on the date of birth of the baby.
Four weeks before the 12 months unpaid parental leave run out, you may request a further 12 months, and it can be granted if the employers agrees.
You have the right to return to your original work position at the end of the leave period, of if this job is no longer available, you must be given an appropriate and comparable role - to be denied this, or to be dismissed on becoming pregnant would be constituted as unfair dismissal.
If you happen to work for the same employer (regardless of job roles) for 10 years, you will be entitled to long service leave - also governed by State and territory legislation awards and agreements, but it would generally entitle you to around 8 weeks leave.

TAX FILE NUMBER - Before you start working you should get a Tax File Number (TFN), which is the most important number you receive in Australia. Without this number you will be taxed at the maximum rate of 47% of your wages. You will also need this number to claim sickness and unemployment benefits, to make an investment, to enrol in a free higher education course, to complete your annual tax-return and when you start or change jobs.
This number is obtained from the local Australian Taxation Office (ATO), and you would need to produce identification such as your driver´s licence, birth certificate or passport with valid visa. Two weeks later you should received your TFN. If you are a temporary of permanent migrant to Australia you can apply online also.

SUPERANNUATION (retirement fund)  - When you are quoted an annual salary package, usually an amount of 9% superannuation is included in that figure. (The Government is discussing an increase to 12%)
This amount should be deducted from your salary and paid into your chosen super account.
You may wish to chose the private fund you contribute to, or your employer might have a good deal with an industry fund that you could join. Superannuation funds are transferrable, and if you have more than one it might be better to gather all the smaller amounts into just one fund, so as not to pay too many fees to the various funds that invest your retirement money. During the global financial crisis a lot of money was lost in these superannuation funds as investments were lost or didn´t perform as well as expected, and that resulted in a lot of people deciding to stay on the workforce instead of retiring as they had planned to try and recoup the losses.
You may also chose to pay extra to your superannuation fund and thus get some tax benefits and/or government co-contribution if you are eligible.

RETIREMENT - retirement age is at the moment 65 years old, but from July 2017 it will increase to 65,5 years, and the qualifying age to receive age pension will then  gradually be increased by 6 months every 2 years until it reaches 67 by July 2023. This means by the time I retired I will have to be 67!
At the moment you may chose to semi-retire when you reach 55, by cutting down your working hours and taking the loss of pay from your superannuation. If you retire at 60 and chose to withdraw from your superannuation you are then limited to work a very low amount of hours, or none at all, depending on the amount of super accumulated and taken.

INCOME TAX - if you earn under $6000 yearly (probably only if you are a casual student/worker), you are in the tax free bracket. Over that amount you would be taxed according to your individual yearly earnings.
We are taxed separately on our individual incomes, in the separate tax brackets, which is more favourable than bundling both salaries and then being taxed on a higher bracket as is the case in Portugal for example.
The tax year runs from 1 July to 30 June, and unless you are under the tax free bracket everyone needs to complete an income tax return, either online or paper form. We have been doing ours online, except for the first year that we were here, as ours are simple as we don´t own investment properties, and within two weeks we get our tax refund deposited into our account, so the Tax office is very efficient, or at least I have no complaints about them.

Tax rates 2011-12     -    

Taxable income
Tax on this income
0 - $6,000
$6,001 - $37,000
15c for each $1 over $6,000
$37,001 - $80,000
$4,650 plus 30c for each $1 over $37,000
$80,001 - $180,000
$17,550 plus 37c for each $1 over $80,000
$180,001 and over
$54,550 plus 45c for each $1 over $180,000

* (PS: a reader left a comment about the tax free threshold, so I will add that as from the
2012-13 tax year, that starts on 1st July this year, the tax free income will rise to $18,200 a year.)

PART-TIME JOBS - Part time jobs and flexible work are quite common in Australia. Most students over 16 work in part-time jobs, serving at tables in restaurants or fast food counters; International students are also allowed to work 20h a week, so part-time jobs are quite handy for them.
A lot of mature women or women with small school going children chose to work part-time around the school hours, so that they are then available to pick up their kids from school and spend time with them afterwards. Some companies allow flexible working hours, so you chose when to start and end as long as you do your 38h weekly.
I´m lucky to work part-time and my working hours are flexible in as much as if I need time off, I just need to get one of my colleagues to work or swap shifts with me. As long as someone is there to do the work, all is fine!

I hope this post has been useful to anyone wanting to find out about the working system in Australia, and good luck finding a job, if that is what you are after. Of course, there is the all-important question of visas first!

Job seeking sites: