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Work Down Under

by Joanna Brough

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Work in New Zealand


So the boss has popped out for five minutes and here you are, busy surfing the net for some form of intelligent life. Eyes glazed to perfection, marinated in the sweet-smelling odour cologne of the morning rush hour, you await in excited salivation the highlight of the day: the bacon sandwich. Arts graduate, are you? Or perhaps you've reached the dizzy heights of office management and see no way out, which is even more of a reason to jack it all in and fly south for the winter.

At this time of year, New Zealanders are basking in t-shirt temperatures (average 26°C) and planning their New Year on the beach. If you feel like you're still hanging around in office jobs waiting for that big career break, why not use that experience to sample a bit of real life down under? Look at it this way - you'll be able to swim with sharks and go out every night, with one eye open for a Russell Crowe lookalike in full Gladiator regalia. That's what I did, and it's a whole lot more than the fruit-pickers could afford.

New Zealand is particularly favourable to UK temporary workers as the Working Holiday Visa is valid for one year from the date of entry and there are no time restrictions on how long you can stay at one place of work (Australia limits this to three months with each employer). New Zealand is also keen on welcoming native English language speakers, as almost all bright young Kiwis jet off in droves every year on their 'Big OE' (overseas experience), usually to London for a bit of bar work. As it's a relatively small country (with thirteen sheep to every person) it does have a chronic skills shortage and this is where any experience in accountancy, teaching or IT will make you hot property. Jobs like these are almost all centred in Wellington or - the 'Big Smoke' - Auckland, but there's very few English cities where people can stroll under the palm trees barefooted on their way from the office to the beach. I made appointments with several temporary employment agencies (Hays, Adecco) and, having what I considered a year's 'dead-end' office experience behind me in the UK, found relatively well-paid work within two days.

My first job was hilarious. 'But why have you come here, ya Pom? It's like the inds of the earth,' growled the women in my insurance claims office in Auckland, initially suspicious of foreign morals. They thought I would be like the Pommie girls on Ibiza Uncovered that they'd watched the night before and that I'd start a striptease in front of surfie Jase, the resident office hunk. In fact, despite the feast of charming, athletic bods around me that the Antipodes are famous for, the real reason for choosing little Kiwiland was partly to avoid the mass influx of Poms over the other side of the Tasman sea. Why follow the English gap year herds to Australia, a desert run by convicts where flowery-shirted men boasted about catching deadly snakes with their teeth? I found out that by saying this I instantly made a lot of Kiwi friends. Some of them even asked me if I would put them up in England so they could visit Birmingham Palace and see the Queen.

Meanwhile, I was thoroughly enjoying learning about the working habits of a foreign culture. I was promoted due to redundancy and my desk was swamped in claim forms declaring 'a possum fell down my chimney' and 'someone stole my tin of peppermints'. The boss, whose office was stacked wall to wall with wine bottles and Steinlager (for 'morning tea') would amble down and say hopefully, 'Pommie Jo, these files need something doing to them somewhere at some point,' only to put his feet up down the local. My ability to work on my own initiative definitely got a kickstart after that, and I managed to clear a backlog of work, an achievement that later got me rehired. As I stood at five o'clock watching people throw themselves off the nearby SkyTower for a laugh, I understood for the first time what people meant when they said they enjoyed going to work.

But a city is a city is a city. After five months of work, I set off from Auckland on the Kiwi Experience coach network ready to challenge my own fears, both physical - you're not really asking me to jump out at 12,000 feet? - and just as importantly, social. I would be travelling with a new coachload of people almost every day. But I needn't ever have worried. During our drop over the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, the seven of us on the raft started as strangers, bonded together through sheer terror - and managed to stay afloat. I drifted in the inky blackness of the underground Waitomo Caves, trekked over a live volcano out at sea, kayaked across the Bay of Islands and went boogie-boarding in perfect Pacific surf. I bubbled in mud baths, showered in a waterfall, hiked over a glacier and rolled down a hill in a hamster ball. I even threw myself off a bridge at the original bungy site, although that almost suicidal aspect of the Kiwi psyche was the only thing about the country I never quite took to wholeheartedly.

As well as learning never to pack my nail scissors in my hand luggage, I also learned that life does not have to come to a stop if you don't manage to snap up a highflying graduate job straight after university. After all, you've got forty years ahead of you for that. My one regret, though, is that I never did find Russell Crowe. I heard from an Auckland co-worker that he had moved to Australia, and then nothing but a few mumbled curses on the future of their rugby. But no worries, eh! The airlines need our support, particularly these days. So here I am, back in the office again. London today, Sydney tomorrow. Where's my bacon sandwich…

Web Links:
Immigration and Working Holiday Visas

New Zealand Jobs and Agencies

New Zealand Tourism 

Image courtesy Chris Gin