Whilst the kids and I had been away in England, another problematic situation had arisen that slightly took the gloss from my euphoria. The company I’d been working for had been sold to a global organisation and staff were being laid off and I was one of them. It wasn’t quite such a catastrophe for me as much of the work I’d been doing was on a contract basis anyway. My goal had always been to work within school hours and to supplement this by working from home creating my freight costing calculators. The new ownership therefore didn’t faze me too much and the arrangement continued to work very nicely for well over a year until I was told that the freight cost calculators I had been providing for the company were no longer needed. Nearly two thirds of my income disappeared overnight.
I set about trying to find another freight forwarder to fill this gap with no success, so I packed up my pride and my dreams of self-employment and set forth along the Recruitment Highway once more. Although the country was still suffering the effects of the Global Financial Crisis, I clung to the starry-eyed notion that I was going to be singled out by recruitment agencies, headhunted by corporate giants all stating with a painful urgency that they wanted me on the payroll no matter what.
Given that this was Christchurch and there were zero jobs matching my skills and experience, the reality was woefully different. It was as though my age, gender and the GFC had collaborated to ensure that I became totally invisible to those within the Recruitment industry. It didn’t matter how much I tarted up my resume to highlight the positives of my illustrious career, I remained lurking without impact on the periphery of recruitment success. Occasionally I would be phoned and asked to attend a preliminary interview. On the rare occasion that I would reach these heady heights, I would invariably be asked what my salary expectation was. I soon learned that this statement roughly translated, meant “What is the lowest rate you’re prepared to accept and we’ll work down from there”. The rates of pay in New Zealand at the time were depressingly low – comparable to what I had been earning some twenty years earlier at the beginning of the 1990’s. Not that it mattered because I was never able to produce the elusive ‘required skill set’ to satisfy the interviewer that I was the right person for the job anyway. Meanwhile I voraciously ate into my capital in order to support my daughter and myself, and I was getting desperate.
If my job prospects were bleak before the September 2010 earthquake, then they fell completely through the floor after the bloody thing. People were leaving Christchurch at an alarming rate, many moving across the Tasman where the mining industry was still booming and had insulated Australia nicely during and after the GFC. The exodus was hardly surprising given that it was not usual to experience swarms of up to thirty aftershocks on a daily basis, yet to be honest I found the earthquakes a lot less alarming than the bizarre nightmare occurring out there in Recruitmentland.
I relentlessly continued to apply for jobs. One that I applied for, an Office Administration position with a Property Development company, required that applicants complete four quite complex and time-consuming ‘tasks’ in order to reach the next level – the Second Interview. I set about my tasks with grim determination, spending a whole day and a half researching my material and presenting it in a way that I was certain would impress. And it must have done because I eventually managed to get selected for the coveted shortlist of three. Only by this time the job specs had changed somewhat and the successful applicant was now not only required to assist with accounts preparation and maintain the company website, but also fix leaks in the plumbing, unblock the odd drain and do hands-on property repairs and maintenance. I imagine that finding someone with such an eclectic mix of skills on the pay they were offering would have been the hardest task of the lot!
After hastily withdrawing my application, I decided to look at jobs in that greener and less shaky pasture – Australia. I found one instantly that appeared to have my name stamped all over it. Handling the exports for a large steel company in Newcastle, I would need to have the ability to use a multitude of computer programmes, have a sound knowledge of exporting and be familiar with the New Zealand trade lane. Perfect! With the a ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ attitude and knowing I didn’t have to take it even if I was fortunate enough to be successful, I applied.
I had become accustomed to not hearing back at all from job advertisers in New Zealand, so I was surprised when the phone rang virtually within hours of sending my application. This in itself was quite an amazing turn of events, but it got better. They agreed I had that Royal Flush of Recruitment– a matching Skill Set! AND they were actually prepared to pay double the paltry amounts being offered in New Zealand to do the job. I nearly fainted. After being flown to Auckland for an interview and without having to do any absurd ‘tasks’ that involved unblocking drains or doing a spot of rat poisoning, I got the job. The company paid for the transport of our household belongings, pets and initial accommodation in Newcastle and by the end of 2010 I was shipping steel out of Newcastle to New Zealand.
Settling into the job in Australia was easy – the people were great, I loved the job and particularly having the contact with the New Zealand customers and service providers. Not long after I arrived we had gardeners come to whipper-snip the garden area outside our office. Two men in smart suits standing at the photo-copier took a whiff of the warm breeze coming through the open window and simply said: “Aahh … two stroke” which is a quote from the classic Australian comedy, The Castle. I couldn’t be anywhere else but Australia.
At first blush you could be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle is just another industrial town built hastily around the steelworks, which was now my workplace. But Newcastle is better than that. It knows it’s a bit bogan but it is what it is and it makes no excuses for it. That I had gone to the only place in Australia to have ever suffered a fatal earthquake was an irony that was not lost on me but as a result of the 1989 quake, a lot of the low-quality constructions had been demolished and replaced and the ones of historic significance restored, giving it a delightful mix of old versus new. Newcastle also boasts some of the best beaches in Australia and there were some wonderful quirky places for my daughter and me to explore in the central city. The Hunter Valley wine region was only about an hour’s drive away and the Honeysuckle waterfront area which was rebuilt after the earthquake, was a place where we spent many a lazy Sunday sipping cold beers and people watching.
Unfortunately I was blissfully unaware before arriving in Australia, that the mining boom had thrown Newcastle into the midst of a housing crisis with just a 1% vacancy rate for rental homes. Throw into the mix that I had no rental history and a rather large dog, and I was looking at a recipe for homelessness. Just getting to inspect the inside of one of the few homes available for rental was a major mission especially since we were unable to connect to the wireless internet at our temporary apartment on weekends. During the week it was OK as long as we put the laptop in the middle of the bed, turned it at a 45-degree angle, held our tongue in the right position and prayed for favourable winds. Given that the internet was the only place to register interest in a property in order to receive a text as to when it was open for inspection, having a reliable internet connection was an absolute must. My daughter and I initially spent an unfortunate amount of our glorious weekend time in darkened internet cafes sitting amongst groups of zombified teens while we surfed the Ray White Real Estate website looking for a three-bedroom villa.
The inspections weren’t that dignified either. As soon as the property manager opened the front door, entire families and couples would storm the place in a fearsome fashion before handing over what looked like a complete portfolio of their personal, financial, medical and professional information. Bank statements, payslips, certified copies of passports, birth certificates and driver’s licences and two or three references needed to be included. I gave serious thought to throwing in a copy of my dental records for good measure. The one thing we had to avoid at all costs was making any reference to the possibility that we might own a dog. This would be worse than saying we were looking for a suitable place to manufacture methamphetamine.
Through a series of happy coincidences, we finally found a place to rent through a private advertiser rather than one of the over-officious agencies. Like a lot of places in Newcastle, it was a bit run down, was on a busy road and didn’t have a particularly nice garden but we spruced it up a bit and it eventually became home. My daughter got a job at an early childhood centre in an arrangement whereby she was able to study for a qualification whilst learning on the job. Life in Newcastle was at last starting to take shape and luck was going our way. That was certainly the way it seemed particularly when we learned that we had escaped a second and this time fatal, earthquake in Christchurch.