The winter of our discontent

With average lows of 5 and 6 degrees and Nigel’s completion of tenure date long gone, it’s hard to respond cheerfully when asked, “Why are you still here?” and invariably, the conversation turns to how we’re handling the suspense.

I guess on a personal level, I was looking forward to living in the real world – where medical specialists are quite a bit closer than a 600 km round trip and my cancerversary appointments don’t require an overnight stay. (Would it be it too black to say I’ll be peeved if I die before the move?)

Remember the ripple effect? Well, without a transfer date, we’ve put off paying car insurance annually (who knew it was cheaper on the coast?) and chosen more expensive monthly instalments until we move. Renewing the annual landlord’s insurance has also proven problematic – we can’t really lock in another year if we’ll soon be living there.

And with rising interest rates, it would be crazy to wait any longer to apply for an owner occupier loan so we’ve decided to pay the higher interest rate and lock in a 3-year fixed investor rate. Police Bank here we come!

Here’s an update on where we’re at.

After selling all our excess furniture and bedding (beds, bedding, chests of drawers, floor mats, lamps, wall art) and a round trip to the coast to complete the sales, we discovered that the vacancy wasn’t going to happen. So we organised another trip to the coast – except this time to restock the house. With fuel prices soaring and furniture and bedding purchases in excess of $1,000, I think I can safely say that my online shopping addiction is finally cured!

Of course, it might have been more palatable if there were a tax deduction down the track but unfortunately the ATO cares little about broken transfer promises and subsequent re-furnishings.

Nor will they support deductions for mistakes and /or change of mind. So my brilliant idea to secure the carport with lift-out panels – then, realising how heavy they were, replace them with swinging gates – will definitely not attract any monetary sympathy.

While fur tenant Lucy admires the extra space………… I suspect Bowie is unimpressed with the new boundaries.

Carport Before
Carport After

On the bright side our fifth winter in Cobar, with its incumbent “minus” temperatures, will soon be over. Plus, after quite a few ‘lost’ weeks, we have our first tenant booking in early October (obviously a sympathy booking because they’ve heard we need the money). Even better, we are soon to take off for 3 weeks’ annual leave in Paradise. Bring it on!

And, while we still don’t have an actual moving date, the transfer calendar says there’s one on the 16th of October with P447 (transfer paperwork) due by the 7th of September. Icy fingers crossed!

Teachers

I wrote this some years ago when education – specifically boys’ education –  was in the spotlight. Now it appears that education and teachers – or the lack thereof – are newsworthy again:

After 30 years of teaching I resigned. I absolutely loved teaching but there comes a time when you just want your weekends to yourself. Here’s my take on education.

There are many stakeholders in the field of education – teachers, parents, peer groups as well as the Department of Education all have varying expectations and influences over a student. But the most influential stakeholder is probably society itself, deciding which achievements matter and who gets to be celebrated.

Ask the man in the street how many footy players he can name or who his personal sporting hero is. And who couldn’t easily name a dozen athletes in the recent Commonwealth Games? Our love of sport and worship of sports stars suggests that society deems success on the field much more important than academic achievement. In fact, television studios devote almost half the news time to reporting on sporting results and fixtures.

Now ask that same man in the street to name a half dozen famous academics. How many could you name? Sporting stars and legends are all well and good but why does academic achievement attract much less celebration – or even interest?

My point is that a lot of kids won’t value or strive towards academic excellence until we do.

Towards the end of last century, when parents were becoming increasingly unhappy with students’ school results the Education Department came up with the perfect solution to students’ poor performance. They re-classified it as good performance.

Teachers were no longer allowed to use negative comments in reporting exam results and marks and position in class were promptly banned. Suddenly we were told to use positive outcome statements like, “Johnny can now tie his shoe laces”. Of course, this statement ignored the fact that Johnny was 17 and studying for his HSC.

The Department’s justification for this cover-up was that it protected students’ feelings – the child who came last could avoid a failure label as long as no one knew. Unfortunately, it also robbed parents of important factual information and, perhaps saddest of all, it denied any celebration of students, who came first.

While exam reporting became insipid and meaningless  (all the while, with the blessing of the Teachers’ Federation), thankfully the same approach was not applied to school sports, where apparently it was okay for students to fail. Winners were reported as winners and losers were frankly, well, losers…… all without any apparent long term damage to their psychological well-being.

So here’s my advice:

To Students

Know your educational strengths and weaknesses.

Feel good about your strengths. Work on your weaknesses.

Ask questions in class when you don’t understand.

Hang out with other students, who want to get ahead.

Don’t become part of the “It’s cool to be a fool” crowd.

Don’t carry on in class when you don’t get your own way. That only works at home.

If you have a problem with a teacher, see them privately and politely explain the problem.

Choose school subjects that interest you – not ones that your friends are choosing.

Don’t ask your parents to do your assignments for you. They’ve already been to school. Plus, it’s embarrassing when your teachers correct their spelling.

To Parents

Praise your child’s sporting achievements but praise their school achievements as well, no matter how small.

Foster a desire for learning.

Set an example – question your child about their day. Check their homework. Be interested.

Train your children to accept clear, consistent instructions. Don’t use threats like “I’m counting to three” or “Don’t do that again” if you don’t intend to follow through. That just makes a teacher’s job so much harder because it sends a message that arguing wins in the end……… that “No” means “Yes” or at least “Maybe”.

Attend Parent-Teacher meetings.

Don’t belittle their teachers in front of them. If there’s an issue, ring the school and make an appointment.

Don’t blame ADHD for all their bad behaviour – accept that maybe they’re not always angels.

To Teachers

Remember that ‘bad’ students are not really out to destroy your day.

You’re just on different sides of the field – your job is to make them work while their job is to stop you. Don’t take it personally.

Find some common ground – something positive. No student is all bad – maybe you both like cats.. or cartoons or snakes…..

Be fair. Don’t take your bad mood out on the class but if you do (because you’re human), apologise later. Admit when you’re in the wrong. Don’t expect kids to admit their mistakes if you can’t.

To Society

Celebrate your academics as well as your sporting ‘greats’. Value study, research and academic ability as much as stamina and physical prowess.

Don’t expect less of kids from single or low-income families. Don’t categorise them. They might just surprise you.

My two sons work as an electro-chemist and a computer analyst/ programmer. No one ever told them that they weren’t supposed to succeed because their parents were divorced.

Of course,  some of my suggestions might be outdated in 2022. Plus, as I said, I was writing in response to a symposium on boys’ education. But if I could add one more suggestion, it would be to ban the practice of teachers teaching outside their subject area – in order to “fit” with the school’s timetable. That adds a ridiculous amount of stress to a teacher’s workload and that’s definitely not good for education.

Nerd Alert!

There aren’t too many times when I’ll randomly make a substantial purchase without doing a heap of research into the pros and cons as well as the terms and conditions. Everything comes under scrutiny – from pet insurance and roadside assistance plans to a new TV and/or washing machine and don’t get me started on a new home loan. Each decision demands time and effort and sometimes even flow charts. Continue reading “Nerd Alert!”

The ripple effect

After 4 years in the central west, Nigel is out of tenure and, blissfully ignoring Murphy, I’ve been excitedly selling off furniture that won’t be accompanying us on our trip back home. It’s always tricky when you’re trying to condense the contents of two houses into one but this will be our 6th move in 12 years and I like to think that I’ve become good at it.

As well as culling the Cobar furniture, three weeks ago, on annual leave in Paradise, we sold off more furniture in preparation for the removalists. In the past they’ve always struggled to find room to put anything – giving them the perfect excuse for why the beds couldn’t be re-assembled ……… but not this time bahaha!!

Great idea if the transfer had actually eventuated!

Now Nigel is definitely no whinger (that’s my job) so there’ll be no goss about what went wrong or questions about when is a priority transfer not a priority transfer. But let me just fill you in on what the consequences have been.

Firstly, with inventories to be completed, changes of address to be notified as well as packing, sorting, culling and selling to be done, for the first time that I can even remember, I had to decline the AEC’s offer of work on the federal election.

Secondly, and so that our final trip home would be fun – with talk of good and bad times and what the next adventure would hold – we decided to drive a car each to the coast, and then leave the Hyundai behind so that we could come back together in the camper van. Clothes, bedding, an Engel, a gas heater, a chest of drawers, a queen mattress  (everything that we couldn’t sell) as well as a rather large dog were all packed into every available space until Elvis had been transformed from a camper van into a furniture truck.

 

Plus there was our brilliant idea to cancel the holiday letting agreement with our property manager. Knowing Nigel’s mate was leaving on the 20th of May but without a transfer date set in stone, we decided on the last day of April….. just to be safe.

Of course we could just re-advertise for holiday bookings, except that the trip was quite successful and we managed to sell two bedrooms-full of furniture, leaving just one sad queen bed in a house advertised for six people.

With home loan interest rates rising and coming off an investment loan, we were keen to lock in a new loan and, in the months leading up to the expected move, I did a fair bit of ground work to make it happen. But that came to a sudden halt when we discovered that we had to be living there before the bank would agree to convert to an owner / occupier loan and to be honest, we have no idea when that will be. Unfortunately, in the meantime, interest rates have already risen.

And just when it was looking like  nothing else could go wrong, the motor bike mechanic accidentally damaged the petrol tank and it’s been in the repair shop ever since we got back. With only one car, I’m stuck at home during the day and Nige gets to go shopping after work.

So there you have it. One stroke of the pen and welcome to planet Limbo.

So long, Cobar and Thanks for all the fish! …. with apologies to Douglas Adams for the misquote!

First let me say a hearty welcome to Andrew’s replacement, Chris – Cobar’s newest road pirate. We hope you accrue many happy memories of your time in Cobar!

With around 4 months to go, our 4-year tenure is almost up. Technically, we’ll have to wait for a position to become available – which looks like July – and, also technically, it’s Nigel’s 4-year tenure but I’m sharing in the excitement of returning to milder temperatures, lower grocery prices and not a cats’ head in sight!

Of course, our last trip home is always bitter-sweet with fond memories of new friends, neighbours and outback places plus those gorgeous sunsets and starry fire-pit nights.

A recent trip to the coast for a family birthday gathering last month heightened our anticipation when we spent 3 days in Paradise before transferring to a Tuncurry Caravan Park (our house was booked plus it was more fun to be on site with the family) and short of a possible (hopefully not probable) Tsunami, nothing can dampen our anticipation of returning to Paradise for good.

We arrived back home to the Cobar by-election and, while I was only working on Pre-Poll on a casual basis it made for a bit of a juggling act between preparing for the move and the usual gardening and household chores. Plus, somehow the end of the financial year seems to be creeping up way too fast so I’ll soon be drowning in the last ever rental statements for the Shack.

As it turned out, it seemed prudent to call it quits on electoral work – which I did just over a week ago. Now I’m concentrating on sorting, packing / selling furniture, cancelling energy and telco companies, change of address letters and all things removalist.

So there you have it. There are four more months, three more tenant bookings and two more trips before we move back upstairs for good and this blog comes to an end. No doubt we’ll miss our little pool room, which has served us well, allowing us to simply lock the door and walk away (well, drive away) leaving bed sheets unchanged and food in the freezer for next time.

To be honest, I’ll miss its cosy atmosphere where everything is five steps away from everything else. In fact, we’re toying with the idea of living in the pool room permanently …. just joking …… but, with a plunge pool also five steps away maybe we’ll “holiday” downstairs every now and then in summer.

I know Bowie wouldn’t mind. He gets to sleep on his bed under the pool table and wake us up as soon as we stir – “Coming ready or not” as he launches himself onto our bed.

I’ll leave you with some never-before-seen photos of the ever-changing face of our little cabin by the beach.

Back in 2007 when our first outback adventure began with the Ivanhoe tenure, little did we know where it would lead us. Again, to misquote Douglas Adams, We may not have gone where we intended to go, but we think we’ve ended up where we needed to be.

PS

On and off we’ve had tenants show interest in buying the Shack and we once even had a conversation of sorts, about what ridiculous price it would take for us to sell up and leave Paradise. We came up with 4 million so I guess we won’t be selling any time soon. 😊

PPS

I toyed with the idea of waiting until it was closer to Christmas but, if you know me, you’ll know that patience isn’t one of my virtues.

One of my lovely new electoral workmates has been designing Christmas cards with an outback theme and I bought these ones from Kate a couple of weeks ago.

I know it’s a bit early to be buying Christmas cards but I like the idea of supporting our farmers and young Kate is just starting her photography business so I was lucky enough to be her first customer.

And just for interest, the baby Brahman calf is Penelope, the lamb’s name is Willy and the hand-reared Galah is Gilly.

You can check out her Facebook page as well as message her here. https://m.facebook.com/TheOutbackCapturedbyKate/photos/

I hope she does well!

Radio Silence – Care Factor Zero

Apologies because today’s blog was supposed to be about my new casual job in the Cobar Returning Office and how I hadn’t had time to write a blog because of the Cobar Council election last year as well as the current by-election. I was going to extol the virtues of our voting system, explain how our electoral system is probably one of the most democratic in the world plus impress you with the lengths we go to to ensure that everyone who wants to, may vote.

However, after months of trying to be more gracious and despite a partner, who supports and challenges me to be my best self, I think it’s time to admit that I have failed my New Year’s resolution spectacularly because this blog is actually a giant whinge.

Continue reading “Radio Silence – Care Factor Zero”

And so this is Christmas

Another  Christmas – our last in Cobar – is drawing to an end and  I’m looking forward to next year’s  coastal Christmas, with its mandatory prawns and oysters.

Of course, there’ll be quite a few good memories and people that we’ll miss because Cobar has been  nothing if not welcoming. From the garbage man when we first arrived, who waited just long enough for me to remember that it was bin day, to the postie who runs the Rural Outback Animal Rescue and, on Christmas Eve, takes bags of dog treats to all her “little mates”, to our beautiful neighbours, who surprise us with human treats over the fence.

From Christmas house decorating to teddy bears and wheel rim / shoe trees on the road into town (who knew?) – through the best of times and the worst of times – Cobar has been quirky and fun.

May we all have a peaceful and relaxing Christmas with better times ahead in 2022.

Catchup

After Elvis died (the car, not the King) we were hopeful that our financial woes might be behind us as we set about re-building the bank balance. While Nigel was busy with strike forces and a fair amount of overtime – not to mention the border crossings – I put my hand up to work at the Electoral Returning Office in preparation for the September 4 council elections…. Yes I know they were postponed, but not before we were sent quite a lot of materials, to be sorted and stored for the 4th December council elections.

Also and just for fun, I took on an editing job for a friend’s daughter, who was writing a book – and whose grammar and vocabulary would have put most journalists to shame – while, at the same time, also exploring my heritage in concert with a genealogist on the coast. Life was hectic but enjoyable and with the new car engine done and dusted, we were on the road to financial recovery.

All up, there had been quite a few late nights and not many sleep-ins so when Covid travel restrictions were finally lifted and, owing in part to the change of the election date, we found ourselves free to return to Paradise for a leisurely couple of weeks – catching up with friends and neighbours, walks on the beach, prawns and oysters for dinner……… Border crossings and returning offices became a distant memory.

Of course, when the tenants/tourists are also the landlords every holiday has a slight “down-side” so, in the lead-up to Christmas, there was just a “pinch” of maintenance thrown in for good measure.

It was during one of these “tiny” maintenance projects that a conversation with our builder ensued, which went something along the lines of….”See that rust there, do you think it’s something we should be concerned about?” and suddenly the holiday was over.

Without boring you with the details, let’s just say that our holiday dreams pretty much evaporated – walks were replaced with work, dining was replaced with digging and catch-ups were replaced with concreting. While Nigel and Ron did the heavy work, I culled the jungle / sub-floor, giving away King ferns, Clivias, Philodendrons etc for fear they’d be trampled underfoot.

As it turned out, two weeks was far from enough time and, with tenants booked within the month, there was a hasty retreat home for more electoral/policing work (while Ron kept working) before returning to finish the job.

Now that the work is completed, I’ll leave you with some before and after shots…… Roll on 2022!

Before

During

Finished

PS for anyone wondering about that bed to bench project…..

Well my lovely neighbour has kindly taken it and painted it and it now resides on their front porch.

And now that the December elections have finished, here’s my next project.

PS I could tell you some stories about the elections but apart from saying that I worked with lovely, funny, supportive co-workers and a very patient boss,  for the rest of it I’m sworn to secrecy:-)

Bouquets and Brickbats

Disappointingly, I still haven’t received a Yes / No reply from the “Department of Customer Service”, Service NSW as to when we might ever see our repaired van again but thankfully our handyman has moved it to his backyard where at least it won’t be stolen. Plus Nigel’s bike is back on the road so I now have the ute to go grocery shopping or take Bowie to the off-leash park….. or the vet, as is happening today…. Shhhhhhh

Continue reading “Bouquets and Brickbats”

Please Gladys……. Is it Yes or No?

There was too much at stake to assume that collecting our repaired van was a reasonable travel excuse and so, with the threat of huge fines looming, I decided to email the Department of Customer Service as recommended by Service NSW.

Here’s my email:

Are we allowed to travel to collect our repaired vehicle?

Four weeks ago, on the 19th of July, we were returning to Cobar, where my husband is completing a 4-year employment tenure, from our home on the mid north coast. With a large amount of furniture to move between the two properties, we were driving a car each (a ute and a van).

When our van broke down at Jerry’s Plains the NRMA, in conversation with our VW mechanic, agreed that it possibly needed a new engine and organised for it to be taken back to the mechanic on the coast while we continued in the ute, plus a hire car, to Cobar. I should point out that there are no VW mechanics in Cobar and the closest is in Dubbo(600 km round trip). Plus our mechanic advised that he already had and could install a reconditioned engine.

The engine installation was completed two weeks ago on the 3rd of August and, with no Covid restrictions in Cobar or on the mid north coast, we planned to take advantage of four consecutive Rest days to drive back and pick it up this Thursday. However, the state has now gone into lockdown.

After the installation, the mechanic delivered the van to our carport where it’s been sitting ever since and while I’m not overly concerned about the furniture, clothing, medications (I’ve bought more online) etc or a flat battery I am concerned that it’s quite visible to passers-by and, with all the blinds drawn, all day every day, it’s also quite obvious that no one is home.

I understand that it’s impossible to clarify every rule and restriction and we are both unsure whether collecting the van is a “reasonable excuse”. However, if the state lockdown continues, there’s a real risk that our van will become a target for thieves.

I’d really appreciate some advice because, like everyone else, we don’t want to make an uninformed choice and be faced with a huge fine, especially after just paying more than $9,000 to install a reconditioned engine.

Regards, Kaye Matthews

And here’s their reply:

Dear Kaye,

Thankyou for contacting the Department of Customer Service. The best source of information about the COVID restrictions and rules is available at https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19.
???????
For more information about specific areas please see the websites linked below:
Regional and rural NSW rules
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/affected-regions

Greater Sydney rules
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/greater-sydney

Local government areas of concern
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/affected-area

Legislation and penalties
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/legislation-and-penalties

The rules summary tables on the common questions
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/changes#rules-for-your-local-area

I have also forwarded your email to the COVID customer care team at Service NSW for response.

The COVID customer care team is experiencing a high number of enquiries so there may be a delay in responding to you about this matter.

They can be contacted directly on 13 77 88.

Sincerely,
Elle
Department of Customer Service

Now it seems to me that a question like Are we allowed to travel to collect our repaired vehicle? would simply require a Yes / No answer and so it was a surprise to receive a list of web sites and, even more surprising when, after reading them all, I realised that none of them related to my question.

Alas, it was time to ring the 13 number.

I must admit that the customer representative was quite pleasant and listened attentively as I basically read her my email and asked, again, whether travelling to collect our repaired van was a reasonable excuse. Everything was going smoothly- after checking with her colleagues she was able to state that Yes, travelling to pick up the van was a reasonable excuse – until I naively asked, “Can I have that in writing?” at which stage, the wheels promptly and without warning fell off.

Apparently no one wants to be held responsible for handing out incorrect advice because the best she could suggest was to carry the repair invoice plus a note from the mechanic to the effect that our van had broken down hundreds of kilometres from Cobar…….. but after that, we were on our own.

Today, six days after my email, I did, in fact, receive a reply – albeit unsigned:

(Subject:Re: Request to withdraw your application [ ref:_00D4a8aWL._5004a4Nj4Q:ref ])

Hi Kaye

Thankyou for your enquiry with Service NSW in relation to reasonable reasons for Travelling in regional NSW with the restrictions I have attached a link to the SNSW website for your reference
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/affected-regions#other-reasonable-excuses

Kind regards
Service NSW
T137788

Of course, the suggested web page said absolutely nothing about whether collecting our van was a reasonable excuse to travel and I was none the wiser so, in one final effort to obtain clarity, I’ve just fired off this reply:

Dear Sir / Madam

I have just read the web page that you suggested and it says nothing helpful about collecting our car, which broke down more than a month ago, hundreds of kilometres from our residence in outback NSW.

I’ve waited for 6 days for you to respond with an answer to my question, namely, Is this a reasonable excuse to bring our repaired van home? Please don’t close this application without answering my question. I just need an answer – either Yes we can bring our van home, now that it has been repaired or No, we are not allowed to bring our van home and it will have to sit unsecured for the duration of the lockdown. We are both fully vaccinated and are prepared to make the trip in the shortest possible time.

If you don’t know the answer, I have no idea whom to ask.

Regards, Kaye Matthews

Sadly, in the meantime, I’m not holding my breath. It seems that no one, even Service NSW, is prepared to give advice nor to put their name to that advice, in case it’s wrong. It really begs the question, ‘Why even have a Customer Service department?’

More importantly, after making me wait six days and then failing to answer my question, why on earth would they assume that I’d be happy to withdraw that question?’ (“Request to withdraw your application”)

PS And in case you’re wondering, No I didn’t add those question marks in Elle’s reply.