With three months in Canberra under our belts, we’ve racked up a fairly long list of things that have wowed us since we arrived. As new arrivals, we are looking at many things for the first time and occasionally, one or two of them make us go: “Hmmmm…” Here’s a short list of things that have bemused or confused us, so far.
Australia is one of the world’s leading developed nations and one which, despite its distance from everywhere else, is hugely reliant on overseas trade – particularly with China and India. Puzzling then that its internet infrastructure is so poor, and that there is little government ambition to address the issue. A recent study revealed that, although Australia has the world’s 12th largest economy, it ranks 44th in the world when it comes to internet speed. There were plans to address this, by rolling out a nationwide fibre-optic National Broadband Network, but the new government is baulking at the price tag and is keen to scale back the project. In the meantime, subscription prices are sky high for a quality of service that ranks with the very best that 1990s technology can offer.
Australian banks are very profitable, and it’s easy to see why. It’s common for banks to charge an ‘account-keeping fee’ just for the privilege of banking with them. Even those who trumpet ‘free’ banking, actually mean ‘free of account-keeping fees’, but they’ll still sting you for transaction charges. One bank I looked at charged a fee for electronic transfers between your own accounts. That’s right, you could be sitting at home, on the (very slow) internet, moving money from your current account to your savings account at the same bank – click, click, click – and the bank will charge you for that ‘service’ of moving a digital number from one screen to another. If you move money between banks, it can even take a couple of days to arrive. I guess that’s the consequence of really slow internet connections. But seriously, this feels like extortion, whichever way you slice it.
Don’t laugh. Anyone who has moved countries will know well the endless hours of changing plugs on appliances. They have two kinds of plug here: flimsy or infuriating. The flimsy sort are basically a little round tray where the connectors sit, with a sliding, clip-on lid that would probably struggle to keep Tic-Tacs in place. As you screw it together, you become very conscious that this piece of cheap tat is standing between you and 240 volts every time you use it. But, the tic-tac boxes are preferable, from an efficiency point of view, to the industrial condom variety. These have a much more sturdy plate for the connectors, which you then have to cover over by easing a thick, rubberised, condom-like arrangement into place. This is made from the type of rubber guaranteed to bruise your fingers and so resistant to going where it’s needed that you feel like water-boarding it halfway through proceedings. On the upside, these come in black, white and sexy ‘see-through’ options.
Canberra is the seat of government. I get that. There are lots of important people here. I get that too. And lots of important decisions to make, constantly occupying their minds. Which must be why it is so hard for people to concentrate on their driving. I’m generalising, of course. Not everyone here is a bad driver, but the ones who are, more than make up for the rest of the population. Tail-gating is rife, late decisions to overtake, and local neighbourhood burnouts too. Local web-based newspaper The Riot ACT even has a regular feature on terrible Canberran parking, which is always worth a browse, if only to see if your local neighbourhood shopping centre has been featured.
AusPost has perfected the art of efficient parcel delivery. No longer do you need to ensure a parcel reaches its intended destination, all you have to do is ring the bell, put the parcel on the doorstep and drive away. Many’s the time I have rushed to the door only to get a cursory wave as the parcel delivery driver disappears into the distance. In other news, burglary just got easier too – no longer do thieves have to enter your premises to steal your belongings, they just have to follow a parcel van around for the day and fill their car-boots with the minimum of risk and inconvenience. Simples.
House-building is a booming industry in Australia, especially so in Canberra, which means that houses are being constructed at breakneck speed. And it shows. Houses that seem stunning from afar can, on closer inspection, often disappoint. Walls are typically paper-thin, doors ill-fitting and windows about as secure as, well, a parcel on the doorstep. Such build quality is common in the UK too where a similar environment of new-build houses being snapped up by buy-to-let landlords is creating a seemingly unquenchable desire for new homes, but compared to Scandinavia, where solid build quality, triple glazing and perfectly fitting fixtures and fittings are the norm, it seems, well, shoddy and a poor investment for the biggest purchase you’ll ever make in your life. Still, like AusPost, it makes life a little easier for the burglars.
So there you go, Canberra’s great, but it’s not perfect. Nowhere is. But these are the things that have had us scratching our heads in the first three months here. I’m sure we’ll add to the list as the years roll by.