Expat Star Awards 2014

Expat Star Awards 2014 BronzeStumble Down Under has been honoured with 3rd place in MyCurrencyTransfer.com Expat Star Awards 2014.

This prestigious awards event recognises, celebrates and rewards the sheer hard work, effort and creativity that goes into making an expat blog invaluable to its expat community. We want to show our true appreciation and admiration for the people or teams who put everything into ensuring expats have the information and insights they need for a smooth and enjoyable transition to another country or a peak at life in their perspective home.

Websites are assessed on a number of criteria including quality and uniqueness, analytics, and user experience.

Huge thanks to MyCurrencyTransfer.com. I’m thrilled to win third place and I congratulate the other winners and finalists. I will be sure to visit those great blogs.

Melbourne, Most Liveable & Friendly City

Melbourne CBD

A view of Melbourne from the Eureka Sky Tower.

Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city. Again. And it’s also the friendliest.

For the fourth year in a row, Melbourne came in number one in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking, which surveyed 140 cities.

The survey rated cities out of 100 in healthcare, education, stability, culture, environment, and infrastructure. Melbourne received 97.5 out of 100. Aside from the arts, cultural, and sporting environments that add to the quality of life in Melbourne, the report noted that the city’s low murder rate contributed to its liveability.

Australian cities Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth also made the top ten along with our neighbours in Auckland, New Zealand.

Melbourne tied with Auckland, New Zealand as the friendliest city in the world in a reader’s survey by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Sorry Sydney, but Condé Nast readers say Melbourne is Australia’s “capital of cool” so it must be true. With it’s “breathtaking” harbor and beaches and helpful residents, Sydney came in at number 5. A couple of American cities made the top ten as well: Savannah, Georgia came in 9th and Charleson, South Carolina came in 4th. Good ole Southern charm and hospitality.

Do you agree? Is Melbourne your favourite city?

How to Cope with the Australian Sun

Here in Melbourne we’re still layering up before we head out and brave the chill, but those winter clouds will part and the grey sky will be bright with the blistering hot Australian sun.

The incidence of skin cancer in Australia is one of the highest in the world. According to Cancer Council Australia, skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers and between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun. That’s why when True Blue Migration sent me this infographic, I had to share it. It’s aimed at Britons looking to move to Australia, but it contains good information and advice for everyone on sun safety.


Are you in the habit of wearing sunscreen every day or wearing a hat when you’re out in the sun?

Open House Melbourne 2014


Open House Melbourne is a celebration of Melbourne through design and architecture. It’s an annual free event in which over 100 buildings are open to the public.

Some of these such as the State Library of Victoria and Melbourne Town Hall are open to the public year round, but they may open special areas that are not normally accessible. Some places such as the substations are only open to the general public during Open House Melbourne and there are some exclusive areas such as the Manchester Unity Building and the Federation Square ballroom that only a few lucky ballot winners get to see.

With over 100 buildings all over Melbourne open, the hard part is trying to figure out where to go. There’s a website that lists the all the buildings, opening times, special requirements, and if queues are expected. It allows you to craft an itinerary and access it on the mobile app.

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My Australian English

Image: DTTSP

Image: DTTSP

There are certain words that will probably never come out of my mouth.

For starters, I can’t shorten much in the way Aussies do. I still say sunglasses, breakfast, and chicken rather than sunnies, brekkie, and chook. Speaking in abbreviations is forced and unnatural for me. Like text speak. I can’t do that either. I text in complete, grammatically-correct, properly-punctuated sentences. It’s not because I’m a snob (I am a little bit of a snob). It’s because I actually have to concentrate more and it takes me longer to type something such as, “My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.” In translation: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place.” That’s an actual text message from a 13-year-old girl.

Australian English is not as cryptic as a teenager’s text message, but it just sounds wrong coming out of my American mouth with its Miami accent. Part of the Aussie charm is the accent and some words depend on it to sound right. I said g’day once by accident and I was horrified. My partner Theo makes fun of me for (allegedly) being unable to pronounce his best friend’s name: Graeme – gram, gray-em, gray-um. Gray or grey? Apparently, these are pronounced differently.

Having said that, I have adopted some Australian English words. Some of them occurred naturally simply because there are words and expressions used here that are not widely used back in the US. Other words require more thought, but I like to use them for convenience as well as for adaptation. Here are some of the local words I’ve adopted.

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The Melbourne General Cemetery

Melbourne General Cemetery

Last week I popped into the Melbourne General Cemetery. It was a nice day and my partner was meeting with a client in nearby Carlton so I thought I’d take the opportunity, however brief, to have a look around. Cemeteries have a special beauty to them and are always interesting to explore.

The Melbourne General Cemetery was established in 1852 and replaced the Old Melbourne Cemetery, which on the site of what is now the Queen Victoria Market. There are about 9,000 people buried under the sheds and car park of the Queen Victoria Market. The Melbourne General Cemetery is the resting home of some of Australia’s explorers, prime ministers, service personnel, and other notable figures. It’s a big mix of old and new and there are various religions and ethnic groups represented. It’s pretty and rather large.

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Oz Comic-Con Melbourne 2014

Oz Comic-Con 2014

Oz Comi-Con at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne.

I made it to Oz Comic-Con again this year. It was held at the beautiful Royal Exhibition Building. In some ways, it was just as good or even better than last year, but it was also much more crowded and expensive.

General admission for one day was $30 if you purchased tickets online or $35 at the door; it was $22 at the door last year. That’s for the basic event with access to vendors and panels. Beyond that, you have to buy tokens to get an autograph or photo with your favourite celebs and then there are a variety of passes for various up-close experiences and extras ranging from $200 to $600. I’m a fan and a geek, but I’m not that hardcore and I’m not a collector. I don’t care about taking photos with celebs or getting their autographs so I was satisfied with my general admission ticket.

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Blood and My Iron Deficiency

Spectrum of Iron Deficiency

It was serendipitous that I met a woman who is studying iron levels in women as part of her PhD studies. She asked me if I would participate. Since it just involved answering questions and giving a blood sample, I said yes. The results were a shocker.

If you don’t know what the role of iron is, I don’t have a complete understanding of it, but basically iron is present in our cells and one of its vital functions is to carry oxygen to the tissues from the lungs as it is a key component of haemoglobin. Iron deficiency can lead to iron deficiency anaemia. A normal range of ferritin (F), which is the level of iron stores in your body, is 15-165. Mine was 1. Yeah, one. My acquaintance recommended I take the results to a doctor. The doctor sent me to Mercy Hospital for Women.

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Back in February, I participated in an expat blog challenge that was hosted by my fellow expat Cristin, an American in Sydney who blogs over at In an Opal Hearted Country. The month-long challenge was a success and a little community unexpectedly emerged from it. In the Facebook group, we talk about blogging, post links to daily entries, and post prompts.

My blogging results are mixed. I tend to read a number of other expat blogs, but I comment little, and my own blogging has been sporadic lately. Sometimes the prompts just don’t speak to me, but the June monthly prompt does. The prompt is changes, to talk about the ways in which we’ve changed since becoming an expat.

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The Road to Residency Part 5: Death and Taxes


In my last entry on residency in mid-April, I mentioned that I had all my ducks in a row and my application for a de facto partner visa subclass 820 was being lodged. That went through without a hitch and Immigration issued me a bridging visa.

A bridging visa is a temporary visa that allows me to say in Australia in the period of time between when my previous visa expired and my current visa application is being processed. Think of it like being in Limbo.

Despite all the planning, work, and expenses, Immigration can reject a visa application, but I guess the assumption is that they generally won’t because the bridging visa does a number of important things.

First, the bridging visa allows me to stay in Australia indefinitely. Unlike a tourist visa or a working visa, there’s no expiration date on it.

Second, the bridging visa allows me to enrol in Medicare. In the US, Medicare is a national social insurance program that guarantees access to health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older, younger people with disabilities, and a few other folks as well. In Australia, Medicare is a publicly funded universal health care scheme. It was easy to enrol. I printed out the form from the Department of Human Services website, completed it, gathered other necessary documents, and took all down to my local Medicare office. I took a ticket, waited about half-hour, and submitted my paperwork. In about a week, the card arrived in the post.

The third thing that a bridging visa allows me to do is work in Australia. After enrolling in Medicare, the next thing I did was apply for a tax file number. Much like a Social Security number, a tax file number is a unique nine-digit number issued to to individuals and organisations to help the Australian government administer tax. You can apply online and it’s easy. You don’t have to provide much information because the Australian Taxation Office will check the status of your residency. In about a week, I had received my TFN in the post.

My de facto visa application is still being processed and it will take months, but I have public health care and a job in Australia, and that’s a lot and I’m happy about it. Looking and finding work has been its own adventure so I’ll be sure to write more about that later.

What’s your visa process been like?

The Road to Residency Part 1: The Visa Medical Assessment
The Road to Residency Part 2: Tricky Language
The Road to Residency Part 3: The Relationship
The Road to Residency Part 4: All the Extras
The Road to Residency Part 5: Death and Taxes

The Queen’s Birthday Holiday


Today is a public holiday here in most of Australia. It’s the Queen’s Birthday!

Ok, it’s not actually the Queen’s birthday. Queen Elizabeth II was born the 21st of April, but in Australia, except for the state of Western Australia, the Queen’s birthday is observed on the second Monday of June. The royal birthday has been celebrated since 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillip declared a holiday to mark the birthday of the King of Great Britain. Until 1936 it was held on the actual birthday of the Monarch, but after the death of George V it was decided to keep the date on the second Monday in June.

What do Aussies do on the Queen’s Birthday Holiday? Many people get the day off and take advantage of a three-day weekend to go away. For those of us staying in town, we may visit friends, family, or attend a sporting event. Footy, of course. The Queen’s Birthday Holiday clash is an annual Australian rules football match between Australian Football League (AFL) teams Melbourne Demons and Collingwood Magpies. Theo and I will be watching that on TV before sitting down to a lamb roast with the family. Go Pies!

The Queen’s Birthday honours list is also released today. This is the only civic occasion of note and it honours Australians for their services to the community. More than 700 Australians were recognised today. You can read about that here on ABC.

How are you observing the Queen’s Birthday Holiday?

NGV, the National Gallery of Victoria


Melbourne is full of wonderful museums. I was in the city recently and decided to pop into the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

The NGV has two locations. One is the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square, which is a home for Australian art, presenting Indigenous and non-Indigenous art from the colonial period to the present day. It’s excellent and I highly recommend it. The other location is NGV International on St Kilda Road. NGV International houses collections from Europe, Asia, America, and Oceania. I had not been here before. It was an impromptu visit so I was armed only with my iPhone.

I had heard there is an excellent William Blake exhibit at NGV and it did not disappoint. What I didn’t know is there are also some fine antiquities, which I love.


A portion from The Canterbury Tales, William Blake. That’s the Wife of Bath prominently depicted. Bragging rights: I’ve read this in the original Middle English.

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