Welcome to Canberra and the ACT

 

Once a New South Wales rural area, the Australian Capital Territory is the result of a compromise between Melbourne and Sydney. Back at the dawn of the 20th century, both of these cities had taken turns to be the nation’s capital, and both wanted the title permanently. The only way to appease them both was to find an alternative site. In 1908 one was found, and the government announced an international competition for architects to design what would later become Canberra. An American won, using the manmade Lake Burley Griffin (named after the winning architect) to divide the city in half – one part residential, the other set aside as the country’s governmental epicentre.

 

Fifty-three per cent of the ACT is comprised of national parks and reserves, in which you’ll find many Aboriginal archaeological sites including rock shelters, rock paintings and burial places. There are also limestone caves where Aboriginals caught Bogong moths which they then roasted and ate whole. Despite their penchant for barbecued moth, there are still plenty of the little critters around today. If you’re in Canberra for spring then you’ll see swarms of them covering public buildings.

Some historians think the origins of the word ‘Canberra’ derive from the ceremonial meetings of Aboriginals held during their migration season, when they feasted on the Bogong moths. A more popular belief is that the word means ‘meeting place’. Some have even suggested that Canberra means ‘the hollow between a woman’s breasts’. Safari Pete knows which one he prefers.

 

Canberra is a quiet, orderly city full of parks. It has the largest number of free attractions of any Australian city and has been labelled the ‘bush capital’ of Australia. Canberra is ideal for cycling, bush walking and water sports. It’s also a great base to explore the nearby Snowy Mountains and the NSW south coast. Not only that, but there are also a host of festivals year round along with some great pubs and restaurants..

 

ACT General Info

 

Size: 2432 sq kms (approx 80km from north to south and about 30km wide).

 

Telephone Area Code: 02

 

Time Zone: GMT plus ten hours. The ACT operates on Eastern Standard Time (EST) and has Daylight Savings from October to March (clocks go forward an hour).

 

Population: 365.400

 

Climate: The average maximum temperature in July is 11°C (it can get a bit chilly) while January’s maximum average is 27°C.

 

Canberra Visitor Centre:

Tel: 02 6205 0044              Web: www.visitcanberra.com.au

 

Safari Pete’s ACT ‘Don't miss’ list

 

The Australian National Botanic Gardens contains every single plant endemic to this country, and incorporates a herbarium which has the largest research collection of preserved botanic specimens. Sometimes there is musical entertainment here as well. www.anbg.gov.au

 

The National Art Gallery of Australia (Parkes Pl, Parkes) has over 100,000 pieces on display from Australian, Asian, Indigenous, European, American and Pacific quarters of the earth. There’s also a sculpture garden. Warning: this is a place where hours evaporate – you may have to come back for a second day of viewing. www.nga.gov.au

 

Enjoy Lake Burley Griffin. There are several ways to do this. Either rent a paddleboat, take a stroll around the lake, or else join Canberra’s joggers, cyclists and roller bladers on one of the numerous walkways around the town’s centrepiece.

 

With half of the ACT made up of bushland, Canberra is an ideal place to go bushwalking.  Canberra Nature Park, the Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve are all good places to stretch your legs

Where to crash

 

Canberra City YHA Hostel – 7 Akuna St; Ph 02 6248 9155

These guys have a pool, Jacuzzi and a sauna. There’s a TV and lockers in every dorm and it’s only a ten-minute walk from the Greyhound bus terminal. The airport bus stops outside the hostel. www.yha.com.au

 

Dickson Backpackers – 1st floor 4/14 Woolley St, Dickson; Ph 02 6262 9922

This boutique backpackers is located a few kilometres north of central Canberra. They have a games and recreation room and bikes for hire.

www.dicksonbackpackers.com.au

 

Victor Lodge – 29 Dawes St, Kingston; Ph 02 6295 7777

Although priced above $30, if there are three or four of you then you can get a good deal here by renting a three- of four-bed room. Included in the price (around $40 each) is an all-you-can-eat breakfast. There’s a garden area and an uncover BBQ area. www.victorlodge.com.au

 

Which way, cobber?

 

Action is the bus company that serves Canberra. If you’re doing some sightseeing then purchasing a daily ticket is good value as it provides you with unlimited travel. The off-peak daily ticket is the best value (valid from 9am-4.30pm, after 6pm on weekdays and all weekend). For timetables and fare information, log onto www.action.act.gov.au or call 13 17 10.

 

With over 300km of bike paths, a better option may be to pedal your way around the city. There are quite a few places from which you can hire bikes. Log onto

www.netspeed.com.au/cr/bicycle/cycling.htm for a list of bike paths, events and bike hirers.

 

Pete’s Primo Pastimes

 

Safari Pete will buy anyone a beer if they can name a Parliament House (Capital Hill) – other than the one in Canberra – where the roof has to be mown. Parliament is probably the last place you’d expect to find grass, but below its eighty-one-metre flagpole the country’s centre of politics has a green roof. The decadence continues in the forecourt where you’ll find a 90,000-piece mosaic creation. And in the hall is a twenty-metre tapestry. Among the extensive art collection here is the rare Magna Carta – an English legal charter drawn up in 1215 and thought to be only one of four copies in the world. You can do free forty-five-minute guided tours (every non-sitting day), and twenty-minute tours when the politicians are in the house, and not on the roof enjoying the grass. www.aph.gov.au; 02 6277 4899.

 

Jog into the Australian Institute of Sport (Leverrier St, Bruce), the country’s premier sports training facility, to gain an insight into the world of elite sportspersons. Tours around the complex are conducted with an Aussie athlete as your guide. The centre has interactive basketball, rowing and skiing activities where you can pretend to be a champ.  www.ausport.gov.au/ais; 02 6214 1111.

 

Regarded as one of the most impressive war museums in the world, the Australian War Memorial (Treloar Cres, Campbell) recounts an important part of Australian history and has a great collection of pictures, exhibitions and relics.

www.awm.gov.au; 02 6243 4211.

 

Being Australia’s capital, Canberra is home to a host of nationals, such as the free National Library (Parkes Pl, Parkes) which has eight reading rooms and more books than Queensland and South Australia has people (roughly eight million); the National Film and Sound Archive (www.nfsa.gov.au; McCoy Circuit, Acton; 02 6248 2000) keeps images and sounds of Australian film, TV and radio – you can watch screenings and view exhibitions; the National Dinosaur Museum

(www.nationaldinosaurmuseum.com.au; Gold Creek Rd and Barton Hwy, Nicholls; 1800 356 000) roars back into history with prehistoric exhibits of dinosaurs, mammals, reptiles, fish, nautiloids, plants, invertebrates, amphibians and birds; the Royal Australian Mint (www.ramint.gov.au; Denison St, Deakin; 02 6202 6999) is loaded and admission is free; and the National Zoo and Aquarium

www.nationalzoo.com.au; 999 Lady Denman Dr, Scrivener Dam, Yarralumla;

02 6287 8400) is the only one of its kind in the country.

 

Top Tucker

 

You’ll find most restaurants south of Lake Burley Griffin in Civic and Manuka, and there are a few cafes in the inner suburbs. If you like pomegranate with your prawns head to Ottoman Cuisine (9 Broughton St, Barton) for a Turkish treat. For reasonably priced Malaysian and Chinese, Sammy’s Kitchen (North Quarter, Canberra Centre, Bunda St) spices things up, or if seafood with a Mediterranean twist is more your style, check out Emilio’s Ocean Grill (36 Franklin St, Manuka). Vietnamese lovers should head to Hoang Hau (54 Giles St, Kingston) for a crispy pigeon. If mock meat’s your thing (beef, chicken, fish etc. made from soy protein) then Au Lac (Shop 4, 39 Woolley St, Dickson) is a cheap alternative. For pub grub shuffle along to Area Hotel (208 Banna Ave, Griffith) for well priced comfort food with live music. If pizza’s your passion, then sniff the roses in the National Rose Gardens and pull up a chair at Pork Barrel Cafe (King George Tce, Parkes), opposite Old Parliament House. Or perhaps you’d prefer an Indian Affair (64 Colbee Ct, Phillip) for some northern Indian infusions.

 

For a comprehensive list of restaurants and cafes in the Canberra region, log onto www.yourrestaurant.com.au.

 

Watering Holes

 

Because of its student population, Canberra has a good nightlife scene. Civic is the hub of Canberra's nightlife and there are lots of live music venues, bars and pubs around the city. Uni Bar (North Rd, Acton) at the Australian National University is the place to go for a happy hour – they also attract Aussie and international music acts. Murphy’s Shooters Pub and Nightclub (27 East Row, City) has pool tables and snug booths downstairs, and a dance floor to shake your toosh upstairs. Laden with candle-bearing Buddhas, Hippo Lounge Bar (17 Garema Pl) is a hip venue for jazz and DJ fans.

Nineteen twenties Paris comes alive at The Julep Lounge (Level 1, 8 Franklin St, Manuka) with chandeliers, chaise settees and cocktails aplenty. B Bar (21 Kennedy St, Kingston) is the place to go for an all-night boogie (til 4am). Shake your ass down there on Tuesday nights for free tapas; popular with politicians and party animals alike.

Follow the beacon to The Lighthouse (80 Emu Bank, Belconnen) where locals and students ride a mechanical bull and DJs spin the decks. There’s also a waterfront beer garden. For cheap booze head to the Uni Pub (corner London Cres and University Ave) which has five levels and is the hub of the university community.

For a list of exhibitions, gigs and general entertainment pick up a free copy of BMA Magazine (www.bmamag.com).

 

Work, work, work

 

I can hear you groaning, but if you’re on a working holiday visa you’ll have to start at some point. Don’t worry if something doesn’t come up straight away because there are plenty of job opportunities around. Working holiday visas have the restriction that you can only remain in the same job for six months. This is enough to put some employers off, but then again it’s not unheard of for backpackers to get sponsored. Before you start work you must register for a Tax File Number (TFN). Pop into a post office for an application form and make sure you tick the box to claim the tax-free threshold otherwise you’ll be taxed at a higher rate.

 

Before You Begin Working

Open a Bank Account: To open an Australian bank account you’ll need proof of your Australian address as well as a passport.

 

Get a Tax File Number: You can get an application form from any Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or download one off the net at www.ato.gov.au.

 

Finding Work

There are heaps of ways to find employment in Australia – ranging from searching the ‘position vacant’ section of the Saturday newspapers, to using the Internet,

enlisting with a recruitment agency, asking at your hostel, or coming along to Safari Pete’s information night and registering for job placement.

 

Don’t limit your experience to temping in Sydney or Melbourne – there is so much more to working in Australia than just seeing the cities.  There are great experiences to be had fruit picking or working on a farm in the more remote areas of Australia – you could end up on Tasmania’s southern tip, a tropical island in Queensland or in the Australian Outback. You should be paid in accordance to Australian standard rates. For information on rates of pay and conditions check out www.workplaceauthority.gov.au.

 

Types of Work

Working on a farm station: For a real Outback experience work on a station as a cook, a mechanic, a tractor driver, or a teacher.

 

Temping: Temping is a good way to earn some money quickly and gives you flexibility and variety. Signing up with a number of agencies increases your chances of getting work. Most work is found in the larger cities like Melbourne and Sydney.

Log onto www.aussieweb.com.au/directory for a list of Australia’s employment agencies. Other useful websites include: www.seek.com.au and www.mycareer.com.au

 

Au Pair:  If you have experience with children and good references, then being an au pair is a great way to experience life with an Australian family.

You usually receive free board and food as well as a wage.

 

Telemarketing: Disturbing people in the middle of dinner is hardly a glamorous job, but if you can handle rejection and are persuasive it can pay well. Check the recruitment pages in Saturday’s papers or the telephone directory for telemarketing companies.

 

Hospitality: Most big cities have a decent amount of hospitality work. It’s a good idea to get a Responsible Service of Alcohol Certificate (RSA) – see ‘Courses’ section below for more details.

 

Nursing: There is always a demand for nurses. Enlist with a nursing agency for the best chance of being hired.

 

Harvest Work

Undoubtedly one of the most popular forms of seasonal work undertaken by working holidaymakers is fruit picking. While orchards are a great place to meet fellow travellers, be prepared for physical work in warm weather. Depending on what you’re picking, you may be up a ladder, kneeling, laying, sitting or standing. Ensure you protect yourself from the sun; wear a hat and sunscreen and carry plenty of drinking water. Pay is usually calculated by how many baskets/bins you fill during your shift. Many hostels can organise fruit picking for you.

An invaluable resource to find seasonal picking work is the National Harvest Guide. It’s free and packed with loads of useful information, listing all areas in Australia where there is fruit and veg to harvest, the location of these towns, useful contact numbers, when to go, how to get there, where to stay and any general requirements. To pick up a copy either visit www.harvesttrail.gov.au or else call 1800 062 332.

 

Volunteering

Conservation Volunteers Australia

CVA focuses on involving people in conservation projects so be prepared to get your hands dirty. Project activities include trail maintenance in national parks, planting shrubs along sand dunes and weed removal. www.conservationvolunteers.com.au

 

 

WWOOFing

The WWOOFing movement (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) began in the ’70s and is a great way to experience life on a farm and meet fair dinkum rural Aussies. You won’t earn a wage, but accommodation (you will stay on the farm) and food are covered, and a unique Australian experience is guaranteed. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about different aspects of farming. Check out the website and choose from over 1,200 organic farms. www.wwoof.com.au

 

Working Holiday Visa Extensions

If you complete three months of specified work in regional Australia, then you’re eligible to extend your working holiday visa for an extra year. Specified work includes: plant and animal cultivation (including harvesting and fruit picking), fishing, mining and construction. For further information on types of specified work, visit www.immi.gov.au or call 13 1881.

 

Courses

For the majority of hospitality and construction jobs in Australia, chances are you’ll have to complete a course before you’ll get hired. But don’t despair, most of these are only a day long and cost less than $130. Overseas qualifications are as good as an empty pint glass over here, and the courses listed below mainly cover health and safety but will significantly boost your chances of finding employment. Before you start a course, always make sure it’s valid for the state in which you want to work.

 

There are courses in Pub Skills. This won’t teach you how to down a yard of ale in under a minute, but you’ll gain a useful insight into the mechanics of running a bar. Green Cards are not only useful for getting into the US, but they are also proof that you know about occupational health and safety on construction sites. Food and Beverage Service courses are useful for people just entering the hospitality industry, as is the Barista Skills course for all wannabe coffee makers. Forklift Drivers Licenses are recognised Australia-wide.

 

How do you serve alcohol responsibly? By not spilling a bloody drop, that’s how! While Victorian bars don’t require an RSA (Responsible Serving of Alcohol) certificate, you still have to complete an online refresher course. Quality Hospitality International runs an online, nationally accredited RSA course. They specialise in correspondence and classroom training and because of their links with industry bodies such as Liquor Licensing Victoria and the Department of Gaming, Racing and Liquor in WA, doing a course with these guys is a good leg up into the Aussie hospitality industry. For more information about the courses they provide as well as their training calendar and prices, log onto www.qhint.com/promo/ or call 03 9593 9846.

 

Finishing Work

When you stop work ask your employer for a payment summary showing your total income and the amount of tax withheld (you will need this when you fill out your tax return). The Australian taxation year ends on June 30th and you should lodge your tax return by October 31st.  You can complete your tax return online by downloading the e-tax software from www.ato.gov.au. Alternatively, pick up a free tax-pack from any post office or head to an accountant/tax agent to take care of it for you.

 

If you’re leaving the country permanently then you’re eligible (unless you’re a Kiwi) to get money from your superannuation fund (a small fraction of your wage will have been deducted each week and placed into a superannuation fund). This fund is like a pension. You’ll need proof that you are no longer eligible to work, like a visa that has expired or a copy of passport showing you are departing Australia. For more information call the tax information line on 13 2861 or else log onto www.ato.gov.au.

 

When it comes to tax or superannuation refunds beware of companies charging expensive percentage fees! We recommend Super Tax Refunds who have been helping travellers for years. They charge a low flat fee and that's why most backpackers use Super Tax Refunds for their tax and superannuation refunds.

www.supertaxrefunds.com.au, info@supertaxrefunds.com.au

free call 1800 117 405