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Chapter 10 - Australia Pre-Olympics 1999/2000 “G’day G’day Mate!”

Posted by Gerry Kelly on

After an eye opening few months in South East Asia, my buddy Liam and I decided to take a flight to Australia with one last stop before we had to start working again. This time it was Indonesia, we spent two weeks taking it easy on Kuta Beach in Bali with some other backpackers on route to Australia.

Our English friends Tim & Doug decided to go back to Thailand and meet back up with the girls they had left behind. When we arrived in Sydney, we had planned on meeting up with some of our good friends from back home: eleven single lads from Dublin who went to Australia on a one year working Visa about 8 months before we arrived.

When we actually got to Sydney, they were all still traveling up the Australian East Coast. My friend and I rented out a pretty cool furnished apartment in an area called Newtown (similar to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco or Camden Town in London). It had a pretty chilled out hippie vibe with amazing vintage stores, cool markets and some great bars and restaurants.

I ended up getting a job selling American Express insurance over the phone in a pretty big call center that was full of Irish and English backpackers. We each sat in cubicles like “Dilberts” and wore ear pieces on automatic dial to American Express customers. You had about 10 seconds between each call. The goal was to get as many existing card holders as you could to sign up for a free 30 day trial of American Express Insurance. After the 30 day trial ended they were charged approx $9 - $15 a month, depending on the coverage. It was a numbers game. I guess American Express was banking on most people forgetting to cancel it and make their money that way. I got to meet some really cool Irish and English guys and girls while working there.

Whenever I saw an Irish name come up on the screen, I would play the Irish card and tell them I’m an Irish backpacker and ask them if they would please do me a favor and sign up for a month and then cancel. Lots of people were up for it. All they had to say was “Yes” on a recorder. It didn't require filling out any forms, thank God.

Sometimes, when I got a real idiot on the phone getting abusive, telling me to never call again, instead of hitting the "Never Call Again" option I’d schedule a call for about 10 mins later. 10 mins later you’d hear someone in the call center saying "Oh My God! I just had some really pissed off customer on the phone. Someone called him just 10 minutes ago.” It was hilarious. Some days, I’d have pains in my stomach from laughing so much.

I also got another job bar-tending Friday and Saturday nights in a nightclub in Kings Cross. It worked out perfect. Not only was I saving money not going out to a bar, but I was also earning money working. I used to make the most awful tasting super strong cocktails. Some people loved them and tipped really well, and some would ask me to exchange for “something a bit more drinkable.” Then late one Saturday night, it got raided by the cops for serving after hours and they were closed down for a month and I never went back.

After a few months in Newtown, we decided to move over to Bondi Beach to another apartment right in the middle of all the action and next to the beach.
The beaches and the water were unbelievable. Hard to believe that you were in a city. Bondi was full of young backpackers from Ireland, England and Scotland on their one year working Visa.

I only worked for three months at the call center (that’s all our work Visa’s would allow on any one job) and now needed a new job. My buddies had all worked on the building sites and got me in contact with some labor hire agencies. I got a job as a laborer on a pretty big building site where they were building a hotel and luxury apartments. This was just before the Sydney Olympics 2000. The place was screaming out for construction workers. There was construction going on everywhere. Three or four different labor hire agencies used to call our apartment every day looking for more workers. After a few months of laboring, I bought $600 worth of tools off a Welsh guy who was leaving town and chanced my arm at being a carpenter on another building site. It was a good bit more money then laboring. I had met a guy while laboring who said I could work with him and he would basically carry me along. Of course I still worked, but he did all the technical work. I was basically laboring for him and getting carpenters wages from the agency. It worked out great for a few months and all we were doing was putting up sheet rock. Then, he got sick for a week and I was transferred to another site run by an English guy who figured me out after a few days when he asked me to hang a few doors and build a staircase (which I had never done before). Anyway, I got a great run out of it, learned a good bit and got paid more than laboring, so I couldn't complain. I ended up selling the tools for what I had paid for them to some legitimate carpenter from Ireland.

My next job was working on the building of a Buddhist Temple just outside of Sydney. It was a bit of a trek but easy work. I met a really cool guy there from the North of Ireland, Dermy Finn. Dermy was a hardy tough Irish lad that was a hard worker and well up for a laugh. The foreman on our job liked us and we got to work together all the time. We had great chats about growing up and the crazy carry on we both got up to and travelling stories, which were very similar. We became pretty good friends while working together. The Aussie foreman from our job, Pete, was going through a divorce at the time and was always looking for some wing men to go out on the town with him, so of course we obliged. He was a good bit older than us but loved hanging out and hearing our travel stories.


Dermy would always be talking about his friends who were living in San Francisco and a cool festival they would go to every year called the “Burning Man”.
I had never heard of it. He also mentioned that if I ever went to San Francisco that I should look up his friends. To be honest, I had never ever thought about going to San Francisco. The only thing I knew about San Francisco was from the TV show “The Streets of San Francisco,” which we watched sometimes when I was a kid.

After I had saved up some decent money, a few of us decided to go traveling up the east coast with a neighbor of ours from Dublin. He was a bit older than us, but well up for a laugh. He had an old Hiace van that could fit five lads and their bags comfortably. It was perfect.

We ripped up the East Coast like we were in the Cannonball Race. Some days we drove 1000 kilometers in one day and only saw about ten other cars on the road. It was desolate. We had a blast stopping off in some strange little towns along the way. We hit all the cool beach towns and drove inland to Mount Isa. Then we made our way to Ayers Rock, climbed the famous huge rock and hung around there for a few days.

At this stage, we were on the last leg of our round the world trip. We decided to make our way to Melbourne to fly out from there. Our next stop was New Zealand then Figi & Hawaii.

I learned a lot in Australia while I worked. Something that stuck with me most is: 1. Sales is a complete numbers game (the more calls you make
the more sales you get), and 2. There's no harm in trying (if a job isn't the right fit, you'll know)

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