Can you fix it: Australia's gold is for the fool

Last updated 05:00 11/10/2012

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I hear a lot of people talking about Australia, telling the checkout operator that their brother-in-law earns $80,000 driving forklifts on the night shift or perhaps laying drains in Alice Springs.

Whenever I hear these stories and see the checkout operator's eyes wistfully flashing dollar signs I always think about the Oklahoma dust bowl farmers in "The Grapes of Wrath": travelling to California on the back of a jalopy, dreaming of ripe peaches plucked fresh from the tree but ultimately winding up lonely, sad and destitute.

These visions are based on experience. When I left university, barely in possession of an engineering degree, I could not decide what to do with myself. So I sold my car, did a couple of weeks work on the farm for some loose change and then hopped on the plane for Melbourne. Six weeks later, salty and sunburned I found myself in Queensland with a job as a graduate mining engineer.

My first (and last) assignment was working in a coal mine in inland New South Wales. It was cold, bleak and dangerous. I worked twelve to fourteen hours per day, seven days a week and lived in a hotel room. I earned a good salary for a graduate, but as I was working huge hours the effective hourly rate was terrible. I didn't know anything about the job and I wasn't provided with any form of instruction. I got along okay and believe I made a good fist of it, but I hated everything about the place - hated its grim blasted landscape, hated the coal grit in the cold air.

I parted ways with the job soon after returning to Queensland and realised something important:  that I must choose a job that I care about otherwise I would never be happy. After searching for months I found a job in Brisbane as an acoustic engineer with a company that valued me. I earned about half as much in total but I found I was useful and happy in the work. However I was not happy in Brisbane and returned home as soon as I had gained sufficient experience.

In New Zealand I found this experience opened many doors for me. I was able to easily find work that I enjoyed in my profession. Now I was working in a job I enjoyed and living in the place I wanted to live in. I climbed mountains, fished and drank good beer - three things that are simply not possible in Australia.

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I now have a young family and I choose to work part time. I earn a good salary here and, while I believe I might be able to earn a little more in Australia, I have no desire to choose money over happiness. In my short life and career, every time I have chosen a path for reasons other than money I have wound up better off and happier.

The obvious reason for this is that money won't make you happy. This means that Australia probably won't make you happy either.

My advice is this: if you are just starting out, travel. If you choose to work in Australia consider first whether you like the work and whether you can bring the profession home. Because believe me, you will want to.

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