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Hi All,
I'm not an artistic writer, but rather a rambling chronicler, but I suppose that's ok.

My hubby and I have just come back from our visa activation trip, which we spent in Melbourne, the city we want to live in. We spent two weeks there, doing a few admin things and taking a second look around. (We also planned this trip in winter on purpose, since our LSD trip was in summer. We want to know what we're in for.)

All-in-all it was a good trip. But obviously not all of it was just good.

We activated our permanent resident visas, by entering the country. Then we activated our bank accounts, by showing up at our bank. We tried to register with Medicare, but they have a different definition of "residing" in Australia than DIBP has, so we were told to do that when we take the one-way ticket. Then we got our Victoria drivers licenses. That was basically the sum total of administrative things that we did. Tip: we got Aussie sim cards as soon as possible, which helped when filling out forms, and most importantly it gave us mobile data to run various apps and GPS navigation using our phones. We used Amaysim, which was by far the cheapest option for short term mobile data($2 sim, $9.90 for 1GB data that lasts 30 days), and it gave us good coverage for all the placed we visited. We did not venture farther than about 50km from the CBD.

But the experience is where the story lies. First, it was cold, it was :censored: cold! But we came with our warmest clothes, so we didn't die so much as just suffer slowly(they were warm, but not adequate for the Melbourne weather). I'm sure that we'll acclimatise within the first few years that we live there, but it is something we know now that we didn't know before the trip. And while we were sitting huddled together on the train we saw several locals wearing shorts/sportswear or t-shirts, so obviously now we also think the Melbournians are slightly crazy. :lol:

What struck us about the people was how friendly, open and trusting they were. We had two chats of approximately an hour each with total strangers that we met on public transport, and both times the chats turned out interesting and enjoyable. When we went to the bank to activate our accounts and give them an address they didn't ask for all 6 miles of FICA documents that we have to present here, they just gave us the paper and said: fill in your address please. (I know that the Aussie systems are mostly linked, and they do send you communication via the post, so yes it will bite you in the *ss if you lie, but just the unconcerned trustingness of the banking staff was amazing). We also had a good chat with the manager of the local branch of our bank. He was very friendly and very patient with us, although he did look at us slightly unbelieving when we asked him to explain Aussie loan structures to us. Turns out their finance is really simple, and the default structure is that if you repay more than your monthly obligation it automatically goes off the loan amount, not the interest. We encountered the same thing when inquiring about vehicle finance. They told us that it was a good option to take vehicle finance and pay the first year, to create a good credit record, and then if we have the funds to just pay the rest off in one go. Apparently they don't penalise you for paying a loan off early. (Yes, we went around and asked people how things work, just so that we would know something when we land there permanently next year) We did this in an attempt to lessen the shock of suddenly being in a totally new place. Perhaps some of it will help a bit.

We loved that everything just worked. The queuing was managed with a ticketing system (which has only recently arrived, only in our banks, in SA) and staff behind the counters were always friendly and seemed to want to help as many people as they could in a given day. As opposed to taking leisurely strolls to talk to colleagues, or just generally doing things as slowly as possible. (my personal experience of any government institution in SA). And even when things didn't work, they somehow did that better than what we're used to here. Just over an hour before our appointment for drivers license conversion I had a phone call from them saying that their system was down and that they would not be able to process us today. The poor lady on the line sounded like she had been yelled at a lot already that morning. But she booked us another appointment at a convenient location for us, and even kept our appointments together, all in a single phone call, well in advance of our appointment. And she also just believed me when I asked her to move the next appointment too, non of the suspicion and thousand questions that I expected. She also didn't even phone my husband to tell him I moved his slot, obviously she trusted that I would tell him, since I told her we are traveling together. That, I'm willing to live with. It's considerate. I can understand that things go wrong sometimes, but it drives me nuts when systems here go offline and nobody says anything, they wait for you to queue and get to the front of a counter and then just say: "oh, sorry the system is not working". And usually that was after you had put in leave to go do something, because even when things work they take so long. So yes, we were very happy with our experience of interacting with public systems in Melbourne.

Some of the things that were not so nice: Several aha-moments of reality sinking in. It's fine to know that you are going to leave your home and go somewhere far away, especially if that time is far off, and you haven't done anything official yet. But when you are there and your passport is stamped and you realise that this place is going to be your home(actually, it is your home, you are going back for a 'visit' to SA), you look at things differently. You don't see things like a tourist. Suddenly if the yards are shabby, you wonder if you can live with that as your neighbours. Or if there is graffiti you think: how disrespectful. We also started to engage with the environment a lot more. And we thought of our friends that will be far away, and things we'll miss. (I don't mean that these thoughts were debilitating or brought us to tears, just that they sunk in.) But in the end, we know it's the right choice for us to move. And we also know that there will be lots of things that we enjoy and appreciate about our new home, like forest walking trails and the easy assumption that everything works, just like it's supposed to. So we recon that given some time and experience the hearts will catch up with the heads and be happy.

So apart from the admin things that we did we also spent some time doing fun stuff and exploring. Point to note: the Melbourne CBD is very pedestrian friendly, so provided you are young and your fitness level is anywhere above just-off-the-couch, you will be able to walk to just about anything you need from the Southern Cross or Flinders Street train stations. A radius of about 4.5km covers just about everything and there are also trams that run pretty much over the whole CBD (with a free zone in the middle, so no need to tag-on or -off, in the centre CBD). We also looked at (drove through) quite a few suburbs just to get a feel for what the houses look like, how big the yards are, if the suburb gave us a 'good vibe' or not. Tip: We got the advice on this forum to look at a company called Melbourne Car Rental, they are about half the price of Hertz and Avis etc but the service quite acceptable. They make up the cheaper price by having an older fleet, so your car will be high mileage but clean and dependable. We also used the realestate.com.au app on our phones to look at house prices as we drove through the suburbs. I can really recommend the app to people who are looking for housing in Australia. It has a map view that shows you how many and where houses are available at a glance and has quite decent filter settings. On the topic of suburbs, I'm sure not a soul on the forum that has enquired about Melbourne suburbs has not heard of Sunbury ;). So I made polite enquiries with Mara and she offered to give us a guided tour. She and her husband were also happy to share some advice with us, based on their considerable experience, and were happy to answer questions we had about how things work (not to mention an introduction to coffee-dunked-Tim Tams, wowee!!!). I think they are quite a valuable asset to this community. So, Sunbury...We certainly can see the appeal in the suburb, especially for people coming from South Africa. The place is clean, open, peaceful (not dead, peaceful, like if you want to take a walk around your neighbourhood you will meet other people doing the same in a happy relaxed mood, without the running rushing buzzing of the inner city). The houses are very new, so they are built in a style that closely resembles what we get in SA, and there are new developments opening up, so ample opportunity for people who want to build their own homes. The rent is also downright cheap when compared to what you can get in any other suburb(that we looked at), without there being anything wrong with the property you will get, eg under $300 a week for a 3 bedroom stand-alone house, neat, new and with similar neighbours. It is about a 50min commute by train to the CBD, and some distance if you were taking a car instead. But that is about the same time it takes us here to commute 22km to work in Midrand in peak hour traffic. So we really do recommend that anyone moving to Melbourne take a look at Sunbury.

But as we confirmed on this trip: I want to live inside a forest. With the full knowledge of fire risks, and overgrowing gardens, and leaf litter and falling eucalyptus bark, and shady/dark days in winter, and the risk of a tree falling on my house(Fortunately hubby also likes forests, especially the walking and cycle routes, although he's not so keen on the fire hazards). We stayed at Clarelee Belgrave Accommodation like we did on the previous trip(because we love the surrounding area). And we explored the suburbs there, as well as the walking trails and sights. They have the 1000 steps walking trail and the Ricketts Sanctuary and the Dandenong National park basically on your doorstep. With enough mountain bike trails there to keep us very happy on weekends. Belgrave has the added bonus for us for being on the end-of-the-line for the train, so commuting to and from work in the CBD won't be much of a hassle. (also about 50min, same as Sunbury) So I think in the end we will try to find a plot of land in the Belgrave, Selby, Ferny Creek area.

We also met up with friends who had immigrated about 3 weeks prior to our trip, and had a good chat about their experience of moving and renting and finding furniture. It was really good to know we already have familiar people who live in Melbourne.

As we traveled I used advice and information that I gained from this forum on several occasions, and came to appreciate the value of a community like the SAAustralia forumites, thank you all for sharing your experience with newcomers.

This post (which ended up considerably longer than I thought it would) is titled Interlude, because when we were in Melbourne we thought that the trip was just a short interlude between long stays in SA, but now I think that the time we are currently spending here before the final move, is the actual interlude.

Apps and services that I would recommend:

PTV.....for Public Transport Victoria
Google maps....for navigation, they include toll route info that Apple maps lacks (at time of posting this)

Amaysim...for mobile data
Melbourne Car Rental
Clarelee Belgrave Accommodation

Small disclaimer: I recommend these things because they worked for us. It's a very good idea to also do your own internet research.

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Great post RedPanda.

Glad you mostly enjoyed your visit and had a positive experience. Can't argue with your views on the Belgrave area - very nice, and if you're happy to put up with the commute, the house prices are actually quite good!

Rest assured - as crap as winter can be, you get used to it... And the summers are really nice. So is Spring and Autumn, but any of the above can land on any given day. :)

If you live in the Belgrave area, winter is also a magical time, with wood fires, red wine and lots of mud to mountain bike in! :)

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Huge thumbs up for Sunbury, Mara and hubby!!! You should have spent more time in other cities as well, once your settled in Melbourne, you don't want to go anywhere else........

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Thank you for the lovely compliment Red Panda, we thoroughly enjoyed your visit and hope to see you again, once you arrive!

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Your feedback has made me so much more excited about our pending activation / settlement trip!

It is always so good to read everyone's perceptions and perspectives.

I don't think the graffiti will worry me as much as neglected yards.........I manage my expectation of the inside of the house based on what the outside looks like ( kind of how people look at hands in interviews and check whether people keep their nails neat and tidy )

Thanks too for the summary of services you used. I have been a realestate.com.au addict since last year already - it's a great app to get a general feel for the look / type of accommodation on offer per region, and that along with google street view has helped us draw up a short list of must see areas when we're there in September.

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