I've changed the title of the last post to "Big Differences", because it was more about large cultural changes than "Life Down Under" per se. Also, I don't want to give the impression that we think Australia is like the States, because it's not. It is "New World" (like the States), as opposed to "Old World" (like Europe), which makes transitioning much easier for someone familiar with the New World system. It's hard to put a finger on where this place is like, especially as I'm told by many that Perth (and WA) is not representative of Australia as a whole. We've lived in similar places, so we often make comparisons. It's like the UK...but it's not. It's like Cape Town...but it's not. If there's one word to describe this place, it's "isolated." Isolation has many effects, and you can see them here. It's not wise to judge as an outsider (particularly as an outsider with a public blog; the spot on Perth is large and I don't know who's reading!). People here are VERY sensitive and protective of their corner of paradise, and who am I to question? One thing I will comment on is the closed attitude here, and it stems from this protectiveness. WA is naturally beautiful (as you've heard me go on about already), and Perth is relatively small. There is a small town feel to the area (particularly the western suburbs where we live) that makes it a great place for young families and of course outdoorsy enthusiasts. The boom in mining and oil and gas have brought a HUGE influx of people to Perth, but there is a bit of local backlash against the influx. People are not as relaxed as you'd expect in an outdoorsy place, and not as friendly as you'd expect in a small city/town either. British influence is heavy, but the politeness (even cold politeness) of the British is often absent. It's not that people are rude or difficult. It's just that they seem to be just as happy to interact with you as not. The welcome mat (if it was ever out) has been taken back inside.
The boom has had a big impact on local life, and not just in terms of population. You've already heard my rant about schooling and the sizable waiting lists (which have to be equally frustrating to locals who can't get their kids into certain schools either). Housing prices are insane. Starting prices in our area are above AU$1million, and those are "bargains". With the global economic downturn, the sellers' market here has dropped off significantly, but prices have remained steady. The rental market is still through the roof (around $1000/wk for a nice house isn't unusual). Prices on just about everything (food, clothes, etc.) are more than we saw in The Hague (which is itself high for Europe) and double (or more) what the same item would cost in the States. Cost of living is on par with Sydney, which has the 3rd highest cost of living in the world. Only this isn't Sydney; it's isolated WA. Think of paying the same to live on the US Gulf Coast as you do for New York City and you'll get an idea of why this seems crazy.
It will be interesting to observe life here over the next few years. Natural resource booms come and go. This one seems to be going, and it often takes its people with it. Many of the smaller companies have already stopped bringing in new people. Some are already sending people on to other places. Who knows how long we will stay, though we know we'll enjoy it while we do. Despite the intense sun, the weather is amazing. The place is awesome for my three kids (the oldest one is windsurfing as I type). Ellie loves running around the backyard in the buff, and she certainly couldn't do that in The Netherlands...nor would she have been able to in Sakhalin, had we gone there instead. And we finally got a school! We were told by insiders to stress my Montessori background on applications, and that paid off big-style. Three schools pushed us through the waiting lists and gave us offers. Ellie will start at the one closest to our home next term (Feb 2009). She was supposed to start this week and that didn't happen, but I won't go there. Plans change on us all the time here, and the best plan is to go with the flow as much as possible. Look at the pretty ocean, meditate...and try not to go mad. As the locals say, "No dramas." With a three-year-old in the house, we have enough of those anyway.