Sydney: Decisions


Well after the excitement of the last email, and my newly acquired status of solo climb leader, things suddenly took a turn around a blind corner.  Later in the same day that I’d passed my two major assessments I answered a phone call that had me in tears.  I received a call from the people who ran my house in Melbourne (for those of you who don’t know, I volunteered for Mackillop Family Care, and in exchange for being a Lead Tenant in a house with two young people – who were under the care of DHS – I didn’t pay any rent).  I had told them I was going to be in Sydney for three months for my new job, and the call was to ascertain my commitment to the program as they were moving another kid into my house who needed constant supervision – and the question asked was whether I was going to be back in Melbourne by the 6th of Jan…  What a day to ask me that!

I’d just passed my climbs (and essentially my six week intensive training course) with exceptionally good reviews and now I was being asked to decide between giving up my new job that I was beginning to really enjoy – or giving up my house and life in Melbourne.  I have to say I spent a teary afternoon on the phone to mum while I explored the pros and cons of each option.  I was torn by the decision – I’d come to Sydney for this summer job as a way of opening doors in tourism, which was the avenue I’d decided to pursue after policing, and now I had to decide if I wanted to cut that opportunity prematurely short to go back to Melbourne.  I love Melbourne and my friends and family there, and my lifestyle was pretty well set up – however I didn’t have a job down there, nor the time to find one that wouldn’t bore me to tears after just five minutes.  And if I went back home before my contract on the bridge was up, I’d possibly be cutting off any immediate future chance of tourism work.  I had chosen tour guiding as an easy way of working while I travelled (though ideally I’d love to be paid to do travel writing or document my travels with video) and to say I’d worked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge would be a big bonus in future job applications.

After numerous messages and phone calls to friends (thank you again guys) I decided to stay on in Sydney, and give up my house in Melbourne.  Which meant I had to move all my stuff out of the house, and soon.  Luckily I’d booked flights to go home for a few days before Christmas, so I was able to pack up my part of the house then, and move it all back to my Mum’s house.  I sold a number of things on Ebay and got a few good prices for stuff I’d just had sitting around which was a bonus!

I was able to go to a family Christmas lunch that I’d originally thought I’d miss out on, and had a good afternoon with them all.  I’m very proud of all my brothers and sisters, and it was nice to have everyone in the one place for a few hours.  My grandparents were there as well as all the siblings’ partners, so it was a nice big gathering.  Three hundred fingers and toes all up!  I got some good photos as it’s always a mission to get everyone at once.  We are definitely a good looking bunch, and there are no possibilities that any of us were adopted – we all look too similar!  I must say I’m extremely happy to be the “Big Sis” of the family, as I’ve had the good fortune to watch the other six ‘kids’ grow up.  They will always be ‘the kids’ to me, and I get a lump in my throat when I think about how special each of them are to me.  Al – I always wanted you to be my older brother, ‘sporty, cool and kind’; Fliss – your determination and drive amaze me; Ern – I love your expressiveness; Jazz – you’re like my younger twin, you’ll get what you want out of life; Hayd – I admire how switched on you are; Igg – you’re beautiful, artistic, smart and stubborn.  I could go on for pages about you all; however I’m mostly just happy to be part of the family.

I flew back to Sydney on Christmas Eve, and worked until the 29th of Dec.  For those of you who are wondering how busy we were on Christmas day, the answer is BUSY!  I had two climbs and both were full (14 pax).  And it was constant all day – in fact every day was the same.  The busiest day we had 1540 climbers – that is a full group taking off every ten minutes for eighteen and a half hours!  Crazy stuff!  I had to do a night tail and one night lead then I was deemed suitably qualified to take night climbs on my own.  I was lucky in that most of my shifts consisted of a day and a night climb each time, so I’ve done a number of nights.  In fact, in the fortnight after New Year’s Eve, I was the last climb of the night four times over – so my hours were usually up at 10am, work from 4 or 5pm until midnight or 1am, and in bed at around 3am. Some climb leaders on the other hand haven’t done many nights at all.  Day climbs are really different to night climbs, but I don’t think one is better than the other – it’s the group as a whole that tends to make the difference.  Some groups tend to mix better than others, and that is where the variety comes in.  The psychology of the groups you take up is fascinating – that deserves a whole email on its own!

There are 1437 steps during each climb, yet as a climb leader my guess is we do an extra 200 – 300 steps as we’re walking back and forth a lot.  Admittedly they are small steps, yet my legs still get tired.  Especially if you do a three climb day – but by the end of those days you’re worn out to the core, and feel a little delirious!  I found myself asking the first climber (the one immediately after you on the line) of the third group if I’d told this story or that one as I just couldn’t remember!!  Two climb days are nice – it means seven hours work, but three climb days a bit much – that means a ten and a half hour day of managing up to forty-two people in total.  Every day at work I’m maintaining safety, completing a standard climb (or more if something unusual happens), providing commentary, taking photos, learning each climbers name and interacting with each person on an individual level as much as possible.  Add to that the physical demands, dealing with potentially different weather on every climb, and maintaining a happy persona for each group – I will maintain that I’ve never had a job that has rendered me so tired after every shift.  But I like it.

This job is teaching me a number of things too – firstly I’ve had to get used to meeting new people, interacting with them for two and a half hours, then saying goodbye – and NOT collecting future contact details.  Those who know me well will know that I struggle to do that, and when I travel I come home with heaps of phone numbers and email addresses – I may not ever contact those people again, however it makes saying goodbye easier if I have a way of contacting them in future if I so desire.  I don’t have that possibility in this job.  Each climber fills out a feedback form (well they all get one, they don’t always fill it out) to rate the quality of the climb, their climb leader (me) and any other staff.  There is a section for them to put their contact details, and some do, but they are not always the people whose contact details I’d like to have.  And I’d feel a little awkward using them as they weren’t given to me directly.

The second thing I’ve learnt comes from those feedback forms.  I’m not sure that the climbers realise that each and every single thing written on their forms gets read (by me, other staff, and management) and collated.   There is a tick box section on the front of the form, rating the climb, my knowledge, helpfulness and attitude, other staff, value for money etc.  Most climbers rate everything fairly highly (excellent or very good), though the ‘other staff’ and ‘value for money’ sections sometimes take a beating.  However, occasionally a climber will rate one of my sections as very good while the other two boxes they check as excellent.  I’m baffled as to why.  If its knowledge they mark down, I try to think if they asked me a question I couldn’t answer (which doesn’t happen very often, and if it does I can radio control and ask them), and if it’s helpfulness or attitude they mark down I try to recall if something happened that would have caused that box to be ticked.  And that is if I know who filled out the form.  So I’ve learnt not to pay too much attention to that side of the form, and concentrate more on the reverse side.  The reverse of the form has blank spaces for them to comment on me, other staff and their experience, and to leave their details.  This is what counts in my mind.  If someone takes the time to write a sentence or two, I’m especially grateful, and so far everything I’ve had written is good.  It can be a great self confidence booster, and sometimes you get comments from people you didn’t expect to write anything.  I’ve taken to photocopying the really good ones, or those where the climber has been particularly pleased with something, as they are nice to read when you need a reminder that you do do a good job – and if the group has been particularly difficult but one or two climbers make the effort to write something that can make a world of difference.

So the lesson for everyone: if you’re asked to fill out a feedback form it probably holds more weight for someone than you realise, so be kind and take the time to write something extra.  Of course if you’re not happy, say so, but put your name to it as that helps to take the sting out of it for the person who has to deal with the repercussions.

Until next time, enjoy the sun while it’s out 🙂



A big advantage of working on the bridge is that we are guaranteed to get the 30th and 31st of December off, as we stop climbing so the fireworks can be put up on the bridge.  For those who are interested, the fireworks are put on the northern half of the arch during the two weeks before NYE (we don’t climb on that half of the arch), then ‘they’ work 48 hours around the clock to put the fireworks up on the southern half during the 30th and 31st of Dec.  After the display goes off, they have about seven hours to clear the remnants off the southern half, before we start climbing again on New Year’s Day.  It’s amusing to think that the ‘Sydney Fireworks’, which are watched by millions around the world, are dictated and restricted by my job…

So of course I flew back to Melbourne for NYE as  I wanted one last party in the house as I’d promised friends I’d be there.  I remember mum telling me off once when I was in primary school, for making a lax promise to someone about something (I don’t remember the particulars, just the lesson I learnt).  She explained to me the virtues of making ‘promises’ and how hurtful and disappointing it can be when they are not fulfilled, and ever since I’ve always tried hard not to even say the P word unless I’m certain I can follow through with whatever I said I’d do.  So it was back to Melbourne I went.

I really need to find some way of getting cheap or discount flights – I tend to fly with Virgin because they are cheap yet more reliable than Jetstar – and I cringe when I think about the amount I’ve spent on flights in the last couple of years.  However, every trip home was worth it, and this one was no different.  I had THE BEST New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had!  It was a novelty not having to work, and I had all my good friends in Melbourne over to party.  Paul deserves a special mention, and thank you, for hanging out with us girls until the rest of the boys arrived – well done!  I got up early the next morning and made pancakes for which a few showed up.  I was pleased to have you guys around for my last morning in the house; you provided a nice distraction and kept me from getting too teary too soon.  I love organising and hosting parties and BBQ’s, yet I always feel dismal the next day – those months and weeks of planning and excitement have come to an end, culminating in an awesome event which is followed by a strange emptiness the next day.  Add to this the knowledge that I was walking out of my house and into a nomadic lifestyle once again, with all my worldly possessions scattered around at various friend’s houses, and you could say I was a little emotional.

I flew back to Sydney on New Year’s Day, and had two climbs that afternoon which were difficult.  I was tired, and all the climbers seemed to be either tired or hung over and not particularly interested.  I did wonder why they’d pay good money to participate in a physical activity when they knew they weren’t going to enjoy it – I on the other hand was being paid to do what they’d given up money for, so I just had to grin and bear it!  I worked every day after that, as we were open for 24 hours during the first four days of January – the first climb of the day started at 3.35am, and the last climb for the night returned at 3.25am – crazy stuff!

We do two types of climbs, the first is the one everyone knows about, up over the top chord of the arch, and the other is on the lower chord and is more through the ‘middle’ of the bridge – it’s called the Discovery (disco) Climb.  We don’t get much training for the disco climbs, as it is essentially the same, only the photos and the path along the bridge is different.  However, we all were still worried when we got allocated our first disco climb because of the lack of training, yet everyone just said “you’ll be fine” and I took that advice literally.  My first disco was with four young guys from England, all friends who were travelling around Australia together.  Four pax vs. 14 makes a huge difference timing wise, so I didn’t have to worry about that, but less people also means you have to have more commentary to fill in time as you move around the bridge. The climb was ok, but I’ll have to do a few more disco’s before I decide if I like them or not.  They are just different to the standard climb, the way day and night climbs are different.  One is not better than the other, they both just have different positive and negative aspects.

It was around this time that I began to feel settled in Avalon.  I had the buses down pat, knew the timetables, and I was starting to feel at home in NSW.  The buses I found interesting, I’d never really caught buses in Melbourne, it was always trains and trams when I needed public transport, yet up here buses are the go.  I’m not sure if the ticketing system in Sydney is better than Melbourne; I tend to think Melbourne still wins that category, as you have to buy tickets up here to specific stops rather than just a zone one or two where you can hop off whenever you like.  Anyway, Avalon is almost at the end of the bus line (last suburb before Palm Beach, where Home and Away is filmed), and it’s an hour and ten minute ride from the city on a good run.  An hour and a half on a bad run.

What amazes me up here is that everyone says thank you to the bus driver when they get off.  He may have been a crap driver, or the slowest in history, yet everyone says thanks or waves to him when they get off.  Strange, but interesting.  The drivers will also let a whole heap of drunk kids on for free at times.  When they stop at the big pubs on Friday and Saturday nights and there are a whole heap of kids getting on, they just wave them on the bus and don’t worry about tickets.  I was amazed at first, but it makes sense when you think about it.  It speeds up the process, avoids drunken arguments, and it tends to put the kids in a happier mood and ultimately makes the ride home more pleasant for everyone.

Late on Christmas Eve there was a car crash which blocked the road and the bus couldn’t get through.  The bus was a double one (joined in the middle with a concertina type rubber) so the driver couldn’t back up the street and he was just going to have to wait for the cops to clear the road.  I’d flown up from Melbourne that day, had done two climbs and was tired and had to start early the next morning, Christmas day, and I was not pleased about the situation.  We’d just picked up a bus load of kids from the pub and the driver had the unfortunate task of telling everyone that they were going to have to walk as he couldn’t get the bus through.  I was the only sober person on the bus and I was annoyed.  I hopped off and started walking, hoping to either get the next bus coming along, or a taxi.  Now the next bus was at least half an hour away and taxis don’t seem to exist that far up the Northern Beaches.  Plus I had one hundred or so drunken idiots also fighting for anything that remotely looked like a taxi.

I was dragging along my small suitcase that I’d just bought back up from Melbourne, and was getting angrier by the minute.  I called friends in the vain effort to ask them to come pick me up, but everyone who answered the phone was not in any state to drive, and although extremely apologetic, was not helpful.  I rang every taxi number I could think of to no avail.  I couldn’t even get through to speak to someone, probably because everyone else was also calling the same numbers.  I tried hitchhiking, but every car that drove past was full and not likely to stop for me when they saw how many other kids were out and would naturally presume I was just another drunk.  I wanted to scream!  I was sober as a judge, tired from working all day, sick of dragging my suitcase around, annoyed that the idiot who crashed his car caused me this extra drama, and cold.  I did consider sleeping on the side of the road and just catching the bus back into the city in the morning, however I was only wearing shorts and a singlet as it had been hot that morning, and now it was spitting with rain.

I briefly considered knocking on doors asking people to let me in until the next bus came along, but dismissed the idea just as quickly.  To be honest I wasn’t even sure another bus would come along, as it was so late and was Christmas Eve after all.  So I was left with no option but to walk.  It was a twenty minute drive back to Avalon, so I figured it’d take me about an hour to walk, which would give me about five hours sleep before I had to get up again and go back to work.  I tell you, I was not happy.  My mood was the foulest it had been in a while.  So I walked.  And walked.  And walked.  Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, though they were full of grog and didn’t seem to mind as much – and I’m sure none of them had to work in the morning either.  I’d trudged up the hill for about half an hour (walking on the road mind you as there was no footpath, and I was still flirting with the idea that some kind soul might give me a lift), when I saw bus headlights coming towards me.  I was not anywhere near a bus stop, and I wasn’t even sure the driver would see me on the side of the road, so I stepped out into the middle of the road and waved my arms like a mad woman.  I wasn’t going to let my last chance of a lift slip by.  I didn’t even care if I had to pay for the ride again, I was so desperate not to be walking.

Thankfully the bus driver saw me, and stopped the bus so I could get on.  I saw many of the same faces I’d seen earlier, those kids obviously hadn’t even gotten off the bus in the first place.  But by that stage I didn’t care.  I could have kissed the fat, hairy, old man driving the bus I was so happy!  The rest of the trip was much the same, with the driver stopping at random places along the road to collect more kids who’d managed to traipse further than I had.  In fact everyone was so grateful that they all started singing to the bus driver.  It was a combination of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and random Christmas songs, mixed with various cheers and hip hip hooray’s for the man.  I have to admit, I was pretty pleased myself.

Avalon itself reminds me of a combination of a country town, where people still say hi when you walk past, and an uppity beachside resort, with plenty of tourists and English teens making their way to Palm Beach to see the famed Home and Away location.  On weekends I walk past the local bowling club where you see men and women in their latter years playing bowls, and if they are not intent on their next play they will say hello if you’re within hearing distance.  The place is so small that you’re classed as either a local or not, and everyone who is local seems to know every other local’s business.  I’m fortunate to be Dale’s friend, because she’s a local, so I get immediate acceptance from other locals, yet no-one knows much about me other than I’m the one who ‘climbs the bridge for a job’.  Although when some of the ladies up here say it, it’s more like “She climbs the Harbour Bridge for a living” with one eyebrow raised in consternation!

Now it was around mid January when I decided my next trip was going to be to America, to visit my good friend Han in L.A.  I can’t remember exactly what prompted that decision, but it was made, and tickets were booked.  I had to wait for my sister to decide on her wedding day, and I leave a week after that.  I’ll be gone for winter, and back in Australia for next summer, so those of you wanting to climb the bridge will have to do so before the start of June.  I had some decisions to make with regard to working on the bridge, as my current contract was ending on February 10th, and that date was soon approaching.

We’d received notification that if we wanted further work on the bridge we had to submit an expression of interest saying so, and we had to state any planned holidays for the rest of the year and next summer, as a condition of remaining employed was our availability to work during the next peak period of Dec to Jan.  I had just booked a four month trip to the States, and I had heard something about only being allowed to have three months leave at a time.  I had a dilemma.  Did I submit a letter stating I was going away for four months yet was available to work here next summer, or did I not tell them about the holiday which would guarantee me further work??!!  My conscience won in the end, and I put in a letter telling them of my four month holiday, naively thinking that surely they wouldn’t terminate my employment based on that fact alone.  After submitting that letter I spoke to a few people at work who said I should have kept quiet about my holiday and that it was highly possible I wouldn’t be re-employed.  I played the waiting game, and since I hadn’t received a phone call to say the four month holiday was going to be an issue, and would I consider changing it to three months, I thought I was fine.

I’d become good friends with one of the trainers, and he called me in the office one day to have a chat.  He’d overheard the bosses talking and saying that anyone who wanted more than three months off was not going to get work after Feb, and said it’d be advisable for me to go and speak to the boss about changing my holiday if I wanted to remain employed.  So I did.  And was glad I did, because I was told in no uncertain terms that the maximum length of unpaid leave we’re allowed from the bridge is three months – any longer than that and we’re considered to have resigned and we have to re-apply to work here again.  With my proposed dates to go OS, I wouldn’t be back in time to re-apply, and would therefore not be able to work the peak period, which would disqualify me from being employed past Feb.  Phew.  BridgeClimb sticks by their rules, that’s for sure.  I was told that if I submitted another letter saying I only wanted three months off I’d remain employed.  Now I’ve been told I’m too honest for my own good, and it may be true, but I have to be comfortable with what I do and I’m not particularly good at lying.  So, I submitted another letter saying I was able to change my holiday to three months (not that I would).  But as I’ve mentioned before, I detest being forced to do anything, and that was what I felt was happening.  I won’t be changing my holiday, and I won’t be returning to work on the bridge next summer.  It’s also a rule of mine that I don’t repeat jobs, therefore once I leave any job it’s for good, and I move onto something else.  So Han, I’m still coming over for four months, don’t you worry about that!  Besides, who knows what they want to do next summer – certainly not me – its ten months away and anything could happen between now and then!

Now I just had to wait and see if that letter passed scrutiny!

Bel xo

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