Sydney: Working on the Bridge

14/11/08

Well I have arrived and started work in Sydney.  On the Harbour Bridge as a Climbing Guide, for those of you who haven’t yet heard.  I resigned from the police on 25th Oct, and got up here on Mon 10th Nov.  I’m staying with a friend in Newtown for the first few weeks.  It’s near the place I stayed at last time I lived here, and I love the area.  It’s so close to the city, a 20 minute bus ride gets me to work, and you can walk it although it takes a while.

We’ve had two induction days, with the 11 of us ‘newbies’.  Five guys and six girls.  I’m the oldest girl by five years, and the third oldest in the group (one guy is 29, the other 35).  We’re apparently a pretty small group, but hopefully a fun one.  Induction consisted of all the usual boring information overload, but we did get to meet all the managers and everyone is on a first name basis here, so it’s pretty cool.  Very friendly and happy.  Everyone certainly seems to enjoy their jobs and there is a nice vibe in the air.

We did the climb as ‘customers’ yesterday, and it was much easier than I thought.  We get these full length jump suits to wear so we blend in with the bridge and don’t cause a distraction to the vehicles below.  Everything you take up (hat, sunnies, hanky etc) is attached to your suit somehow, and I was quite impressed with the efficiency of the whole process.  Everyone gets to wear a headset to hear the commentry from the guide, so as well as enjoying the climb, I was trying to pay attention to what she did and when, where, how etc.  I’m so excited about getting to learn new information and processes, that I thought I’d get a head start!

During the climb you walk 1437 steps, though it certainly doesn’t feel like it.  You have photos taken at various points around the bridge, and there are many places you stop and listen to some story or interesting set of facts.  I have to learn all that information and we have a three hour exam on Dec 17 to see just how much commentary material we’ve absorbed.

I’ve been quite tired, with starting the new job, getting used to Sydney and public transport again, and checking out the gym up here, that it’s taken me a few days to write.  And lack of access to a computer too.  I really need to get a laptop again!  However, there really hasn’t been much of anything interesting to tell about the job yet.  I’ll be sure to let you know when there is, but until then, let me know of any questions you have and I’ll see if I can answer them for you yet.

I’m going to bed now, got a little sleep in for a 10 am start, but it’s a full day of commentary and conversational facts about Sydney, so my brain will be frazzled by the end of the day.

Chat soon, Bel

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19/11/08

Ok, we’re one and a half weeks into training, and there is sooooo much to learn!  I’m having fun and most of the people on the course are good, however I’m so tired each night just because of all the new things we’re learning each day.  I even have “homework” every night, quizzes going over material we learnt that day, and revising previous topics.  I spent the weekend up visiting a friend from a long time ago, who lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.  I slept so much I surprised myself, and came back refreshed and ready for 6am starts all this week!

Firstly, I’ll explain the gear we wear.  I must say, the police equipment belt has nothing on this thing…  We have a lovely suit to wear (I actually like mine, it’s like wearing pjyamas all day!), along with a compulsory “urban turban” (they are horrible but we HAVE to wear them any time we’re out on the bridge), sunglasses and a headset/ microphone combo.  Now each piece of equipment has an attachment strap that clips onto the suit somewhere.  You are not allowed to take ANY loose items up on the bridge, as anything that falls from the bridge has the potential to cause major havoc on the highway below.

We wear braces attached to the equipment belt (to even out the weight we carry) and on the belt we have a safety sling, a camera pouch including a first aid pouch, a radio pouch and radio, and a latch (similar to a ball and chain, for a visual image) to attach to the static line running the whole length of the bridge.  All of this equipment is attached to the climb leader harness (worn around your hips like a large belt), and is secured by double looping cords and ties around the belt and little plastic yellow carabiner clips to ‘D’ rings at select points on the belt.

On the rear of the suit from left to right on the harness, we have a water bottle holder and water bottle (both the holder and bottle are independantly secured to the belt), then we carry a fleece in case it gets cold, and on the right we carry a rain shell in case it rains like it did today.  We don’t take both out every time, we’re advised before each climb which, if any, we need.  Today was rain shells only.  In the centre of our back we carry a first aid water bottle, secured separately to the pouch, and is for customers use only.

We can also opt to take out gloves (clipped to each sleeve) and hankies (yes, like your Grandfather used to carry around), attached to the wrist with an elastic band.  The hankies come in handy, used to either wipe off sweat or rain, and can also be used to wet in summer to keep your face cool.  And depending on our groups, we may also need to carry medication pouches if customers have asthma puffers or any other medication they may need during the climb.

We went out on another climb today, starting to learn the practical side of it all.  We spent all of last week in the class room, and like I said before, we have heaps to learn.  So far we’ve had classes on keeping up our health and well being (I’ve been given ‘voice exercises’ to do so my voice stays in good nick – commentary will be nonexistent without it!), and on commentary and communication.  That is a massive part of our job, so there is a heap to learn.  We’ve been told to basically know about everything that can be seen from the bridge – and that’s a LOT!  I’m talking information about the bridge, Sydney and surrounds, regular events, one off events (eg, what’s that plane/helicopter flying overhead – or what’s that boat down there?), and information about Australia and travel in general.  We can radio someone and ask particularly weird questions, but I don’t want to be doing that every two minutes if I can help it!

One day was spent purely on the equipment we’ll be using.  Learning what each piece is, how we use it and how we fix it if needed.  And where we use it.  It took a whole day too, we had to dress each other up to prove we knew what we were doing.  We had a day on radio comms, not only learning about the radios and how to use them, but all the codes they use and when to use them too.  When we do climbs, there are certain points on the climb you have to radio into and give your location, and you have to be on time at each check point.  Plus these radios cut out after 30 seconds of continuous use, so we have to flick a switch on and off to re-activate it (the cut off gives control time to jump in if we have to get important messages, like evacuations off the bridge and so forth!).

Today consisted of a practical intro to the bridge, what spots we can stop and talk at, what we should be doing at each point etc.  Then the theory to match the prac session and a couple of hours on ‘anxiety management’.  The stats are that 5 in 100 people suffer from a fear of heights, so we’re likely to get quite a few of those people on our climbs.  There are evac points along the bridge where we can get people off if they just can’t continue, but apparently most people conquer their fears on the bridge.  I know some of you have mentioned you’re in that 5%, so why not come up and do a climb with me?

We are slowly receiving information to assist our commentary, and we have to do a 10 minute talk on a topic we were given (mine is Shipwrecks in Sydney Harbour), due at the end of next week.  If any of you have any good stories or know something about shipwrecks here, let me know!  Then we have to choose all our own commentary for the climbs.  I’m talking about 2 hours of information and stories.  There is certain safety information we have to give out at certain points, the rest is up to us.  And day climbs are different to night climbs in terms of commentary, as you see different things at different times.  Phew!  Talk about information overload (probably also for you, just reading this hey?!)

Now I seem to have forgotten to mention to some people that this is a three month seasonal contract, so I’m not moving to Sydney permanently, and at the end of the contract we may or may not be offered further work.  I’m obviously going to aim to be good enough to get offered further work, but we’ll wait and see.  For now it’s just enough to get my head around everything we have to learn.

This is the only job I’ve ever had where I’m guaranteed to get NYE off (because of the fireworks) but I may have to be back in Syd on the 1st of Jan, so will see if I can get a late climb on that day.  Will let you know as I do.

Ok, better run and get some of this homework done!

Cheers!

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