Stateside

Our time in Darwin ended sooner than we expected, thanks to a great opportunity that presented itself for my wife Julie. As it happens, the State of Wisconsin was looking for a forest economist – and the post would be back in Madison near family.

Of course, since I last posted here we have had a son, Emmett and travelled around Australia and Asia a bit. I have been working with the newly created Innovative Media Production studio at Charles Darwin University. Julie and I were working just a few buildings apart. Our son, who was now attending daily childcare was also on campus so we could all commute together, and often eat lunch together.

While our work and daily life was going great, it was hard to be so far from family with a toddler. Skype just isn’t enough for grandparents and we were beginning to outgrow the apartment unit we were in. We longed for the family-friendly Midwestern lifestyle that we grew up with.

In April Julie interviewed for the job. They asked for a second interview, which would have to be done via Skype, late at night due to distance and time zones. In May we found out that she was indeed selected for the role. We were thrilled, but also more than a little torn. Would this be the end of our adventures? As it happened, we got the email while on holiday in Hong Kong. We certainly wouldn’t be a stone’s throw from South-East Asia for some time again. And having done international moves in the past, we knew we were up for a huge amount of effort just to make it happen.

Now that the travel is over, and the boat with all of our stuff is on it’s way, we’re thrilled. Madison has so much to offer for a new family, and we feel like it’s a new place. When we left we were a young couple, more concerned about the best new restaurants than the best schools, so it has so far proven to be a new experience for us.

Our Next Adventure: Darwin, Australia

It is both sad and exciting to announce that my partner Julie and I have moved from Christchurch New Zealand to Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia. It was a tough decision to leave New Zealand, and we sincerely love the lifestyle there. If the people of Darwin are half as accepting of us we shall count ourselves lucky.

First, a bit about Darwin. If you’re not familiar with Australian geography, Darwin is on the very northern coast of Australia, across the Timor sea and just south of the island known as Papua, shared by Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Darwin is some 40 hours by road from the large Australian cities on the East coast, but few Australians would call it the Outback. Not just because “the Outback” seems to be a term for some location more remote than wherever you are (Wisconsinites might find parallels with “Up North”), but because it’s not as dry and dusty as you’d imagine.
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In truth, Darwin is either dry or wet, with a defined monsoon season (known as “the wet season”) and a long dry period. So at least the first 50km inland is more like Southeast Asia than the rest of Australia, with banyan trees, palms and other vegetation that you certainly wouldn’t associate with a desert. Brightly coloured birds land on coconut trees and saltwater crocodiles swim amongst mangroves.

So you’re probably asking the same question that everyone we meet asks: “What brings you to Darwin?” There are a lot of people moving to Darwin these days, the city is in the midst of a growth spurt, due to some major developments. Most recently a company called INPEX is building a gas pipeline for LNG, which requires some 2,700 workers to live and work in the area for the next three years or so. Others have come up to support the cities growth in other ways, building new apartments, staffing the newly expanded hospital and working in the now jam-packed supermarkets.

We’ve come because my partner Julie Ballweg (formerly Julie Rodenberg) was offered a position as a research fellow at Charles Darwin University, studying the decisions of runholders of the vast Northern Australian land leases. As she had recently completed her postgraduate work at the University of Canterbury on the decisions of forest landowners, she was looking for a new project. Being in a highly specialised field, it’s not often that you find work at the university where you had previously studied, in fact, doing so might actually be seen as undesirable. But aside from the practicalities of life, we were up for a bit of adventure, and the Northern Territory was unlike anywhere we’d ever been, so why not just move there!

As a web developer I’m in the unique position to have skills that are in demand nearly everywhere in the world, and since I can work from any internet connection, Darwin sounded like an exciting place to be.

Anyhow, I’ve been pretty quiet on this personal blog for some time, busy with other commitments, and making most of my commentary in 140 character snippets, but I’m determined to get a few posts out, if not to help someone else thinking of coming to the Top End, than to at least look back in a year and laugh.