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Who's this person who says she can show me Sydney Australia? What makes her such an expert?
Hi, I'm Elle, and I'm not an expert.
But I'm a traveller, like you, and I know that travellers want independent, insider advice.
As a long-time Sydneysider I can help you make the most of your time - and money - while you're in Sydney. Let me show you things to do that are interesting, different and memorable.
Like so many others, I chose to come here. I was born in Amsterdam and emigrated to New Zealand with my parents when I was one. I grew up there and had my children while finishing my studies in Wellington.
And then it was time for hard choices. To stay and settle or to move on. Everything was possible.
With a new baby and a toddler we wanted warmth and good weather. And we wanted a place with good career opportunities.
Sydney fitted the bill on all counts. I'd been there several times: on holiday and en route to or from Europe and I'd loved what I'd seen. So we packed up bag and baggage, there wasn't really very much - two students with two littlies accumulate nappies and not much more - and off we went.
The first years were financially tough. But I discovered that you didn't need much money to enjoy Sydney. The nappies dried in no time and the best beaches in the world were close by. We used the library all the time. There was lots that was free.
We joined friends for picnics around the harbour, in parks in Sydney - Centennial Park, Nielsen Park, Parsley Bay - there were many wonderful places to eat, drink, talk, swim and play. We bought a little sailboat cheaply second-hand.
Australia Day, Sydney harbour
Launching the boat
Bushcamping with kangaroos
A simple tent helped us with going places. Holidays were spent bushcamping in the national parks nearby. The children grew, as children will. There were birthdays at the beach and at Luna Park and we slowly established ourselves financially.
I went back to work, we bought a house, went through a separation. The next years were busy, busy, busy.
Harbour view from my office windowThey were the high flying corporate years. Luxury hotels and unlimited expense accounts. The best restaurants, the finest wines.
But also long hours, many absences, intense internal politics: after fifteen years the rewards felt a little hollow.
A complete change was called for. My second career. I bought a small food service business. Food to take out, quick dinner ideas for people who didn't want to cook. Now it was all up to me.
The PAs were gone, support services had vanished; I was now all of those things. Everything had to be personally dealt with, from temperamental chefs to tax returns. Not forgetting PR, HR, SR (staff requests) marketing, bookkeeping, suppliers and customers.
More than all this, though, I found a totally different Sydney, with little resemblance to the high-flying downtown structure I'd known. It was peopled by independent operators, by those who laid everything on the line for their skill, craft or trade. With little interest in corporate games it was more relaxed, friendly and definitely more hands on. The one thing it wasn't was outrageously profitable.
Kings Cross Restaurants with JacarandasMy business was in Kings Cross. It was a hub for artists, musicians, writers and film makers; the location of most of the city's nightclubs and music venues and the site of some of its best restaurants.
It was also a hive of homeless kids; the center of illegal gambling joints (there was one in my building that got raided one exciting night) and Sydney's main red-light district. It was a raffish, rowdy, slightly seedy and very lively place.
I was there for more than ten years.
By then the children had finished their studies and left home to go on their own adventures.
I managed to organise my life so that I worked very hard for nine months of the year and for three months my wonderful sister took over my business. I spent those three months going places: holidays all round the world.
Then I started asking myself whether the hard-working nine months were really necessary. Who was I doing this for? Was I really having fun? Was this the best there was?The answer to the last question was clearly "no", but the implications were a little frightening. What would I live on?
I didn't have enough to see me through another thirty or forty years of life without working. But, equally, I didn't want to be a slave to a business any more.
There was only me left to consider and I wanted to live a full life before I got too old. I wanted freedom - to do what I wanted, go where I wanted and to work when I wanted. Could I swing it? Could I build a third career?
Diary extract: work possibilitiesIt took me months, years even, to work my way through this issue.
I wanted, I was scared; I thought 'maybe', I hesitated. I couldn't work out what this magical 'third career' could be. It had to meet so many requirements.
I learnt how to teach english as a second language. I made lists of things I could do.
On the left is part of a page of my diary of the time.
None of the ideas I had seemed like serious contenders, when it came to making a real living. Years of thinking hadn't provided an answer. But I knew that if I didn't do something soon it would be too late.
So I just took a deep breath and jumped.
I sold the business. While I was at it I sold the now-too-big house. I planned to live in a smaller apartment when I returned, one where I could just lock the door and leave when I felt the travel urge strike.
I sold all my books and cds. I sold or gave away just about everything - furniture, appliances, paintings off the walls. My boats were burnt right down to the waterline.
I figured something would happen if I just started out. My plan, such as it was, was to blow with the wind. No fixed times, dates, agendas. Life would supply my third career. I decided just one thing - to say yes to everything that was offered and to see where it led.
Well, it led me to some interesting situations:
Noble Silence defined
I'm among the survivors
After more than 20 years of living alone, quite without meaning to I bumped into an extraordinary man with whom I wanted to share the rest of my life. Luckily he felt the same way about me.
A happy couple in Sydney's Royal National ParkFor the past few years we've been doing a slow circumnavigation of the globe each year. Half in Sydney Australia (my place), the other half shared between Europe (his original place) and India (his Zen center). Then back to Australia and start again.
As a European he was able to get a 12 monthly eVisitor visa online, until his Australian permanent residency was approved.
It's all fun, but you see my problem. This is not conducive to any sort of regular, do-it-from-one-place paid work. I still had to find that third career. Work was not an optional extra.
The penny finally dropped while I was surfing the net for information on the Australian outback. We were stopping off there on our way back from India. I realised that anyone could create a website on their passions - in my case Sydney and travel - and turn it into a long-term business. One which could be done at any time, in any place.
So I did. I found the perfect vehicle through which to do it. A "spell everything out", "hold your hand till you understand" and "support you all the way" organisation that has taken me from knowing nothing to being able to put this whole website together. How good is that?
The website you're now on has been done by me from the ground up - all using the business model, ideas, training program and solutions provided by SBI! I'm completely hooked on SBI's fantastic system. And I love taking the photos, writing the pages, thinking of how you, my fellow traveller, might find your special Sydney through the site.
And guess what? Seeing how much I was enjoying this, my partner set up his own site using the same system: Zen Heart of Meditation.
So that's the story of how I got to build this site. I hope you'll enjoy it and find lots to interest you. And that you'll feel free to ask a question if there are things you want to know that I haven't covered. If you come to Sydney, or if you've been here, please tell about your discoveries as well - I'd love the site to be a lively forum.
If you want to keep up with my news and information, subscribe to my Sydney blog. Alerts for new pages will magically come straight into your inbox, and you can click on them for the full story if you're interested. Too easy!
See you soon in Sydney (some call it Sidney . . .)