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Category Archives: work

nurembergmapa.jpgThe last time that the Federal government changed, I was working for it. I was a public servant in the Tax Office. I was also quite an active union delegate. And in that capacity, I was attending protest marches which opposed government policy.
After maybe a year, I realised that I couldn’t work for a government in the morning, and attend a protest against that same government in the afternoon. From then, I made the decision to not work for a government I wouldn’t vote for.

As you can imagine, in a city like Rome, where more than half the economy is centred on the government, that restricted my options over the last decade. That is part of the reason I left and went to Jerusalem.

Last night though, I watched Thank You For Smoking. It’s a crap movie, I wouldn’t recommend it. But in it, there was a line that so many of the world’s evils have been done in the name of paying the mortgage. So much of what we do which we wouldn’t otherwise is done simply in the pursuit of a pay-cheque.

When I returned to Rome, and began looking for work, some employment agencies found it odd that I told them I wouldn’t work for certain government departments. I wouldn’t work for Immigration (the worst of the worst!), Workplace Relations, Defence. Mainly because these organisations – under the Howard regime – were guilty of the worst crimes against the citizenry. Too many Romans though view their work as “I’m doing what I’m told” or “I’m just implementing the government policy”.

Where does collaboration end? And how deep do we have to be in before we can no longer rely on the Nuremberg defence?


Last month, I promised I’d tell a story about my time at Duntroon. And since I like telling stories, here goes…

Once upon a time, I was working in the publishing area of the College. My job was to publish documents for the College. Things like exam papers, the little booklets they hand out to visitors at things like the Beating of the Retreat that we went to last month, that kind of thing
While working there, I was the only civilian in the office with 4 military people and the uniformed ones had some issues realising that being a civilian meant I didn’t live under exactly the same rules as they did. I didn’t have to show up at 7am for a run around the oval. I didn’t have to salute. I had set working hours, and when they were done, I was entitled to go home and unpaid overtime was something I could refuse to do.
As a result of this difference in status, there was some friction between me and my boss, Staff Sergeant Jacqui Van Beukering. So when I was told to do a publishing job that wasn’t for the College, but was a menu for a cafe run by the wife of a College staff member, my refusal to do so was taken poorly. We argued. I told her what she was instructing me to do was misuse of College resources, and I refused to carry out her orders.

Those of you who have worked for the Imperial government will know that refusing an instruction can result in disciplinary measures. I fully expected my actions to be examined and I was pretty secure in my position. I was also prepared to argue my case. After all, I was a union delegate at that stage, for all civilian staff in the College, so standing up to the hierarchy wasn’t something that overly concerned me.

Staff Sergeant Van Beukering’s boss, Captain Davis was called in. The issue was discussed. I stood my ground. The Captain instructed me to publish the cafe menu. I refused. So a union official was bought in. The union official backed my position. The soldiers wouldn’t alter their position, neither would I. A circuit breaker was needed. The Captain suggested the issue should be “investigated” and until the matter was resolved, I was sent home on full pay.

This may seem odd to those who have never worked for the government. But I was sent home. I was being paid. But I didn’t have to go to work. I originally thought this situation might last a day or two. I had underestimated the situation.

A few weeks later, while still on paid “leave” (although not actually using up any leave) I was chatting to a mate of mine who worked for the local MP. I told him that I was being paid, but didn’t have to go to work. So, since it was an election year, was there anything the Party could use my time for? He put me in touch with a chap named Justin who worked for Mr Beazley, the Leader of the Party at the time.

I met Justin and began to work a day or two a week in Beazley’s office. I loved the work though, so I expanded the days I was there until I was pretty much full-time. They weren’t paying me, but I was being paid by the College, so I didn’t care.

My role at Parliament House grew and grew until I was administering all the volunteer staff, using them not only for my role with Justin in media monitoring but also lending them out to Shadow Ministers like Faulkner, Latham, Evans, Lee and Kerr for research work – essentially the way a temp agency works. Only my volunteers weren’t paid more than their lunch money – they were just doing it because they loved it. But being uni students who were all passionate about politics, they were living their fantasies since every day they came to work, they were spending time with the Party leaders and MPs.

After several months, the issue of the refusal to follow instructions was resolved and I was advised I was able to return to work at the College. But by that time, I was working 115 hour weeks in Beazley’s office and so when I told Justin I had to go, he offered to add me to the payroll, so I could be paid to do what I previously was doing for the love of it. Naturally, I took up the offer.

So returning to Duntroon last month reminded me of how it was the stepping stone to a path that provided one of my great adventures. It was ten years ago. But I don’t regret leaving there. I guess even the smallest steps can take us places we never expect. We have to be prepared to take that step when it comes though.

My primary housemate – Steve – is ex-army. He’s trained mainly in communications (that means he’s done a lot of electronic work, intercepting other people’s communications I think). He’s also spent a lot of his army time in the special forces. He’s now a civilian, but you can easily tell he’s army to the core.
The other night, he asked me what I did, and what my “speciality” was. Now, I’ve thought about this question a bit. Truth is, I don’t have one. And as Willett said recently “Based on my list of experience I am actually not perfectly suited to anything.”
In the last twenty years, I have (not in order) pumped gas, organised cargo to go to various places, been a radio DJ, operated a printing press, done quite a bit of desktop publishing, been a PA, been a union organiser, a courier, a cab driver, managed rock bands, been a political staffer, ran a volunteer army for a senior politician, sold mobile phones and computers, worked in call centres for tax, accounting, superannuation, mobile phones, salary packaging and internet tech support, hunted down missing people, been a full-time parent, sold radio advertising, catering planning, ran a business doing computer-support house calls, and I am sure a lot more.
But the reality is, I haven’t specialised in anything. I have never considered it to be an impediment to anything. Except maybe if I went on The Einstein Factor, I wouldn’t know what to make my special subject. The closest I have come is the night I won The Challenge with Tony Delroy. But I’ve told that story before.

As most of you would be aware, I now work for a small ISP. As part of the salary package, I get an uncapped broadband account. In this country, “uncapped” and “unlimited” broadband is frequently advertised, but almost never delivered, so this benefit is a pretty cool thing in my opinion.

Having moved house on the weekend, Monday I applied to get ADSL installed. In the last four years, my new housemate – Steve – had asked several times to get ADSL installed, and each time, the Evil Empire said “not yet”.

Then, on Monday, the very day I submitted the order, Steve got a call from Bigpond saying “Hey, we can now give you broadband!”. Obviously, me applying sent the signal to the evil empire, so they tried to hijack the application and steal a potential customer.
In any other industry, this kind of abuse of information would be illegal. In our industry, it’s par for the course.

I’ve worked there three days now. It’s a permanent full-time job, so I suspect there’ll be a lot more. The most remarkable thing about the job is I am yet to find a reason to dislike it.

In the past, I worked in an ISP owned by The Evil Empire, which I found to be the most dysfunctional company I’ve ever worked for. Everything the staff said was regimented and scripted. Accepting blame for mistakes was forbidden & they measured ‘rapport’ with customers by how many times the customer’s name was used. Times for shifts, breaks, calls, everything were all measured and staff were answerable for everything they did, however trivial. Customers were routinely lied to (at significant financial cost to them) if the truth conflicted with the corporate image.

Here, mistakes and breakdowns are admitted to. Honesty and fairness to customers is the modus operandi. The customers are dealt with as if they were real people. Nothing is measured except whether the customer base (and therefore revenue) is going up or down. We’re free, not slaves. And the customer’s mood is the indicator of ‘rapport’ – although noone’s listening, so noone’s measuring it anyway.

The pay’s reasonable (not fantastic, but it goes up after 3 months) but the perks like the uncapped broadband account are fabulous. We’ve got complete control over our work PCs (mine’s already got MSN installed, and there’s none of this stupid proxy-server nonsense). I could blog from work if I were so inclined (I haven’t yet, but I may do soon). And today, I found out my boss is a former junkie on Eve – so I’m able to learn more about the game by chatting at work. I also never thought I’d get another job that was so free about my email-ping-pong addiction. 🙂

Anyone want a job?

I may stay a while.

Ever have one of those days where things just shit you? I usually get them on Tuesdays. But today, I copped it a day early. Stuff like:

  • Going to a job interview where the agency said it was one thing, and it’s something differently entirely, including worth $15K less;
  • Trying to get my favourite sub only to find out that Subway have ditched it from their menu;
  • Re-discovering Rome’s awful public transport system, and it’s as bad as I remembered or possibly worse, especially outside peak hours;
  • Uncertainty about which of the two new houses I want to move to – pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, good and bad;
  • Drafting several blog posts but them not coming out the way I want; and finally..
  • vtech-bob-the-builder-mobile-phone.jpgAt the beginning of the year, I got a new phone. A second phone. With Optus instead of Vodafone. I figured that all the companies suck, it’s just a matter of degree. And I wanted another number because, actually, I don’t remember why, but I did. So I got an Optus pre-paid and hardly used it. Until I was dating Alderney, and her ability to call Optus numbers for free was useful, because she could use that number. So she was the only person I gave the number to. In fact, if I need the number for whatever reason, I have to go hunting through my g-mail account to find the email I sent to myself telling me the number.
    As some of you may know, when registering a pre-paid SIM card, you give your address as part of the process. I did. And after I’d had the Optus SIM for a few weeks, I started getting calls. A girl asking if I was someone (I don’t remember what the name was) from <my Jerusalem address>. And when I said I wasn’t, and she had the wrong number, she would hang up. Before I could ask more details, to find out who she was or who the person she was looking for was.
    Because no-one except someone who has access to Optus’ database would be able to link that number to that address, I assumed it was an Optus employee who was trying to track down a previous resident of my place.
    Since then though, I’ve been receiving calls (originating number suppressed) in bursts – several in one day, then nothing for a week. The phone rings once, then stops. Happens every time. So I rang Optus and complained tonight.
    Result: they claimed none of their employees would do something like that (because we all know if you work for a phone company, your ethics are impeccable) but they changed my number anyway. But I had to debate with them about the $50 fee they usually charge to change a number.

See – the world’s just pissing me off today. Must be a sign I need an early night. So goodnight everyone.

As outlined below, I’ve just moved to Rome, and am seeking a new job. I’ve run into a problem today though.

Monday morning next week, I am meant to start a temp assignment at one federal government department. It’s only for 3 days, and is unlikely to extend beyond next Wednesday.
But I just got a call, and *another* agency has lined up an interview with another federal government department for 9.30 Monday morning. This position is for a longer contract – several months.

What would you do? Comments and suggestions please

In Jerusalem, I temped for Select. I was sent on a three-week assignment for them in August 2005 with the provincial Government, and I stayed just short of two years. In that time, I found Select Jerusalem to be ridiculously inefficient, but it didn’t matter because my manager at the government office made everything run smoothly. Before leaving Jerusalem for Rome, I contacted the Rome office, and was told everything would be smooth to transfer over and get an assignment in my (re)new home town.

So as soon as I arrived in Rome, I went to see them. They were keen, but two weeks later, haven’t managed to get my file transferred from Jerusalem. To be fair, this could be the incompetence of the Jerusalem office, but it hardly instills faith in the locals.

The same day I went to see the Roman Select people, I went for a preliminary meeting with Hays. They were much more cooperative and I held more faith that they’d deliver something. In fact, since that day, I’ve had 3-4 calls from Hays asking if I wanted to be put forward for positions, and none from Select.

Monday this week, having left Select and Hays to sniff out vacancies for me, I tried something new. I sent letters to all the employment agencies in the Yellow Pages. Result: a phone call Monday afternoon asking me to go see Sarah at Ambit.
So Tuesday first thing, I went and Sarah suggested a vacancy with the Evil Empire. And since I’m not that keen on the location or the company, I felt a bit despondent. I wandered the city (and Rome’s really bleak some mornings,  this was one of them) and then decided to head back to Caerulia’s rather than spend all day in the city waiting for her to finish work. But the phone rang – Min Ai from Hudson wanted to speak to me. So I went into their office, did an interview and some tests (better results than usual) and met some of their people. They suggested some jobs they wanted to put me forward for. Hudson made a good impression, and I know Alderney found them good when she dealt with them in Jerusalem.

While doing the tests, another company I’d emailed on Monday rang – Kowalski Recruitment. So I made an afternoon appointment, and after lunch, I went in and saw them too. More tests, even better results than in the morning, and more jobs they wanted to put me forward for – including an office manager job out in the industrial sector of Rome (almost across the Tiber).

This morning, I got another call from Hays, and they offered me a few days work next week. Sure, it’s not a long-term thing, but it’s a good indicator they’re actively seeking options for me. And I’m broke enough that three or four days paid work will be something worth getting out of bed for.

Possible jobs are slowly emerging. I’d forgotten though how Rome moves at a pace the rest of the world would describe as positively tectonic. There’s a policy job with one government department, a research job with a charity and another I’m going to check out in the morning. And each moves at their own pace with their own processes. All I can really do is wait. So I have a lot of time to myself.

One way I’m filling that time is rediscovering cooking. It’s been a while since I had a gas-fired kitchen at my disposal. Tonight, I’m making a lamb roast for Caerulia, Lucius and myself. A lot of food, so it’ll be quite a feast hopefully. We invited Olivia, but she had a rough weekend, so is taking this evening to relax and get her head back together. Anyone else feel like coming by for a roast lamb? To keep Sam Kekovic happy?
(Can my North American readers confirm whether lamb is eaten over there? Someone told me ten years ago that Americans ate very little lamb, so I’ve been wondering?)

Another way I’m filling in time this week is to re-examine the list of writing projects I want to get stuck into. I’ve got two ideas for novels I want to write (one is a planned co-writing with Ch@s – I need to chat to him about that), I want to get started on the interviews for the book about my father, and I want to write some short stories of the “space pirate” genre for Lucius. Especially given his recent discovery of bad sci-fi tv shows.

The other night at dinner, Ch@s informed me he’d been reading my blog. And not only this one, but previous ones. This, ladies and gentlebeans, stunned me.

I had no idea that my real friends read it except when I’ve actually told them to. Like when I’ve told them the address, or about specific posts here. The concept that some of them are reading without me having done that kind of scares, kind of fascinates and kind of weirds me.

Like all bloggers, I try and write well. I try to write so I get across the point I’m trying to make. It’s exercising the self-expression parts of the brain. But I never quite understand why people choose to read what I say. This current incarnation of my blog has a much higher readership than previous ones (about double most days). But I have no idea why. I mean, I prattle on the same way here that I’ve always done. Especially since I think that some previous versions were better looking, and said some good things.

Which brings me to a question you should all answer. Do you ever write something on your blogs (or anywhere for that matter) and feel quite proud of it? Feel that it’s exactly the way you want it to be? And just can’t wait for it to be read? I do that occasionally. Maybe one in 50 blog-posts. Not much though. In fact, I can only recall feeling like that about two posts here. Posts number 115 and 65 actually. Ironically, they didn’t attract a lot of comments. Most of the rest of my blog is filled with my brain-dumps. So I’ve no idea why people read it. Even less idea why posts such as this one sent my reader numbers through the roof. Perhaps it was Marquis’ clever response to it?

On a separate topic though: good things are happening on the job front. Rome’s market is topsy-turvy now and so completely different to what I’m used to. I’m being considered for jobs that are about 50% more (salary-wise) than I was expecting; such is the demand for staff here. I’d heard rumours that was happening in some parts of the country, but didn’t imagine it’d affect me. It’ll be nice if it comes off though.

Today was my last day working for the Judean provincial government. We had a large morning tea with people from our section and all the neighbouring sections. Then, I took my own staff (two of them) out for lunch – just some takeaway and then down to the park – the main purpoe was to get away from the office for an hour to let our minds switch off. Then, in the afternoon, our section shared cuppas and chocolate cake. After two years in the same role, I have to say that if every day was like today, I’d have probably stayed a lot longer. But mostly, for two years, the work was repetitive and monotonous. I met some nice people though. I’ll continue friendships with several of them. It was after all where I met Alderney and DryEyedCrab.

After work, I’ve once again come down to AFK Cafe, where Ozbhoy has made my night. We were chatting, and I couldn’t decide what I wanted for dinner.  So he took me into the kitchen, and we custom-designed a meal. A tomato-garlic based prawn/seafood pasta, with capers and enough chilli to make it interesting, made to exact specifications. I like the cafe because it’s the sort of place I just like hanging out, even without the net-aspect of it, or the fact it’s run by two of my friends. I’m crap at writing reviews of venues and meals and that kind of thing. But this is the kind of place that Jerusalem has lacked all along. I even promised Willett that if his cafe makes its first anniversary, I’ll buy the cafe a little gift. It’s looking quite good though – as I glance around the room, there’s about 20 paying customers in the place – which I guess is reasonable for dinnertime on a Friday.

At work, there’s a bowl used for lollies. Yesterday, for the purpose of contributing to said bowl, I bought a large pack of M&Ms. But when we opened it and tried a few, they tasted stale and dirty. So one of the girls grabbed the phone and rang the company. In minutes, they agreed to send out supplies for all 12 staff in our section at work. A much better outcome that two years ago when I got into an argument on email with one of the girls in the M&M public relations department (she tried telling me the different coloured M&Ms tasted the same – I’d have thought someone who worked for the company would actually have some idea what the product tasted like!).

What a pity I wont be there when the freebie M&Ms arrive. *sigh*