Living overseas and travelling overseas are two similar but actually completely different things. Your understanding of a place changes completely once you stay there, rent a place, find a job, make local friends. The series Gentlemen of Leisure — nope we’re not being sexist, simply referencing Norman Lindsay’s iconic Magic Pudding — is stories of Australians living overseas. First up, that most Aussie of experiences, the UK working visa…

Rafiq Copeland writes: For the last few months I have been in England on what is rather optimistically called a working holiday visa. I don’t mean to split hairs, it’s just that when I imagine a holiday it usually involves more sun swept beaches and drinks with umbrellas in them. When I imagine a holiday it almost never involves spending large amounts of time driving a truck around Leeds (Although you never know, maybe there is a niche market for that kind of thing).

I have been doing that typical Australian middle class thing of ‘taking a year off’. The thing is, looking back over my ‘year off’ I realised that in the twelve months I had been travelling, I have actually spent most of them working full-time or more than full-time hours. In fact I have worked more on my so called holiday than I ever have before in my real life. Once again, I’m not complaining (OK, maybe a little) after all there have been plenty of umbrella drinks as well. I’m just pointing out that for most of us taking an extended break from home means earning a few pennies along the way.

Probably the strangest job I’ve fallen into this trip resulted in me having my own office in the Gambian health department. I think my title was something like ‘I.T. Expert and Telecommunications Consultant’, although my duties occasionally extended to ghost writing speeches for the Permanent Secretary. Mostly my job consisted of trying not to offend anyone during meetings and climbing on hospital roofs to examine sites where communications towers would be erected if there was funding for them which there wasn’t. The fact that I wound up with this job after basically walking in off the street is a good demonstration that being an expert really means knowing just a tiny bit more than the next guy – who in this case was usually a seventy year old uneducated bureaucrat. I would have felt guiltier about being so under qualified if I wasn’t still the most qualified person around to do it. (This is also a pretty good demonstration of a few of the issues surrounding health administration in sub-Saharan Africa – but that’s a topic for another blog.)

From one impoverished backwater to another, since arriving in England I have been working for a television company which specialises in something called ‘fact based entertainment’. By this they mean programs like The Perfect Catch. The basic premise of this show is that a group of hot people go to Greece to ‘catch’ other hot people. Then the hot person who ‘catches’ the hottest other hot person – as judged by Carmen Electra – wins $50,000. So not The Ascent Of Man then. Perfect Catch was shown in 40 countries – including Australia – and tanked in 39 of them. Strangely enough, in Italy it was a massive hit.

Despite the moral depredation implied by admitting working on such trash, I feel compelled to confess that a large part of my job on Perfect Catch was essentially to watch all the rushes and make a note whenever there was a good shot of someone’s boobs so as to make sure it got into the program. I once had a serious discussion with the executive producer and a couple of editors about whether or not a cast member’s vag flap was visible or not in a particular shot. The overwhelming consensus was that it was definitely vag flap. The next question was, does this mean we can’t use the shot? It made the cut. I am no longer saving the Africans.

All of which is to point out that the thing about working while you travel is you often wind up doing some pretty weird things. And it’s not always fruit picking.

Got any good working holiday stories? Do share.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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