Interview with Carole Piper – UK Teacher Migrant
Visa Type: Permanent Skilled occupation in demand / family sponsored
Moved from: UK – Cornwall to: Northern NSW
To celebrate the start of this blog my choice of contributor for this first interview was easy. It couldn’t be anyone but my wonderful friend Carole Piper. Carole has made us feel so welcome In Australia; I will forever be indebted to her for such selfless support and kindness. The Pipers were our buddy family on the BBC ‘Wanted Down Under’ show and this is the story of their own move ‘down under’.
Carole, her two daughters, Esmé and Lilia and husband Andrew made the move to Northern New South Wales (NSW) in August 2007. Carole had always liked the Australian way of life having made several visits to her sister who had migrated some years before. Finally, the crunch came one cold, dull Cornish day in January 2005 when she and Andrew made their decision to forge a new life for themselves in Australia!
From that moment on the Pipers set about researching ways to obtain permanent residency. As teachers they were both on the essential skills shortage list and felt fairly confident that their application would be processed smoothly exclusively through the points system. However, they soon discovered this wasn’t the case; guided by their migration agent, they realised that the only way for them to qualify for a permanent visa was also to be sponsored by Carole’s sister Annette who fortunately lived in a ‘rural area’, and to be financially guaranteed for two years. Although as teachers their skills were in demand, the Australian immigration service requires applicants to have recent relevant experience in their specific field. This meant that Andrew, whose career had moved on from being a geography teacher to working as a special needs co-ordinator in the UK, had to return to his original subject area.
Andrew took the decision to change jobs but this unfortunately meant taking a position on the other side of the country from his family for a year, only returning to Carole and the girls at weekends.
At this stage their two girls were 5 and 6yrs so with Andrew working away, Carole was left to care for the children, run the home, work and prepare for the move to Australia. Despite all this, they were determined to make it work.
The appeal of an optimistic future for the family was a big driving force and the idea of living closer to Annette and her two sons Jack and Scott was another big plus. Australian standards of living are high and the Pipers knew that their family would have more space and more opportunities to enjoy the outdoor life. In the end rainy, cold Cornwall may have been close to their hearts but not enough to dissuade them. It was sunshine all the way to Australia for the Pipers! After nearly three years in the making, the Pipers gained permanent residency and arrived in Australia, but like many migrants initially without the security of a home or jobs.
Carole’s sister kindly helped them out with accommodation and they stayed with her for several weeks while they started to get themselves organised. As Carole tells her story it is clear that reality really hits you when you are plunged into such a vulnerable position. Little did they know that they were about to be faced with another huge challenge? Not being able to work in the public school system!
‘Even though we had good qualifications and the necessary experience we were told we couldn’t immediately get the registration number we needed. We were told to attend a three day induction course in Sydney. The course runs 3 times a year at fixed times. For us it meant waiting for the next available date then organising travel and accommodation not to mention childcare for the girls which luckily Annette helped us out with’
This prevented them from securing housing, schools and establishing themselves whilst everything was put on hold. After a couple of weeks Andrew found some manual work and Carole was offered some hours at a local Steiner school as a teacher’s aide, on a temporary basis. They later discovered that new teachers in New South Wales not only had to attend the induction course but also had to undertake a two week school placement in order have their teaching practice assessed. Of course in the end they both passed with flying colours and finally got the registration they needed!
Carole went on to explain to me that the system for finding work as a teacher in Australia is completely different to their home country…
‘The private school system is run along similar lines to the UK, with adverts, interviews and a selection process but to find teaching work in the state public system you have to register yourself and your qualifications with the department and the region you want to work in. If your name comes to the top of the list and a post is available – you get the job – no interview nothing! The department match your skills to the post but obviously some areas are more popular than others. If you put your name down for a teaching job in a public school on the coast in the Northern Rivers, you could have to wait to wait 10-20 years for a position to become vacant, and for your name to reach the top of the list. The only way to progress is to secure casual work and temporary contracts, becoming established that way. The system is changing though, as more jobs are being advertised rather than going to priority transfer, but it is still a precarious way to live.’
The first months were very hectic as the Pipers looked for a school for their girls, registered with Medicare, obtained tax file numbers, sorted cars, registered cars, obtained green slips, yellows slips (see car info section), sorted out a rented accommodation and settled the girls.Carole goes on to say –
’ This process is so incredibly demanding and time consuming that the first weeks just fly by very quickly and before you know it your first 3 months has passed ‘ ‘It’s an adventure and it’s good to be busy…it’s all exciting but scary at the same time’
The Pipers settled into life in the Northern Rivers they made good friends and enjoyed some wonderful times exploring the locality. People were friendly and welcoming and Carole was pleased to meet quite a few fellow migrants .They built up a good network of friends and felt quite at home. However, it wasn’t long before Carole had her first major period of homesickness. People describe this in the same way I have heard people talk about bereavement– that deep sense of loss and bottomless grief that feels like it will go on forever.
‘For me, Carole explained, ‘it would just come from nowhere when I least expected it. I’d feel sad and on one level desperately want to be back in Cornwall walking my dog or just hug my mum or have a coffee with family and friends’. I could certainly relate to this sense of loss as I listened to her. It’s such a deep longing to be back where things are familiar, to feel safe and held. When you move so far away from home the sense of vulnerability is at times so blinding that you can’t always see a better life down under.
When I asked Carole what it is particularly that she misses about the UK she answered without hesitation.
‘I miss the English countryside, being able to walk in the woods with my dog along public footpaths and woodlands. I do miss family and friends but with email, social networking and of course the phone, it’s relatively easy to keep in touch. We’ve also been so lucky to have regular visits from loved ones during the time we’ve been here which has really helped with the homesickness and keeping the bonds strong’ .
She’s right, you can’t just walk through the countryside freely here due to restrictions allowing dogs into national parks and limitations of access through farmland not to mention snakes in the summer months! So for Carole it’s not so much people she misses, as places, it’s her homeland and perhaps precious memories of walks in the country and the freedom to roam into the local countryside. Carole is not one to dwell on such things too long though. She quickly reminds herself of all the wonderful friends she has made here and how it still feels like living in paradise every day;
‘The beach, the weather, the outdoor lifestyle and having my morning coffee on the deck’
And as we step outside the restaurant into the balmy, sea salted January night air – she takes a deep breath and remarks.
‘Now we wouldn’t feel THIS in England would we Sal?’
Now in 2012 Andrew has a permanent teaching / head of department job at a local school and Carole has ongoing rolling contracts which have expanded her professional experience greatly. Both the girls have settled in school and the family have moved from a rental into their own gorgeous house in the heart of the Northern Rivers. New additions to their family include 3 dogs, 2 cats and chickens. The Pipers all agree their move to Australia was the best thing they ever did. The Pipers have become our very dear friends and we feel so fortunate to have them in our lives.
Summary of Carole’s top tips for other migrants:
- Bring your white goods – they are expensive here and you will need a good tumble dryer! Convector ones are particularly good.
- Use a migration agent – there is a lot of paper work to gather and this really helps keep the process more manageable.
- Use a removalist that is experienced with overseas shipping.
- Acceptance around being homesick is important – being mindful that it will come and go.