Here’s her diary…

Sydney, Two Months To Go

Well, my time – ie. my visa – is nearly up. After months of living the life in Sydney, Blighty beckons. Me old Mum hasn’t seen me in over a year, my so-called friends have stopped sending me emails and I’ve been calling aubergines ‘eggplants’. Still, I’m gutted. And life as I know and love it, will be over. I’m leaving Australia. I reckon coming home will be like leaving the Big Brother house, with loads of hugs and screams and partying followed by massive stress and a crash back down into real life. There’ll be no more midnight bodysurfing, daily sightings of the Harbour Bridge or waterfront drinking. Boo. But then again, there’ll be no more living on a crappy temping pittance, no more sharing a room with other people’s stinky feet and no more ad-infested junk TV. Hooray! I guess I should start getting my shit together then. Must make a list. Book return flight, send package home, update CV, sell car, get tax rebate. Warn parents. Organise huge piss-up for last night in Sydney. Actually, I’m off to practice that last part right now. See? Totally organised.

Sydney, Five Weeks To Go

Having arrived in Oz with nothing but a backpack, I’m now whittling down my existence to finish up the same way. I put all my stuff in the middle of the floor and sort into three piles: stuff to send home, stuff I can live without and stuff I’ll need between now and the big off. I send off two cardboard boxes stuffed with random paraphernalia.

Sydney, Three Weeks To Go

Eek! It’s starting to get a bit hectic. I’ve emailed practically everyone I’ve ever met to see if they want to take over my room in Coogee, or buy my car, Trudy. No luck so far. Everything on the car is nearly due for renewal, so I’m weighing up whether to fix her up to sell, or just push the damn thing off a cliff. I need to start looking for a job in the UK, too. Registering with an agency before you even get back is a smart idea when you’re as financially-challenged as me…

Sydney, One Week To Go

I sold Trudy! I wasn’t expecting much at a Kings Cross used car dealership, but it was enough to buy presents for the folks back home. It’s all been exhausting and a bit emotional. I didn’t realise how many friends I’d made in Australia until they all turned up for my ‘last night’. England itself is a hazy memory, I can’t quite picture the colour of my Mum’s carpet, or the sound of the pelican crossings. Will I get culture shock?

Sydney, Last Night In Australia

I’ve changed my mind. I want to stay here. Everyone is so wicked and lovely and it’s so sunny and nice and I don’t want to get a proper job or have to wear a coat. I asked at least five Aussie blokes to marry me in the pub, but they all seemed to think I was joking. Damn.

Brighton, England, Day Two

It’s so wicked to be back! It was really surreal walking back into my Mum’s house to a rapturous reception, then crashing out in my old room and waking up very confused. While I was dead to the world, two mates phoned, wanting me to meet them down the pub immediately. So even though I felt a bit spaced out, I blagged 20 funny-looking, distantly familiar English pounds off my Mum, and went. Within three Kronenbourgs it was like I’d never been away at all. I bumped into loads of random people, and even those I never got on with seemed very friendly. It was a brilliant night. The odd thing was, I hardly ended up talking about my travels at all. When each person asked how Australia was, I was like, “wicked” – and then we’d just start talking about something else. At first I wanted to scream, “Didn’t you miss me? Don’t you want to know where I’ve been?” But it soon dawned on me that nothing has changed around here, I’m just a face that fell off the social wheel for a while then fell back in again. Give or take the odd change in jobs or boyfriends, everything is exactly as I left it. Which is how I like it.

Brighton, One Week In

My first week back has been just as much of a whirlwind as the weeks before I left. I got over the jetlag, but am having some issues with culture shock. Firstly, they eat nothing but stodge over here. It’s all just pies, potatoes, pasties and pizzas, instead of fresh tom yum… I’m really missing those Asian food halls. Secondly, everything’s well expensive. Now I’m used to Aussie dollars, a boring, pre-packaged cheese sarnie at $7 or a vodka tonic at $10 is totally unreasonable. Most of the differences are just the little things: smaller cars, front-loading washing machines, trendier clothes, more beggars, better supermarkets. Swings and roundabouts, really.

Brighton, One Month In

Well, I’ve picked up a bit of office work in Hove, though nothing permanent yet. Still living at my parents’ place, because renting a hovel costs a million bucks. I’ve spent a week in London, where everything seems so huge, hectic and hip compared to Sydney. I’ve been re-acquainting myself with UK culture. There are people on the tabloid front pages who I’ve never heard of. I went round some of the capital’s museums and began to understand the appeal Britain must have to foreigners.

Brighton, Three Months In

I’m ‘muddling through’. Work is very dull, but I’ve pretty much set up my social life again. I went to the Glastonbury Festival (and didn’t get rained on), I’ve been walking on the moors in Shropshire amid heather, gorse and sheep. and been to Paris for the weekend. I can hardly believe three months ago I thought leaving Sydney would be the end of the world; now whole days go by when I forget I even lived there. Having said that, I do get these odd flashbacks now and then. There I’ll be making a cup of Typhoo, eating my daily stodge when a completely random image pops into my head of the Slip Inn beer garden, or the candle stall at Glebe Market, or even the beach bar at Byron Bay. Australia may be only a slideshow of memories now, but they’re wicked ones. I’ll definitely go back there for holidays, because Australia is still a magical and mysterious place in my memory. In the meantime, I’m just getting on with living happily ever after.

How To…

Claim Your Tax Back

The Australian tax year runs from 1 July to June 30 and, if you’ve worked here, you’re legally obliged to do a tax return. You can lodge your return online at the Australian Taxation Office. However, if you’re leaving Australia before tax forms are generally available (at the end of the financial year), then you need to fill in a form called the Taxpayer Leaving Australia form. You will need payment summary forms from all your previous employers. Your assessment should be processed in about six weeks and sent to a postal address you provide. “If you are suffering from financial hardship,” claims the ATO, with surprising charity, “you may qualify for priority processing.” For info, Ph: 13 28 61.

Claim Your Super Back

The other good news is that you can claim your superannuation back too. For this you’ll need to obtain details of your superannuation fund or retirement savings account (such as its name and the account number). Naturally, if you’ve had more than one employer you’ll have more than one account and will have to do separate applications for each. You can apply for this online. For further information on superannuation, Ph: 13 10 20 or visit the ATO. Hassle, but it could all be worth it if a useful little cheque or two drops through the letter box in a month or so…

Return To Work

Anxious about returning to the job market? “The first rule to making a successful comeback is confidence,” says recruitment expert Katrina Spence of international recruitment agency Hamilton, James and Bruce. “Be aware of the skills and development you have accrued in your time overseas and ensure you sell this in an interview process. There is a global shortage of quality candidates, so your return will generally be welcomed,” says Spence. Ben Ewbank, a manager in the London office of recruitment giant Michael Page agrees, but warns that breaks of longer than 12 months might be more problematic. “The client may doubt how fresh the candidate’s skills are,” says Ewbank. However, both Spence and Ewbank agree that most employers will view travel experience in a positive light, understanding your experiences have broadened your skills and views. “For many it will also demonstrate that the travel bug is out of your system and you are ready to settle down,” says Spence, who suggests you counter any concern an employer might have by re-iterating how committed you are.

The Final Countdown

Make sure you’re ready to go…

Two-month Checklist

* Buy your ticket home/contact your airline to confirm your departure date.

Five-week Checklist

* Tell your employment agency or boss when you’re leaving. * Give notice on your accommodation and arrange for any inspections, etc. * Organise everything you own and decide what you’re going to send home, what you’ll keep with you and what you need to get rid of. Then ship excess stuff home. Plan a garage sale, offer it to friends or give it to charity. * If you have a car, pin up ads for it in local intercafes, newsagents, laundrettes and hostels. Check the boards regularly to make sure your ad is still there. * Update your CV and get online to check out jobs back home.

Three-week Checklist

* Have a think about whether or not to tell your mates you’re coming home. How much fun could you have with surprises? * Do that dreaded tax return and find out about claiming back your superannuation.

One-week Checklist

* Make sure you have a group certificate from every employer you’ve had, to help get any tax back. * Move out of your accommodation and chase up any refunds and bonds, etc. * Reconfirm your flights, dig out your passport and tickets. * Wash your clothes and start packing. * Have a large and tearful last night out in which you tell everyone you love them and distribute your parents’ address and an open invitation to visit, without discrimination.