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Interview with Henno K – A South African living in Australia

Updated 8 Feb 2010

Henno Kotzé is a 27-year-old South African who moved from the winelands and grey-blue mountains of the Western Cape, South Africa to the frenetic buzz of Saigon, Vietnam. He now finds himself under the endless blue skies and red dust of Australia. He studied journalism at Stellenbosch University and worked freelance in Vietnam for four years, but now finds himself working in Brisbane as an English language teacher with his Australian partner.

About Henno

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Cape Town, South Africa

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia

Q: How long have you lived here?
A: 6 months

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Yes, with my partner

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: To be near my partner’s family. I’m a language teacher at the University of Queensland.

About Brisbane

Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Brisbane, how’s the quality of life as a South African living in Australia?
A: The weather, the big blue skies and outdoor lifestyle. It’s very relaxed here. The quality of life here is extremely high, especially compared with Vietnam, where I lived for four years before this. An efficient public transport system (no need for a car really), clean environment and a good public healthcare system are some of the perks of living in Australia.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Of course, with the high quality of life, comes the high cost of living and everything is quite expensive compared to South Africa. Of course, I miss the African melting pot of home, but you do find a different kind of multiculturalism in Oz. So far, I’ve found many similarities between South Africa and Australia, so I guess that’s taken a bit of the edge off the homesickness.

Q: Is the city safe?
A: I think when things like a neighbourhood tiff or an uncaught graffiti vandal make prime-time news, you could consider the city quite a safe place to live! There are a few suburbs which have a reputation of being a bit rough. We live in Fortitude Valley, which is the entertainment and nightlife centre of the city, which is thought to be a little more dangerous late at night due to drunk troublemakers, but in general, I feel safe here wherever I go here. Compared to South Africa, Brisbane is a dangerous as a teddy bear with its nails clipped.

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Brisbane as an expat?
A: The city centre is of course a sought-after (and pricey!) location. Depending on whether you have or are looking to start a family, some of the outer suburbs can be a better option, such as The Gap, Kenmore, Ashgrove or Hamilton and St Lucia, the last two being closer to town. For singles or couples, trendy suburbs include New Farm, The Valley or West End, which all have fantastic restaurants, bars, and boutique shopping precincts and are located minutes from the CBD.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Australia?
A: Although prices are relatively high as the global economic downturn only temporarily dented rising rental and house prices, the standard of accommodation is excellent and you get what you pay for; be it size or location. Solid legal agreements usually ensure estate agencies, the body corporate (when living in a block of units) and landlords are held accountable to providing excellent service and accommodation.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Australia compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: As I’ve already mentioned, house prices are through the roof and I’m constantly astounded by the going price of properties. Australia in general has a very high cost of living, so of course nearly everything costs more than in South Africa, but luckily salaries tend to match this, so if you live within your means, life can be very comfortable. Hotel accommodation can be expensive, as can alcohol and dining in fancier restaurants. As far as I’ve noticed, cars don’t seem to be exorbitantly expensive and what’s really cheap is a game of golf. At most courses, a round is about $50, including buggy!

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Aussies are one of the most easy-going bunch of people you’ll find anywhere. Brisbane is already so multicultural, it’s not really an issue of whether someone is from another country or not, although I do work at a language centre where a large proportion of the staff come from various background and countries. I’ve noticed a lot of Irish working in the hospitality industry in Brisbane and I think many Europeans come out to Oz on a one-year working visa to escape their weather!

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: If you make the effort, it’s easy to find like-minded people, either at work or a sports club. It’s not unheard of to make new friends while having a drink or playing the pub quiz down at the local!

About working in Brisbane

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: The de facto/spouse visa application was an arduous process as we had a lot of documents and paperwork to collect and organise to prove that my partner and I were in a genuine relationship, but that was also due to applying in Vietnam, where supposedly there are quite a few reported cases of people in fake or illegal relationships attempting to get an Australian Visa. A number of websites also offer their services in helping and smoothing this process if you don’t feel like going through it all yourself.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Brisbane, is there plenty of work?
A: In the second half of last year, very few jobs were available, especially in the area I was looking in (media and communications), but judging by the number of jobs advertised, this situation has improved and it seems most industries are rebounding strongly.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I’ve noticed that most professional jobs expect a very high level of work ethic, but there’s also a general feeling of leaving work at work and keeping it separate from your personal time. Saying that, however, after-work drinks are also a big thing here, and the Aussies have defined the art of “chucking a sickie” (calling in sick). Unlike South Africa, salaries are paid fortnightly, so my mindset of living month-to-month has changed to living in 14-day cycles here.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: Yes, we used JVK Relocation Company moving from Ho Chi Minh City to Brisbane, and they were great. Easy to deal with, cheap and reliable. I’d recommend them to anyone moving from Asia to Australia or vice versa.

Family and children in Brisbane

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A:  My partner is an Aussie, so the only problems she had was readjusting after four years in crazy, busy, buzzing Vietnam!

Q: What are the schools in Brisbane like, any particular suggestions?
A: While we don’t have children yet, I know of South Africans who have moved here for their children’s sake and the high quality of education they receive here. Similar to South Africa, there are state schools and the more expensive private schools. A new website,, offers an in-depth school ranking system which parents can use to compare how different schools perform.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Brisbane?
A: Great, of course private health insurance does guarantee better and faster service but public healthcare is very effective too. For example, my partner recently injured her hand which required an emergency operation and months of follow up rehabilitation with various medical professionals and, to date, all of it has been free.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: If your business isn’t paying for the accommodation and setting up fees, start-up costs can be daunting if you aren’t earning an income immediately, especially coming from South Africa or a less developed country. Try to get a job, place to stay and all your paperwork sorted out as soon as possible, even before arriving, to save costs and make the settling-in process less stressful.

► Interviewed February 2010

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