Around Christmas time 2013, I made the executive decision that it was time to travel to Australia. I was chatting with a fellow flyer on the way to Alberta for the holidays and we were talking about all the places we wanted to travel to. I said that I eventually wanted to go to Australia and perhaps work so I could see more of the country. He then told me that there was an age limit for Working Holiday Visas. Once you were over 30, you were no longer allowed to apply for the visa, probably to ensure that young, fit people were coming over and doing the gruelling labour that none of the locals wanted to do.
For my own part, 30 was far enough away that I wasn’t too concerned, but then I remembered that my soon-to-be-husband was turning 30 in the upcoming year. Having recently returned from our Africa / Thailand trip, I was worried about whether we could afford to make the long journey. I was also concerned as to whether Dan would even be interested in going off for a long period of time (since he finally got settled in a really decent job). As it turned out, the winter had been particularly fierce and he was very keen on the idea of another escape. With our belongs still collecting dust in a storage room and both our jobs finishing a one year contract in the fall, it seemed that the timing was right to get away.
I am a planner. I like to know where I will be, for how long and what I will be doing when I travel. Having to juggle work, planning a wedding and prepping to move back to Alberta left very little time for me to worry about Australia. One day while searching for job options, I came across a dive centre in Sydney that provided PADI certification and placements. The package would consist of the following:
- Divemaster Certifcation
- Fun dives (~30 to get us up to the level required for the next stage)
- Assisting instructors with students for experience
- Instructor Certification (including all class material and examination)
- Senior First Aid Certification (all materials and testing)
- Experience certifying divers on site with guidance
- 1 Month internship, diving / teaching on a resort in the Great Barrier Reef
- Food and Accommodation during our internship
- Guaranteed job placement after our internship
It sounded amazing and so we contacted the dive centre and put through our deposits. It was a big expense, but we figured, if it gave us training for a career as a dive instructor and provided us with a job in Australia, we would be able to make up for the initial expenses. So I eased back on the planning and felt confident that everything was going to work out perfectly. Turns out that it didn’t.
We arrived in Sydney and were picked up from the airport by our contact from the dive centre. He was very friendly and took us to our accommodation. The dive centre had purchased this house to rent to dive students and we had looked at pictures online so we had an idea of what to expect. What we did not expect was the number of people sharing the house. In total there was room for 10 people (that’s two per room) and when we arrived there were 6 of us in the house. There was one kitchen, with two refrigerators and two bathrooms. Apparently only one shower was working, so everyone used one bathroom. There were dishes with food piling up beside the sink, and no one was willing to claim them. The bathroom was horrifyingly dirty with months of stains and hair in every corner. Our room was quite spacious compared to the others and we found ourselves spending most of our time shut inside. We figured that we would start looking for our own private accommodation soon so we wouldn’t need to worry about inconsiderate roommates and overcrowding.
We went to the dive shop to ensure we were set up and knew where to store our things. It turned out that our wetsuits (3mm) were not sufficient for diving in Sydney (I assumed they were since the rating for 3mm was 18-25 degrees). With this in mind, we would be required to buy 7mm wetsuits (another $500 per person expense) as well as hoods and gloves ($80 per person). I didn’t know which suit to get so they offered me to borrow one of the trainer’s suits to try out for a couple of dives. I didn’t want to wear it because it took so much work to get in, then I couldn’t raise my arms it was so tight and my hands started to swell and turn purple from constriction. Still, I was told “it’s the right size, you will see”.
We started off by doing a couple of dives around Sydney with the dive centre. On our first day, it was a weekend and we didn’t really have anyone from the centre that was assigned to be with us and show us what to do or help us out. In fact the staff member in charge that day didn’t know we had never been diving in Australia and he already had 6 divers to look after. We felt like a burden and to make matters worse, we had never done a shore entry dive before. It turns out that you had to park in the lot and put on all of your gear there, before hiking down to the site and entering. By the time we reached the water, I was having a hard time breathing from my suit’s constriction, I couldn’t raise my arms to put my hood on and I had to get Dan to help me get my mask sealed properly. I was stressed beyond belief. All the while everyone in the group was waiting for us to get in. It turns out I was too buoyant (I didn’t get a chance to weigh up properly) and I had to be dragged down. The visibility was around 6 meters (apparently pretty normal for Sydney) and all we could see was the back of the couple in front of us. After about 5 minutes, the group ended up separated. It was us, another buddy couple and one guy on his own. We looked around for a couple minutes before surfacing and found no one there. We swam back to the shore and waited. After around 50 minutes the others came back. That’s not proper dive protocol. If you lose the group, you surface and wait for about 5 minutes. If they still don’t show up, you assume it’s an emergency and you start a search and rescue. The staff member said “well I came up and you weren’t there, so we assumed you went off on your own”. Umm wow, thanks.
On the second dive we were able to see a bit more wildlife but to our horror, the staff member was picking them up and passing the around for people to touch! We were mortified when he started passing an octopus around like a toy ball. After hiking up to the car park, we made the decision that this was not for us. We really enjoyed diving when we were in Thailand:
The visibility was 30+ meters, the sites were well planned with maps and pre dive overviews.
The groups were smaller and you were expected to stick with your divemasters.
The water was warmer so you weren’t bogged down with thick suits.
There was a strict hands off policy for wildlife.
Now if were to just continue doing dives just to see Sydney it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. We would have just sucked it up and done what needed doing. The problem was that we would be training to lead dives. We would be responsible for the wellbeing of other people not just ourselves. On our second day of diving we could barely get out of the water it was throwing us against the rocky shore and there was heavy surge. The thought of leading a group of novice divers in and out of the water safely was really scary. With such poor visibility, it would be almost impossible to properly keep track of your group during the dive. Another concern was Dan’s diabetes. Because we were often forced to park quite far from the water, if he had an emergency and needed medical attention, it would be very difficult to contact EMS let alone something as simple as getting sugar from the vehicle. Half the time, we would be required to hitch a ride from a random diver to and from the sites.
With all this in mind, we decided it wasn’t going to happen. We were nervous about meeting with our staff contact since we would be bailing out of the dive program. Considering we had only been there for a few days and only gone out for two days of diving, we assumed it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience to drop out. We met up and discussed the issues, surprisingly he took it very well. He said he would have to take a look at the money we had payed already and sort out a refund. We were feeling really good about our decision, until we saw the refund. It turns out that some of the course material for the Divemaster portion couldn’t be refunded because PADI has strict guidelines, understandable. We also gave a deposit from Canada that was non-refundable to secure our place, also understandable. What I didn’t understand was why all of a sudden the ‘nice’ favours that they did for us, were something we had to pay for. For example, the wetsuit that they let us use for the two dives was a couple of staff members, just to see which ones fit best. Well now, we had to pay $70 per person, per dive for “rental gear”. Our contact had picked us up from the airport and brought us to the house we were renting from them. Apparently, this was now a $70 bill for an ‘airport shuttle / tour’. The list became longer and longer until we were left paying $1800 per person for two days of diving and one week of accommodation in a filthy, overcrowded house.
This is why we did not become Dive Instructors. This is why we will not be returning to Sydney for diving any time soon.