2 Years In Perth, One Of The Best Cities In The World To Live In

Perth maybe in ‘the middle of nowhere” on the world map, but, together with the nearby port of Fremantle, it’s a glorious place to live. Beautiful parks, the stunning Swan river, and superb nearby sandy beaches, together with a fantastic climate, make it heaven on earth.

After four weeks in Bangkok, where I paid my respect to Tim’s mother, as well as completing all of the formalities at the Australian Embassy, Tim and I found ourselves back in the air, together this time, bound for Perth. As Perth is on the West coast of Australia, it’s only a 5 or 6 hour direct hop from Bangkok, which was nothing for we, by now, seasoned travelers.


We were met at the airport by our close friends, Andy and Alex, who we stayed with for about a fortnight. Although I started work the next day, we found time in the evenings to select a car and buy a house not too far from Andy and Alex. The house was actually the first one we were shown, and Tim was immediately attracted to it because it had a patch of lemon grass growing in the back garden. Lemon grass is a major ingredient of the Thai dish, Tom Yong, It is a spicy sauce, which is usually served with chicken, prawns, or pork. It was all I could do to convince Tim to look at a few other houses, but, as it turned out the first one we had seen was the best anyway, for several reasons, not only the patch of lemon grass.
The Western Australian Flag


At work, I was given a great office on the eighth floor of a building overlooking the Swan river. The view was so breathtaking that I had to sit with my back to the window or I would never have got any work done. One day, I remember seeing two wild pelicans doing a graceful “U” turn in the sky over the river, just about level with my window on the eighth floor. They were in perfect synchronization, which made it an absolutely magnificent site.

It took me about a month to remind myself how the flexible formatting system worked and to get used to the slightly different numbering system that was in place, compared to the one I had introduced in Port Moresby, but it wasn’t very long before I was up and running at full speed. I had only been away from the system for about a year and a half, but in the rapidly changing computer environment, a lot of changes had taken place in my absence.

I still had two operators working directly under me, who I got on with very well, but, apart from really large batches of input, their job was now mainly centered around maintaining the back-up system. More and more of the small business department’s employees had computers on their desks, which were linked to the main server through wires which were strung out through the false ceiling, and down each support column. I’m sure that nowadays, it is all done by WiFi, but remember we’re still talking about the mid to late nineteen eighty’s here.

The young aspiring accountants were encouraged to make their own entries, to their clients’ ledgers before carefully checking them from printouts that were obtained from printers situated in the main computer room.

My job was heavily involved in training and writing the code for non-standard formats that were required from time to time. Although each desk-top computer had only a small hard disk drive, by today’s standard, they were 20 Mb from memory, everybody had a spreadsheet program. I can’t remember which one it was, but it was before the days of “Lotus 123”, never mind “Excel”. They also had a simple word processor, nothing as sophisticated as “Word”, of course, but more advanced than say today’s “Notepad”. It was also my job to train users in these applications as well as the General Ledger, and, within a year, most clients’ fixed asset registers were maintained on a spreadsheet, and junior accountant’s were able to submit letters to the partners for signature, without the need for a secretary to type them out.

The other advance that the firm’s main computer department in Sydney made during my time in Perth, was the introduction of a mini version of the standard General Ledger. This version was small enough to easily fit on the hard drive of the standard desk top computer available at the time. It had two primary roles.

  1. To allow staff members to input transactions at clients’ premises, although this did mean lugging quite large desktop computers around. Trial balances could then be easily and quickly entered into the main machine back at the office ready to receive closing entries and final formatting tweaks so that final accounts could be produced in no time flat.

  2. To actually sell to clients to be installed on their own machines. In these circumstances the clients themselves did the inputting and our staff’s job was confined to a more audit type role, before the trial balance arrived at our office for finalization. In fact many of our smaller audit clients bought the software and, in effect, became clients of both departments.

So again, training took on an even larger proportion of my responsibilities. I not only had to train the small business department’s staff in the new smaller version of the software, I had to also train a select number of audit department members too. On top of that, there were clients to train. I invented a case study of a company with two shops, one in Perth and one in Fremantle, to help me do this, which proved to be very successful, but training became such a large part of my role, that it started to get me down. I didn’t mind doing a little bit, but repeating the same stuff over and over again, to many different people was not my cup of tea. I much preferred creating unique charts of accounts, and writing code for unique formats. I was also at a dead-end as far as the firm was concerned. here was nowhere to be promoted too, there was obviously no chance of a partnership, so, over the Christmas and New Year break of 1987 which became 1988, I decided to start looking for a new job.

Suitable positions were only advertised in the main Perth newspaper every Saturday. Over the first three months of 1988 I applied for a few, without success. Tim and I loved living in Perth, and our house and didn’t want to leave, so I resisted the temptation to look in the papers from other parts of Australia. Then in Early April, an employment consultant from another firm of Chartered Accountants advertised the position of Chief Accountant for a chain of men’s clothing stores. That would be different, I thought, so I applied.

“You’re too good for this job,” the consultant said after he had read my resume and we had spoken for ten minutes. “Anyway, only their debtors, creditors and payroll are computerized and the computerization of their General ledger isn’t budgeted for until 1992.” He continued. “But don’t worry, I’ll give you a call as soon as something more suitable comes up.”

“Thanks,” I replied as I shook his hand while thinking I bet that’s what you say to all the applicants who you don’t think are good enough.

To say I was amazed when the ‘phone rang in my office about three weeks later, and I heard the consultant’s voice on the other end of the line, would be an under-statement. “Hi Phil, how does another spell in P.N.G. sound,” he said.

“No way,” I replied. “My wife and I want to stay in Perth. But, just for interest sake, where about in Papua New Guinea are you talking about?”

“Actually the job’s in Rabaul.”

“Rabaul,” I nearly shouted. Hasn’t the volcano erupted yet? When I was in Port Moresby in 1984, it was expected to blow any time.”

“Well it didn’t quite manage it,” I was told. “And now it’s calming down again and another chance of an eruption isn’t expected for another 25 years. “The Managing Director of the company is in Sydney at the moment and he is flying over especially to see you tomorrow, so please turn up the day after, even if it’s just to make him think that his trip wasn’t entirely wasted.”

“What does his company do?” I asked.

“It manages various cocoa plantations.”

“Cocoa, you mean the stuff that old women drink before going to bed at night to help them to sleep? There can’t be much of a market for that”

Well actually, cocoa is the main ingredient in chocolate,” the consultant replied. “Does that change your perception of its commercial viability?”

“Well that just goes to show how good my understanding of agriculture, and tropical agriculture in particular is. But okay, if this guy is coming all the way from Sydney just to see me, I suppose I better have the courtesy to turn up. What time do you want me to show?”

I didn’t even tell Tim that I was going for an an interview for a job back in P.N.G. and I was so sure that I would turn the position down that I was very relaxed when I turned up at the nominated time two days after the consultant’s ‘phone call. From the very beginning Roger Gillbanks M.B.E., yes he had been honored by the Queen, and I got on very well indeed, and we are still close friends today.

I explained to Roger that my wife was very happy living in Perth, and I feared that she would be very unhappy at the thought of leaving to return to Papua New Guinea. After confirming that I could drive, and had a car, he suggested that the three of us went out for a meal that evening in a village in the hills to the East of Perth, where his home was.

“So you didn’t fly from Sydney solely to interview me?” I asked.

“My goodness no,” he replied. “Although Ann, my wife, is back in Rabaul at the moment, our main house is here, not far from Perth. We have grown up sons and a daughter living there and it has been a while since I’ve seen them so that was the main reason for coming over. It’s just coincidence that I need an accountant and the consultant here, who I’ve used before, informed me that I may be interested in you. It’s all worked out very well.”

Shit, I thought. I’ve been duped again.

After I went home and talked Tim into getting dressed up to go out for dinner with a very important person, we drove into the hills and found Roger’s house without too much difficulty. Then we found a small local Chinese Restaurant, which we discovered was BYO only. BYO is an Australian term which means “Bring Your Own” where the restaurant is not licensed to sell alcohol but it is allowed to charge a small fee to open bottles that customers have bought elsewhere. As I was driving it was me who went out to find a shop where I could buy a bottle of chilled white wine to take back to the restaurant. I was worried that I’d find Tim and Roger sitting in silence, but Tim could speak a little Malay and Roger had lived in Malaysia for many years and I returned to find them chating away quite happily, if a little stiltedly, in Malay.

It was a lovely meal washed down with some nice wine, of which Tim had here fair share, and, by the time we had finished a deal was struck. Tim and I, and our little dog “Lucky” would soon be on our way to Rabaul, to start the next stage of our exciting lives.

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