Back in Sydney in the final home stretch

Another sunny day in Sydney, which I have to start by saying that I think I saw a whale this morning. A big splash in the sea followed by two sprays of water which looked as though they came from a blow hole. So I didn’t see the whale, but I am sure that’s what it was. Especially since a boat when chasing off after the sprays of water. So that is one ambition met. The other happened yesterday.

I was in Canberra on Monday to meet with exchange students and to see a friend. I decided to get the train back, something which most people derided. Why would you get the train when you could fly or the bus (ugh). Anyway, the train it was. $39 seemed reasonable and I wanted to relax. Something impossible at the airport. The journey was spectacular. A slow ride through the NSW bush. A great opportunity to see flocks of galahs, cockatoos and crimson rosellas. I also spied a mob of 4 ‘roos hopping through the bush. I must have made an involuntary noise as the man on the other side of the aisle laughed at me. I later saw one ‘roo having a late lunch. My third visit to Australia and I finally get to see kangaroos in the wild, hopping along. I am pretty sure they were grey kangaroos

It felt like ‘real Australia’ – although it was sad to see how much of the bush has been destroyed for grazing land.

My interviews have started again today – five more to do before I return home next week. A few new things are starting to emerge. For many migrants, a ready made community is important. This could be surfing, sailing or church. Being involved in these activities seems to help migrants ‘settle’ in socially to Australia and New Zealand. Without these the process of making new friends seems difficult if not impossible. I can empathise with that – my involvement in feminism has helped me make friends in new cities – it’s a group of people who I share an outlook and an interest with. Even my few days in New Zealand were joyous through meeting fabulous feminists. Making friends is important at any age, and I think harder for those who are older (i.e. not university students getting drunk in the SU and living in shared flats!).

I’ve started to notice white male academics presenting the academy as a meritocracy. Promotion is something they see as straight forward and achieve through a process which has clarity. Not one of the women or ethnic minority men I have interviewed have expressed this sentiment about academic promotions practices.

Life at HWU is starting to kick in – dissertations and teaching all being discussed. The return is imminent…

Hello from New Zealand

Here I sit at another desk in another country. I am being hosted by Professor Judith Pringle at AUT and have a desk with a wonderful view of the rain. Auckland is as I remember it and I still love it. I have the most amazing flat overlooking the city and am being looked after so well. This morning I gave a talk on feminist action in universities. A great group of women and men listened to me talk about myself – not hard to do for me, harder for them. I also met some people who will be at the EDI conference in July which is great as it means more familiar faces.


I am here to do research as well of course. I arrived in Wellington on the 15th after two days in Melbourne. I did two brilliant interviews there and met up with a friend. I wasn’t overly enamoured with Melbourne – it has  a European look but feels like a generic city. If there had been time for more adventuring I might have liked it more. However, it was great to catch up with Emma and the interviews I did were really insightful. Interviewing can be a strange process at times, sometimes it’s awkward, most of the time it’s fine and then there are the interviewees you hit it off with.  The nature of this work is that it reflects on my own experiences as an academic. It’s hard not to share my own experiences, although sometimes I do that at the end, after the machine is off. I only do it if the interviewee says they don’t think anyone else feels the way they do, but I do wonder about the ethics of that.

Wellington (the middle of middle earth) is a city of such loveliness – the art deco buildings, the harbour, the green. I interviewed two academics there and did a joint seminar with Elaine Swan on being a feminist academic. Elaine and I were hosted by Dr Deborah Jones who showed us the Wellington and all its delights. We drove past where the penguins live and where Peter Jackson lives, and the LoTRs and Hobbit Studios. I got quite excited at seeing the large green screen. The Hobbit is being filmed in Wellington at the moment, but I didn’t see anyone I recognised!

We had a gorgeous little flat and availed ourselves of the wine – which NZ is very good at. Monday saw me fly to Auckland with an interview yesterday and then dinner at the harbour again. So far the interviews with ‘Kiwi’ academics have been very different. Racism hasn’t featured in the same way as in Aus. I think British and other Euro academics may acclimatise quicker to NZ than those from other countries, but can’t really generalise. I am again struck by the friendliness of people and the warmth of people here. I do feel a long way from home though – the time difference is even greater than Aus and affects keeping in touch. The migrants from the ‘north’ I have spoken to (rather than interviewed) have reflected on this and the importance of being able to go to conferences. One migrant also said to me that he thinks migrants experience many of the issues faced by women and feminist academics. This reinforces my idea of migrant status destabilising masculinity. I am being encouraged to write about whiteness as well, so this is an area I need to learn more about. I see a lot of reading in my future!

Many of the issues that affect us in the UK are felt here. The shift of politics to the right, employability agendas and the under-representation of women. As one woman said to me today – the myths of NZ need to be countered. Despite leading the way on women’s suffrage, Kiwi women experience many of the same things. Of course ‘kiwi’ usually means white European/Anglo New Zealander. I’d like to learn more about Maori and Pacific Islander women in NZ and their experiences in the academy.


Tomorrow is two more interviews and then back to Sydney. I am going to Canberra next week and then have 5 more interviews in Sydney. Then the Blue Mountains for my birthday. Then home to Blighty. I already know I will miss it here. People asking me to come back – just have to find the time and the money!

End of week one

Here I am at the end of my first week in Sydney. Next week I leave for Melbourne and then New Zealand for more interviews. My days are filling up very quickly and it looks as though I will more than meet my target of 20 interviews. I wanted to write a post to reflect on my first week of interviews and my time in Sydney. I will be careful not to breach the confidentiality of the research participants or their institutions, but I wanted to share some of my initial observations.

Already, even after just 8 interviews, I am starting to see some patterns. I noted on facebook that I want to write about academic masculinities. Much of the current research on gender and academic careers has been focussed on women. However, men also ‘do gender’ and it is important to remember that not all academics, male or female, experience the academy in the same way. The interviews with male migrant academics are revealing how these men navigate the academy and how their migratory status may affect this. In not very academic language – how non white male academics feel subject to racism.

Every interviewee, bar one, has reflected on racism without any prompt from me. The one who didn’t, when I asked was curious as to why I had waited so long to mention it. Is Australia racist? As one interviewee said. ‘you’d have to be racist not to notice the racism’. My white interviewees have reflected (unprompted) on their ‘white privilege’ (sic). Probably a reflection on their academic backgrounds in social sciences. I suspect those who research culture and inequalities may be particular sensitive to such issues.

So, what else is coming through the interviews? Social networks seem to be important not just for careers  (sure we know this one) but also for facilitating acculturation into ‘Aussie’ culture. The men have commented on the role of alcohol in Australian culture – problematic for those from countries where consumption is prohibited. Facebook and Skype are important for maintaining relationships with friend, family and research networks overseas. I know this from my own experiences keeping in touch with friends who have migrated.

The question that participants seem to like the most is ‘where is home?’.  Not Australia, even those who have been here a while. However, this seems to depend on the location of children and partners.

I am also seeing the nature of precarious work in Australian universities – this precarious employment can be problematic for planning and supporting families and leaves academics unsure of their futures (more so than others). The Australian has reflected on this trend in Australian academia here

I still have 12 out of the 20 interviews to conduct, and I look forward to seeing if there are differences in New Zealand. I am really pleased with the work so far. Thank you to those who have participated so far – even though I can’t name you – your time and willingness to lay bare your journey is much appreciated.

Greetings from Sydney

I arrived in Sydney on Friday morning (Aus time) after an uneventful flight from Glasgow via Dubai. I had the row of seats to myself on both legs which was fantastic. I even managed a few hours sleep, albeit in an uncomfortable and undignified position. The highlight of the trip was discovering the Costa Coffee in Dubai airport sells soya milk, so I was able to get a very welcome cup of tea. The food on the plane was predictably awful – very spicy and virtually inedible. Fortunately there was some fresh fruit and a very small feta salad which ensured I was able to eat something. I was very glad of the croissant with jam for breakfast. I didn’t watch any good films, but did enjoy re-watching some of Season 4 of Mad Men. I didn’t even open the magazines I had bought at the airport.

I seem to have escaped most of the jet lag. Friday we went to Manly Beach and enjoyed some lovely tapas while looking at the sea. After some ice cream we went to a couple of nature reserves, but didn’t see the promised water dragons or bandicoots. I have seen parakeets, white cockatoos and amazing Black cockatoos. They are all noisy buggers, but their screeching hasn’t started to annoy me yet.

No May Day BH in Australia so I started at UNSW yesterday morning.  It’s great to be back at UNSW where there are many familiar faces. I met with Tanya from the AWGSA to discuss links for our two organisations and managed to arrange a few more interviews. I have my first interview today at lunch time and a total of eight this week. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you’ve ever done that kind of work you will appreciate how tiring it can be. I did 23 interview for my PhD over the course of nearly a year. This time I will be doing 20 in 4 weeks…

I got some good news when I landed in Australia – my promotion from grade 7 (lecturer A) to grade 8 (lecturer B) was confirmed. A colleague and I also secured a small grant to do some pilot interviews and work with a poet to write about Scottish workers. We are really excited about this project and it bodes well for some future funding.