Moving to Far North Queensland was the result of a job advertisement in the Australian Newspaper.
James Cook University in Townsville created a position of Co ordinator, International Students for which I applied and was flown up from Canberra for an interview.
The interview was on a Friday. I spent the weekend with my sister Sue and family -Peter Hine (RIP), Lisa and Renai. Most of the time was spent on Magnetic Island - which encapsulates all you read about a tropical paradise. Peter was head of the Queensland Tourism Bureau and spruiked the virtues of living in the tropics.
Peter sold me. I sold Carmel. It was mid winter in Canberra. We remembered the balmy nights of Thailand and Cocos.
I was also keen about the job. Australia had a lot of comparative technical advantages in the commercialisation of tropical agriculture including livestock; dryland farming; marine science and marine park management; tropical medicine.
I was still relatively young and there could have been opportunities.
It did not matter if I was starting out on a very low salary. We had no debt and the job offer was a permanent appointment.
So, we sold up our townhouse at the Canberra suburb of Cook as well as most of our furniture and downsized to a small three bedroom unit in the suburb of Rosslea.
The unit was in Lindsay Street opposite the golf course. The view from our top floor was great. With a drink on the balcony you would chat as you looked over the tree tops watching the sun fade behind Mount Stuart. It was nice to go for regular walks within the manicured grounds of the course resplendid with it very old and established giant trees. One was careful, however, to avoid getting too close to the Ross River due to crocodiles.
Detractors referred to Townsville as "Brownsville. I gave it a more upmarket name Broken Hill by the Sea.
The sprawling city, no more than a country town, was on a flood plain and located in a rain shadow. I remember water restrictions limited the degree to which landscaping could take the harshness of this dust bowl. The houses were either the older wooden Queenslander style or the cheap and ugly looking Besser block construction.
I rode a motorbike to and from work every day and was drenched in sweat by the time I had traveled the 8 kms.
If a local asked you the time, you would reply "Twenty years behind the rest of Australia".
If you ventured twenty kilometers either side of Townsville you would be in and out the tropical rainforest which was interspersed with vast plains of cane plantations.
A lot of my time was spent overseas on university business. So our visits to the region were both disjointed and short.
We did, however, take charter trips to coral reefs; go on road trips to the Atherland Tablelands; Cairns and the Daintree River/Cape Tribulation as well as visit the historical gold field townships. We went on picnics and swam in inland national parks - where there were only fresh water crocodiles.
Most of our social life was spent with Sue and family. They lived in the same complex.
Emma, cousin Lisa and Carmel went to Thailand via Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Many international students had returned home for university vacations. They went out of their way to give the girls a memorable experience.
Most the southern university campuses project an image of an ivy league establishment complete with ornate sandstone buildings, manicured grounds and gardens.
Not so James Cook University campus. Concrete bunkers with thin narrow windows was the general decore. This was because it was a new facility built post 1974 Cyclone Tracey and water restrictions.
The campus was not located not in the CBD but 11 kilometers away. Far from cafes, takeaways, movie theaters etc. Public transport was by bus - via a circuitous route.
The position was created in anticipation of the start up of Full Fee Paying Program for Overseas Student (FFPOS) beginning in February 1990.
I was selected largely on the basis of my proficiency in Indonesian, Thai, Japanese and French and knowledge of induction programs for AIDAB's indentured scholarship students. FFPPOS was private sector activity. It contributed significantly to Australia's foreign exchange earnings. It generated a multiplier effect in terms of accommodation and other goods and services. I thought I was now doing something productive.
We were starting the program from a zero base and a staff of one - me.
I was allocated a space in an alcove in the general Admissions Department.
I had to compete with the more established southern universities for market share; modify the standard promotional literature to suit; attend international Road Shows; process applications; align overseas qualifications with academic prerequisites; liaise with Heads of Faculty regarding approval for exemptions and credits; make offers of a place; accept and record application fees; deposits and balance of payments; prepare documentation for visas; organise accommodation & billeting, reception induction and finally pastoral care.
There were no interface system for Finance and Admissions which had access to computer mainframes and an IT department. I had to run the program on a standalone Desk Top computer which I had to fight tooth and nail to get.
I threatened to walk out if I did not get one - The Golden Handshake together with the process of downsizing gave me that freedom to make such a demand.
I used an excel spreadsheet system underpinned by a knowledge of macros to configure management and progress reports; word processing/mail merge to make offers and a fax machine communicate. It was not yet the era of the internet.
Liaison with the overseas agents was a core component.
One memory stays with me:
There was an incident involving four students attending the university - they walked too far out on an exposed reef; mistimed the incoming tide and somehow drowned. Initially, no names were published.
A soon as I ascertained there were no international students involved, I sent out a fax to all our agents.
I scribed that they may have read syndicated reports in local papers that four students had drowned but not to concern yourselves.
Our Hong Kong Agent responded.
"Yes I did see a newspaper report but was not alarmed as none of our students can swim"
She should have added " ... hence they would not go anywhere near water".
Results could be measured. At orientation Week Year One, 120 FFPOS students were on campus.
The following year there 300 extra bums on beds.
Yet still there was no centralised IT system to manage this complex program.
My temporary system was unsustainable.
The workload vs remuneration was taking its toll.
Academia has its fair share of elitists, egotists, prima donnas and internecine rivalry.
Each department benefited financially from the FFPPOS.
It was offered a percentage share of any "recruit" - which was supplementary to government funding. The more the spoils the greater the rivalry and tension.
Many objected to the use of "their" funds to send me on overseas trips where they thought they could do a more professional job of counselling students.
It irked many that I was merely a low paid administrative clerk. I became a target.
I also got caught up in the politics of maintaining academic standards vs forgoing extra funds turning a blind eye to English and academic standards.
Furthermore there was loop hole that international students exploited a "Back Door Strategy":
Getting a place at JCU (cheaper courses);
After Year One, provided the student achieved a pass, transferring to a more prestigious university in the southern states (in a cosmopolitan environment where you could buy a bowl of noodles 24/7).
Let’s do the maths. After a three to four year program which university gets a better ROI.
After two years, despite developing strong bonds with the international student cadre, I was getting nowhere professionally, so I decided to resign and head south to Gold Coast.