FAR is one of the more enjoyable aspects of working as a face to face interviewer. FAR stands for Freedom on Australian Roads*. It is the zen-like composite sensation of wide open sky happiness, fresh spicy countryside air indulgence, spacious bushland timelessness, city noise absence relief, and small town secretiveness that frees one’s mind when driving (window open, radio on, hair waving in the wind) on Australian country roads.
The Sydney Southwest Suburban Frontier
My last two assignments took place in brand new frontier-type suburbs. The suburbs were so new that many of the assigned addresses didn’t even exist on Google Earth; they were just bare fields. The houses in these suburbs were all cut after the same few models with a bit of customisation within the same style and colour scheme.
One suburb had popped up in the vicinity of a major shopping centre (I hate shopping centres), and the other on a bare field in the middle of nowhere, complete with a mega-school and a brand new Church. It was surrounded by a sea of construction-in-progress of new houses, earth trucks and Lot For Sale signs.
I have always hated suburbs where all the houses look like copies, so I was very presumptuous. In the mall-infested surburb particularly, I expected to meet nothing but empty eyed shopping-zombies, but I was wrong. People were friendly and open minded – mostly young couples, and I had great response rates in these frontier suburbs (around 85%). After that I thought of them quite fondly.
Later on, in Wolf Creek
My current assignment takes place in a rural town about 100 km south of Sydney. I nicknamed it ‘Wolf Creek‘ after I checked it out in Google Earth’s Street View. Its remoteness and rugged, dodgy properties with fleets of rusty cars kickstarted the horror movie flashbacks, and my employer’s initial rejection after the job interview, citing concern for my safety, came to mind.
My presumptions proved wrong as usual. While the town does look the same in real time as it does in Google Earth (for once), down to individual car-wrecks in the car hoarders’ yards and the sign in front of the single local grocery store/pub/kiosk/post office/motel/news agency**, people I talked to were friendly, cooperative and totally normal (as opposed to serial killer-like).
There is no doubt that this is a local community where everybody know what is going on everywhere, in slightly exaggerated versions. A lady said that ‘everybody in town has received a letter about a survey’. I replied with the exact number of households that have received a letter (relatively few), and it seemed like I earned a bit of goodwill for the transparency.
It is an eye opener to encounter such a diversity of Australian families and their lifestyles and occupations (or lack of same). Unfortunately it would be a crime to tell about any of the impressions.
Many of my work hours are spent on the road. Driving down a scenic road recently, breath taken by its countryside peacefulness, it occurred to me how useful it may be that I am getting used to approaching strangers, communicating with a diversity of people and conducting professional interviews. I wrote recently that
Better ideas and a clearer sense of what I would like to do has since slowly been taking form, and I’m planning to write about my thoughts about them in the near future.
The key slow growing idea is: I would like to undertake research and write a book. I would like to work with that insanely puzzled feeling that fuels my relentless inquisitiveness rather than focus on its downside – the alienation from the world.
A few days ago while driving on the road in the photograph above, I imagined to travel around in countryside Australia and interview people. Qualitative, story-oriented interviews, not just quantitative data collection like I do now… and eventually shape all the collected information into a major body of insights. I think it is something like that I’m meant to do.
– To be continued –
* You guessed it: I just made up that term
** This is an exaggeration. I am exploiting the fact that no one knows which town I’m talking about to give the description a notch up