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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.






















SFWA Forum

Writing Abroad: Australia

To begin, I’m not a full time writer, although in various WHO’s WHO’s, where I am classed as such, I list my hobbies as navigation, harbour pilotage and ship management. As a writer I have bad years and good years, the former being largely due to the recent upheavals consequent upon the changes of ownership of various magazines and publishing houses. As a shipmaster I have bad years and good years, the former being largely due to the recent upheavals consequent upon the change of actual ownership of the shipping company under whose flag I have sailed for a long tine. Putting it briefly - no matter what one does for a living, one just can’t win.

Well, Australia's not a bad country for the writer or for anybody else who has to earn a crust --although writers are advised to write more for overseas markets than for local consumption. Nonetheless, recent devaluations of the American Dollar and the British Pound, relative to our Dollar, have made Australian markets rather more interesting. Also, there are indications that at least some of our new paperback and hard cover publishers will make the grade. This ties in with the upsurgence of Australian nationalism.

How do prices of the basic necessities compare with those elsewhere? Well, as everywhere else, they’re going up and up and up. Insofar as life’s little luxuries are concerned - I leave such sordid details as the cost of eating to my ever-loving - a 50 gram tin of my favourite pipe tobacco costs about $A1.00 or $US1.50. A bottle of fairish port or sherry costs the sane. Table wines are a little less - unless you treat yourself to one of the really good vintages. Australian wines are good. In Tasmania I still lay in a stock of hard cider at wholesale prices - $1.10 a flagon (three bottles), which works out to about $US1.65. Treated with caution it’s not at all bad. Spirits used to be quite cheap - a bottle of imported French brandy for $A2 .65 ($US3 .97), imported Scotch and gin at $A3.15 ($US4.72). After our last budget, when duties ware heavily increased, those relatively happy days fled forever. The very cheapest Australian brandy now costs $A3.00 ($US4.50).

Eating out in the cities and larger towns can be a pleasant adventure. Not so very long ago the usual feed in Australia used to be steak and eggs, washed down with stewed tea. The wave of post World War II immigration changed all that. Now you can sample the national cuisine of just about every country under the sun. Most of these restaurants are licensed. The few that aren’ t, you bring your own bottle. A very few of these charge corkage. There are many places where one can dine surprisingly well surprisingly cheaply. There are some --high on our shit list - where one dines surprisingly badly surprisingly expensively. A really good meal for two, with all the trimmings and no courses missed, can run to $A15.00 ($US22.50).

Still on prices, I can give sane information on one of the basics - housing. Rent is high. Too much is being charged for land, although governmental action is possible. Building costs are high. To give an example, quite a while ago we paid £3,750 ($A7,500) ($US11,250) for a small cottage in a very run-down inner suburb of Sydney. We were lucky being among the vanguard of the arty and crafty types moving in as the honest proletarians moved out to the horrible new suburbs. Today we could get $A35,000 for the shack — or $US52,500. Part of this increase is due to the improvements we have made - but the main factor is that a socially undesirable suburb has become a socially desirable one. Insofar as Sydney is concerned you can charge the earth if a house or a home unit (“flat” in England “apartment” in the U.S .A.) has a harbour view. We haven’t but we’re only the metaphorical stone’s throw from the City, from the Cross, from some harbour and some ocean beaches. And as soon as the Eastern Suburbs Railway is completed - any moment now - we shall be very handy for the Opera House, (Speaking as a shipmaster, we’re only about 10 minutes, in the family Beetle, from any of the usual berths used by the Company’s ships.)

Talking of money inevitably brings me to the subject of Income Tax. This is high, especially when one is in the higher income brackets. And a self-employed person - such as a writer - is up against the iniquitous Provisional Income Tax. The theory is that you put in your Return on or about June 30 of each year. Shortly thereafter you receive a Demand for Income Tax not covered by the previous year’s Provisional Tax, and also one for provisional Tax, based on what they think that you will earn in the year to come. What actually happens, of course, is that your Return is put in as late as possible by yourself or your Tax Accountant. By the time that you get the Demand you have a fair idea as to what your writing income for the Financial Year will be - and you either pay up meekly or lodge a protest.

Looking on the relatively bright side, in Australia a writer can claim all sorts of expenses. Postage, market research, stationary, membership dues in my case SFWA, ASA (Australian Society of Authors) and BIS (British Interplanetary Society), travel, entertaining &c &c &c. Also there is the depreciation of the tools of one’s trade — typewriter, reference Library, &c &c. Allowable, too, is one third of the expenses of maintaining working premises - assuming that the working premises are the house in which you live. If the working premises were working premises only you could clam the bloody lot. This includes repairs, gas bill, electricity bill and telephone bill, also one third of the Combined Broadcast Receiving License and one third of the depreciation of the TV set and any repairs to the thing. (Market research, of course...) Oddly enough, if you put all these things down yourself quite a few of them would be queried. If your Return is made out by a reputable Tax Accountant you get very few queries.

The big advantage of Australia, however, is that it is a country where it is very easy to combine the profession of writing with an outdoor life. When I have a long spell of leave in summer, I try to spend as much of it as possible at our naturist club, not far from Sydney. There I have a comfortable caravan, with all mod. cons. When I get tired of writing I either sunbake or go a few times round the big swimming pool.

Now and again, when I have a long spell of leave in winter, I go north in search of the sun. (Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, is very pleasant.) Another tire I went on a rough-it Safari coach tour of Central Australia and the Northern Territory (Cordwainer Smith country). Most of the expense of such gallivanting can be written off, Income Taxwise, as professional expenses. (I did write THE MOUNTAIN MOVERS to prove that the coach tour was in search of material...)

Insofar as science fiction writers are concerned, Australia is a good country to work in as there are plenty of fannish activities, if you’re the type who cares to participate in such. The trouble is that the few dirty pros are so widely scattered. But you can always mix with writers at ASA meetings, where cheese, sausage and flagons of rough red are laid on.

All in all, Australia’s a good country for a writer, even though many of the breed claim to find its atmosphere uncongenial. The late Neville Shute Norway settled down very happily here. Mr Patrick White, the Nobel Prize winner, finds it not impossible to work in one of Sydney’s inner suburbs.

Finally, we shall soon have Public Lending Rights.
Originally Published in SFWA Forum No: 32 - Jan 1974