On her first visit to Australia as a 14 year-old girl guide, Canadian Laura-lee Innes was so captivated with the landscape and the people she wanted to make it her home, and 15 years later she did.
‘I was on a World Jamboree with the guides and I had a ball. I even met a local boy. When I got home I told my parents I was absolutely moving to Australia but they weren't too happy with me.’
Laura-lee said even then Australia felt like home. ‘It had the sense of being warm and inviting, and the people were just great. It was such an easy place to be.’
After graduating from university in 1994, Laura-lee returned to Australia and backpacked around the country for a month, and fell in love with Melbourne and Victoria.
But it wasn’t until she completed a stint in the Canadian Armed Forces and married fellow chemical engineer, Glenn Innes, that she had time to revisit her Australia dream.
‘Luckily Glenn was game too although he’d never been here. I was more hesitant for him. I was worried he didn't understand the distance part of it. But he encouraged me to go for it.’
Laura-lee investigated their migration options online and soon found out about the Victorian Government’s Skilled Migration Program. ‘I got in touch with them and explained my degree was in chemical engineering but my field of interest was as a polymer chemist. They said that was fine.
‘The process really sped up after we got sponsorship from the Victorian Government. They were amazing. They made it so easy by answering all our queries and concerns.’
Laura-lee and Glenn arrived in Melbourne soon after she finished her PhD. ‘We decided we’d come directly to Melbourne to get a bit of the lie of the land.’ The couple moved into a short-stay apartment for two weeks and then travelled for nine weeks in south-east Asia before arriving back in Melbourne in December 2005 and starting to look for work.
In January 2006 Laura-lee got a job as the Environmental Health and Safety Manager of a company called Rohm & Haas, which manufactures water-based emulsion polymers and is based in Geelong (a large regional city an hour south-west of Melbourne).
About eight months later Laura-lee realised her ‘nerdy scientist was dying to come out’ so she took a job as a Senior Technologist with a company called HRL Technology in Melbourne, which is where Glenn works, but soon after she was recruited for a position at Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
‘It’s a great mix of science, chemistry, engineering and working with industry. I’d almost say it’s my dream job,’ said Laura-lee.
Laura-lee started with EPA in early 2007 and is part of a team implementing a set of new regulations for the disposal and treatment of industrial waste. ‘It’s amazing. It’s such a young group of people. I've never worked in the downtown core of a city before so I was a bit hesitant at first. I thought it might be a bit too ‘Sex and the City’ for me, but I really like it.’
Manager of the Waste Management Unit at the EPA, Mel Barker, said Laura-lee’s role includes investigating the chemistry of waste that goes to landfill and trying to find new ways to make waste safer and treat it to a higher standard.
‘Laura-lee was a very attractive candidate for us because she’s got a Master’s Degree and a PhD, both of which are relevant to the work she does, plus she’s got extensive industry-based experience,’ said Mel.
‘She’s picked up things very quickly. She was able to go out and speak to stakeholders within three weeks of starting and she’s also leading a small team within the unit. I think it’s really important for Victorian organisations to look at the skills that people from overseas bring because we can often benefit from that international experience.’
When they first arrived in Melbourne, finding an apartment over Christmas was difficult but the couple managed to track down a flat in the bayside suburb of Brighton, and have since bought an apartment in Port Melbourne.
‘We’ve ended up in the perfect suburb for us,’ said Laura-lee. ‘We’ve found this place that's a tram ride to the city, which is great for work, and it's a quiet, little building that's a block and a half from the beach.’
Recently Laura-lee’s mum and partner stayed with the couple for a few weeks and Glenn’s parents are also due to visit soon. ‘We've even got a good friend who’s asked for information about how to immigrate – he and his girlfriend are working through the process at the moment,’ said Laura-lee.
Laura-lee said she can’t quite believe sometimes she’s living in such a large, lively city. ‘Glenn and I went to the Melbourne Cricket Ground one night for a football game and there were 90,000 people there - that's my home town, ten times over.’
On weekends Laura-lee and Glenn like to visit South Melbourne Market and stock up on fresh produce, and they also take advantage of the city’s jam-packed events calendar.
Said Glenn, ‘There’s so much on, whether it’s music, theatre or sports. Pretty much every day there’s something happening if you want to go it.’
Since arriving in Melbourne Glenn has also taken up skateboarding again. ‘It’s amazing. There are skate parks everywhere here. I've actually met a bunch of guys my age that all skateboard. It’s kind of a social get together really. You skateboard for a bit and then hang around and chat for a while.’
Meanwhile Laura-lee has become involved in the local Girl Guides movement, and is involved in a range of events including a series of Women of Note mentor breakfasts.
‘I’d say we’re fast becoming absorbed into the Melbourne way of life,’ said Laura-lee. ‘I don't drink coffee yet, which is a big thing here, but maybe I need to start?’