St Kilda Pier

Frugal Ken: Melbourne day trip

There’s never been a more exciting time to take day trips to Melbourne.

The $18 tickets

Some months ago, I saw on OzBargain that Tigerair was doing one of its typical promotions — $18 flights from Sydney to Melbourne. Having never been to Melbourne at the time, I pounced and bought a ticket. At that price, I thought, I could afford to write it off if I can’t make it.

Promptly, I selected the two cheapest days: a Sunday departure and Wednesday night return.

A change of plans

Months had passed and I had forgotten about my booking. However, last week, the ever reliable Google Now eagerly reminded me of my “upcoming Melbourne trip”. That’s when I looked at my flight details again and realised I had a problem with my return flight on Wednesday. Unknown to me at the time of booking, this semester, I have classes to attend on Tuesdays.

The solution? I’ll do a day trip and take the Melbourne-Sydney XPT train to return. I had already purchased a NSW TrainLink Discovery Pass which allows unlimited travel on the NSW regional train network but had never done the Melbourne/Sydney run.

A quick tip for people who are planning to redeem only part of your plane ticket: all Australian airlines I’m aware of require you to start your journey with the first flight in your itinerary when you booked. In my case, for example, I could not have taken a train to Melbourne and returned on the Tigerair flight.

Saturday night, I booked the last available seat on a packed Melbourne-Sydney XPT and by 5:40AM the following morning — I was off to the domestic airport on the bus route 400 (the route that basically goes everywhere in the Eastern Suburbs).

Maccas for breakfast

As is customary for typical Uni students, I opted for a quick breakfast at the recently refurbished McDonald’s in the T2 terminal. I got myself a tomato and ham pocket which was far slimmer than advertised and a bacon and egg mcmuffin laced with bonus egg shells. Yum.

The flight

As you would expect with budget airlines, the seats are tight. Fortunately, the flight was short and with my slim build the journey was painless enough.

Plus, since I had originally booked the flight with a friend who couldn’t make it, I had a spare seat next to me. That was a nice bonus!

Tigerair Airbus landed at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport
Tigerair Airbus at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport

SkyBus to St Kilda

Those who travel to Melbourne frequently would know that the SkyBus is pretty much the only way to get from Tullamarine to the CBD (alternatively, you could get a cab).

Normally priced at $19 one way, the bus trip costs more than flight itself. However, in an unlikely coincidence, SkyBus was launching its St Kilda Express on the same day. For the week, the company will make the bus service free of charge as an introductory promotion.

The bus arrives once every hour during the weekend and takes you directly to St Kilda. However, the timetable probably requires some tweaking. Upon arrival at the first stop in St Kilda (Barkly Street), the bus arrived 10-15 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Since the bus acted both as pick up to the Airport and set down from the Airport, we had to wait for the timetabled departure so we didn’t miss picking up any passengers.

Weekend myki daily cap

myki travel in Zone 1 is capped at an affordable $6 on weekends. While one can say this is not as good as the $2.50 Sundays on Opal, I would have to say that Melbourne definitely has a more convenient public transport system than Sydney.

The convenience of the tram system and no-penalty multi-modal transfers means I don’t have to think twice about switching between trams, trains or buses for that matter.

“Soggy copper heartland”

For those readers who have been following the NBN debate for some time, you may be aware that the copper network in Williamstown, Victoria might not be that great. The “soggy copper” in Williamstown, as our former communications minister Senator Conroy puts it. nbn has recently began construction in the area, so I thought I’d drop by for a look to see if I can spot some nodes.

Disappointingly, there was no NBN nodes in sight despite the area being in build. I did spot some recently remediated Telstra pits though.

XPT return

This was the first time I’d done Sydney to Melbourne trip. Surprisingly, the train was basically fully booked. As a regular commuter on the North Coast Line, this was an unusual sight — I rarely see a fully booked train.

On time and as expected, the train departed at 8 from one of the few platforms in Southern Cross station which had dual gauge lines (Platform 1).

The budget

So how much did this day trip cost me? Just over $50 🙂

Melbourne Day Trip Budget

Few things to note there:

  • Since I’d booked a return flight — I paid an extra $18 for a flight I never redeemed.
  • I have a NSW TrainLink Discovery Pass which means my train ticket was “free”.
  • SkyBus: St Kilda Express was free this week; would have normally cost $19.

 

Costs aside, it was really nice to have a day off to relax a bit and explore the beautiful city of Melbourne.

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Opinion: New HSC structure and syllabus from 2018

STEM back on the agenda, but compulsory English still needs major reform

Today, the Minister for Education announced wide set of changes to the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) over the next four years. Here are a few thoughts I had on some of the changes:

New syllabus for science courses

Amongst the changes are new course structures and syllabuses for English, Mathematics and Science as well as a renewed focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses.

Having reviewed the draft syllabus writing briefs and consultation reports — science subjects are shifting away from a “social science” focus and instead re-focusing on the fundamentals of science.

For example, the current Chemistry module on Acids and Bases (called The Acidic Environment) has a focus on the history of acids were defined, the uses of esters and acids in society and the impact of things like acid rain to society. In HSC exams, the “big mark” questions are based almost entirely on social impact of science rather than the actual chemistry.

The current syllabus writing brief indicates drops almost all mention of societal impact. It lists four fundamental topic areas for Acids and Bases: Types of acids, pH and pOH, Strength of acids and Volumetric analysis.

I certainly don’t want to see the social science portion eliminated; having students understand applications is extremely useful for students to contextualise their learning and I believe, improves engagement. However, I do think reducing (not eliminating) the social science components will help students prepare for further education beyond the HSC.

The announcement also confirmed that they will be adding an extension course for science subjects. The lack of an extension science course was always a head scratcher for me. There are extension subjects for the two largest arts subjects (English and History), yet none existed for science. This is an exciting and a long awaited development.

Renewed English syllabus

I am, however, disappointed at the lack of major reform in the English courses. The current Advanced and Standard English courses can be characterised more as a philosophy and media course than an English course, and it certainly doesn’t seem like that has changed.

Other than changes in the name of modules, there are no significant changes to the course content.

For English (Advanced), the modules map almost directly from the old to the new syllabus:

  • Area of Study (Discovery) => Texts and Human Experiences
  • Representation and Text => Textual Conversations
  • Critical Study of Texts => Critical Study of Literature
  • Comparative Study of Texts and Context => The Craft of Writing: Writing Through Time

As the HSC’s only compulsory subject, the subject does not teach or assess English skills independent of history, differing views (or politics) and “human experiences” (all of which are non-English concepts).

There are some who argue that Mathematics is a waste of time, yet we use it every day; whether it’s in the supermarket or balancing our bank accounts.  The Board has developed a HSC course which teaches and assesses these essential skills (General Mathematics) and will soon incorporate it into the common part of both streams of Mathematics (see below).

However, general literacy and English skills are not the focus of any of the ATAR-eligible, board-developed HSC English courses.  Skills like expressing ideas in various ways like through speeches, reports or essays; or comprehension skills from these works.  This is what a compulsory English subject should teach and assess on — at least in part.

The Fundamentals in English course does explore these skills; but studying that subject will make you ATAR ineligible (unless you intend to repeat Year 11 and 12 studying the other English course).

It’s not to say that the current English courses should not exist — it should!  But don’t make that part the compulsory subject!

Common scale for General Mathematics and other Mathematics courses

Unlike the Standard and Advanced English courses, students currently studying General Mathematics 2 and other Mathematics courses (2 unit, Extension 1 and Extension 2) are scaled independently of one another. This encourages high achieving students to study the General Mathematics course rather than the more advanced Mathematics courses to score higher marks in the HSC and also potentially a higher ATAR.

The changes announced will see the syllabus of both Mathematics streams share common components and a common paper (much like the Area of Study module in English) to enable students from the two course streams to be reported on a common scale.

I think this is a logical move and also, long awaited.  The current Mathematics course lacked focus on some relatively basic Mathematical skills like statistics.  Renewed focus on these modules and sharing a common scale will encourage more capable students to take up the more advanced Mathematics subject.