All about Sydney’s Opal Card

Update 27/12/2015: This post was originally written in March 2014, when the Opal card was brand new, and you still had a choice to use paper tickets if you wanted to. Fast forward to December 2015, and it’s largely defunct:

  • I left Sydney shortly after I wrote this post, so I haven’t had any motivation to update it.
  • Most Sydney commuters now use an Opal card and soon won’t have a choice – all paper tickets except singles and returns are withdrawn from 1 January 2016.
  • Most commuters now know about the free travel hack – and this loophole is likely to be closed in July 2016.

I’m keeping it here for historical value, but merged the original four posts into one so it doesn’t clutter up my blog so much.

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Myer, CBA, “Pay with points”, GST, and the TRS

The Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS):

The TRS is a wonderful scheme we have here in Australia that lets anyone (including Australian residents) claim back the GST (goods and service tax) paid on goods that you take out of the country. The basic requirements are that you spend at least $300 at one retailer, and take them out of Australia within 60 days. (Full details are on the Australian Customs website.)

“Pay with Points”:

This is a relatively new scheme that lets you redeem your Commonwealth Bank credit card awards points directly for points in-store at Myer. At the time of writing, 186 points = $1. (Full details are on the CBA and Myer websites.)


If you were planning to make a TRS claim on goods purchased at Myer using Commbank awards points, you may have a problem.

If you “pay with points” at Myer, the tax invoice will not show any GST. This is despite the tax invoice indicating that the items purchased are taxable. You can’t claim a GST refund if the tax invoice says that no GST was paid.

GST = $0.00


Solution 1:

Use your Commbank awards points to purchase a Myer gift card, then use the gift card to purchase your goods.

This will yield you a tax invoice that does show a GST amount, and is therefore eligible for a TRS refund.

You may get some funny looks when you ask the cashier to purchase a gift card of the same value as the goods you are holding, just smile and nod.

Solution 2:

If you’ve already purchased the goods:

  1. Go back to Myer
  2. Explain that you need a tax invoice showing GST so that you can make a TRS claim
  3. Ask very very nicely if they could possibly pretty please:
    1. Refund the original transaction
    2. Issue you a Myer returns card
    3. Re-do the transaction and pay with the returns card

This will yield you a tax invoice that does show a GST amount, and is therefore eligible for a TRS refund.

This is a lot of work for the staff, so be very nice to them and thank them profusely afterwards. (Leila from the Sydney City store – you’re an absolute champion.)

Is an Opal Card cheaper than a monthly / quarterly / yearly ticket?

Update March 2014: I’ve written a much more detailed post about this.

13/02/2014: Updated to include increased paper ticket fares.

Thinking about getting an Opal Card but not sure if it will work out cheaper than the periodical ticket you currently buy? Here are some quick answers.

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Decoding and sending 433MHz RF codes with Arduino and rc-switch

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to use an Arduino to decode signals from RF remotes, and re-send them to remotely control some mains switches and a garage door.

RF transmitter and receiver modules connected to the Arduino using a solderless breadboard and jumpers

RF transmitter and receiver modules connected to the Arduino using a solderless breadboard and jumpers

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DIY drip-free oil bottles with paper towel

Check out the photo, it should be pretty self-explanatory.

Oil and sauce bottles

I have found the best technique is to cut/tear a strip of 4-5cm wide strip of paper towel, fold it lengthwise a few times, then tie it around the neck of the bottle. (You can trim off the ends if you want – I can’t be bothered).

I have also tried securing the paper towel with a rubber band – this works ok for sauces, but oil degrades the rubber band and it breaks within a few weeks. Sticky tape has the same problem.

How to stop bacon curling up in a skillet, without a bacon press

I love bacon. I hate bacon which isn’t cooked evenly because it has curled up in the pan.

If you don’t have a bacon press, an electric grill press, an oven, or a microwave, here is an easy way to stop your bacon from curling up: cut some slits in the rind with a knife or kitchen scissors. This allows the meat, fat, rind, and gristle to shrink at different rates without making the bacon curl.

Note this works with short cut bacon (aka back bacon outside Australia / New Zealand). When I’ve tried it with middle bacon I will post an update.


A few brief tips for travelling in Italy

A friend of mine wrote a facebook post asking for tips on travelling to Italy – this is what I left as a comment!

Pompeii really is very interesting if you like history and archeology. Ask the staff to mark out on a map for you which streets and buildings are closed off to make it easier for you to plan your itinerary. Herculaneum (a similar buried town nearby) is much better preserved but much smaller and there’s not much there you won’t see at Pompeii. A trip up to Mt Vesuvius can be done in the same day but don’t bother if the peak is covered in clouds. I highly recommend staying at least one night in Napoli, the archeology museum is best I’ve seen anywhere, and the food makes all the italian food in Rome/Florence/Venice seem like rubbish. Look for a place called Pizziera Gino Sorbillo – you’ll find it by all the locals lined up outside. Pizza 16″ across for 3-5 Euro. Also Capella San Severa and Napoli Underground are worth seeing. There are also hundreds of churches. Just avoid the area within 1km of Napoli Centrale train station – it’s pretty dodgy. Continue reading