Adding to the riskiness of taking this job, I have never actually been to Australia. The interview was over the internet. They sent me documents via email, and I returned scans of the signed documents. I've never seen my future boss in person (although I did meet a few of his colleagues when they visited my workplace to learn strategies from the top supercomputing centers as they were starting up their project). But I did not jump into this sight-unseen.
I did a lot of homework ahead of time. A colleague has a friend who lives in Perth and works in the same building I will work in -- an American woman, with whom I spoke extensively. And thanks to Google Maps street view, we've driven around Perth (admittedly very slowly and in a fishbowl!). I've been reading the local news as well, getting a feel for what's going on.
I also read all about Australia and Western Australia (WA) as a whole. I've learned about the way their government is set up, and the fact that they have a childless, unmarried, female, atheist prime minister (a combination that would be political suicide in this country!). I learned about their history and holidays (for one thing, Easter is a four-day weekend). I learned about their income tax system, their retirement system, and their public medical insurance scheme (alas, with a temporary work visa, we don't qualify and must pay for our own private insurance). I learned about how to get a driver's license in Western Australia. I read the Western Australian police department's website, the WA department of education's website, and examined some of the primary schools in the area that Vinny could potentially attend. I checked out the online shopping for two of the biggest grocery stores in the area, as well as the Australian Kmart and Target chains (they licensed the names and logos from the US, but that is the extent of the similarity). Yes, they do sell peanut butter.
A friend of mine let me borrow Bill Bryson's book In a Sunburned Country, a book that really did make me laugh out loud. (I only wish it would have had more about Perth.) We watched a number of documentaries on Australia as well.
I've also been in contact with some of my future colleagues, one in particular who has kids similar in age to Vinny. From that colleague, I've learned more about how the schools work and about Australian culture. I think it's all going to be just fine (although that is not to say that there will be no surprises!).