Faces of AWNY: Robyn Sunderland

Although Robyn Sunderland is one of our newest AWNY Committee Members, she’s lived in New York for twenty years. Find out how this modern explorer made the leap from a small town to the big city.

What part of Australia are you from? 

I’m originally from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. My family moved to a very small town called Talgarno in the Albury/Wodonga region to go farming. After spending my teenage years playing country netball, riding horses and milking cows, I returned to live in the Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda.

What brought you to New York and when? 

I arrived in New York in August of 1999. I came over with a dream of working at the United Nations with my former partner who was completing her PhD at Baruch College/CUNY.

Australian woman with glasses in Park Slope Brooklyn walking down street with trees
Robyn en route to the Park Slope Food Coop. Photo credit: R Sunderland.

What do you do for work in NYC?

After working at UN Headquarters and the Australian Mission to the United Nations for five years, I won the green-card lottery and have been working in the entertainment industry for the past 15 years. I learned the A-Z of strategic marketing on the MTV/Logo and L-Word national launches, and then moved into theatrical management. I’ve worked as an associate general manager for major European theater producers, managed theatrical tours in North America, and run advertising and marketing campaigns for Off-Broadway shows. Most recently, I’ve been working as a booking and promotions manager for The Builders Association, an Obie-Award winning multi-media theater company.

Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. My wife was living in brownstone Brooklyn and after September 11, I moved over from my East Village apartment to the Slope. It’s a beautiful, peaceful and community-minded spot, and it reminds me of living in the leafy inner suburbs of Melbourne.

What do you like/dislike about living in New York?

I love the beauty of the city itself, as well as the level of arts and cultural activities on offer. I really dislike standing on the subway platform waiting for a train on a hot and humid summer day. It must be over 100 degrees down there.

What’s your favorite New York spot?

Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I live close by and walk there daily, time permitting. 

Where do you like to eat brunch in New York? 

Milk Bar in Brooklyn. They have two locations in my neighborhood. They do terrific poached eggs on toast with smashed avo and a great flat white.

What is your favorite New York City cocktail spot/wine bar?

I’m at the theater often so I may enjoy a G&T at my seat. Otherwise, if I feel like having a post-show cocktail in the theatre district, I especially like 54Below and Bar Centrale.

Australian women in mountains wearing sunglasses
Robyn, in the mountains of Corsica with her wife, arts writer Elisabeth Vincentelli. Photo credit: R Sunderland.

Do you have a recent ‘only in New York’ moment you could share? 

Actress Holly Hunter walked down my block with her family.

What are your top three tips for friends visiting New York?

  1. Track the weather and pack layers. It’s really frigid here in winter and very humid in summer. Spring and fall here are fairly much on par with Melbourne.
  2. Take in Manhattan on one of those double-decker tour buses. It will help you to decide where you want to spend your time.
  3. Try to stay in a quiet location (so you can sleep) close to subway transportation. Make a list of the top 10 things you want to focus on doing and bring good walking shoes.

As a professional working in New York, what are the differences to working in Australia?

Here, if you’ve proven you have the skills and experience to deliver, you’ll be given a lot of room to grow. In Australia, it’s a smaller pond so it can be harder to land the right opportunities to develop your skills. 

Got advice for people moving to New York City? 

Go for it! Here you need to sell yourself and your uniqueness. They work hard in NYC and really love the Aussie work ethic.

What’s the biggest challenge or roadblock you’ve faced since being in New York, and how did you overcome it? 

Preparing the bundles of documents required for immigration authorities is a big challenge. I found out really late in the process that I’d won a green-card so I had to put in a super-hero effort into securing and submitting everything on time. I made it and was first in line at the U.S. Consulate the day of my interview.

Is there anything you miss about Australia? What things do you do to keep homesickness under control? 

Besides my family and friends, I miss the wide open spaces and the smell of gum trees. I also miss the sound of magpies and kookaburras. When I feel homesick, I catch up with my Aussie friends or watch some of our excellent home-grown TV series including “Jack Irish” or “A Place To Call Home”.

Australian woman with glasses reading a book at home
Robyn at home doing some research. Photo credit: R Sunderland.

Do you have any hobbies, activities or rituals that help you stay sane in this city?

Regular exercise and taking time to get away from the city. The U.S. has a relatively inexpensive and convenient rail system linking NYC to many wonderful cities. Road trips are also a necessity to take in the spectacular national parks.

Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in New York who are currently on your radar, and why?

Australian soprano Maree Johnson is killing it 8 shows a week in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera.”

What does it mean to you to be an “Australian woman in New York City”?

I feel like a modern-day explorer. I took a huge leap of faith to move over here and I landed the jump pretty well I’d say.

Do you have a signature Aussie saying that stumps New Yorkers every time?


Photo credit: R Sunderland

If you were a character in a New York TV Series, who would you be, and why?

They’d have to write me in to Smash but my character would be Sheila, the redhead GM who loves having a great looking garden, a lap pool and grilling steaks in her backyard with G&Ts.

Is there anything extra that people should know about New York?

New York is a huge city that will romance you. It’s also a tough city that will challenge you to give more of yourself and grow your talent. Have a wonderful time here! It’s a really fun place to be.

Author: Angela Tohl

Adelaide-born Angela came to New York in search of the ultimate adventure, by way of Australia and Japan. She juggles technical and copywriting projects, with chasing her kids around (usually on roller skates). Find Angela on Twitter @angelatohl and at www.australianwomeninnewyork.org/author/angelatohl/. Image credit: Susie Lang

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