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Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience

CHAPTER 15

‘WE CAME ON A HOLIDAY LIKE YOU’

THE AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITY PRESS IN LONDON IN THE 1970s AND 80s

The Australian community press in London was reborn in the 1970s through catering to the needs of a new generation of mobile and youthful travellers. Australians were given the opportunity by cheap air travel to undertake in unprecedented numbers extended work and travel experiences in Europe in the 1970s and 80s. Mobile and wealthy through casual and temporary labour, both skilled and unskilled, the Australian immigrant community became well defined as part of a geographic enclave and the city’s extensive cultural mosaic. This essay explores the development of the Australian community press and associated industries in these years and expressions of travel and tourism, popular culture, work and leisure.

The Australian community in London revealed itself materially in the late 1960s in the informal ‘van mart’ on Saturday mornings where Volkswagen Kombi vans lined up outside Australia House on the Strand. These practical box-like vehicles were the preferred means of transport for group campers travelling around Europe. The passing on of the van to the next group of itinerants was a ritual conducted by home-goers or movers-on from the Grand Working Holiday tour of Europe. This period of sojourning, as one participant, Bill James, reflected, had become ‘an essential finishing school before any thought was given to taking up a ‘real job’ and a ‘real life’ at home’.1 But when it was over the van had to go. The barter transfer was conducted under the benign and at first protective aegis of the Commonwealth government’s great edifice. The civic authorities proved tolerant initially but a change in traffic regulations forced the van mart to relocate. It moved to less visible and certainly less symbolic locations on the south bank of the Thames, first at Doon Street, near Waterloo Station, and then in nearby Belvedere Road until, in 1987, it was closed altogether as a traffic hazard.2 It moved finally to a parking lot near Old Street before fizzling out in the early 1990s. What had begun as a casual meeting place for buyers and sellers had grown to something much more demanding, with anything between 30 and 100 vans (at the height of the selling season) parked in the streets.

The fate and memory of the van mart would be of little consequence, other than for its nostalgic appeal for those involved, were it not indicative of the changing character of the population overall. Australians in the 1970s and 1980s were among the most visible of London’s new immigrant groups. As late as the 1960s Australian sojourners to the UK generally travelled by boat and were still a curiosity. But their numbers were steadily increasing and by 1968 there were some 250,000 short-term (less than a year) and around 50,000 long-term Australian departures abroad; most were destined for the UK. This was a big increase on the 30,000 short-term and 20,000 long-term departures of 1950. By 1975, as Stephen Alomes observes, the ‘baby boom’ generation born since 1945 had arrived, causing a further increase in short-term (900,000) and long-term (66,000) departures.3

This growth was aided considerably by the benefits of mass jet travel. The world’s first commercially successful jet airliner, the Boeing 707 and later its successor, the larger 747, was transforming the journey from Australia to the UK. In 1971 Qantas, introduced its 747Bs on the so-called Kangaroo Route, to Singapore and thence to London. Prices were cut to chase volume and to beat off competition from charter interlopers. An ‘excursion fare’ of A$700 and a one-way fare of A$420 reversed a steady decline in traffic. From 1972, 747 flights increased from three to five a week and a reduction in stops brought the flight time to Europe to under 25 hours. These were peak years for the arrival of young Australians in London. In 1971–72 the Kangaroo Route alone carried 40,000 passengers and in the year ending March 1975 the total increased more than six-fold to 255,000.4

Britain had become easier to get to but it was also easier to return home from, thus creating a more transient Australian community in London and softening any dramatic increase in numbers overall. The frequency of journeys induced other changes. One was a greater turnover in Kombi vans, and hence the van mart. Another was enhanced self-consciousness among the expatriate Australian community. Greater mobility generated more of a herd mentality among travellers, with the need or inevitability of blending in not so great. Although the census figures reveal otherwise it seemed the Australian presence was disproportionately metropolitan, with London the great base camp. Living in and near places like Earl’s Court (Kangaroo Valley) meant being part of a semi-permanent enclave characterised by Australian and other transients. It was to this group that a revived immigrant press catered.

THE REBIRTH OF THE AUSTRALIAN IMMIGRANT PRESS

As late as the early 1980s the Australian expatriate community in London still operated in advance of the communications revolution and the instant data resources we now take for granted. The last journal catering to Australians in London was the British Australasian, which survived in attenuated form as the Australia and New Zealand Weekly until 1969. From that time until 1973 there was nothing.5 But there was still a need for information, to find jobs and housing for example, and for the advertisement and sale of facilities serving the travelling expatriate community. The informal exchange and information networks that existed lacked sophistication and direct appeal to Australian newcomers.

For many newcomers, London was a lonely place. Australia House had long been a symbol and a practical refuge. Arriving in 1972, Colin Speairs would queue there to read the Australian newspapers, many of them up to six weeks old, with news that was stale even by the standards of the day. A journalist himself, Speairs had followed a classic career path from country regional, then suburban, through to metropolitan newspapers. He spent six years with the Melbourne Age prior to taking off to see London and then the world. It occurred to him that there had to be an opening for a publication that would cater to Australians in London, of whom the Victorian Agent-General had told him there were in excess of 100,000 – quite enough for a good-sized Australian country or suburban newspaper.6 Speairs had taken six months leave of absence from his Australian employers but was to remain in London ten years and to lay the foundations of a revived immigrant press that survives to this day. A check of likely advertisers revealed that travel companies and camping suppliers would support such a venture. The Europe travel market, after all, was extensively patronised by Australians. Through his knowledge of Australian community newspapers Speairs knew this publication had to be distributed free. A dummy was produced over three months from rented rooms in Knightsbridge. Speairs’s landlord was Iraq-born businessman Ibrahim Razuki, who had fled Iraq after the Baath Party came to power in 1963. Razuki had established himself in the London property market and was enthusiastic and open to new commercial opportunities. In April 1973 he agreed to back Speairs’s newspaper, now entitled the Australian Express. Within a few weeks it had changed its name to the Australasian Express, hoping to appeal also to the smaller but evident cohort of New Zealanders.

Notice boards for accommodation and jobs, and advertisements in community newspapers were important for this highly mobile community. There was a frequent need to shift goods quickly. With the five-year working visa (on which many Australians arrived in the 1970s) one could get entrenched, building up a stock of linen, furniture, chairs, refrigerators and the like. More rapid departures, coupled with new arrivals, meant that Australians were already extensive users of free publications driven by advertising. As the name implies, Exchange and Mart was one local publication given over to the sale and exchange of goods. Loot was another, popular for the sale of second-hand goods and still going. While such publications had very practical and straightforward purposes, they had no particular identification with Australians. But it soon became apparent to commercially minded souls that for a distinct class of people, who were now staying for shorter periods, had immediate needs for travel and work, and were turning over their personal belongings more quickly, such identification would bear fruit. Australians had enjoyed publications of their own in the past and there was an apparent need for them still.

Image

Figure 15.1 Australasian Express editor Colin Speairs hand delivering copies of his newspaper to young Australian in London c.1974.

Source: Courtesy Colin Speairs.

The intention was to put London’s expatriate Australian community on a pedestal. The paper was a 16-page tabloid, originally a fortnightly. The free graphic layout that web-offset production permitted had revolutionised community newspapers in both Britain and Australia. The Australasian Express had something of the youthful appeal and layout – but not the politics – of university newspapers of the period. It advanced quickly to weekly status with a circulation of 45,000, and within a year it had successfully defined the market. Speairs worked as managing editor, employing an editor, Jonathan King, and an advertising manager. The paper carried feature articles, a mix of Australian news and sport, two pages of photographs of ‘Australians in London’ and advertisements for European travel, employment, accommodation and entertainment, with as many as ten pages of classifieds.7 In its reporting and self-promotion Australasian Express pandered to Australian sentiment and humour. A steady diet of Australian girls in bikinis near water, and job and travel advertisements deliberately targeted the expatriate community. Profile features on successful or visiting Australians in London were a mainstay – these included film-maker Bruce Beresford, director of The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Nicholas Whitlam, 27, son of the Australian prime minister, who is ‘forging a career in high finance’; and Erin Stratton, 29, ‘mother’ in charge of 230 ‘bunnies’ at the Playboy Club in Park Lane, but originally from Hillston, a small town in outback New South Wales.8

Generations of Australians had considered the return ‘home’ to Britain a rite of passage, or even a permanent right given the extremities of success or failure. Many, no doubt, had put such aspirations on hold, or abandoned them altogether, due to Depression, war or family constraints. Buoyed up by postwar affluence and untouched by the horrors of war or deprivation, a new generation of Australians, still supported by ancient aspirations, family connections and friends, now made their way back. Australia may have been changing but it was still anglo-centric.9 That London was a destination for so many youthful travellers was a comfort to worried parents.

We can characterise these youthful sojourners under various headings: immigrant worker-sojourners, adventurer backpackers, drifters, independent travellers and aspiring professionals. The tags are by no means exhaustive, for they often overlapped as individuals matured, progressed or simply changed status. Like Alomes’s better-known and more individualised creative artists and name journalists, they were not so much pushed as called.10 London, heart of empire and monarchy, great centre of culture, trade, communications and commerce, was the source of siren images, both written and visual, peddled in the Australian media. The scars of the Blitz and Old World decay may have abounded in London’s sprawling form but from the 1960s it was minted newly trendy and celebrated as a centre of youth culture. Britain’s world-beating rock and roll band, the Beatles, may have come from Liverpool, but London was the first citadel they captured and the appeal of the clean-cut Beatles to Australian audiences was seen in their sell-out 1964 tour.11 Australia’s affluent youth of the 1960s and 1970s were eager consumers of the new cultural cargo seen in the circulation from one teenager-filled house to another of magazines – Rolling Stone from the United States, New Musical Express (NME) from Britain and local variants like Go-Set in Melbourne – and the proliferation of import record shops in the major cities and copy-cat bands in the suburbs. But as with the Beatles, the baby-boomers changed from neat conformity to lifestyle experimentation and even more provocative adaptations. Dour necessity, and parental and other tiresome forms of authority in Australia, gave the overseas jaunt a particular appeal.

London presented no language barrier, an important consideration for mainly mono-lingual youngsters venturing abroad for the first time. London offered jobs and accommodation and sympathetic support networks, for even the ingenuous young. Barry McKenzie was Aussie ingenuous-ness incarnate. First brought to life as a comic-strip character drawn by London born but New Zealand raised Nicholas Garland in the satirical publication Private Eye, McKenzie was built on enduring popular stereotypes.12 Garland approached Private Eye in 1964 with a cartoon-strip idea for a naive strong-jawed young northerner newly arrived in London. The editor, Richard Ingrams, liked the idea but wanted the central character be an Australian, not an Englishman, and expatriate Australian actor Barry Humphries to provide the story-line. The name was taken from Humphries’s own and that of Graham ‘Garth’ McKenzie, the burly Australian cricketer of the period. The over-sized jaw belonged to the popular American backwoodsman cartoon character, Desperate Dan, while the double-breasted suit, striped tie and wide-brimmed hat came courtesy of ANZAC ex-servicemen seen by Garland marching down Whitehall in a Remembrance Day parade.13

The comic strip ceased in 1974, but ‘Bazza’ endured in comic books (banned in Australia) and two films, and in popular association among young sojourners in London to this day. Interestingly, Humphries’s equivalent female character, Debbie Thwaites, never achieved the same success, notwithstanding the large numbers of young women who entered Britain in these years. McKenzie was not alone. Australasian Express maintained separate columns for males and females under the pseudonyms and caricatured images of Prue and Bruce.14 Such images resonated, as they still do. Reflecting on his first sojourn in 1972, the playwright David Williamson said, ‘I felt my Australianness was bizarre, that my accent was ... an embarrassment, that people would think I behaved like Barry McKenzie, all the things that Australians do find when they travel, I felt then’.15 Up until at least the mid-1980s it was not fashionable in London to be seen to be Australian. This is reflected in the testimony of individuals who had stayed from the earlier decade and in defensive and self-parodying images in the community press.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

There is safety in numbers but a nation of barely ten million, far removed on the other side of the globe could scarcely swamp Britain with adventurous youth. Besides, Australia was evolving its own imperative of progressive cultural development with the promise of the Whitlam Government.16 Officials at Australia House urged the youthful adventurers to go back home, citing Britain’s perennial power crises, petrol shortages and appalling weather as reasons for doing so.17 The Australasian Express meanwhile reported the observation of Bernard Marks from the Alfred Marks employment agency that, despite the current economic crises, demand for temporary employees in London would remain strong; the figures defied the usual downward winter trend, with a quarter of a million unfilled vacancies for office staff in London and even greater demand for nurses, catering staff and agricultural labourers.18 There were clear signs of an enduring and growing demand for labour that would continue to suit sojourner travellers. Many had good reasons for returning home. But for every Australian inspired by a sense of national responsibility or desiring a more settled life, there was another whose decision was made by the British authorities.

In the late 1970s things became tougher for longer term itinerants in Britain. But still the stream continued to flow the other way, with each new landing at Heathrow from the now fully extended services run by British Airways and Qantas bringing visitors on one-way tickets. My journalist cousin Marsha went over on a five-year working visa in 1973, landed a job (as she admits, ‘through complete nepotism’) and stayed.19 The rules, however, were tightened the year that she arrived. It was fine for a while, but she and others soon found themselves embroiled with the Home Office. They consequently became ‘walking encyclopedias of information on the Immigration Act’.20 A good job or a boyfriend, for example, provided a moral case to stay longer. One’s determination was certainly a factor. The British were, admittedly, generous by comparison with the United States, where the elusive ‘green card’ permitting a visitor to work was not so easily obtained. The years passed and by 1980 Marsha had obtained her ‘residency’. But along with many of her friends she had been made acutely aware that if she left the country she would have to apply for another visa, which she might not get. Trips back home to Australia, even to Europe, were postponed. It was a form of gentle harassment, or prompting. The less resolute simply packed their bags and returned. Australia was still a pretty good place. People knew when it was time to go and take one’s London memories and European travel stories back home, perhaps sowing seeds of desire in a younger sister, brother or cousin, or even children, to make the trip.21

Things got tougher again in the 1980s when the Working Holiday visa was cut from five years to two, resulting in a much shorter stay. London, however, maintained its insatiable appetite for human fodder, and this was being met. But as far as Australians were concerned, they were welcome to visit, even to work, but not to stay. These years were not particularly happy ones for the host society, with successive Labour governments progressive and well-meaning but out of touch with emerging international and economic trends. Stodgily socialist in politics and dourly conservative in its social habits, Britain was saddled with tensions that beggared resolution. There was civil war in Northern Ireland and the ever-present threat of bombing terror from the IRA, trouble with racial minorities at home and an obstructive trade union movement. Britain was not the international power it had been. Formal relations with the old dominions, including Australia and Australians, were growing more distant. Britain, having joined the European Union in 1973, was now more conscious of being part of Europe. It was becoming inevitable that all visitors and potential immigrants would be treated equally, and a more sensitive consciousness of issues of race was being adopted across the board – something for visiting white Australians to take note of.

The election of a Conservative government in 1979 marked a tougher new Britain, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher confronting the miners at home and Argentina in the Falkland Islands. Economically, the UK began to focus on commerce rather than industry, with coal mines closing and banks expanding. While this meant unemployment and decline in the industrial north, the south benefited and employment opportunities improved in London, which remained the entertainment and financial capital. These trends benefited migrants aged between 25 and 30, whose average wage levels were higher than those of their English contemporaries. The resultant boom in financial markets careered across industry, with almost every business that supported financial traders benefiting – travel agencies, bars, and restaurants that catered for long lunches. The expansion of newly deregulated financial markets created work opportunities for skilled Australians, with the pattern mirroring the expatriation of creative artists of years gone by.

For many young Australians this new and buoyant London offered ready and easily accessible employment that would fund their lust for travel. The new travellers’ high levels of education meant that many who were attracted by the cheap travel opportunities in Europe, as well as those just escaping overseas, fell into better career opportunities than they might have back home. Most sought work to supplement the meagre and fast-disappearing funds they brought with them. For in London, and particularly central London, living was expensive and pressures on desirable facilities available for transients were constantly at a premium.

As the economic welcome was being extended conditions were being made tougher. The expulsion of the Kombi van mart from its Eden on the Strand would be just another sign. The message was mixed: economic opportunity with political difficulty; the welcoming hand now but in due course the reflexive boot. This was confirmed by further changes to the immigration laws. The British Nationality Act 1981 abolished the status of Commonwealth citizens, enabling them to be classified as British subjects without the benefits of citizenship. Changes to the Immigration Act 1988 increased from one to four years the qualifying requirement for Commonwealth citizens with British parents or male grandparents to gain British citizenship. And so from the mid-1980s Australians who had been around a while were being forced out and those coming in were staying for shorter periods. Conditions for working visitors to London – many of them Australians – remained good. But the expatriate community was now even less permanent in character and increasingly affected by the youth travel market. There was a correspondingly greater need for agency and the exchange of information. If anything, the Australian community in London was becoming more obvious, not just because of its increased numbers but also because of its volatility. London’s appeal as a convenient and friendly stopover point was underscored by a perceived ‘lack of welcome’ from other countries, in Asia and Europe especially. French nuclear testing in the Pacific inflamed relations and, following the Rainbow Warrior incident in 1987, Australians and New Zealanders were not welcome in France.

A TALE OF TWO MASTHEADS

By 1977 Australasian Express had a competitor in the London Australasian Magazine (later London Alternative Magazine or simply LAM). Started by Rick Leeming and George McCarthy as a monthly magazine, it moved to a fortnightly and then a weekly format. Another point of the consumer media compass was (and remains) Time Out, established in 1968 by entrepreneur Tim Elliott. This weekly magazine listing of events, including films, music, exhibitions and fashion, was already a London institution. The difference between it, the weekly newspaper supplements and free lifestyle and ‘what’s on’ publications was Time Out’s low price and relative freedom from dependence on advertising.22 By 1979 LAM was providing serious competition to Australasian Express. In addition to hitting the streets a day before its rival, the magazine also had a longer shelf-life. When Australasian Express went to Thursday publication, LAM responded by going to Tuesdays. LAM, now styled ‘London’s alternative magazine’ and incorporating the Australasian News and Post, was an A5-sized magazine of 70 pages devoted to ‘lifestyle’ consumer information and travel and with heavy advertising and ‘advertorial’ reflecting its status as free from 24 pick-up points.23 It covered Events (with a strong emphasis on film) and Travel (features on the Royal Opera House, visiting Jordan in the Middle East and skiing in Eastern Europe), with three pages on sport and an equivalent number on Australian news. The news was a random collection of stories with Australian tags pulled off the wire services. The sport, mainly Australian cricket and rugby, was of the same character.

Editorial staff came and went, often working as a prelude to the Continental tour and a return home. Graeme Johnston edited Australasian Express in 1980–81. The 30-year-old Sun News-Pictorial staffer in Melbourne had responded to an advertisement placed by the Razukis, and taken his wife and young family over. He continued working for the newspaper informally as a columnist on his return to Australia.24 When Australasian Express ceased publication in a bankrupt state in September 1983, it appeared that it had lost the commercial war. But ten days later Ibrahim Razuki’s sons, Ghadir and Ali, started The News and Travel (TNT) as a magazine of 48 pages, accepting the LAM format and the increased costs of magazine production. TNT mirrored closely Australasian Express, LAM and other equivalent publications in style and content, and was still a give-away.25 It was produced in a single office at 52 Earl’s Court Road in the run-down heart of Kangaroo Valley. It remained there for 15 years before two residential properties were converted into four offices in nearby Child’s Place. The move reflected the publication’s growing revenue and expanding size.

Image

Figure 15.2 Distribution points for TNT showing a distinct preference for London’s central and inner west as key drop-off points for the free magazine targeted at Australians.

Source: TNT, 15 April 1986.

With Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and United States flags on the cover, the new magazine now pitched to a variety of immigrant communities. Canada and the United States were soon dropped, on the grounds that the United States was ‘all over the news’ in any case and that while Canadians were in London in big numbers, they were not ‘surface travellers’ like the Australians and New Zealanders (according to Ghadir Razuki, the magazine simply ‘couldn’t define their patterns’). As with Australasian Express the new publication was ‘a subbing medium’ with copy purchased from Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited. Each week’s edition featured a selection of stories, including sport, from the different Australian states and a mix of articles on travel, entertainments and Australians in London. There were also many advertisements, both classified and feature. Providing an estimated 90 per cent of the revenue, advertising was the fuel that kept the magazine going. Ghadir Razuki claims that its B4 format was a crucial move in the commercial war with its competitor, as was its move to a Monday distribution drop in 1986. Not only was TNT the first out in the new week, its Sunday copy deadline meant that it could be first with Australian weekend sport. By 1984 the orientation was almost exclusively Australian. New Zealanders complained, but news of the ‘three sheep go missing’ variety from that part of the world (or Australia for matter) was not a big draw card.26

Neither LAM nor TNT featured outstanding journalism. But they were driven by youthful energy, blessed with advertising resources and they had an audience. Both picked up on Australian leads of all kinds. LAM’s 4 January 1983 edition features the then youthful federal treasurer, John Howard, sporting a brightly coloured paisley tie. Both mainstream Australian political parties had active groups in London, and with an election approaching Howard would have been well aware of the potential absentee vote. The business driver of LAM was its advertisements. By targeting Australians it was tapping a niche market. LAM thus courted the returning-home market with three pages of freight advertisements every week. Three pages of job advertisements targeted Australians at the opposite end of their trip, and in its edition of 8 February 1983 they are indexed into the following categories: accountancy, bar and catering, computers, hotel staff, industrial, nurses, secretarial and miscellaneous – the latter includes a position for someone to drive the truck delivering the magazine. Crude Australian signifiers were commonplace in the images and text, with kangaroos and koalas being particularly popular – we are only ‘a hop, skip and a jump away’. The ANZAC Nursing Service unequivocally tied its colours to the mast while the Nightingale Nurses Bureau adopts a sympathetic tone: ‘We came on a holiday like you so understand your needs’.27

Incredibly for such a successful enterprise LAM magazine, in its farewell to editor Jeff Hayward, announced a move away from targeting Australians. Hayward was credited with having guided LAM editorially ‘through its climb from an Australian publication to London’s free weekly entertainment guide’. The new editor was Donald McLeod, formerly a journalist in New Zealand and writer for Time Out.28 Soon afterwards, in 1985, Leeming and McCarthy sold out to a consortium of businessmen and LAM’s editorial management continued its tilt at the British Time Out market. Stories of a left-wing nature (such as ones against fox hunting) that had often been published by LAM had little appeal to Australian itinerant travellers, in the opinion of Ghadir Razuki. This, he felt, gave TNT its advantage. Over the same period TNT, by contrast, cleaved towards its Australian audience. By 1988, after about a year of falling advertising revenue, LAM ceased publication, leaving TNT with a virtual monopoly. Southern Cross, started by an ex-TNT staffer in 1988, lasted as an independent publication until 1991, when TNT purchased it from the liquidators and kept it as a secondary publication. About this time TNT began to carry some South African news. Mandela’s release in 1990, Apartheid’s progressive demise, and South Africa’s return to the Commonwealth meant that South African numbers in London were growing and that South African subjects had now gained in respectability – not that TNT saw itself as a political organ at any stage.29

‘STRANDED ... SO FAR FROM HOME’

The cover of TNT from 26 November 1985 features a cartoon of the Hoodoo Gurus, a leading Australian rock band. Described as ‘protopunk’, the Perth-based band was touring the UK to promote an album. Their gig at the Kings Head hotel in Fulham was well reported in TNT. Not surprisingly, the hotel was a prolific advertiser, with its ‘Comedian – Gentlemen’s Entertainment’ and Thames River cruises and as home to the Colonials Rugby League Club.30 A ‘yuppie’ pub these days, it still plays Australian Rules football on the big screen. TNT pages evince considerable competition for the patronage of visiting Australians, with the Drifters Club in Bayswater offering 60p drinks all night and wet T-shirt contests. Removed from parental and other restraints the young itinerants could play up. Among 1980s venues catering for Australians, The Church on Sunday became notorious for its wet T-shirt and wet-jock competitions, and strippers, attracting patrons by word of mouth. Punk rock, a modish expression of disaffection in these times, included in its canon of performers an Australian band, the Saints, who had had a hit with their single ‘I’m Stranded’ even before they had arrived. Their music was better appreciated in London than Brisbane, which had spawned them.31 Like the wandering youth themselves, bands and performers simply ended up in London, and then they worked the pubs. David McComb from The Triffids thus recalled, ‘once we’d left Perth, we’d left home. We basically figured we were traveling from then on. There was no distinction as to how far we could go from home, including overseas’.32

Punk rock was already, in 1985, on the way out. Pub-based band music was more enduring and an identity-link for Australians abroad. The bands that obtained regular gigs and followers, and the magazines that helped promote them, reflect the mélange of self-consciousness of a mobile community of young transient workers and experiential travellers. Other graduates from the Australian pub circuit extended their appeal beyond the expatriate community. When TNT columnist Susan Muranti claimed half the audience at the band’s Albert Hall concert on 24 June 1986 were Australian, INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence replied mockingly that he doubted there were 4000 Australian 16- or 17-year-olds in London.33 At the other end of the spectrum, venerable Aussie rocker of the 1950s, Johnny Devlin, was playing to considerably smaller audiences in London pubs.34 Music and pub advertisements were a feature of TNT pages, but the freebie Aussie mag could hardly claim the youthful audience or myth-making impact of the regular music press.35 It sponsored a sense of community in other ways. Following a tradition begun by Australasian Express, TNT ran advertiser-sponsored barbecues on Australia Day and at Christmas that attracted, on occasion, more than 2000 people.36

TNT’s editor in 1985 was Sonia McLeod. With the cover message ‘Focus on London, Australian News & Sport, Accommodation, Jobs’, it now boasted fourteen named staff, with specialist writers handling news, sport and music, and two advertising representatives. Sixty-two distribution points (including Australia House) were listed, with locations in the city, inner west, north and south predominating and individual spots as far afield as Ealing and Clapham. There were 11 in WC1 (including the West End), 13 in WC2 (the Strand) and 8 in W2 (Bayswater). Within a year McLeod had resigned to holiday in Cyprus.37 The new editor, Ross Stokes, 28, had been a journalist with the Western Mail Group of newspapers in Western Australia. Copy included ‘the news from home’ and speculations on the emerging zeitgeist of Australia in the 1980s. In April the subject was the new breed of ANZACs, ‘the children of peace and prosperity’, and the new Australian entrepreneurs – Rupert Murdoch, Alan Bond, Robert Holmes à Court and John Elliott, who have made their mark with ‘an astonishing degree of shrewdness and success that observers have been left wondering just which unheard of Antipodean is going to surprise them next’.38

The magazine expanded to include a jocular editorial, the Bull Sheet. Driven by advertising – increasingly by classified advertising – TNT’s journalistic method remains clear: identify wherever possible with a perceived Australian audience, or create one. A hardy perennial was a ‘vox pop’ asking visiting Australians what they thought of the English summer. Jeanie Hope from Melbourne offers ‘pathetic ... depressing and miserable’ while two travellers from Brisbane – ten and five months respectively in London – consider they hadn’t experienced it yet, but might have ‘missed it last Monday’. A ‘whingeing Aussie’ tone emerges: ‘with its mass unemployment ... lack of national morale and comparatively low standards of living, Britain is a perfect example of everything Australia, supposedly, is not’.39 To the question ‘Why come in the first place?’ come the answers, it ‘still is the world’s entertainment capital’ and ‘it’s the cheapest European or English speaking place of any distance for Australians to fly to’.40 For the impending Bicentennial celebrations, a front-page feature is the re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet planned by Jonathan King, popular historian and journalist – and former editor of Australasian Express.41 The magazine also ran a ‘get-in-touch’ cum dalliance or lonely hearts column, but it disappeared following a spate of spurious entries.42

Not all the news was good. In July 1986 TNT readers are informed that the Australian dollar has fallen to a mere 42.7 pence in the pound – sobering news for those newcomers still living off their savings from home.43 Fortunately, regular advertisers continue to offer work, including some, like grape picking in Burgundy, that appeals to the adventurous.44 Closer to home Stuart’s Personnel offers ‘immediate registration’ for labourers, tradesmen and semi-skilled construction workers, and vacancies for warehouse porters, electricians and visiting accountants.45The facts of life are dealt with in occasional articles: Australians and New Zealanders are entitled to a two-year working-holiday visa, if under the age of 27. This can be obtained in one’s country of origin or at the Home Office’s vast tower block, the aptly named Lunar House at Croydon in the ‘outer reaches of London beyond the underground system’: ‘There’s an interview hall where several hundred people may be waiting – you take a ticket and take your turn. If you arrive after 10.30 a.m. you probably won’t be seen that day’.46

Outstay your welcome and you could face deportation and removal. At the very least you will receive a ‘terse and rude letter’ with dates filled in and fines and imprisonment threatened. TNT also reports what officials cannot say: that such orders are still practised mainly against Black and Asian people, not white former ‘Colonials’.47 As for employment, secretaries and nurses will find little difficulty getting a job. Pub work is acceptable but represents extremely long hours at comparatively poor pay, even with live-in arrangements. This is also the case with nanny work, while shop assistant jobs are plentiful though moderately paid.48 Flat hunting in London is described as ‘really fierce’, with readers advised to allow a whole week to look for shares and ‘bed-sits’, and two weeks to find decent semi-permanent and self-contained accommodation – ‘so don’t just pound the pavements hoping to find a place by the end of the day’. For those without hospitable friends or family, B&Bs provide a short-term solution:

 

B+B’s are good for short term stays. They’re found in areas like Earl’s Court or, more centrally, in W2 (Bayswater, Paddington, Notting Hill Gate, Queensway for as little as £6.00 a night or £38 a week. They provide some comforts – a kitchen, TV and lounger for guests. For a longish stay try a bedsit £30 pounds a week single, £45 double, a studio self-contained with kitchen and bathroom, and from £60 a 1–2 bedroom flat. – Don’t rely on the adverts in the dailies. You have to be fast on your feet when the [free] newspapers come out.49

Apart from park benches (not a good idea in winter) there are the youth hostels. Holland House in Kensington was temporary home to 69,500 visitors in 1983, with over a third being ‘Antipodeans’. New readers are also warned: ‘at Victoria Station, touts, paid one pound for every customer they ensnare hustle with predatory zeal’.50

DO POMMIE AGENCIES MAKE YOU ANGRY?

Once settled, travel became an option. If it is all too much, readers are advised to ‘just take a holiday’. Reaching Spain is easy – ‘find your way to Victoria Station, board a Paris train, cross Paris by Metro and take a Southbound train to Madrid’. Australasian Express, LAM and TNT were all contemporaneous with the remarkable growth of travel companies and individuals, including Graham ‘Screw’ Turner whose Top Deck adventure tour business with double-decker buses evolved into a multi-million dollar enterprise, Flight Centre, in 1981. Top Deck Travel started when Turner, a veterinary surgeon on a locum in Yorkshire in 1973, spotted a double-decker bus fitted out for camping tours. He brought it to London and recruited a party to travel overland in it to Morocco.51 Already, the options for travellers were abundant, according to Bill James:

 

You bought a VW Kombivan, a hand-me-down from a home-going Aussie, at the car yard disguised on the Strand outside Australia House or you joined one of the dozens of cheap tour operators based in London catering for the colonial market. Autotours, Protea, Pacesetters, Penn, Transit, Contiki, Vikings, NAT, CCT, Sundowners ... You could walk down Earl’s Court Road at any time of the day or night and see them loading or unloading their punters.52

Contiki Tours was founded by New Zealander John Anderson in the 1960s, but by the 1980s was identified with young Australians. Trailfinders was founded by ex-SAS officer Mike Gooley in 1970. Most of these travel companies advertised in TNT and the magazine responded in kind. Cover stories between 1983 and 1985 featured travel activities on the Nile, the Trans-Siberian railway, Kathmandu, Jamaica, Turkey, Brazil, Paris, British festivals, Russian air travel, Eastern Europe and Spain.53 But the appeal to readers would have been the ads. They urge readers to ‘Take a Break’ across the English Channel with the Travel Young organisation – Paris accommodation, return and breakfast for £47, Amsterdam for £47 and Brussels for £53. Travel reports provide further impetus for those with itchy feet. An unnamed staff writer ‘peeps behind the iron curtain’ to examine not social conditions under communism but skiing in Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria. Après-ski in Yugoslavia, TNT readers are assured, won’t break the bank. Romania is labelled ‘a cheapie’s paradise’ and visitors are urged to take low denominations ‘or you won’t spend it all’, but ‘just don’t expect European standards’.54

TNT endorsed tours for established European ‘highlights’ include youth daredevil and indulgence favourites, the Pamplona bull run and the Munich Oktoberfest. Turning to the business pages we find three pages of advertising for baggage and transport companies, including the Australian Forwarding Agency – ‘Trippers Get that Load off Your Back – the ANZ Excess Baggage Company and the Austral Shipping and Packing Limited’, ‘From a “Jumbo” Trunk to a complete “Mousehold”’. There is the International and Student Moving Company Ltd – auto experts who will ship your Rolls-Royce or Mercedes and have facilities for ‘the smaller car’. This edition has three pages of travel advertisements and four pages of jobs.55 The ANZAC Nursing Service wants ‘hard-working girls, preferably drivers’, while Broadbent, Lemon and Company (computer programmer recruiters) ask ‘Do Pommie agencies make you so angry you could throw the phone down? ... Then why not come over to Quattro and join our friendly team of Aussies and Kiwis?’. Travelmood offers return flights to Sydney and Melbourne for £630, hoping to catch the Christmas return-home market. Barry Humphries’s satirical creation, Sir Les Patterson, and the comic actor, Paul Hogan – signifiers to an Australian audience both – make it clear to newcomers that they are in demand. A leering Sir Les, ‘Australian cultural attaché to the Court of St James’, informs readers in a large advertisement that ‘you’ll be right with Quattro Industrial and Catering Staff’.56

Like latter-day padrones, the labour bosses of former times who waited on the New York wharves for the immigrant ships, these larger-than-life images of Australian identity abroad lured young travellers to the temping agencies. Sir Les Patterson’s brief was expanded in a double-page colour advertisement for British Telecom – he spends ‘a lot of time on the blower and occasionally calls the wife’.57 Even mainstream companies could see the point of niche marketing, the targeting of a specific group of free-spending itinerants. Bligh Appointments urges ‘Downunders’ to ‘Unite and Join Us on Top of the World’ while Alexis Temps Personnel promises ‘No Convict Jokes Allowed’. Bligh Appointments, a leading recruitment agency, covered ‘secretarial, accountancy, industrial, nannies and mother’s helps’. The firm, which still survives, was founded in 1974 by two Australian friends in London. The late Dick McMahon, who was already with an employment agency, joined with John Brauer, a temporary accountant, to broker temporary employment for Australians to British firms. The survival at sea after the mutiny on HMS Bounty of namesake William Bligh seemed an appropriate metaphor. Initially they advertised in the Australasian Express, but John Brauer recalls that this was hardly necessary to reach Australians: ‘We knew where they all were, in Earl’s Court and in Fulham. We could just go to the pubs and flats’. The 1970s were ‘golden years’ for the business when it had minimal competition and a well-defined community of Australians upon which to draw. The company’s big break was the exploration and development of North Sea oil, with a number of large off-shore construction companies drawing on its services for labour.58 The records of these employment agencies could tell us much about the work undertaken by travelling Australians, and young women in particular.

FROM COMMUNITY PRESS TO BIG BUSINESS

By the mid 1990s the Razuki brothers had triumphed over their competition and TNT enjoyed a virtual monopoly. They sold the magazine in 2000 when they were faced with uncertainties born of the challenge of the World Wide Web and the extensive investment in new printing technology required to give them full colour throughout. TNT now has a bevy of internet-based competitors providing services that were formerly the preserve of print-only publications.59 The magazine now has an excellent website.60 Its new owner is the Guardian Group, whose chairman, Bob Phillis, takes the publication very seriously.61 What chairman of a newspaper group would not take such a well-established money-spinner seriously? Although clearly identified with the Australian community in London in the 1980s and 1990s, TNT these days embraces a wide range of entertainment and travel activities, reflecting the growing sophistication of the London audience and the continuing example of rivals like Time Out. Now targeting New Zealanders and South Africans as well as Australians, it is billed as ‘the bible for Aussie, Kiwi and South African travellers in the UK’ – indeed, the whole of the young independent traveller movement into London.

The magazine is still free, and a self-avowed resource for the backpacker and itinerant travelling community. It is a substantial publication and reflects higher standards of journalism and production. It is a big business. The print-run in 2007 was 70,000 a week, with over 700 distribution points and 100 per cent take up, which is why it is not littered everywhere like the free evening papers for tube and bus travellers. Each copy is thought to pass through many hands, with total readership estimated by the publisher at 294,000, or four people for each copy.62 Copies are placed in special red bins at strategic locations throughout London by 10 a.m. on Mondays, and most are gone by 5 p.m. Still principally about jobs, accommodation, travel and lifestyle and consumer wants, it remains heavy with advertising. In the modern marketing-driven manner, the company is obsessed with its audience and undertakes considerable market research. It is not big on corporate memory or retaining editorial staff. According to Business Manager Mark Goddard in 2005, TNT likes to see (and accepts) staff moving on to ensure that the ‘voice of the newcomer’ is privileged.63 For this reason TNT still uses ‘unfamiliar’ expressions and prioritises ‘Austral English’ rather than ‘English English’.

Although the market has widened, the ‘former colonial’ category of young visitor-immigrant still includes a strong leavening of Australians, whom TNT estimates make up 46 per cent of its readership.64 This number was given a boost when Australian university students were able to defer their enrolments. Australians who have right of entry by virtue of holding a recognised passport of another EU country have swelled the numbers beyond those in official statistics. But the biggest transformation has been in the economic ‘placing’ of many of the new itinerants. There are now more of them working in London under the Highly Skilled Migrant Program, which privileges youth, educational attainments and proven earning capacity.65 Of the Australians, in particular, Lynette Eyb, editor of TNT, said in 2005, ‘They’re not just pulling pints anymore ... you’ve still got backpackers who are planning to stay 12 months or so but you’re now getting an increasing number who have come here looking for high-end jobs in professional areas’.66

CONCLUSION

Great cities are magnets, to young people especially, and they make their contributions in return by driving economic growth and shaping cultural and social agendas. London has long been host to generations of migrants from its extended hinterland – Irish, Scots, Midlanders and Welsh, not to mention whole communities of Jews, Pakistanis, Indians, West Indians and Turks. It was perhaps inevitable that London would host large numbers of expatriate Australians and, indeed, they were a presence well before the dawn of cheap air travel in the early 1970s.

The phenomenon has since become so much a part of contemporary experience that it is often taken for granted. But it was in the 1970s and 1980s that the Australian population in London began to represent the cultural mobility made possible by cheap travel, and to cater to London’s enduring and expanding appetite for temporary casual and temporary labour, both skilled and unskilled. In these years Australians became well defined, not just as part of a geographic enclave, but also as a visible part of the city’s cultural mosaic, as one of the most distinctive immigrant groups. The experience of travelling Australians was of moving from relatively free, informal and makeshift ways of doing things to more regulated, commercialised and ritualised activity. The duration of stay was in many instances dampened by the host community’s increasing restrictions, but many still went home of their own volition. In any case, enhanced mobility was becoming the defining experience of the Australian community in London. The ephemeral community press began to cater specifically to the sojourners’ needs and in so doing became a historical record of those associated industries that advertised so heavily in its pages.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author acknowledges his sources of family and friends in London, in particular Marsha Dunstan, Sam Dunstan and Dylan Nichols. Also Ghadir Razuki,Graeme Johnston and Colin Speairs. Thanks to Carl Bridge who had the original idea and John Nieuwenhuysen of the Institute for Global Movements at Monash University. Glenn Calderwood and Robert Crawford assisted with research. The resources of the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, the British Library newspaper collection at Colindale and the National Library of Australia in Canberra were invaluable.

ENDNOTES

1     James, 1999, 35.

2     TNT, 4 May 1987, 21; 25 May 1987. A new commercial venue was found in Islington.

3     Alomes, 1999, 167–168.

4     Stackhouse, 1995, 152–153, 155.

5     The National Library of Australia catalogue lists The British Australasian as the publisher of the Australia and New Zealand Weekly with its last holding 24 December 1969.

6     Personal communication, Colin Speairs, 2007.

7     Australasian Express, 13 July 1977.

8     Australasian Express, 15 November 1973; 29 November 1973; 10 January 1974.

9     Horne, 1980, 4–6.

10    Alomes, 1999.

11    See Moore, 2005, 58–71.

12    See the films The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974); the cover of Nichols, 2007 has a latter-day ‘hayseed’ Barry McKenzie character complete with contemporary suit but cork hat and a confused expression in an inner-city London location.

13    ‘Nicholas Garland – The Birth of Bazza’, Spectator, 29 October, 1988, 33–34.

14    Australasian Express, 20 September 1973.

15    TNT, 20 May 1986.

16    See Horne, 1980.

17    Australia House information officer, Mr Peter Kay. Quoted in Australasian Express, 10 January 1974, 3.

18    Australasian Express, 10 January 1974, 3.

19    Personal communication, Marsha Dunstan, 2005.

20    Immigration Act (UK), 1973; Marsha Dunstan, personal communication, 2005.

21    For example, Dylan Nichols, whose mother preceded him, see Nichols, 2007, 3.

22    Wikipedia, 2007.

23    See LAM, 4 January 1983.

24    Personal Communication, Graeme Johnston, 2007.

25    The first copy of TNT held in the British Library newspaper collection at Colindale (UK) is 26 Nov 1985 (the company have earlier editions but their ephemeral nature has made them rare). The National Library of Australia is the only Australian public repository.

26    Ghadir Razuki, personal communication, 2007.

27    LAM, 8–14 February 1983, 41.

28    LAM, 1–7 February 1983.

29    Ghadir Razuki, personal communication, 2007.

30    TNT, 18 March 1988, 4.

31    Strongman, Parker and O’Shea, 2007, 186–187.

32    Quoted in Walker, 1996,113.

33    TNT, 8 July 1986, 149.

34    TNT, 20 May 1986, 168.

35    NME (New Musical Express), MM (Melody Maker), Smash Hits or the new style and music fusion magazine of the period, The Face.

36    For example, ‘The Great Colonial Reunion’ planned for 24 March, 1974, with Max Merritt and the Meteors, Australasian Express, 7 March 1974; ‘Australia Day Party’, TNT, 17 January 1984, 20 April 1987; TNT, 22 June 1987, 4, 30; Ghadir Razuki, personal communication, 2007.

37    TNT, 15 April 1986.

38    TNT, 22 April 1986, 4.

39    TNT, 19 August 1986.

40    TNT, 1 February 1988.

41    TNT, 1 July 1986, 24.

42    Personal communications, Dylan Nichols; Personal communication, Ghadir Razuki, 2007.

43    TNT, 8 July 1986, 5.

44    TNT, 5 August 1986.

45    Abacus Recruitment, TNT, 8 July 1986, 47; TNT, 24 June 1986, 46.

46    ‘Waiting for the knock on the door’, TNT, 30 October 1984.

47    ‘Waiting for the knock on the door’, TNT, 30 October 1984.

48    ‘Stretching the Pennies’, TNT, 23 October 1983, 23–24

49    ‘Flat Hunting ... Know the Facts’, TNT, 18 March 1988, 16–17.

50    ‘Hostels’, TNT, 27 November 1984, 22–23.

51    See James 1999; Sammartino 2007, 175–194.

52    James 1999, 35.

53    TNT, 22 February, 8 March, 18 October, 25 October 1983; 17 January, 26 February, 19 March, 10 April, 25 June, 27 November 1984.

54    TNT, 26 November 1985, 28.

55    TNT, 26 November 1985.

56    TNT, 26 November 1985.

57    TNT, 17 June 1986.

58    Personal communication, John Brauer, 2007; Bligh, 2007. See also TNT, 19 March 1988, 63.

59    Such as eBay, My Space and Gum Tree <www.gumtree.co.uk>.

60    TNT Online, 2008.

61    Personal communication, Mark Goddard, 2005.

62    TNT Online, 2008, <http://tntonline.co.uk/advertise/>.

63    Personal communication, Mark Goddard.

64    TNT Online, 2008, <http://tntonline.co.uk/advertise/>.

65    See TNT Online, 2008, <http://tntonline.co.uk/movingtolondon/default.aspx>.

66    Quoted ‘Home and away’ by Annabel Crabb, Herald-Sun (Melbourne), 6 March 2005.

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Blight Recruitment. ‘Welcome to Bligh’. [Internet]. Accessed 17 August 2007. Available from: http://www.bligh.co.uk/

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Horne, Donald. 1980. Time of Hope: Australia 1966–72. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Moore, Keith. 2005. ‘Beatlemania: the Beatles in Melbourne, 1964’. In Go! Melbourne in the Sixties, edited by Seamus O’Hanlon and Tanja Luckins. Melbourne: Circa (Melbourne Publishers Group).

Nichols, Dylan. 2007. What are You Doing Here? The Question of Australians in London. Brighton, UK: Pen Press Publishers Ltd.

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Stackhouse, John. 1995. From the Dawn of Aviation: The Qantas Story 1920–1995. Sydney: Focus Publishing Pty Ltd.

Strongman, Phil; Parker, Alan; O’Shea, Mick. Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk. London: Orion Books.

Walker, Clinton. 1996. Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977–1991. Sydney: Macmillan.

Wikipedia. 2007. ‘Time Out’. [Internet]. Accessed 17 August 2007. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Out.

 

Cite this chapter as: Dunstan, David. 2009. ‘“We came on a holiday like you”: The Australian community press in London in the 1970s and 80s’. Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience, edited by Bridge, Carl; Crawford, Robert; Dunstan, David. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 15.1 to 15.18.

 

Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience

   by Carl Bridge