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Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience




Australians in London have popularly been identified as young travellers who spend their time in London either in front of or behind the bar. While some continue to live up to this Bazza McKenzie inspired image, an increasing proportion of Australians in London are more likely to be found in the offices of a multinational bank. This study examines these changes and contextualises these developments alongside those occurring among New Zealanders and South Africans. While the professionalisation of Australians in London has meant that they are interacting with the city in a different way, there are nevertheless certain aspects that have remained the same.

In the early 1990s, the Australian journalist Mike Carlton moved to London with his young family. Writing of his experiences in the British capital for the Age in 1993, he recalled that the locals’ attitudes towards Australians and Australia were changing: ‘The Brits no longer expect drooling Ockers to appear through an upstairs window in a hat hung with corks, to roger their daughters and to pocket the cutlery. The short explanation is that we all grew up’.1 For Carlton, it was the illustrious careers of Germaine Greer, Clive James and Barry Humphries that signified this coming of age. Significantly, he made no mention of the thousands of young Australians who were then trying to launch their careers in the British capital. Another article that appeared in the Age just months after Carlton’s partially accounts for this silence: ‘Every year, many young Australians see out winter in the Northern Hemisphere from behind London’s public bars, hoarding away their pounds and their dreams of travel in sunnier days ahead’.2 It seems that Carlton felt that young Australians in London did not matter – they were only there for a good time and a short time.

While this story had certainly been a reality for a large number of Australians in London, migration patterns over the course of the 1990s indicate that it was already well on the way to becoming an anachronistic stereotype at the beginning of the new millennium. Within a decade, the maturation that Carlton noted among expatriate celebrities was becoming endemic within the broader Australian community. A 2004 article in the Sydney Magazine thus observed that ‘today, you’re just as likely to see Australians at the top levels of art and commerce as you are pulling beers in a pub or nannying’.3 In short, Australians in London were becoming more professional, more likely to stay beyond the two-year working visa, and more integrated into the British community.

Most surveys of the contemporary Australian experience of living in London have been undertaken by journalists in London either writing home or writing for the local expatriate community via such publications as TNT Magazine. Recent books such as David O’Reilly’s Britain’s global Australians and Dylan Nichols’s What are you doing here? have similarly given anecdotal accounts of this experience. While surveys by Stephen Alomes, Ian Britain and Angela Woollacott have provided an informative context for understanding the Australian experience in London, they nevertheless leave the contemporary situation unexamined.4

The dearth of scholarly investigation into the lives and experiences of Australians living in London in the more recent period has also been noted by New Zealand scholars who, in stark contrast, have shown a more active interest in the stories of their nation’s expatriates. Their interest might be attributed to certain differences between the Australian experience of going OS (overseas) and the New Zealand experience of gaining the OE (overseas experience). For New Zealanders, the OE is regarded as a cultural institution that ranks with leaving school, obtaining a degree and getting married – failure to undertake such a journey is considered unusual and ‘almost requires justification’.5 While Australians also celebrate OS travel as a rite of passage, there appears to be little social or cultural pressure on them to do it – a situation that might account for the paucity of Australian research on the topic.

Such differences should not detract from the unique insights to be gained from examining the Australian experiences in relation to the extensive work on New Zealanders. Indeed, the New Zealand scholars’ methods as well as their findings are used as a template for this study. The trends and developments among London’s South Africans also offer interesting perspectives. Although there is virtually no scholarly research on the South African experience of contemporary London, the anecdotal material and statistical data pertaining to them are useful for this study. By comparing and contrasting the demography and experiences of Australians living in London with those of their antipodean counterparts, this chapter seeks to identify the changing patterns and trends during the 1990s and 2000s and to develop an understanding of the ways that they affected the contemporary Australian experience of London.


The 2001 Population Census of Great Britain counted 106,404 Australia-born individuals in the UK (see Figure 16.1). This number is somewhat conservative as it fails to recognise the presence of Australians who were not born in Australia. Almost one quarter of all Australians were born overseas, and they and their direct descendants are entitled to dual citizenship. Approximately 4.4 million Australians can therefore enter the UK on non-Australian passports.6 Significantly, an estimated 1.5 million Australians hold British passports.7 These Britain-born Australians are therefore absent from the British census data. Whereas estimates based on the data collected by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade place the number of Australians in the UK and Ireland at somewhere between 183,000 and 220,000, Graeme Hugo’s demographic research places it in the area of 300,000.8

In terms of Australia’s antipodean counterparts, Figure 16.1 shows 57,916 New Zealand-born individuals living in the UK in 2001. This also is a conservative figure that fails to recognise the estimated 400,000 New Zealanders who are British passport holders or, indeed, those who hold other passports. More liberal estimates contend that the number of New Zealanders in the UK is between 150,000 and 200,000.9 The number of South African-born individuals is listed at 140,201, which is also a conservative figure. While one journalist courageously claimed that there were 1.4 million South Africans in the UK, a more plausible upper estimate (based on the trends identified for Australians and New Zealanders) is 550,000.10

The immigration patterns in Figures 16.1 and 16.2 provide an interesting overview of the Australian, New Zealand and South African trends. While the Australian and New Zealand patterns prior to 1991 are quite similar (with New Zealanders arriving at a slightly faster rate), the 1990s saw Australia-born individuals arriving in the UK in greater numbers and at a higher rate than their trans-Tasman counterparts.


Figure 16.1 Antipodes-born in the UK

Source: UK Population Census, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001


Figure 16.2 Antipodes-born in London

Source: Population Census of Great Britain, 1981, 1991, 2001

Economic factors appear to have played an important role in this trend. In the early 1990s Australia’s economy was still struggling with recession while the New Zealand economy was stable. As Australia’s economy improved in the late 1990s, the number of Australians in the UK was bolstered by a growing number of professionals (particularly in the areas of IT, banking and accountancy) hoping to cash in on the international economic boom.11 It seems that New Zealand professionals in these industries were significantly fewer in number; they were also more likely to travel to Australia than to the UK to advance their careers. In addition, the speedier return of migrants under the two-year working-holiday visa may have concealed the number of professional New Zealanders in the UK – their growth may have covered any decline in the number of non-professionals. In the Australian situation, the influx of professionals displaced rather than replaced their non-professional compatriots. Economic factors were no less important for South Africans. In addition to the pull factors that appealed to Australians, for them there were significant push factors. Economic and social instability in the post-Apartheid 1990s, coupled with South Africa’s re-entry into the Commonwealth, served to produce a massive upswing in the number of South Africans in the UK and in the rate at which they were arriving.

In terms of the percentage of expatriates living in London, the Australian pattern displays greater similarities to the South African. Between 1991 and 2001, the percentage of Australians living in the capital rose from 32 to 39 per cent and the percentage of South Africans from 27 to 33 per cent. This drift towards London suggests that Australians and South Africans are increasingly drawn to the UK for its economic and professional opportunities. The New Zealand figures differ markedly in concentration and rate of growth. During the same decade, the percentage of New Zealanders living in London remained relatively steady, climbing only marginally from 45 to 47 per cent. However, the opportunities that London offers to professionals cannot account for the concentration of New Zealanders in London. For them, it seems that London’s size, location and cosmopolitanism, as well as the existing Kiwi friendship networks, all function as powerful pulling factors.12

The bare statistics coupled with anecdotal evidence suggest that similar factors determine a specific type of antipodean migrant. Their age is prescribed by British visa regulations on the one hand and personal responsibilities on the other. These factors similarly determine their socio-economic status. While the two-year working-holiday visa was open to all Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans under 28, longer visas or work permits are available only to skilled migrants working in priority professions.13 Interestingly, the gender division is not uniform. Statistics for working-holiday makers admitted to the UK in 1999 reveal that 58 per cent of Australian applicants were female, a figure consistent with historical trends. In contrast, 52 per cent of South African applicants were male while New Zealand applicants were almost evenly spread, with just under 51 per cent being female.14 It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the ‘typical Australian living in Britain’ in 2005 was described as ‘in her 20s, working as a professional and earning the equivalent of $50,000 to $150,000 a year’.15 Overwhelmingly, she was likely to be white. Data from the 2001 Population Census of Great Britain reveals that of the 70,634 Oceania-born individuals living in London, 94 per cent (66,612) identified themselves as being white. Without separate racial categories for Aborigines, Maoris or Pacific Islanders, this figure might have been artificially boosted. A further 1455 (2 per cent) identified themselves as being racially Chinese or East/South-East Asian.

Research on the ethnic and socio-economic composition of New Zealanders on their OE provides useful insights into the Australian experience. New Zealanders in the British capital are not only overwhelmingly young, they also tend to be ‘wealthier and more visibly “white” and middle-class than the population of New Zealand in general’.16 Only a minority of New Zealanders on their OE are employed in manual occupations.17 This socio-economic barrier also accounts for the ‘whiteness’ of New Zealanders in the UK. Claudia Bell observes that members of New Zealand’s Maori and Pacific Islander communities, who constitute some 20 per cent of the national population, are significantly less likely to embark on an OE than their Pakeha counterparts. In addition to their lower socio-economic status, these New Zealanders do not readily identify with this ‘cultural rite’, and ‘religious ties and family expectations generally have priority over that personal development that is central to the Pakeha OE’.18 Any temporary or long-term emigration will be towards Australia rather than the UK.

The South African situation appears to conform strongly to the Australasian pattern. Of the 45,507 South African-born people living in London, 87 per cent (39,630) identified themselves as being white – a figure that is massively disproportionate to the Rainbow Nation’s actual racial composition, where whites currently constitute 10 per cent of the population. The historical correlation between race and socio-economic status in South Africa suggests that the majority of these South Africans are likely to have come from middle-class backgrounds.

Covering just under 40 per cent of the Australian-born population in London, Table 16.1 reveals the five most popular districts in London for Australians. These figures underscore the similarities between Australians and New Zealanders. Following in the footsteps of previous generations, Australians have continued to cluster in the west, although gentrification has shifted Kangaroo Valley further west. While the influx of Australian professionals and gold collar migrants does not appear to be borne out in these statistics, Brigid Delaney writes that this statistical ‘absence’ actually underscores contemporary migration patterns:


Upper-class expats try to blend in with Londoners, living in hot ‘hoods such as Islington, Clerkenwell or Hackney. Time and money is spent in gastro pubs and on weekends in the English countryside ... Working-class expats develop intense patriotism, spending their time in Australian-themed pubs such as the Walkabout and the Church. They live in Earls Court, Shepherds Bush or Acton, dossing in rooms that often have two or three others sleeping in them.19

The consistency of the New Zealand statistics across the two periods conforms to the overall rate of growth of New Zealanders in London illustrated by Figure 16.2. Australians appear to have followed their Kiwi counterparts to Wandsworth. South Africans have also followed this charge to Wandsworth, albeit at a higher rate. However, in contrast to the Australian and New Zealand trends, the top five locations for South Africans have changed. Putney and Wimbledon, for example, replaced suburbs in the inner west. Such changes are not simply the result of the enormous influx of South Africans into the UK in the post-Apartheid era; they also indicate a different type of immigrant with different motivations and interests. While Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans have congregated in slightly different suburbs, their concentration in the city’s west and south-west underscores their socio-economic status. In addition to providing access to a ready network of friends and compatriots, these comfortable leafy suburbs also have good connections to underground railway stations, facilitating work in central areas of the city.


Table 16.1 The Top Five Districts for Antipodeans in London

Source: Population Census of Great Britain, 1991, 2001


London has a long history of attracting young immigrants hoping to expand their horizons. As the political, financial and cultural centre of the British Empire, it offered unique opportunities that were otherwise unavailable in the far-flung colonies of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. For Australian women in particular, the UK and especially London have long offered an opportunity for self-actualisation that was unavailable at home.20 While the empire has long disappeared, the appeal of the British capital to those from former colonies has not diminished. As Figure 16.2 illustrates, neither the growing sense of national identity within these former dominions, nor their dislocation from the empire have halted the number of young antipodeans moving to London – their number has, in fact, accelerated.

In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, distance and mobility are important themes in the conceptualisation of national identity. As distant colonial outposts, such concerns would inevitably impact on the way that these settler societies viewed themselves and their relationship with their British ‘home’. The popular success of Geoffrey Blainey’s The Tyranny of Distance as both an account of the impact of distance in Australian history and as a shorthand expression for it suggests that Australians remain anxious about their place in the world. David Conradson and Alan Latham similarly contend that migration from the former dominions to London, particularly of New Zealanders, must be understood within its historical context: ‘The OE as a distinctive and recognisable style of mobility needs to be seen in the context of ... broader cultural formations; it can reasonably be interpreted as a contemporary articulation of ... long-standing practices of movement’.21 For New Zealanders, notions of personal autonomy, resourcefulness and adventure associated with mobility have become key components of their national identity. ‘[D]ue in part to our isolation, we are travellers’, assert Barbara Myers and Kerr Inkson; ‘We do more travelling than anyone’.22 The South African experience of mobility highlights the centrality of race – the opportunity to travel cannot be separated from it. Being white, notes Richard Dyer, functions as a ‘passport of privilege’.23

Common cultural, historical and linguistic bonds have made the UK the primary destination for young Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans wanting to experience life abroad. While the practice of travelling to Britain to expand one’s horizons has long been commonplace in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961 effectively denied ready access to life in Britain. This changed in 1994 when South Africa returned to the Commonwealth. Strong familial and ethnic connections in each country reinforce Britain’s popularity. In addition to working-holiday visas, descendents of British migrants can obtain ancestral visas, while those whose ancestors came from other European Union states could also take advantage of ready access to the UK.

In an article that appeared in LAM: London’s Australasian Magazine in Australia’s bicentenary year, Susan Pfisterer outlined why she decided to set out for London:


I wasn’t satisfied with Sydney but I didn’t expect London to make me feel any better. I was travelling to meet an obligation to myself. An immature attitude in a way. And after four years at university the prospect of a fulltime job with only four weeks holiday was terrifying ... Finally it all became too boring and I bought my ticket to London. Choice of destination was simple. Where else in the world could I go with a one-way ticket and very little money?24

The letters accompanying Pfisterer’s article similarly cited opportunities to see the world and to experience a different lifestyle as the main reasons for moving to London.25

Almost 20 years later, TNT Magazine identified a clear division between the traditional ‘working class expats’ and the professional ‘upper class expats’. ‘Are Australians in London a patriotic melting pot of snobs and yobs, split according to class?’ it asked, before profiling two Australians at different ends of the spectrum.26 While London’s drawcards remained the same for both sides, the cost of living, strict visa regulations and the recent influx of non-professionals from Eastern Europe all made it harder for the non-professional working-holiday maker to live the lifestyle that previous generations had enjoyed. In contrast, professional Australians working in finance or law faced a market where demand exceeded supply. Moreover, they enjoy an admirable reputation. ‘Professional Australians have the best reputation for hardworking values and the best reputation for attitude. They have a real can-do attitude’, explained the head of a London-based recruitment agency.27

The importance that Australians and South Africans in the 1990s placed on the economic and professional advantages of moving to London does not appear to have been shared to the same degree by New Zealanders. For many New Zealanders, the financial benefits of the OE were more easily accessed by traversing the Tasman; Australian wages were higher, the cost of travel was lower, and no visa was required. It was the UK’s access to the broader world that led the more adventurous New Zealanders to relocate themselves on the other side of the globe. In her survey on their return, Jacqueline Lidgard observes that unlike the New Zealanders travelling to Australia for their OE, those who moved to the UK were primarily motivated to travel.28

Standing as a gateway to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and North America, the UK and especially London provide an ideal base for anyone hoping to see the world. London’s status as a world city is no less appealing. Its buzz, opportunities and cosmopolitanism are all attractions that in themselves serve to distract most New Zealanders on their OE from focusing too heavily on their professional careers.29 Conradson and Latham found that most New Zealanders on their OE ‘tend’ their career while in London rather than actively pursue it. For these migrants, the experiences gained from being overseas concern personal development rather than professional advancement.30 Obviously, this emphasis on personal development was not shared by the smaller number of gold-collar migrants whose decision to leave New Zealand for London was primarily motivated by economic opportunities.31

Unlike their New Zealand counterparts, Australians and South Africans do not have ready access to a larger and more prosperous neighbour on their doorstep. While the United States might meet these criteria, visa requirements (though recently relaxed for Australians) serve as a barrier to any large-scale influx of these young immigrants. It is the UK, and specifically London, that offers them the most accessible opportunities for professional development. Travel, however, remains an important, albeit interconnected, factor; a London base effectively overcomes the tyranny of distance, while a job earning British pounds overcomes the financial barriers. This is not to say that Australians and South Africans do not consider their time abroad as an opportunity for personal development. Australian Dylan Nichols observes in a personal account that London functions as a ‘finishing school’ where ‘people go ... to become more worldly; to gain an appreciation of what is around them and what is important to them’.32 Personal development therefore remains an important component of the Australian and South African overseas sojourn but it does not appear to have the same dominant resonance as it does for New Zealanders on their OE.


Australians and New Zealanders arriving in the UK throughout the 1990s and 2000s had ready access to an established expatriate community that could offer them a helping hand and emotional support. It was not long before the new generation of South African migrants established their own community and support mechanisms. Although these communities are united by links to their respective homelands, they have nevertheless developed their own distinct culture – one that is not necessarily representative of their actual home. Recounting his first experience as an ‘Aussie expat’ in London, Nichols was perplexed by the paradoxes he encountered:


my first night was spent at The Slug and Lettuce in Fulham where I was fed ‘Snakebites’ ... and was amazed at the number of Australians present and the constant stream of Australian pop music played ... It seemed to me like I was taking part in some ‘Australian’ demonstration that was being used to show aliens our way of life, which really wasn’t accurate at all, but did somehow reflect the ‘Australian in London’ spirit my countrymen were trying to live up to. Apparently mine was not an isolated experience, as soon after I read about another expat who had been taken to an Aussie pub on his first night and he was introduced to the same ritual.33

Adherence to these rituals does not appear to be absolute. Speaking to TNT Magazine, Blake Penson, a technical architect, revealed that the changing demographic of the Australians in London has had an impact on the ways in which such rituals were performed:


I don’t try to be Aussie and walk around barefoot on the streets, pouring snakebites over my blue wife-beater singlet just to prove to people around me how Aussie I am ... I used to be like that when I first arrived, it’s like the induction period of living in London where proceedings are kicked off in your nearest Walkabout [pub]. But over time you grow up, respect the country you’re in and try to slot into society a little more.34

Nichols, an IT professional, likewise moved on from his initiation. When he returned to the Slug and Lettuce some three years later, it was still full of antipodeans – albeit of the Afrikaans-speaking variety.

In her examination of the sense of home among New Zealanders in London, Janine Wiles develops a useful means for understanding all three antipodean communities by arguing that these young immigrants ‘do not simply arrive in London with an intact, static identity and they do not create a new set of migrant identities’.35 Their identity is instead somewhere between the two. New Zealanders establish a new identity for themselves by plugging into an established set of networks linking the city’s New Zealanders. Such networks and the discourse surrounding them help prescribe what it means to be a New Zealander (or Australian or South African) living in London. While the class division emerging in the Australian community might prescribe different images of the Australian in London, this process of identity formation nevertheless remains. Moreover, as Brad West observes, such rituals provide a means by which the uninitiated and the old hand are able to establish or reaffirm their connection.36

Formal organisations have traditionally provided an opportunity for Australians to socialise with their compatriots. The Britain-Australia Society has performed this function since 1971. Today’s members tend to be over 40 and are a combination of British-based Australians and Britons who have an active interest in Australia. As the number of Australians in London expanded in the 1990s, the organisations and groups for Australians duly diversified. Established in 1990, the British Australian Rules Football League and the location of its six teams (North London Lions, Putney Magpies, Sussex Swans, Wandsworth Demons, West London Wildcats and Wimbledon Hawks) are illustrative of the number of Australians in Britain as well as the areas most populated by them. In addition to sporting clubs, they have established various professional clubs and associations.

While these bodies united Australians working in a specific sport or profession, more recent organisations serving London’s Australians have become more diverse in their membership. Created by expatriates, Advance arrived in London in 2006 with the aim of establishing ‘a dynamic and diverse global community of Australian professionals overseas committed to advancing Australia’.37 Underscoring the increasingly professional status of Australians in contemporary London, Advance’s London branch currently boasts 2100 members from a diverse range of professions. The development of New Zealand organisations closely follows the Australian pattern, whereby the number and diversity of organisations reflect the changing nature of the local New Zealand community. A similar pattern can be discerned in relation to South Africans, however the massive influx of migrants since 1994 has inevitably spawned professional and cultural organisations at an accelerated rate (including a South African Evangelical Church for English and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans).38

National days, such as Australia Day and Anzac Day, provide an opportunity for the broader Australian population in London to engage in a range of formal, semi-formal and casual events celebrating their Australian heritage. While the High Commission and the Britain-Australia Society organise formal Australia Day functions, a significantly larger number of the younger Australians celebrate their national day at various bars and clubs across the city. As Nichols notes, such events are a curious ritual that simultaneously links contemporary Australians to their predecessors and to their imagined homeland:


Australia Day ... is celebrated with perhaps more gusto by expatriates in London than it is in Australia ... Far from being exclusive, the Australia Day celebrations are extremely inclusive with all non-Australians invited, although at their peril ... decades-old pop songs ... are replayed on Australia Day ad-nauseum [sic], which makes for a slightly unnerving time when added to incredibly drunk/homesick and boastful young Australians.39

Outwardly, Anzac Day is regarded as a more solemn occasion. The growing interest shown by young Australians during the 1990s was also reflected in the UK. In 1992, TNT Magazine’s coverage of the event amounted to a single paragraph outlining the ceremonial arrangements at Gallipoli. Only two sentences were devoted to the official events in London.40 In terms of unofficial events, the magazine carried a full-page advertisement for an Anzac Party at the Hippodrome nightclub in Leicester Square, as well as a couple of smaller advertisements for events organised by specific pubs. By 1997, a significant change had occurred. TNT Magazine’s cover carried the headline ‘the creators of the ANZAC legend were the men themselves’. Inside, it ran a two-page feature article on the Anzac spirit and a half-page article on the TNT Anzac Day Ball. Another half-page article discussed the events taking place across London:


However, this weekend is the one time of the year when Antipodeans all over London stop in their tracks and drink to the heroic ANZAC troops who sadly lost their lives fighting for their country ... From Acton to Willesden, Ealing to Earls Court, travellers and permanent residents raised a glass on one of the most moving days in the Antipodean calendar.41

Where these glasses were to be raised reveals the growing division among the city’s Australians. TNT’s Anzac Day Ball, for example, advertised itself as ‘The most prestigious Australasian event in London’s social calendar ... Champagne reception, wine, sumptuous food in luxurious surroundings, entertainment spanning four decades of music ... string quartet’; tickets began at £56. At the other end of the spectrum, the Walkabout advertised its ‘TNT ANZAC DAY BASH’. For £3 punters were treated to ‘3 BANDS FROM 6PM’, with expatriate Australian and BBC radio star Jonathan Coleman acting as the evening’s MC.42

The traditional experience of the working-holiday maker was that informal links were the primary means to connect with compatriots in London. Informal links, of course, provide vital emotional support to all migrants, antipodean or otherwise. Such network patterns as those identified by Conradson and Latham among New Zealanders provide an insight into the broader antipodean experience. They found ‘the remarkable centrality of friendship networks’ to be distinctive among New Zealanders in London, and to have a significant impact on patterns of mobility.43 Such networks, they argue, have a bearing on the decision to undertake the OE in the UK in the first place and affect subsequent decisions, including where to live, the ‘must see’ travel destinations and, ultimately, when to return to New Zealand. The strength of these friendship networks might also provide a partial explanation of why New Zealanders, proportionately to their home population, are more significant than their Australian and South African counterparts in London.

For those Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans who are homesick or want to socialise with ‘their own’, there are various antipodean-themed pubs that offer them a taste of home. The first Walkabout bar opened in London in 1994, just as the number of Australians arriving in the UK was taking off. Despite their Australian theme, this chain of bars features the motto, ‘the awesome spirit of the Southern Hemisphere’, indicating that it does not consider its clientele to be exclusively Australian. Indeed, the dispersal of Walkabouts across London and the rest of the UK demonstrates that most of their clients are British. The Walkabouts have been adopted by New Zealanders and, to a lesser degree, South Africans (who are also targeted by South African-themed bars).

In Janine Wiles’s survey of New Zealanders in London, one respondent explained the appeal of the Walkabout: ‘I quite like going to the New Zealand / Aussie pubs because I like the atmosphere. Everybody’s there doing the same things you are and everybody’s got something in common’. While various others were repelled by the hackneyed images of ‘home’ and the patrons’ willingness to live up to stereotypes, Wiles observes that such venues perform an important role in cultivating identity in the city – whether it is the proud Kiwi living it up in Pommieland or the New Zealander whose rejection of this image illustrates his or her worldliness.44 West’s interviews with Australians in London’s Walkabouts reveal a similar relationship, whereby ‘young Australian working holidaymakers are typically critical of the projections of Australia in these places yet the venues can simultaneously prompt meaningful reflection upon their national identity’.45 Presumably, a similar dichotomy informs the relationship that South Africans have with such venues.

The internet has further facilitated the connections between all antipodeans in London and the UK, those living elsewhere across the globe, and those who remain back at home. The website, for example, began as social place for Australians to locate accommodation, work, and other necessities for living in London – it has since become a key portal for all migrants in the capital. In terms of linking Australians with home, newspapers and radio stations are accessible online, while YouTube enables expatriates to watch recent Australian television clips. In addition to the old telephone, sojourners are able to make contact with friends at home via email, Skype, and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. In short, the developments in communication technology since the 1990s have meant that the recent generation of travellers are less isolated than their forebears.46 Australians in London can remain up to date with the latest developments at home – from national politics to family gossip.

The communications revolution has caused a significant recasting by newspapers aimed at London’s antipodean communities. Although such publications as TNT Magazine, In London and the Australian Times continue to publish news stories and sporting results from Australia, their feature articles are aimed at local readers and help to reinforce a sense of what it is to be an Australian in London (subject, of course, to the demography of their particular audience). Significantly, they simultaneously seek to cultivate an image of the Antipodean in London – in order to maximise their niche readerships. TNT Magazine and In London are also aimed at New Zealanders and South Africans, while the Australian Times differs from its stable mates, the New Zealand Times and the South African, only in terms of news stories from home and sporting results.47

While these publications are homogenising their respective audiences, the internet is being used by various organisations and individuals to ensure that global Australians do not become too globalised and therefore lost to home. The Southern Cross Group, for example, was founded in 2000 in Brussels by a group of Australians who felt that there was ‘a need for an advocacy organisation which could actively focus on and work for changes to law and policy that negatively impacted or disadvantaged those in the Diaspora’.48 The New Zealand Edge website performs a similar function for New Zealand’s international diaspora.49 Wiles suggests that such sites are both a reaction to fears of the ‘brain drain’ and a deliberate articulation of an idea of community among a disparate group of New Zealanders (and Australians).50 Similar websites link South Africa’s diasporas with home. However, these appear to lack the popularity of the Homecoming Revolution website, which is a fundamentally different response to the nation’s brain drain. Rather than encouraging expatriates to remain connected with their homeland, the website actively encourages South Africans abroad to return home.


Sooner or later, the decision as to whether or not to return confronts each Australian. For some, the decision is straightforward: an expired visa, frustration with London, and the desire to return to friends have triggered it. Graeme Hugo found that some 90 per cent of his respondents had returned because of lifestyle while 76 per cent had cited family. Various others remain less sure – at least in the short term. Many of the young professionals who emigrated to the UK to advance their careers face an unclear future. Hugo’s findings indicate that only 15 per cent of Australians returned for work-related reasons, suggesting that many in the new generation of professional migrants are likely to stay abroad longer.51 This is not to say that they will necessarily remain in London. For many, the return trip home might well consist of working in their company’s branches in New York, Hong Kong or Singapore. In his contribution to a collection of stories by expatriate Australians, management consultant Robert Miller expresses such uncertainties in a conversation with a fellow Australian:


‘It’s frightening how fast it goes. The time I mean,’ I said to her.

‘I know. A lot of my friends say that the longer you stay, the more stressful the whole idea of going home is’.

‘I can believe it. Even though it’s only been three years for me, it makes you think how long you will actually stay. I want to have some kind of plan for the future. Right now I want to buy a place, but it’s hard to know where to buy when you have no idea where you will be in two years’.52

This last point is pertinent. While the average stay for Australians in the UK is currently estimated to be 2.2 years, research reveals that age has a negative correlation with return.53

New Zealanders and South Africans display marked differences to the Australian pattern. While Richard Bedford and Jacqueline Lidgard have argued that New Zealand’s immigration and emigration statistics do not point to the crisis that many New Zealanders have claimed, they note that there remains a real concern about the slow rate at which New Zealanders are returning home.54 The primary concern is with Australia, as Britain’s visa regulations effectively limit the time that young New Zealanders spend in the UK. The authors of the New Zealand Talent Initiative survey thus observe: ‘New Zealand is losing people across all skill levels at an ever-increasing rate, much of it to Australia. Of most concern, is the accelerating loss of highly skilled people’.55 Concerns about the brain drain have been more strident in South Africa, whose talented young people are much less likely to return than are Australians or New Zealanders.

The situation of Australians who have returned from an extended period overseas remains under-examined. Here again, research on the New Zealand experience can be used, and it reveals that homecoming is a mixed experience. Many individuals return to the city or region they left, underscoring the emotional pull of family and friends. They often take up work in a similar field and not infrequently with the same company (often in an elevated position). Others draw on their OE to begin a new career or to undertake further study.56 However, the return home can prove to be a difficult period. Individuals who had been pushed home by visa regulations are often frustrated by being forced to give up the hectic, globe-trotting lifestyle that they had enjoyed in London.57 For others, disillusionment sets in when it becomes apparent that the idealised image of home that they had patriotically clung to while overseas has failed to materialise.58 A bout of unemployment similarly punctures such dreams, as does the realisation that friends no longer share the same interests or outlook on life.59 In an online forum discussing Australians abroad, one person revealed that:


I found Employers did not understand what I do. Revenue Assurance is not well known in Australia which is 10 years behind Europe in some business practices. I also found that Medicare designated me a non-person until I could prove I intended to stay in Australia. I was told conflicting answers from 3 different employees. Without this ‘proof’ I had to wait 6 months for access to the system – whilst my private fund for some reason was happy to cover me from the date of return. No consistency. Makes you wonder at times why return?60

Unable to remain at home or abroad, many become ‘boomerang’ migrants, continually travelling between their two worlds. As the job market becomes increasingly globalised, it is likely that the number of professional Australians falling into this category will continue to grow.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, young Australians continue to respond to London’s call. Given that they are likely to be republicans and grew up in an Australia that embraced multiculturalism, the appeal of London seems almost anachronistic. Yet the number of Australians heading to the British capital has grown rather than declined. The appeal of London has also evolved, and its primary lure is now more likely to be financial than cultural. Moving to London, then, has increasingly become a career decision rather than the fulfilment of a cultural rite. This shift has been influenced by developments in the global job market as well as alterations to British visa regulations. London has opened its door to young professionals while making it harder for non-professionals to remain, and while non-professional Australians have been disadvantaged by these changes, their professional compatriots have profited handsomely. It remains to be seen whether this emphasis on professionals will alter the gender ratio of Australians migrating to the UK.

As Australians in London have become more professional, their actions and attitudes have also changed. Despite the ongoing popularity of the city’s west, an increasing number have moved out into other areas in order to escape the Kangaroo Valley ghetto. Formal and informal networks ensure that their connections with fellow Australians are not entirely lost, and these networks are indicative of a new Australian Londoner – evident in an ambiguous attitude towards the Walkabout pubs and the socio-economic stratification of Anzac Day ceremonies. These trends have prompted the Fairfax press’s European correspondent, James Button, to comment that this new generation of Australians is ‘a far cry from the “Bazza McKenzie” and backpacking image of Australians in London’.61 Pronouncements of backpacking Bazza’s death might, however, be somewhat premature. While community rituals may not be practised with the same gusto as before, the new generation of Australian Londoners nevertheless maintains them. Hyper-Australianness still flourishes on national days and at the Walkabout, while travel remains an integral part of the London experience (even if it is to more exotic or exclusive destinations). It seems that Bazza isn’t dead; he’s just become middle class.


1     Age, 20 February 1993, Saturday Extra, 3.

2     Age, 23 May 1993, 13.

3     Sydney Magazine, 24 November 2004, p. 64.

4     Alomes, 1999; Britain, 1997; Woollacott, 2001.

5     Bell, 2002, 44–45.

6     Millbank, 2000.

7     UK Trade and Investment. 2008. ‘Facts and Stats’.

8     See Fullilove and Flutter, 2004,15; ‘Southern Cross Group. 2008. ‘Estimated Number of Australians Living Overseas’; Graeme Hugo’s chapter in this volume.

9     Walrond, 2007.

10    ‘Home, Sweet Home – For Some’, The Economist, 11 August 2005. [Internet]. Accesed 10 March 2008. Available from: <>

11    Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 2000, employment section, 1.

12    Conradson and Latham, 2007, 251–252.

13    In November 2008 the working-holiday scheme was restricted to those Commonwealth countries with reciprocal schemes. Unlike Australia and New Zealand, South Africa did not initiate a reciprocal scheme and young South Africans are no longer eligible for this visa.

14    Dobson, Koser, Mclauchlan and Salt, 2001, 249.

15    Age, 30 September 2005, 1.

16    Wiles, 2008, 120.

17    Inkson and Myers, 2003, 174.

18    Bell, 2002, 155.

19    Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 2007, 15.

20    Warner-Smith, 2005, 66.

21    Conradson and Latham, 2005a, 299.

22    Myers and Inkson, 2003, 3.

23    Dyer, 1997, 44.

24    LAM: London’s Australasian Magazine, no. 500, 19 March 1988, 31.

25    LAM: London’s Australasian Magazine, no. 500, 19 March 1988, 31.

26    TNT Magazine, no. 1252, 28 August 2007, 12.

27    Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 2000, employment section, p. 1.

28    Lidgard, 1994, 8.

29    Conradson and Latham, 2007, 237.

30    Conradson and Latham, 2007, 234.

31    Conradson and Latham, 2005b, 166.

32    Nichols, 2007, 190.

33    Nichols, 2007, 144–5.

34    TNT Magazine, no. 1252, 28 August 2007, 13.

35    Wiles, 2008, 117.

36    West, 2006, 147.

37    Advance, 2008, ‘What is Advance?’.

38    Die Suid-Afrikaanse Evangeliese Kerk, 2008.

39    Nichols, 2007, 156.

40    TNT Magazine, no. 451, 20 April 1992, 5, 23.

41    TNT Magazine, no. 712, 21 April 1997, 11.

42    TNT Magazine, no. 712, 21 April 1997, 10, 29.

43    Conradson and Latham, 2005a, 294.

44    Wiles, 2008, 125, 126.

45    West, 2006, 142.

46    Markwell and Stolk, 2005, 88.

47    The South African newspaper should not be confused with the now defunct SA Times newspaper, which had a different publisher.

48    Southern Cross Group, 2008, ‘Who we are’.

49    New Zealand Edge, 2008, ‘About’.

50    Wiles, 2008, 126.

51    See Graeme Hugo’s chapter in this volume.

52    Miller, 2003, 146.

53    Fullilove and Flutter, 2004, 20.

54    Bedford, 2002, 311; Lidgard, 2002, 326.

55    L.E.K. Consulting, 2001, 19.

56    Myers and Inkson, 2003, 7; Walter, 2008.

57    Hotton, 2006.

58    Wiles, 2008, 134.

59    Hotton, 2006.

60    Radar, 2005, Comment posted by J to ‘Do you cringe when you run into Aussies abroad? Or is it a relief to hear a familiar accent’.

61    Age, 30 September 2005, 1.


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Economist, 2005.

LAM: London’s Australasian Magazine, 1988.

New Zealand Edge. 2008. ‘About’. [Internet]. Accessed 14 January 2008. Available from:

Radar Blog. 2005. Comment posted by J to ‘Do You Cringe when You Run into Aussies Abroad? Or Is It a Relief to Hear a Familiar Accent’. 30 November 2005. Accessed 12 March 2008. Available from:

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Cite this chapter as: Crawford, Robert. 2009. ‘Going “OS” for the “OE”: Aussies, Kiwis, and Saffas in contemporary London’. Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience, edited by Bridge, Carl; Crawford, Robert; Dunstan, David. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 16.1 to 16.18.


Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience

   by Carl Bridge