Australia

'Boomerang Poms' flee Australia's traffic and TV

Suitcases decorated with the UK flag Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many British people who move to Australia find their new lives don't live up to their expectations

Thousands of Britons head for a new life in Australia every year, but it is often not the one-way trip they anticipated. Julian Lorkin looks at why UK migrants frequently decide the wide open spaces of Australia are not for them.

The idea of a Sunday drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, past glorious harbour views to Bondi Beach, conjures up an idyllic lifestyle that looms large in the imagination of many British people.

A total of 1.2 million UK citizens live in Australia - people like Jo Williams, who moved to Sydney from Sutton in London. But Jo is one of many Britons who find that stereotypical images of a relaxed lifestyle down under don't match up to reality.

For instance, she knows that a drive to Bondi Beach on the weekend means battling Sydney's "horrendous" traffic.

"Driving is my biggest Australian bugbear, on badly designed roads, along with spending a fortune for a café lunch," she says.

It is also harder to find work than migrants expect. Even though Australia's unemployment rate sits at just 5.7%, low by OECD standards, Jo believes UK work experience and qualifications aren't sufficiently valued by Australian companies.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Heavy Sydney traffic and more rainy days than expected are just some of the things UK expats have complained about

"You'll often go backwards career-wise … the level of bureaucracy and difficulty in finding a job was shocking," she says.

"Australia is an amazing country and advertised salaries are great, but daily living costs, housing and cars are vastly more expensive than in the UK."

Boomerang Poms

Although an increasing number of Australians are born overseas, proportionally fewer are British-born. The numbers have declined steadily for a decade, from 5.6% to 5.1% in 2015, partly because UK citizens are returning home.

There are many British-born Australians - including previous prime ministers Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard - and emigrants often assume the countries will have a similar culture.

But new arrivals in Australia "really notice the differences - and there are many", says Visiting Professor Roger Burrows at London's Goldsmiths College.

He has studied the phenomenon of migrants abandoning Australia over the past decade and many cite similar reasons for leaving.

"The lack of public transport means there isn't a culture of going for a drink after work," he says.

"Commuters spend hours on the road and when you eventually get home you're in vast dormitory suburbs with poor-quality housing… watching terrible Australian TV.

"It's very hard to make friends. Many never visit the beaches that attracted them in the first place.

"They head back to the UK for a social life with a decent pub. Very long working hours are the final straw for many Brits."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many British expats say the long working hours considered typical in Australia mean they can't make it to the beach as often as they would like

Australians generally acknowledge that long working hours are an issue. Five million of Australia's 7.7 million full-time workers put in more than 40 hours a week, prompting a think tank called the Australia Institute to designate 18 November as "Go Home on Time" day.

But instead of just going home on time, more than 7,000 British people a year are going back to the UK for good, and nearly half on permanent migration visas return home within five years.

It's a phenomenon documented since the days of "Ten Pound Poms" in the 1950s, when Australia's government offered cut-price ship fares to attract British workers.

Many UK emigrants stayed just long enough to pay for their return trip, which led to the coining of another term - "Boomerang Poms".

"Many emigrants find it hard to adjust, and compare positives and negatives," Prof Burrows says.

"If you live somewhere tough in the UK, Australia seems great, but if you enjoy the culture and options to go out in the UK's big cities, Australia can seem very limited."

Even the weather refuses to conform to the national stereotype. Sydney's yearly rainfall of 48 inches is nearly double London's 29 inches.

"Migrants need to examine what they want. Australia isn't just a sunny beach," Prof Burrows says.

"People expect their life to change after being brought up on a diet of Neighbours and Home and Away, but that's not a working day reality.

"Even when it is as sunny as the TV shows present, many emigrants find it hard to get time off to enjoy it. Workers typically only take half their annual leave."

Roy Morgan data shows that the average Australian rolls over 21 days of annual leave.

There and back again

Phoebe Baxter is a "ping-pong Pom". She immigrated to Australia and later returned to the UK. But after some years, she once again felt the lure of Sydney, and returned to live in the city's suburban Hills district.

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Image caption Despite the popularity of Neighbours and other Australian TV shows in the UK, expats tend to complain about the quality of local television

"I came back with my eyes wide open. You develop coping mechanisms, and the internet means you can keep in touch with family," she says.

"I still miss the vast variety of UK high street shops though, and local pubs. Sydney's suburbs mostly have huge beer barns miles from anywhere."

The complaints that originally drove Phoebe away from Australia are very similar to Jo's - work hours and transport.

"In Australia I was shocked at the prices and hideous working hours," she says.

"It had a good buzz, but the transport infrastructure is so weak. The UK has it down pat with the tubes and the trains."

As a migrant she found insignificant differences assumed a huge importance.

"Oddly, I suddenly appreciated the sheer variety of UK architecture. Australian buildings seemed so uniform and dreary.

"Australia is great, with better opportunities for raising a family.

"It is a blessing and a curse to love two countries, as I miss certain things of each country. However, I just can't commit to live in Australia for the rest of my life."

Prof Burrows says migrants in both directions notice small differences, which become hugely important. "Australians also complain when they move to the UK - just about different things," he says.

He warns migrants to think carefully about moving halfway around the world. "Be careful of what you wish for," he says. "You might just get it."

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