Ping-Pong Poms choosing the UK over Australia

For years, Brits have fled the UK for the promise of sun, sea and sport in Oz. New figures, however, show many are leaving. Is the Australian dream not what it’s cracked up to be?

For those fed up with rainy Britain, the idea of Australia has always had an attractive shine. Near-constant sunshine and a laid-back, sporty culture have inspired thousands to leave home and start new lives down under.

But lately the yellow brick road to Oz has lost some of its appeal. Emigration to Australia is plummeting, according to the latest figures, and more and more former expats are moving back home to the UK.

This year, the number of people leaving the UK for Australia was 29,000 – almost half the 49,000 who moved there in 2006. And of the 107,000 who went to Australia between 2005 and 2010, 30,000 have returned to the UK for good.

So why are so many trading sunny Oz for the drizzle-drenched economic uncertainty of the British Isles?

For many ex-expats it’s about close friends and family. Some are worried they won’t be able to care for ageing parents on the other side of the world; others say they feel a sense of belonging in the UK that just can’t be replicated abroad.

Many feel that the Australian dream has simply failed to live up to expectations. Life down under, they say, is dull suburban flats and atrocious television – not sunkissed beaches and barbecues.

And despite giving the world Kylie Minogue and Home and Away, the 220-year-old country has a reputation for being thin on culture. Germaine Greer, who moved from Australia in 1964, said the nation really does resemble its popular soap operas, where no-one, apparently, has ‘ever been heard to discuss a book or a movie, let alone an international event.’

This rather critical assessment has of course been hotly contested. But anyway, say many Australians, why not swap art and literature for sun and surf? When the weather is as cold and rainy as the UK, people have little choice but to stay inside writing morbid plays and poems – where’s the fun in that?

Quality of Life?

For people moving abroad, ‘better quality of life’ is an important driver. What this current Australian exodus shows, some say, is that this means more than just good weather. A rich cultural life is essential: sunbathing and surfing may satisfy for a while but, in the long run, a bit of rainswept, artistic reflection is needed too.

Perhaps what these Brits crave, though, is not particular ingredients of life, but more intangible qualities like friends and familiarity. Australia, after all, has culture – just not the UK’s particular brand of art, humour and tradition. Living happily in the Australian sun may be perfection itself, but not without the sense of belonging – of being close to your roots. Home, it appears, really is where the heart is.

You Decide

  1. What is the most important ingredient of ‘quality of life’?
  2. Is it possible for one country to be more ‘culturally rich’ than another – or are cultures and traditions just different?


  1. Think about a time in your life when you anticipated great things from something, only to find it did not meet your expectations. Write an account of the experience – what did it teach you about the things that make you happy?
  2. Create an advert that will encourage people to move to Australia or to the UK. Which qualities of each country would you emphasise – and which would you try to hide?

Some People Say...

“You’ll always be happiest at home.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why do so many people emigrate to Australia?
Over the past decade, many have been attracted by a relatively strong economy. People working in industries like building and engineering have found it particularly easy to get well-paid jobs in Australia.
And do Australians emigrate to the UK?
Yes. For young Australians, a trip to the UK on a working visa can be seen as a rite of passage. Thousands are attracted by the opportunity to explore a different culture – without the hassle of learning a different language – and by the chance to travel in Europe.
And has there been a drop in that direction, too?
Yes – 14,000 fewer Australians moved to the UK last year, compared to 2005. Australians, though, do have an incentive to stay at home – the economic situation down under is healthier than Europe’s.

Word Watch

Leaving a country permanently. The opposite of immigration – arriving in a country. The difference comes from the prefixes at the beginning of each word: ‘e...’ is from the Latin ex, meaning ‘out’; ‘im...’ is from the Latin in which means, unsurprisingly, ‘in’.
Abbreviation of expatriate, meaning a person who’s left their own country, temporarily or permanently, to settle in another. It comes from the Latin patria, meaning ‘fatherland’ (related to words like ‘paternal’ and ‘patriotic’).
Home and Away
A popular soap opera about the ‘hunks and hotties’ of Summer Bay, a fictional beachside Australian town. Like Neighbors, another Australian soap opera, the show has had enormous international success since its first showing in the late Eighties.
Germaine Greer
Anglo-Australian feminist, most famous for her book The Female Eunuch – a bestseller arguing that traditional and consumerist society represses women sexually and personally.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.