Why is Brisbane attracting so many Brits?
- 13 July 2010
- From the section Magazine
Australia is once again the destination of choice for Britons starting a new life abroad. But instead of the better-known Sydney or Melbourne, record numbers are heading to Brisbane. Why?
They say if you see it often enough on television, you'll believe it. Sure enough, foreigners are still buying the golden Australian dream, complete with sunny beaches, the distant knock of a cricket bat and, above it all, a bright blue sky.
Never mind that an Antarctic breeze is currently causing a record-breaking winter to be colder than the beer - this land Down Under is back at the top of destinations chosen for a bright, sunny, expat future.
Surprisingly, it's not Sydney's stunning harbour views that are pulling them in, nor the lure of seeing the Ashes battled over once again at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. Instead, record numbers are making their way to Brisbane, halfway up the east coast where, according to NatWest's recently-published Quality of Life Index, every 10th person is a pommy.
It now has the fastest-growing population of all Australian cities. Its popularity may come as a shock to those living in Sydney and Melbourne, many of whom consider Queensland to be populated by prosperous "Victorian" retirees - in this case meaning those from the southern state of Victoria. They regard them as having little more to do each day than nod to their neighbours in their gated communities. To them it's Australia's Florida.
That must make the state capital the country's Miami, right? Wrong.
If we're sticking with US comparisons it's a certain city in Nevada that provides the best parallel - Brisbane has become known as Brisvegas.
There's pleasure to be found in Brisbane, but for interstate urbanites it's more of a weekend-in-Bognor-Regis variety.
However, for the likes of Jacqui Bird, who hails from another city of the north east - from Newcastle Upon Tyne - and moved to Brisbane seven years ago with her Sri Lankan husband, pinpointing the city's lure is easy.
"The opportunities here are amazing - and it's always warm," she says. "In Brisbane you can also get around easily, more than in other Australian cities."
Mrs Bird was one of those Brits who rocked up on a six-month visa a generation ago and never made the journey home. She has no regrets.
"The best thing has been having my children and raising them here," she says. "Being able to provide things, for example private education, that I don't think I would have been able to do in the UK. I think I've given them a better life."
It's not just those with families and the middle-aged enjoying the laid-back lifestyle. William See and his partner Adlyn are medical doctors in their late 20s. They moved from Ireland to Brisbane a year ago. For Mr See, being able to wear shorts in winter is a plus and the close proximity of a beach ball.
Just 45 minutes in one direction and you're at the Gold Coast. It's Australia's very own Blackpool, only with sun cream required, he says.
"Same distance in the other direction and you're on the Sunshine Coast. We go most weekends and it feels like you're having a real holiday - without a jacket."
But why Brisbane over the more-celebrated Australian cities?
"There's a lot going on in Sydney," says Mr See. "But everything is everywhere, there are so many people, not everyone likes that environment. It's messy, not my style. I wouldn't mind living in Melbourne but having been here for a year, there's no reason to move."
John Aitken, head of Brisbane Marketing, the city's economic development agency, highlights the "relaxed, outdoor lifestyle few cities in the world can offer".
But he points to the collaborative business style as the biggest attraction for more than 1,000 new arrivals on a weekly basis, with this in turn fuelling a vibrant social scene.
"This rapid growth has delivered new entertainment precincts, an exciting live-music scene and quaint urban villages… with a beautiful river, natural bay and scenic rim at our doorstep."
But if one in 10 Brisbaners is a British expat, isn't their constant presence a turn-off to those seeking get away from it all? Not for William See, though there is a twinge of homesickness in his response.
"We can compare our experiences and help each other," he says. "We also have friends who have come out here just for a year and being with them is a great comfort. It's much harder when they go back."
Mrs Bird, perhaps because she's been here much longer, is less sentimental.
"Certainly, whenever I meet an English person, particularly from the north, I'll strike up a conversation and acknowledge them," she says. "But we don't necessarily become friends. And there are loads of people here from all sorts of places, not like Perth where it does seem like every other person is English or Irish."
Meanwhile, if America's streets are paved with gold, Australia's are paved with dollars that go at least a third further than they would in the UK.
Add to that an economy that has all but escaped the global recession due to its geography, wealth of mineral resources and canny Pacific ties, and it's clear why so many Brits are setting sail for sand, sports pitches and their own chance at success.
The only downside of Down Under that Mr See can point to is to do with his work as a doctor
"The environment is very different, that can take some getting used to," he says. "I don't have as much responsibility here, but that's down to a different system of training."
And no matter how good the quality of life, being several thousand miles from loved ones always pulls on the heart strings.
"You can't just nip over to see your family. We fly my father over every year, and my sister comes in alternate years. I don't miss my life in England, but I miss them."
However, Mr See has no hesitation in choosing which lifestyle suits him and his partner: "There's nothing bad to say. We're both a lot happier."
And Mrs Bird's decidedly clear too: "This is my home now, I'm never, ever going back."