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Strewth mate. Aussies wave goodbye to Britain as it becomes too pricey to stay

The recession has seen Australian expats leave in droves, damaging a specialist economy
  • @emilydugan

Take the shrimps off the barbie and put the stubbies back in the fridge: the Aussies are leaving Britain and the companies which served them are going bust.

The Australian population in Britain shrank by 22,000 between 2010 and 2011, according to the latest government figures. Tighter immigration laws, an unfavourable exchange rate and the greater impact of the recession in Britain have made leaving the sun behind a less attractive proposition. (And besides, the Ashes are just around the corner, which they might want to miss.)

Spending several years working in the UK as a base to explore Europe used to be a rite of passage for young Australians and New Zealanders. But now the practice is on the wane – and the shops, pubs and cafes which sprung up to cater for them are going under.

The original Walkabout pub in London’s Covent Garden closed earlier this year. It was Britain’s first Aussie bar, opening first as The Outback and trading as Walkabout for the last 18 years. It is one of a whole string of pubs catering to Antipodeans which has shut its doors over the last year, including The Redback Tavern, the Billabong bar in Wimbledon and the Finchley Road London outlet of the Walkabout chain.

Jumbuck’s Aussie Pie Co in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, is also struggling to survive with fewer customers. Its owner, Nabil Bouri, said: "Last year we felt the decline but it wasn’t a killer. But since Christmas the business has fallen off a cliff and we’re trading at between 40 and 50 per cent of the level we are at last year. The Government has tightened up on granting visas to professionals, which is attacking the number of people coming in, so companies like ours, whose business is based around Kiwis and Aussies, are suffering."

The Australia Shop, which has sold imported Australian food and patriotic goods in Covent Garden for 18 years, was forced to close last month after business slowed to a trickle.

It is set to reopen as a cafe after a last-minute investment from backers, but its owner, Elizabeth Mills, is still worried about its  future: "Times have been tough. Our retail was down about 30 per cent on the same time last year," she said.

"There are fewer Australians that seem to be coming over – and if they are coming they’re clearly not spending anything. The exchange rate is also a problem: the pound is really down against the dollar and we buy lots of things from Australian suppliers."

The numbers of Aussies arriving in Britain decreased by 50 per cent in the decade to 2011, with only 26,000 choosing to come here that year. In the same year, 48,000 Australians left the UK – an increase of 20 per cent from 2010.

The Britain-Australia Society estimates it had a 30 per cent drop in membership over the last year and now has about 700 members.

Its director, Dale Eaton, said: "The reduction was mainly middle-income earners who can earn more in Australia than here. The quality of life in Australia has increased and wages are good so people either repatriate or choose not to leave Australia. Australian businesses in London are struggling or closing down as a result."

Dux Balendran, 29, is an Australian physiotherapist who moved back to Melbourne a year ago. He spent three years in Britain working and doing a masters degree. He said: "The pound to dollar value has dropped over the last 10 years, so it is not worth earning pounds and bringing them back here.

"Also, the salaries in Australia are higher and the job market and standard of living are better. This diminished the appeal for many to live in London and travel. They are happy to go on regular holidays as the airfare to Europe has also fallen because of increased competition."