When people asked me how long Kristie and I were moving to the UK for, I’d usually say “indefinitely,” which was technically true. I have European citizenship, so I can stay here forever if I so please, and while Kristie is on a two-year visa you never know what might happen with employment sponsorship etc. What I meant was that I haven’t decided what I’m doing with my life or where I’m going to settle down at all.

But we’ve been in the UK for about six or seven weeks now, and secured employment and a place to live, and although you should avoid making long-term judgements based on a short experience, I think we’ll both return to Australia eventually simply because our standard of living there was higher. It’s hard not to feel, as an Australian in London, that you’re late to the party; even the BBC has noted that the one-way flow of young jobseekers has reversed in recent years. One reason for this is that Australia is no longer the cultural backwater it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A more important reason is that the economic advantage has been flipped; it is now much, much easier to make a buck in Australia than in Britain.

Part of this is London, of course, which is one of the most expensive cities in the world. We wouldn’t be haemorrhaging cash anywhere near as much if we lived in Bristol or Birmingham or Glasgow. But just for comparison’s sake:

Rent in London: £974 ($1,769 AUD) a month, for a room in a sharehouse in a nice house (with a garden) with nice housemates, including bills, relatively close to the city but in a bad neighbourhood. This is split between me and Kristie, so my share is actually £487/$884.

Rent in Melbourne: $900 AUD a month for a room in a sharehouse in a nice house (with a garden) with nice housemates, not including bills, much closer to the city, in a fantastic neighbourhood. Critically, though, Kristie and I didn’t live together in Melbourne; if we’d shared this room it would have been $450 AUD each.

Rent is the hardest part, the thing that makes your mind go to dark places if you start imagining what you could afford back home (or elsewhere in England). Pay is also painful; I’m doing the same job for the same company that I was in Melbourne, and earning somewhere around $42,000 AUD a year (pre-tax), whereas in Melbourne I was earning around $55,000 AUD a year pre-tax.

Of course, we moved to London for a life experience, not to miserly count out our precious dollars. I just find it interesting to compare. People have notions about places being cheap or expensive, and you can throw around how much it costs for rent and what the exchange rate is like, but the only meaningful comparison is how much things cost as a proportion of one’s wage, i.e. how many minutes did you have to work to earn that discount case of Budweiser you’re lugging back from Sainsbury’s. I thought New York was incredibly cheap compared to what everyone told me to expect, but I probably wouldn’t if I was living there and earning $2 an hour.

So that’s what I mean, when I say that we’ll likely treat this time like every other visa-bound Australian does – as a jaunt overseas with a time limit on it. In Australia I could afford to own and insure a motorcycle, I ate out and drank out regularly, and I still saved money without particularly trying to. London, on the other hand, is hard. Surviving here is easy, but living is hard. When you’re a kid imagining the things you might do in your life, money is never a factor, but that’s because kids are idiots. I don’t regret coming here and I’m not unhappy here, but there is simply no question that we had a better standard of living at home. This is why, incidentally, young British people have it better at the moment – because they get to have their overseas experience by going to the land of milk and honey, whereas we have to come up to a continent that’s only just recovered from recession. It will also be quite funny if, in two years time, Kristie and I go back to Australia and the mining boom has ended and/or the Abbott government has driven the economy into the ground with unnecessary austerity.

My parents both asked me, separately, what I liked about London. I don’t want to come off as a whinger. It’s not so much about “liking” things, as though you’re picking out a suburb to live in. It’s about travelling elsewhere, broadening your horizons and experiencing new things. I may have been better off in Melbourne, and I certainly wasn’t unhappy there, but I also felt like I was stagnating and that my late twenties were approaching and I needed to change things a bit. Change is good. Change is healthy. Five years ago in August I was teaching English in Seoul; four years ago I was dragging Chris around south-west China; three years ago I was working in a bookstore and living with my best friends in a delightfully crappy sharehouse in the western suburbs of Melbourne. If I’d stayed in Melbourne this year it would have been largely the same as 2013. Kristie and I could be living in a spare room below a tapdancing studio in Zone 7 and working at McDonalds and be miserable and I still wouldn’t regret coming here. You only get one life, and more importantly you only get one twenties.


I’ve only been to London once before, in autumn, when it wasn’t particularly rainy but it was nice and crisp. London in summer feels wrong; it doesn’t conform to its stereotypes. It actually reminds me of winter in Perth, but the other way around – it’s so clearly ill-equipped for the temperatures of this season even though it comes around every year. Many buildings aren’t air-conditioned, despite London’s ambient temperature often passing 30 degrees. A lot of tube lines aren’t – TFL claims it can’t be done, even though we put a a man on the moon in 1969. After six months of summer (aside from a brief interlude of freezing nights in the western US) I’m kind of over it. Bring on autumn.


I had this notion that big cities were full of busy, bustling people – that a suburban bumpkin like me would step out onto the pavement and immediately be bowled over by a businessman with a briefcase, that I’d get swept away in the crazy torrent of human traffic. It’s actually quite the opposite. In both New York and London, the thing that irritated me more than anything else was the agonising walking pace. They’re both cities of slow-paced dawdlers – people just sauntering along a subway corridor as though they’re out for a Sunday stroll, rather than stuck in a sweaty, suffocating, 38-degree crush of humanity. What I suspect happens is that in a crowded place everybody gets stuck behind the weakest link. For every elderly woman and French tourist wandering along and stopping to consult their maps, there are six or seven impatient people like me stuck behind them, trying to squeeze past, fondly remembering the days of small-town life where you can actually get where you’re going in a hurry.