Next year in ... Sydney

By Jan Shure, April 18, 2008
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Israel is not the only popular destination for British Jews seeking a new life in the sun among others of their faith. It may not quite be aliyah — but Australia’s pull is rising

You are a twenty or thirty-something UK Jew, possibly married, possibly not, and you fancy a new life in another country. You are looking for a place with almost guaranteed sunshine, a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe, world-class Jewish schools and a vibrant Jewish life. You might think the obvious destination would be Israel — but for a significant number of young Jews, their “aliyah” is not to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but to Sydney, Melbourne, or even Canberra, Perth or Darwin.

In 2006, a total of more than 400,000 people left the UK, up from 359,000 recorded in 2005 and the highest rate since current records began in 1991. Correspondingly, the latest figures from Britain’s Office of National Statistics — issued in November 2007 — reveal that Australia is still Britons’ favourite place to which to emigrate. Although it is difficult to find hard statistics about specific Jewish emigration to Australia, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate that significant numbers of young UK Jews are drawn by the sun, sea, sand, the easy access to the great outdoors and the Aussie lifestyle.

The most compelling evidence is Project Sydney, a new community-sponsored initiative to help UK and South African Jews move to the city. A joint initiative by the New South Wales Jewish Communal Appeal and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Project Sydney was established towards the end of 2007 following data from migration agents that showed a hike in the number of Jews applying for visas to Australia. The project helps with job interviews, finding Jewish schools for immigrants’ children, and generally offering support to newcomers.

In February, the project’s director, Selwyn Shapiro, came to London, where he interviewed more than 50 Jews. He also spoke to a number of families from Manchester and Leeds by phone. He said the bulk of the people he spoke to were young, as “you are much more likely to get a visa to Australia if you are young and professional”.

The project’s mission statement explains: “Historically, Sydney’s Jewish community has been sustained by immigration, and the community recognises and appreciates the crucial role that immigrants play in our society. We welcome and encourage immigration as a way of enhancing and sustaining our Jewish life in Sydney.”

Many UK Jews decide to move to Australia after travelling around the country during gap-year or post-university trips. One of those is Glasgow-born Adam Kay, 37, a TV producer-director who is now head of programming for the Australian arm of British independent production company North One TV. He went to work at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and returned soon after on a “distinguished talent” visa, lured by the beach lifestyle, the Australian ethos of “fair go” and the laid-back atmosphere. A Manchester graduate who lived in Muswell Hill, North London, Kay is a self confessed “sports and TV nut” who has produced and directed TV at the Commonwealth Games and African Nations Cup. He is now gearing up for the Beijing Olympics.

“I didn’t like the hustle and bustle of London, the incessant rush, the pollution and poor quality of life,” he said. “Sydney, by contrast, is all sun, sea, sand... and I like the outdoor sporting life and the opportunity to use my worldwide experience on TV to better the quality of television in Australia.”

A graduate of Habonim-Dror, he says he made countless Australian friends when he was on the organisation’s Shnat programme in Israel in 1988-89. “The transition from London to Sydney was easy,” he says, “because I had many friends whom I’d met back in 1989, thus providing an instant infrastructure.”

Another Brit lured by the combination of climate and sport, plus a vibrant commercial environment, is Martin Kelly, 33. Originally from Clayhall, Essex, he moved to Sydney just over three years ago, initially working with Ernst & Young and now in corporate development with Tower Australia. Kelly, who has an economics degree from Birmingham University and passed out from Sandhurst as a captain in the British Army, says the weather and outdoors lifestyle always appealed to him.

“In Sydney, I am able to work in financial services in a challenging job, and yet also live by the beach and have a great time after work and at the weekends.

“There were things that were difficult, but considering it is an English-speaking country and its culture is largely British, moving to Australia is about as easy as moving countries can be. I like the lack of ceremony, the informality, working culture, great weather and the fact that the outdoor pursuits are easily accessible to all. There is also the sport, affordability, and the ferry commute to work.”

Kelly, who has an Australian girlfriend and cousins in Melbourne, says his employers and the large ex-pat community were very supportive in his early days in the country. But leaving his family in the UK was painful, he concedes. His sister, Pauline Nel, and her husband and children will be emigrating to Oz in a couple of months, and his parents are waiting for their visas.

“It was tough leaving them, and I am not sure how it would have turned out had they not decided to join me. But I am ecstatic they are coming. It will enrich my life and provide stability.”

The only down-side he sees is Australia’s remoteness from the rest of the world “which manifests itself, at times, in a fairly insular culture”. But despite that, he says he “wouldn’t move back to Britain for a million pounds”.

Other migrants make the move because they marry Australians. Jayne Wise, who grew up in Chigwell, Essex, married her Australian husband Dion in 1986.

The couple initially lived in Chigwell, before deciding in 1998 to head for Melbourne, Dion’s home town.

Wise, who now has two daughters, aged four and two-and-a-half, explains her decision: “After a conversation with my cousins who were considering going to live abroad, I told Dion I didn’t want to wake up in 20 years and think, ‘I wonder what it would have been like to live in Australia’. At the time, we had great jobs, owned our own home, had great friends and family around us, so it would have been so easy to stay, but I kept thinking that if we were going to go we had to do it before we had children. I don’t think I could have taken grandchildren away from my parents.”

A teacher at Bialik School, one of Melbourne’s leading Jewish schools, Wise believes she settled more quickly because she had a job to walk into and a ready-made family. “I’d been communicating with the school for a while, and a day after my plane landed I had an interview. I started work about three weeks after and made some really fantastic friends who are among my closest and most valued today.

“Dion’s family were so understanding and compassionate, and they forgave me every time I said, ‘Oh at home we do it this way’. Also, my mum’s cousin moved here about 25 years ago, so I had cousins of my own who included me in everything. They have been a real support. After the initial culture shock wore off, I started to feel very settled. Indeed, after six months I said that I’d never go back to live in London again.”

Apart from the obvious attraction of her husband, who owns a graphic- and web-design company, Wise finds much else to like about Australia: “It’s very laid back here. Melbourne, particularly, is a wonderful place to bring up children. We have beautiful parks on every other corner with well-maintained play equipment. Coffee shops and restaurants have colouring books, paper, crayons and they invented the baby-cino — frothy milk with chocolate powder — to keep the little ones happy while the parents drink their lattes, espressos or whatever. Melbourne has a great outdoor lifestyle. We often head down to the beach for a swim around 6pm. After work a few days ago, I fed the children, popped them in the pram and went for a three- kilometre walk to the park where we met Dion, had a quick play and we all walked home again. You can do that here as the weather is so good.”

Jewish life is strong, too. Bialik, where Wise teaches, is one of 11 Jewish schools in Melbourne, and one of 24 in Australia (nine of them in Sydney), in a country with a total Jewish population, officially, of 98,000.

Pauline Nel and her South African-born husband, Louis, met in Israel almost 15 years ago and lived there for a year. But while they loved the country, they have decided that Australia is where they want to make a new life with their son Jannie, four, and daughter, Mia, two. They are moving to Sydney later this year.

They first visited Australia just over a year ago for a holiday, but also for what Pauline calls “a bit of a recce to see whether it was somewhere we could live. We visited Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne to get an overview of each city. Louis grew up with a very outdoors lifestyle. In addition we lived in Israel in 1995 and spent a year in Singapore, so I suppose we have always known that England is not the only place to live your life. In 2005, Louis was offered a role in South Africa but ultimately we realised it was not stable enough. We then started to think about other options.”

Nel, 35, a company director with a background in human resources, said the toughest aspect has been the immigration process, which she describes as “a very long, arduous process”.

She hopes the settling in will be made easier by the fact that her brother, Martin Kelly, is already in Sydney, and their parents are currently applying for visas to join them.

“When we were in Sydney in March 2007, we spent all our time with Martin who showed us around and gave us an insight to the Aussie way of life. He was very honest and said that not having close family around was the hardest part about being in Oz.”

Apart from the outdoor life and the climate, it is the work-life balance which especially appeals to Nel. “Work is just one part of your life. When you are finished, you go home and spend time with your family or do other activities. Also, the facilities there are much more affordable — you can go out for the day without spending a fortune, and there are beaches, mountains, parks, public barbecues you can use.”

She is also pragmatic about the future: “I’m under no illusions of us being financially better off, but I do believe our quality of life will be richer.”

Additional reporting by Dan Goldberg

    Last updated: 12:37pm, July 20 2009