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While the British media have been on alert for a so-far elusive flood of Romanians and Bulgarians entering the UK, Notebook is more intrigued by a different phenomenon: the disappearing Australians.
Ten years ago you could hardly walk into a bar without being wished “g’day” by the staff. A working holiday was a rite of passage for young Aussies, the gateway to travel around Europe.
The most notable concentration was around Shepherd’s Bush and other parts of west London, though Manchester and Edinburgh were also popular.
But the number of Australian working visas issued by the UK Home Office has fallen by more than half since 2006 to fewer than 15,000, while the Office for National Statistics reported a drop of almost 10,000 Australians resident in the UK in 2012. As the BBC reports, several Australian-themed pubs and businesses have closed.
“This year it’s gotten even worse. We’ve now had to ‘de-Australianise’ the venue as there aren’t enough [Aussies] out there any more. The eight we used to have behind the bar have all gone, replaced by Brits or Europeans,” says Trevor Kite, assistant manager at a Fulham pub, The Larrik Inn, which takes its name from the Australian slang term “larrikin” (for lout or maverick).
The reason, of course, is that Australia’s resource-driven economic growth has continued while the UK has struggled. The Australian dollar is strong. After travelling around Europe it is more tempting for young Aussies to return home where they can earn twice as much for doing the same work. In addition, UK visa requirements have been tightened.
Insofar as this trend is a sign of increased cultural and economic confidence Down Under, I wish the Aussies well. But I will be saddened as it means fewer imports from the country that brought us feminist Germaine Greer, broadcaster Clive James, journalist John Pilger, entertainer Barry Humphries and musicians such as Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave.
One upside: there are fewer Aussies around to crow about their country’s victories at cricket.
Amid the fuss about raising the proportion of women on company boards, I am pleased to see progress towards greater gender equality in what was once a quintessentially male part of British life: beer. Not only are more women drinking real ale, the traditional drink, the number of professional women brewers is on the rise, too.
Ever since the industrial revolution, beer had been seen as a drink brewed by men for men, but it was not always so. Beer in Britain dates back 4,000 years and women were the primary brewers, preparing food and drink for their households. Jane Austen brewed beer as well as writing novels.
Now female brewers, traditionally known as brewsters, are in the forefront of a resurgence of popularity for real or craft ales. Sara Barton, who owns and runs Brewster’s Brewery in Lincolnshire, was voted Brewer of the Year 2013 by the British Guild of Beer Writers, the first woman to win the award in its 20-year history. Prominent women in the industry include Emma Gilleland, head of supply chain at Marston’s, a large independent brewer based in the West Midlands.
Changes in social attitudes, coupled with the increased visibility of female role models, are helping the trend, as is the growth of microbreweries: a record 197 opened in the UK last year. It is also part of the trend towards food and drink of local provenance, with female brewers bringing imagination to new flavours including seasonal fruit, vegetables and spices.
More women are drinking beer, too. The number trying real ale has jumped from 14 per cent to 34 per cent of drinkers in the past three years, says the Campaign for Real Ale. Surely not a bad thing.
Not everyone’s taste
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is trying to calm matters after reports it had banned the sale of those divisive UK products Irn-Bru, the Scottish fizzy drink, and Marmite, a “love it or hate it” spread made from brewer’s yeast.
The agency said a shipment containing products imported from the UK, including these two, had been detained because it contained meat products without the required documentation. But it said Irn-Bru and Marmite would “continue to be sold in stores across Canada”. Enjoy.