Down in the West Village, around the cluster of Marc Jacobs’ stores and cupcakes shops, the air is thick with Australian accents.
My friend and I are adding to it. He has lived here for about a year, and ten years ago spent several years living in California where being Australian was a novelty.
Now, he says, Australians are like the Russians, or citizens of some other far-flung place that has found wealth under the ground. One shopping bag at a time we are putting the nouveau into New York.
A few days later I am in a high-end electronic store off Times Square. I went to buy noise-reducing headphones. The salesman is chirpy – he’s had six Australian customers in here this morning and its only 10am. He hands me a pair of $300 headphones. $300?! He must think I’m one of them.
Cashed-up bogans is the unkind expression – but as most of the world is staggering out of recession, Australia with its buoyant dollar and our entrenched love of travel has been helping prop up these old world economies – with our Lion King tickets, suites at the Marriott and 6th Avenue shopping sprees.
According to the New York Times, in 2011, nearly 800,000 Australians traveled to the United States, an 81 percent increase over 2006.
“These intrepid travellers are fast becoming one of the city’s top overseas spenders, staying here twice as long as other international visitors and devouring all the Big Apple has to offer with an apparent indifference to sticker shock,” according to this article in Crain’s New York Business.
In other word – we’ll buy it, without even blinking at the price.
Australians “rate as the third biggest spenders to the Big Apple behind Britain and Brazil.”
Not all are cashed up or newly wealthy. The other tribe of Australians that you see around these parts (or in Brooklyn) are those on a working holiday, people in their 20’s and 30’s that say – five years ago – would have gone to London.
Fairfax’s Nick Miller crunched the numbers and concluded that young Australians on working holiday visas were no longer drawn to a stint in the Old Country. According to the latest official British Home Office figures, “the number of Australians heading to Britain for work has halved since 2005. The exodus began when the financial crisis hit the City and it hasn’t stopped since… Back in the first quarter of 2005 more than 7000 young Australians headed to Britain for the classic combination of part-time work, copious beer and cheap European holidays. However, in the first quarter of 2013, only 3200 took up the opportunity.”
Miller concluded, “It seems Australians are just plain going off London.”
Australians wanting to work in the US can apply for the E3 visa, which allows work in the US without restrictions. Between 2000-3000 E3 visas have been issued by US consulates to Australian professionals every year, according to official figures.
Lizzie McManus is typical of a young Australian worker who has left London for the greener pastures of New York.
McManus, 27, left London in October after almost five years working on an Ancestry visa. She has relocated to hipster Bushwick in Brooklyn, where she is looking for work in electronic music PR.
“A lot of friends were starting to leave London. People get over the fact that London is cold and dreary all the time. New York is cold but it has the seasons,” she says.
The city also has more “buzz” than London, says McManus.
McManus says a lot of Australians she knows are either moving to New York or taking extended holidays there, whereas “once they might have gone to Europe.”
“In London there is an Aussie path – and in New York that’s still being established,” says McManus.
“London is a still a safe step for Australians – its safe and feels familiar.”
As for going back to Australia – it is not on the cards for Brisbane born McManus. “It’s way too expensive,” she says.
Brigid Delaney is a freelance journalist currently living in New York City.