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A competent people

By Kate Nielsen - posted Friday, 24 February 2012

The longer I live away from Australia – coming up for 19 years now – the more Australian I feel. After 18 years in the UK and 10 years of dual citizenship there is not one part of me that feels even remotely British (except for occasionally when I'm watching an England match). I feel perfectly at home in my new home, New York City. But the more I do business with Brits and Americans, the more I become aware of the aspects of my character that are a result of having grown up in our wide, brown land.

When I arrived in London aged 23 the personnel manager at my first job hired me on the spot without evening sighting a resume. 'I like hiring Australians,' she told me, 'you work hard and you don't complain.' This HR strategy is not uncommon. Australians overseas get hired easily. People like to work with us.

I was brunching in a fashionable new NYC restaurant the other week and was talking to the young Australian waitress. I commented that the barman who had made our bloody marys was also Australian, 'The restaurant manager too,' she told me, 'He came from Rockpool. And the head bar tender. He used to run the bar at Bayswater Brasserie.' I asked if the owners were Australian. 'No, they just went to Sydney to recruit all their staff. They wanted Australians.' I've found similar situations in London restaurants. The prowess of Australians in the hospitality industry is world renown.


It's more than just Protestant work ethic. There is a sensibleness about us. And a lack of fuss. We don't have the chips on our shoulders of the British or the precocious confidence of Americans. I am a passionate person with a lot of emotional ups and downs but in business I'm known for my even-keel which I attribute wholly to my Australian-ness. Fuss is just not our style.

As a national character, we are doers, sleeves-roller-up-ers, getters-on-with-it. And this seems to be particularly so of those of us who choose to spend our careers overseas. We're sacrificing family, sun and surf so we want to make sure we are getting the most of the opportunities of wherever we are as compensation. Unlike many other immigrants, we are not escaping a worse life at home.

In the UK where issues of class and entitlement can complicate the corporate structure, Australians seem to have a way of cutting through. The Brits see us as honorary working class (translate as kind of jolly and non-threatening) which makes our good education and worldliness seem like a kind of stealth maneuver, a trojan horse for delivering talent and ideas. English people just don't expect Australians to be that smart.

We tend to know more about the rest of the world than the people of larger nations. Particularly now that Asia is such a common topic in business conversations. We are well travelled and we've grown up watching a mix of British and American television enough to feel equally at home in either culture.

The combination makes for a class of 'good-all-rounders' which is consistently in demand in todays hybrid and varied job market.

'You are a competent people," a friend of mine told me over drinks recently. 'You know how to do lots of stuff. But you don't brag about it. You just do it." Ask anyone who knows an Australian who they want to have around in a crisis. In general, we a thought of as reliable, resourceful and even-tempered. All qualities desired of someone on your team. Add to that talent and experience and you have a pretty good resume. This is why so many Australians settle in the UK and US. We do well here. Australians who move overseas and stay overseas tend to be very successful. This is obviously self-filtering. If you are not doing well, you go back. Why stay in rainy old London. But the Australian expats that I come across are not just getting by, they are exceptional in their fields.


So every year I'm away, the more Australian I feel. I learnt I can both assimilate and double-down on my Australian-ness. The two are not mutually exclusive. People like our smarts and our work ethic but they also like our frankness and our understated sense of humor. They don't want us to be any less Australian.

'We love you guys!" a US immigration lawyer told me when I asked about the E3 visa and why Australians got it easier getting into the US than Brits and Europeans, "We just wanna have you around."

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About the Author

Kate Nielsen is currently Account Director at branding agency, Wolff Olins NYC. She blogs at

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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