London’s Australian Community
By Jane Antoniak
For Australians who may be a bit homesick or for others who simply love the down home attitude that many Australians have, a lively group of Aussies (and New Zealanders) can be found in London. Organized largely by e-mail and web, the Aussies in London, Ontario group have been around for more than a decade, gathering at least twice annually for special events and less formally at other times of the year to share special sporting events or to welcome a newcomer to London and area.
According to the current president, Justin Titterton-Smith, there are about 250 Australians living in London and the immediate area. He maintains their website and he also keeps an updated e-mail list of the members. Justin says that about 50 percent of the group have been here for several decades and are well established in the community. About 10 percent are itinerants who come and go for as students or on one year work exchanges. The remainder of the group is here for work placements or are the spouses of Australians who have migrated to our area. “We acknowledge them as Aussies, too, once they marry us,” he jokes. Both Fanshawe College and the University of Western Ontario offer student exchange programs to Australia.
Justin, 35, is typical of many Australians in London in that he came to the city after meeting some Londoners in his hometown of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. Many Canadians go to Australia for teachers college and that is how he heard about London and ended up coming here on a working holiday visa as a young professional. Justin is a certified public accountant and wanted to spread his wings and see the world. “I’d never heard of London, Ontario - at first I thought they meant London, England! But I looked it up on the internet, and it looked interesting so I came!”
That was back in 2005 and now Justin is looking forward to becoming a Canadian citizen in 2011. Since coming here he has gone from working at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop to obtaining his Canadian Certified General Accountant designation and working as a controller for Sylvite Group of Companies in Putnam, Middlesex County, just outside of the city of London.
“People here are nice. I feel safe here. I made good friends. I feel welcome. There is a lot of opportunity as I get to travel and in London I feel closer to where the action is in Detroit or Toronto. It’s a great location and it’s small and personable but it’s large enough to make new friends. I find that London has a small town feel but it’s not a small town.”
The Aussies in London Ontario club meets for Australia Day every January 26th at a London nightclub for drinks, food and fellowship. The group also gathers on April 25th at dawn for the annual ANZAC Day, a remembrance of the efforts of Australian and New Zealand soldiers. That event is held at the Wolseley Barracks in London, followed by a community breakfast. As well, the club members try to connect with newcomers from Australia or New Zealand to offer tips on finding a job or for a tour of the city and area. “I like to take visitors to Port Stanley (on nearby Lake Erie) for a walk on the beach - to relax. I especially like to do that in winter as it is so different from what they have experienced on a beach at home,” he says.
Justin and other Aussies have found some of their national food items at local British shops, including Vegemite and special cookies. He says that Tim Tams - a treasured Aussie cookie which is covered in chocolate can even be found .
As sports fans, Aussies here can track down Aussie Rules football games via the Ontario Australia Rules Football League. When numbers permit, some Aussies and Canadians in London have gathered to play the game. At other times they gather at a local bar on Richmond Street to watch World Cup Soccer, World Cup Rugby and Aussie rules football on TV there in a sociable setting.
“I’m here for re-development and to start a new life. I wanted to live somewhere different. I don’t get homesick, I feel like I am a Canadian. I advise people to go out and make friends. Canadians are very open, inviting and many good things. But you have to go out and make an effort. As Aussies, we tend to integrate well here.”
Jane Antoniak is a writer and owner of Antoniak Communications Inc in London. Her column, How Did You Get Here?, ran in the London Free Press for 5 years, winning recognition from the City of London for promoting diversity and race relations.