The Sun Herald

By Neil McMahon

American Lauren Trucksess came to Australia via South Korea and has now made it home – along the way finding that Sydney offered an unexpected blend of her US origins and her more recent Asian adventure.

Ms Trucksess, 29, is from Philadelphia, but was teaching English in South Korea when she met an Australian traveller, Troy Ponting. They fell in love and decided to move to Sydney, where the stereotyped American view of Australia has crumbled over the past two years. 

"Like a lot of Americans, sad to say, I was picturing outback — there is that perception of a very wild Australia," says Ms Trucksess, who lives in Pyrmont. ‘‘It was more multicultural than I expected it to be, more urban than I expected. I was surprised by how much it also felt like Korea at times, with the Korean population in my area. I felt I had a bit of the US and a bit of the Korean culture mixed together. I can go [to the markets] and still tap my Korean skills."

Ms Trucksess is part of a surprising immigration trend. Figures show a significant leap in the number of American residents in Australia in the decade post-2001 — with the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing about 60,000 American-born people here that year and 90,000 a decade later, a 50 per cent increase.

American academic Lyman Stone noticed the number while researching the broader American diaspora and drilled down to deliver a standout finding. He told Fairfax Media from the US: "I found Australia was the only country that had more Americans than the US had Australians. For every other country in the world, the US has more of their people than they have Americans — Australia was the one exception. That was just begging for an answer. When there’s only one exception, it really merits digging into.’’

Australia, Mr Stone says, is now home to the sixth largest American population in the world. The numbers are still tiny relative to the rest of our foreign-born population, but a 50 per cent increase over a decade suggests something unusual is at work. The biggest assumed factor is economic.

"Australia has enjoyed relatively rapid economic growth over the last five to 15 years," he says, noting that Australia also offered a mix of the foreign and the familiar that made a move attractive.

"My inclination is that Australia is about as exotic as it gets while still getting to speak English and live an approximately American-feeling lifestyle. It feels simultaneously close to home and quite far from home — on the edge of the world but part of the edge of the world you can actually get to."

Dr Bates Gill, an American who heads the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, agrees economic factors are at play.

"With the Oz dollar where it was, [that] was a huge incentive because the salaries looked enormous in US dollar terms. My gut instinct would be that with the GFC and the really serious downturn in the US economy but with the continued growth in the Australian economy and the spectacular growth in the Australian dollar, that must have been an enormous factor. The prospects in the US didn’t look that good, or in Europe for that matter."

For Lauren Trucksess, the American population still feels small — she still doesn’t encounter many around Sydney. "I don’t feel like I regularly see an American presence in my day to day life. But [the increase] is not surprising in the sense that Americans are figuring out that it’s a great place to be."

This article was originally published in The Sun Herald