As the temperature in England continues to fall and the colleagues around me start to grumble about the prospect of snow, I’ve found it hard to stop myself from feeling smug. Very soon I’ll be making the 24-hour flight back to sunny Australia, my first visit home in two years.
Anyone who has spent a long time away from their home country knows that coming back is a mix of excitement and curiosity about how things have changed. In the case of Oz, I can’t help feeling the country’s outlook isn’t as rosy as when I stepped on a plane in 2010.
Back then we had just avoided a global economic crisis. China’s appetite for the stuff we dug out of the ground meant Australia’s trade balance hit a 40-year high. But that optimism seems to have slipped. This August, resource and energy minister Martin Ferguson announced that the nation’s resource boom was over, just days after BHP Billiton shelved two expansion plans worth $40bn (€31bn).
Politically we also seem to be in a bit of a lull. 2010 was one of the most dramatic years in Australian politics. I woke up one morning and Julia Gillard had just backstabbed Kevin Rudd to become PM, a wild move to reinvigorate the Labor party; Gina Rinehart was protesting in the streets about a proposed carbon tax; and the federal election turned into such a dead heat that it was decided by three independents. It was like living in America!
Cut to 2012 and apart from Gillard’s well-publicised stab at opposition leader Tony Abbott for being a misogynist there is not much to write home about. We still haven’t found an effective solution for dissuading opportunistic people-smugglers, our education system is still lacking and the debate about introducing high-speed rail has hardly moved. To be fair, Gillard’s determination to push the carbon tax through and introduce the world’s largest marine reserve were a welcome boost to Australia’s environmental credentials.
Perhaps the thing that I’m worried about most is that Australia will not feel different enough to the other countries I’ve spent the last two years travelling through. It hasn’t been a great time for some of the brands that smack most of home. Just this month, the iconic tomato-sauce maker Rosella went into receivership. Put that next to the economic woes of Billabong and chocolatier Darrell Lea and you can’t help feeling nervous for some of Australia’s most heritage-rich businesses. I can hardly claim self righteousness: I’ve opted to fly back with Emirates rather than Qantas, who have had an exceptionally hard couple of years at the hands of foreign, better-run airlines.
Forgive me if I sound pessimistic. Clearly it’s not all bad. Maybe I’ve become like a bitter ex-lover looking back at an old flame. After all, I’d hate to think the country has been carrying on fine without me.
Adrian Craddock is Monocle's associate business editor.