Ping-Pong Poms: Emotional Reflexivity in Contemporary Return Migration from Australia to the United Kingdom

Article excerpt


Emigration from the United Kingdom to Australia has long been the subject of scholarly study, (1) but there are few detailed analyses of those who return, (2) and of the emotional aspects of return migration (Skrbis 2008). As Hammerton and Thomson (2005: 264) express it: 'Return migrants are voices we rarely hear in Australian history. Migration histories often neglect returnees, focusing instead on the struggles and successes of the migrants who stay on'. Yet the numbers involved in such return migration are considerable. Estimates suggest that just over 25 per cent of postwar British migrants to Australia returned to the United Kingdom at some point after arrival, although not necessarily permanently (Hammerton & Thomson 2005: 264). Measuring return migration continues to be plagued by the same difficulties Appleyard (1962a, 1962b) noted in the 1960s: rates of return change markedly over time; they vary for different types of migrants; and the figures struggle to cope with the significant numbers of return migrants who then re-emigrate to Australia, and those who become back and forth serial returners (Hammerton & Thomson 2005: 264-65). To understand why significant proportions of migrants return, and why some re-migrate, we argue that it is crucial to examine the emotional reflexivity involved in migration decisions.

With the limitations of migration figures in mind, we begin by providing some indicative statistics on those who return to the United Kingdom from Australia. After explaining the concept of emotional reflexivity and why it is important in understanding migration, we give a brief outline of our exploratory study of return migrants via a popular online discussion forum. This study illustrates how migrants are emotionally reflexive in deciding whether to return 'home' permanently or re-migrate. From this data, three key emotional factors emerge in prompting return migration: feeling obliged to be near family in the United Kingdom; feelings of homesickness or a lack of belonging; and feeling disappointed that the 'dream life' they migrated in search of has not materialised.

Patterns of migration

The largest component of Australia's population growth continues to be from net overseas migration. In 2010, for example, 57.2 per cent of recorded growth was due to immigration (Australian Government 2011: 63-66). Migrants therefore continue to be extremely important to the future development and growth of Australia (Markus et al. 2009). Historically, those from the United Kingdom, especially the English, have settled in Australia in the greatest numbers (Jupp 2001, 2004; Roe 2002; Hammerton & Thomson 2005)--partly due to immigration measures known as the white Australia policy (Windschuttle 2004; Tavan 2005). Of the 22 million people living in Australia in 2010 some 26 per cent were originally born outside of Australia and by far the largest number--over 20 per cent of these--were originally born in the United Kingdom (3) (Australian Government 2011: 83). New settlers from the United Kingdom still arrive in Australia in large numbers. As Table 1 shows, between 2005 and 2010 almost 107,000 new settlers arrived from the United Kingdom. (4)

However, as has long been the case, significant numbers of immigrants return to their original countries (Appleyard 1962a, 1962b; Lukomskyi & Richards 1986; Hammerton & Thomson 2005; Harper 2005; Conway & Potter 2009). Between 2005 and 2010, just over 30,000 'permanent settlers' who were originally born in the United Kingdom decided to 'permanently leave'. (5) Not all of them returned to the United Kingdom, but almost 18,000 (59 per cent) of them did so. Over this five-year period, the number of UK-born people leaving Australia for any destination represented over 28 per cent of the number arriving; and the proportion of UK-born people leaving to go back to the United Kingdom was almost 17 per cent of the number arriving. …


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