Mark and Sophie
Another escapee is Mark. He, like Will and Lisa from Tamarama, fell in love with Barcelona. But that was not his only reason for leaving Australia at a relatively young age.
Mark was searching for himself in a similar way to Chelsea.
‘I left because I had never considered myself necessarily tied to being in Australia,’ he said. ‘I think that might primarily be because my mother is German, my father is Austrian, I was born in Belgium. They were migrants from the UK after being concentration camp refugees.
‘So I never felt that Australia was some place that I felt absolutely glued to and I had always thought about leaving after I finished university in the early 1980s.’
Mark worked in London and Barcelona, then he returned to Australia for a few years, but once again felt the pull of Europe. ‘Politically and culturally I wanted to be there. I was increasingly unhappy with being back in Australia, I felt as if I was slipping back into being culturally isolated from the rest of the planet.’
‘It’s a slow drift that happens over a period of time,’ said Mark. ‘You don’t actually realize that you are being disconnected with the world regardless of the internet etc.’
And that feeling of cultural and political isolation has deepened for Mark because he senses that Australia itself has drifted further and further away from Europe.
He is now a political refugee as much as he is a cultural refugee.
‘My perspective now on Australia is that we have become culturally and morally much more North American than British even. We are becoming much more conservative, generally speaking, both culturally and morally, as a country. And inward looking.’
The arrival of the Abbott government only solidified Mark’s position.
As Mark puts it, ‘Watching the Australian elections (in 2013) from afar was really, for us, like watching a re-run of “children overboard” ten years ago. It is the same story, the same running-out the lowest common denominator factors, and incredibly depressing in terms of the lack of big ideas, lack of creativity and lack of engagement with the region.’
He was also fed up with the ‘nanny state’ attitudes of the Australian government and the litigious nature of the society. ‘I find it frustrating when I go back to visit Australia. Obviously living in Spain, as a southern European country, there aren’t many rules. They expect the pavement to be cracked and they don’t pay any attention to it. And it is actually nice because they still have massive festivals here that involve huge amounts of fireworks and fire.’
Mark went back to Barcelona because ‘I knew the place already, I loved the place’. He has since set up a successful public relations business and travels the world for work. His partner, Sophie, works in the food industry and is involved with gastronomy classes, tours, books. Their lives are entrenched here. And they made the best of the real estate slump. They only recently bought an apartment in Barcelona. ,Their timing couldn’t have been better.
‘We were going to buy something here five years ago and thank god we didn’t because we probably would have paid 30 to 50 per cent more for the apartment we just bought,’ Mark said.
‘A lot of people, especially foreigners, are buying here now. In the centre of town in Barcelona you can get an apartment for A$224,000. This would be absolutely unthinkable in London. You would be 20 kilometres out of town.
‘Outside Barcelona, along the coast, property is even cheaper.’
Mark has no intention of returning to Australia. He still loves it but feels that he is more European than Australian, especially in Australia’s current political environment.
‘There are things I miss about Australia. I dearly miss the space and the green in the cities. But I don’t miss the rest of it. People come over here now to visit—Barcelona has almost replaced Paris for Australian tourists.’
He also pointed out that his work is European-focused so Australia’s distance would be a problem. ‘I spend 60 to 70 per cent of the year travelling for work; that would be just impossible from Australia.’
Mark said that the cost of living has noticeably fallen since the financial crisis hit in 2008. ‘You can see it in the bars and restaurants here. You can now buy a fresh orange juice, a croissant and a cafe latte for A$2.70. A daily menu—three courses with wine—costs A$15. There are a lot of deals here. People are being very careful about what they charge in restaurants.’
The costs of living in Spain are considerably lower than in Australia. In Barcelona, for example, consumer prices are 25 per cent lower than in Sydney, rent is almost 60 per cent lower, restaurants 14 per cent cheaper and groceries 35 per cent cheaper.
For Mark, though, the reasonable cost of living is not the critical issue. It is the free-flowing social values of the Spanish that he loves along with the language, work, politics and people.
He prefers to live in Spain, rather than other parts of Europe, because he finds the Spanish more inclusive, more tolerant with language, and quite welcoming.