As a Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics, Cal Viney came to the UK to engage in rigorous academic study in the field of Public Law. His London experience has led him to ask important questions about the meaning our Australian identity from the perspective of an expatriate. He has co-founded the London Steering Committee of the Australian Republican Movement in order to allow Australian expats to engage in this important debate.
I moved to the UK midway through 2012. Like many fellow antipodean lawyers, I’ve always harboured a deep desire to study in the UK — it is almost a rite of passage for common law jurisdiction lawyers. I started thinking seriously about further study in the UK while working as a lawyer in Melbourne. I was lucky enough to be awarded the 2012/13 Chevening Scholarship for Australia, an international scholarship scheme run by the UK government, to undertake a Masters in Law specialising in Public Law at the London School of Economics.
Being a member of the Chevening Scholarship cohort has been a life changing experience. The program brings together an incredible array of young leaders, thinkers and activists from right across the world. Developing lasting friendships with people from places like Tunisia, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, Malaysia and even these little islands apparently called New Zealand, has been the absolute highlight. Of course, the experience has not been without challenges — listening to the stories of some of my colleagues has reminded me just how lucky we are, as Australians, to belong to a very prosperous, free and egalitarian nation. Meanwhile, studying at the LSE under the tutelage of some of the most preeminent public law thinkers in the world has challenged me in a very academically rigorous way.
The biggest difference between Australia and the UK has plainly been the acceptance of academic debate in the UK. In my undergraduate years in Australia, academic debate was shunned for a base level commercial approach to university training that I sometimes worry is symptomatic of a wider Australian cultural approach to debating politics and philosophy (or rather, the severe lack thereof). Conditioned as I was to this drive for commercially efficient thinking, the rigorously philosophical approach to advanced education at the LSE, and the acceptance — indeed expectation — that both formal and informal discussions are to traverse the contours of philosophy, politics and history, was quite a liberating cultural shock.
What do I miss about Australia? Firstly, the wide open spaces. Then the insatiable optimism and positive spirit of our people; the feeling that we are all working together to build a truly Great southern land, and that our best days are well and truly ahead of us, as we charge towards the Asian Century and all the incredible opportunities that presents both to our nation and to the world. Unfortunately the flights are to prohibitively expensive and too long to have returned for a visit. I hope Richard Branson can get Virgin Galactic up and running, and offer tickets at competitive prices. Then I would be more tempted!
Whilst in London I’ve co-founded the London Steering Committee of the Australian Republican Movement — a non-partisan organisation advocating an Australian republic and an Australian head of state. With some 300,000 Australians living in London, it would be foolish not to engage this most important cross section of Australians in a discussion about ‘Our Identity’. The ARM’s presence in the UK enables Australians with a medium to engage with other Australians on this most important of stories in our nation’s future. If the interest in our first event Being Australian (held in June this year) is anything to go by, plenty of fellow antipodeans are also interested in joining that conversation.
I’m still working out what it means to be Australian in the UK. On the one hand, it means being the odd one out while watching the Ashes in a London pub, clinging to the commentary of Shane Warne for any semblance of balance! On the other hand, it means being like so many other people in London — a traveller, a foreigner from a distant land, here at the international cross roads of the world, each plying our wares. I like that idea — that we are all at some old-world trading outpost, exchanging carpets, precious spices and metals and debating cultures and old ideas anew. My experience as a student, as a Chevener and as a Londoner living in the cultural mecca that is the East End has certainly reinforced this sense. Of course, being Australian per se, to me, means continuing the egalitarian project, but in a no-fuss way that we call the ‘fair go’. But here in London, I think that plays out in interesting ways.
My favourite discovery in the UK has been the surfing at Cornwall. Who would have thought that such glassy, clean, perfect A-frames would break on a beach in the UK! Though freezing cold (even in the summer) this has been without doubt the most surprising and special discovery of my time here thus far. When I need to get out of the UK though, I head to Europe. Favourites have included Paris, Amsterdam, Germany and Portugal. Next on the agenda is a surf trip around the Basque country, before undertaking a short internship at a large consultancy in the UK, and then packing my bags for Canberra.