An Australia Day story

Posted on March 1, 2011


Professor Johnson with his wife and children

Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson provides some personal reflections about citizenship, education and opportunity in the ‘Land Down Under’.

The Ashes Series may have tested my allegiance when supporting the cricket in January – but on Australia Day I passed my own test and became an Australian citizen.

The chance to become an Australian presented itself three-and-half-years ago when I left the London School of Economics to take up the post of Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University here in Melbourne.

Since then Australia, for me, has become a land of opportunity in so many ways that I have no desire to return to the UK.

Likewise I see this country holding great promise for my two young children. Since I came here, the Australian dollar has reached and exceeded parity. Australia is clearly going to be a core part of the new Asia-Pacific world centred on China and India as major powers.

Before experiencing Australia, London had always seemed a good place to settle. It’s a modern centre of commerce, with so much history and an international population.  All of which once looked very promising, both for my career and for enriching my cultural experiences.

Then I had children and realised I had not been to the theatre, a concert or really taken advantage of what London, such a world renowned city, had to offer. And it was not just a side-effect of parenting.

Since moving to Melbourne I have been able to do more in a few years than was ever possible in London. It’s so much easier to go out here; you don’t struggle with the congestion like you do in most European cities.

Historic buildings are a great feature of Europe, yet the cities are cramped and narrow, and population pressure puts a damper on family excursions. In Melbourne you can be on the edge of the city or deep in the centre and still experience a sense of space.

This makes Melbourne a more modern and more accommodating city for future growth, which is the reason I chose to become an Australian citizen – to enter the business of opportunity on a personal, as well as a professional, level.

Australia is a more open society, a migrant society and an inherently more approachable one, despite having its own range of socioeconomic and ethnic divisions.  There is an overarching sense of mateship that is uniquely Australian.

I try to emulate that in my job; I engage with students, staff and the community to provide as rich an environment as possible to ensure these opportunities continue to expand for students and the Australian community.

Paul Johnson is Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University. Formerly Professor of Economic History, he was Deputy Director of the London School Economics and is author of   Making the Market: Victorian Origins of Corporate Capitalism, published by Cambridge University Press last year.