Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Great Australian Dream

It is again 5am and I am sitting in bed watching the sun come up, the view across the new suburbs and listening to the magpies warble. My early mornings give me some time before the little ones wake for the day. It is my time to do some work, some writing and some quiet contemplation.

Like most western cities Melbourne is plagued by disease, one that is slowly and quietly sprawling across the country – a disease called urbanisation. The land that lies before me was once farmland, forest before that. Today it is the home of countless Australians in their quest to live a good life.

Owning your own home is the great Australian dream, almost a right rather than a privilege. While we have a reputation of being a country of convicts, those who have emigrated to Australia have mostly been those in search of a better life. The definition of a better life may have changed over the last couple of hundred years, but in essence it is the same. One of the original attractions was the promised land – many of those who arrived in the early days were granted a plot of land, emancipated convicts were granted land, squatters were granted the land after 10 years – people who would never had the opportunity to own land in their home country. 200 years later land is still an important part of the culture, and is still being granted by the government- all first home-buyers are eligible for a government grant – to help them obtain that Great Australian Dream. And it is not just about buying a home, Australians also want to own their own home, and many work hard to pay off their mortgage, enabling them to retire debt-free.

Compare that with Swedes, 50% of whom live in apartments, 30% of Swedes rent and comparatively few aspire to pay off their mortgages the way people do here. The hot topic in Sweden is the slowly diminishing right to live in rental property with occupants taking over ownership and reducing the supply of rental property (more about this another time).

The Australians I meet struggle to understand the concept of bostadsrätt – or owning a share of the building rather than the walls they reside within. They struggle with our lack of right to invest in property and rent it out as we choose, with communal laundries and gardening days. They struggle to understand why people live in apartments, why they make that life-long choice.

Values, goals and life choices are different – it is in the history, it is in the culture, it is in the lifestyle, it is in the climate.

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