Realise the dream of a life down under

When a bitter winter wind blows on your way to work, and darkness falls soon after the school day ends, it's easy to dream of a life in the sun.

Somewhere you could spend your weekends on the beach, exploring vineyards or up in the mountains, skiing. Somewhere like the state of Victoria in Australia, for example.

The days of the "pound;10 Pom" - when cheap passage and the chance of a new life tempted thousands of British immigrants - may be long gone, but a shortage of teachers in the state of Victoria is, for a lucky few, rekindling the dream.

Teachers who want to flee these damp shores have to meet strict criteria.

But the good news is that if you qualify for state government sponsorship in Victoria you will find it much easier to get your visa from the Australian Department of Immigration. On its website, the state government boasts of "world-class education and housing", spectacular scenery and a thriving fashion, entertainment and arts scene. Indeed, state capital Melbourne (pictured) has been voted World's Most Liveable City twice in the past five years, has an annual comedy festival of international repute and will host the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

To be eligible you need to be 45 or younger and have savings of about Pounds 8,000 to tide you over until you get settled in your new job. You must also fit into one of the required skill categories. Secondary teachers of French, German, Indonesian and Italian, physics, information technology, mathematics and technology studies are particularly in demand, but primary teachers and others may also apply - the list changes every six months or so.

One Brit who made the break is David Thompson, 31. He taught in Bristol for four years, and although they had planned a life in Britain, he and his wife Faye found they missed the lifestyle they had enjoyed when they lived in Sydney for a year before David began his teacher training.

David now teaches design and technology at Carrum Downs secondary college in a Melbourne suburb and finds the pupils similar to those back home. "I'm surprised they're not better behaved," he says. "Although the majority are more respectful, they have similar issues."

The curriculum in Victoria is not unlike that in Britain, although it is less structured. "It's not as rigid and dogmatic," says David. "They tend to leave you to do the planning and organisation on your own. They don't have league tables, so you don't have that pressure to perform, but with no pressure the kids are not so committed to perform either."

In Victoria, the state has set up a skilled migration unit to help teachers deal with the bureaucracy. "They were fantastic," says David. But even so, he and Faye spent about pound;3,000 on visas and an immigration agent to help them with their application before they even left Britain.

The big difference has been in quality of life. "I'm an outdoor person,"

says David. "I love swimming, surfing and sailing." He was surprised that his salary was lower than in the UK, but the cost of living is so much lower that Faye has so far not needed to work. So while the rest of us are trying to keep warm, David and Faye are beginning a six-week summer holiday together.

Renata Rubnikowicz

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