It just occurred to me the other day – before I left Adelaide, Mat and I spent a fair amount of time cooking up/researching a story for me to tell Brits when they invariably asked what it is I'm doing here. The only weird part is that so far, nobody's really asked in a way that can be responded to with this story. I know some people will have read this already, but I figured I'd include it now so it's not lost in the mists of time.
The reason I'm in London dates back to 1907, when King Edward VII petitioned the British Parliament with a motion that the newly federated nation of Australia – now that it had ceased to operate as a British Colony and was now a self-governing country in its own right – should repay to it's sovereign England the cost incurred in sending the First Fleet across the world, building and running the new convict colonies from 1788 to 1900.
A document was drawn up by then British Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and was ratified by Australia's Prime Minister Deakin, stating that every Australian male over the age of 20 would be required to spend 9 months working in England. During that 9 months, 40% of his pre-tax salary would be paid to the British Treasury, until such time as the great debt (adjusted for inflation and CPI) had been repaid.
The document was known as the Great Penal Retraction of 1907.