- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - New York has long had its Chinatown, Little Italy, Spanish Harlem. More recently, it’s also had a Little Australia.

The neighborhood in Lower Manhattan is home to a community of Australian expatriates who have started businesses and carved out a life thousands of miles from their rugged, beautiful land.

“I knew there would be some Australians when I came here, but I didn’t realize there were this many,” said Zack Perinoni, 29, a Melbourne native who moved to New York about four years ago and works in the neighborhood. “But I shouldn’t have been surprised because they’re freaking everywhere.”

By some estimates, about 13,000 Aussies live in New York City, leaving a distinctive mark on blocks just north of Little Italy (Nolita) and south of the East Village.

The Tuck Shop, “the great Aussie bite,” serves savory meat pies and slices of lamington, or sponge cake; Bondi Road was named after a beach in Sydney; the Sunburnt Cow offers burgers “with the lot” — or everything you can imagine; and Ruby’s caters to those with a hankering for a “flat white,” or espresso and milk.

At the popular restaurant Public, the dishes are straight from Down Under, with a wine list heavy on bottles from Australia and New Zealand. The food includes Tasmanian sea trout, New Zealand snapper and venison, and grilled wild kangaroo.

The restaurant goes through about 60 pounds of kangaroo a week, said chef Brad Farmerie, an American who trained under Australian and Kiwi chefs in London.

Brad Farmerie and his brother Adam, a part owner of Public, said they have several Australians working for them, including the general manager, and at least one New Zealander. They sponsor Australians so they can get a visa to work in the U.S., the brothers said.

Less than a decade ago, it would have been harder to spot an Australian or hear their national chant, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!”

“There was nothing here at all. No Australians. Nothing,” said Will Ford, who along with his brother Frank and a friend, rolled the dice and opened the Australian restaurant Eight Mile Creek in 1999. It’s named after a creek that runs near their family’s house in south Australia.

“When we were first here, it was a very small Australian community. There wasn’t any place to connect,” said Frank Ford as his Australian cattle dog snoozed in the corner.

That’s not the case anymore. The brothers were preparing for a big party recently to celebrate Australia Day, which honors Jan. 26, 1788, when British ships sailed into Sydney, creating the first permanent European settlement on the continent.

The next-to-last week of January was declared Australia Week in New York City, and featured a press conference with Australia’s new foreign minister, Stephen Smith, who talked about the warm relationship between the United States and his homeland.

“It’s a very strong alliance — an alliance whichtranscends changes in governments,” Mr. Smith said. “Administrations come and go, governments come and go, but the alliance is a long-term, enduring fundamental relationship between our two nations.”

Mr. Smith arrived in New York shortly after the body of Australian actor Heath Ledger was found in his Manhattan apartment, not far from some of the businesses run by his compatriots. Mr. Smith said his government would do whatever was needed to help Mr. Ledger’s family return the body to Australia.

Mr. Ledger’s Jan. 22 death struck a chord in the expatriate community. The cause of death was ruled an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

Amid a makeshift shrine of flowers, signs and candles left outside Mr. Ledger’s apartment building was a computer printout with an Australian flag bearing the message: “We will always be proud of you, Heath. Rest in peace, mate. You will be missed.”

After several days of fielding questions from the press, on the prowl to identify Mr. Ledger’s downtown haunts, some Australians were reluctant to discuss the actor.

They had lost one of their own, said Nick Mathers, the owner of Ruby’s, which is across the street from Eight Mile Creek.

Mr. Mathers, who opened Ruby’s in 2002, said people from his country had looked up to Mr. Ledger and other Australian actors like Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Eric Bana.

“We really admire those people,” Mr. Mathers said.

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