Hong Kong has accommodated Australians since its mid-19th century urban beginnings. Whatever their ultimate ethnic origins, “Australians” in this part of the world are – for the most part – immediately recognisable, as soon as they open their mouths. That distinctive twangy nasal accent remains a dead giveaway. But what was the resident Australian “community” like in the past? Australian women were readily recognisable – enterprising business types were, and remain, a perennial local feature. In early times, many came as performers with travelling theatre companies, got beached by unkind fate, then worked precariously on the fringes of the hospitality industry. Others ended up working in brothels to stay afloat. Well into the 20th century, Australians abroad – particularly in Asia – usually coalesced around the British identity banner, mostly through racial solidarity, similar outlooks and a common language. Relatively small numbers contributed to this convergence; distinct communities evolve only when a certain critical mass is reached. Journalist George Ernest Morrison, also known as “Morrison of Peking”, recorded this fluid national identity in an illuminating exchange in his chatty travel memoir An Australian in China: Being the Narrative of a Quiet Journey Across China to Burma (1895). We drew alongside the junk and an Englishman appeared at the window. “Where from?” he asked laconically. “Australia.” “The devil! What part? So am I …” Amusingly, Victoria-born Morrison was also willing to be known as a Scot, when embrace of that particular side of his ancestry suited him. Likewise, his sons oscillated in their own Anglo-Australian identity; one served in the Hong Kong government for decades; another, war correspondent Ian Morrison , was the boyfriend of author Han Suyin – their romantic affair, which was ended by his tragic death in the Korean War in 1950, inspired her semi-autobiographical novel A Many-Splendoured Thing (1952). Former Australian prime minister Robert Menzies’ flatulent post-war boast that he was “British to his bootstraps” is – these days – widely derided among his fellow nationals, as an unwelcome legacy of stridently chauvinistic, White Australia policy days. Nevertheless, this personal identity was once widely held. From the 1920s, Australia deputised for Britain all over Asia – including in Hong Kong – in various less-obvious strategic roles. These days, though, one imperial power (Britain) has been largely replaced with another (America), with a fresh set of errands to run, and cultural references to mimic and assimilate. “What is the best view in Australia?” someone once asked me, many years ago. I fixed them with a baleful stare and replied that it was unquestionably the sight of the Gulf of Carpentaria, far below, steadily receding beyond the stern of whatever aircraft I was fortunate enough to be seated upon. And I meant it. Any mention of “The Lucky Country” once upon a time evoked dust, flies and eucalypts; discrimination, violence and insult; and mile after mile of damn all, stretching interminably away to the heat-hazed horizon. Time and distance, fortunately, have mellowed those previously Technicolor antipathies into a sepia-toned, near-total indifference to the place. Nevertheless, an assumed commonality by “fellow nationals” still irritates, especially where – beyond a vestigial accent – little or none actually exists. Recently, one well-meaning visitor – who had not lived in Australia for almost half a century – brought me a packet of a popular brand of chocolate-coated biscuits, in the mistaken belief that these would be a nostalgic teatime treat. Eventually, they found their way into the compost; even wild birds disdained them. Another kind-hearted soul – similarly motivated by mistaken expectations of shared longing – once came bearing a large jar of Vegemite. Years later, this viscous black paste occasionally enriches a cold-weather soup base, when nothing else is to hand.