Melbourne’s high quality education facilities and clean air brought Chinese businessman Johnson Zhang, his wife Iris and their daughter Nikki to Melbourne, but it’s the relaxed lifestyle, friendly people and good business opportunities that have made them stay.
When successful Chinese businessman, Johnson Zhang, first visited Melbourne he was so impressed with the city’s avenues of street trees he thought they must be artificial.
‘Melbourne’s environment and clean air is fantastic and that’s one of the first things you notice,’ said Johnson. ‘Then you realise what a friendly and fair society it is too, which is very good for business.’
Johnson first came to Melbourne with his wife, Iris Liao, in 1999. The couple had heard a lot about the city from friends who moved across from China several years earlier.
‘Everybody says Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world and we wanted to see it for ourselves,’ said Iris. ‘We liked it straight away and started to investigate whether we could live here. One of the main reasons we chose Melbourne was for our daughter Nikki, because we felt the education system was very attractive with many good universities.’
The couple originally applied for and received a provisional business visa, and Iris and Nikki moved to Melbourne in July 2004, while Johnson remained in China to manage his large audio electrical business.
To establish their new life in Victoria, Iris felt it was important for the family to live in Melbourne permanently with Nikki, who attends the prestigious Presbyterian Ladies College, while Johnson commuted between China and Melbourne. With support from Johnson, Iris also took on the responsibility of setting up a new division of her husband’s business called Compact Australia Holdings Pty Ltd.
One of the largest manufacturers of audio equipment in China, Compact is based in Guangzhou and sells audio products throughout China, the United States and Taiwan.
In less than two years Iris and Johnson have managed to create a growing business in Melbourne based on a series of successful partnerships with local Australian audio electrical companies.
‘We manufacture parts and products in China for a number of Australian companies which saves them money and allows them to be more competitive with fully imported brands,’ said Iris.
Johnson said one of the reasons Melbourne was an ideal location for business was because it was in a similar time zone to China, with only two or three hours difference depending on the time of year.
‘The similar time zones make it so much easier to control the two businesses and link them together. Plus, Australia has some great technological expertise we can use in China whereas we can offer Australian businesses large-scale manufacturing capability, the ability to run factories 24 hours a day as well as inexpensive labour.’
After almost three years in Melbourne, Iris said she felt very happy and settled. ‘My life in Melbourne has brought a lot of new meaning. I go to a lot of social events for newly arrived Chinese migrants and I’ve made many friends, particularly with other women who are living here and bringing up families while their husbands commute between in China and Australia for work. I also go to the Shinto Church in Glen Waverley on Sundays where I am doing English classes.’
Iris said she coped well with being separated from her husband but did look forward to his extended visits and to school holidays. ‘During school holidays Nikki and I go back to China to visit him, and during Chinese holidays he often comes home. Overall it’s a good arrangement. We talk every day on the phone and we enjoy the positive aspects of our new lives.’
When it came to finding a place to live in Melbourne, Iris and Johnson took advice from friends. ‘We chose Box Hill (in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs) because it is very popular with the Chinese community and it’s also very convenient for public transport and Nikki’s school,’ Iris said.
After settling into their new home, the couple also found an office location for the business – a newly constructed warehouse and office facility in the neighbouring suburb of Vermont. ‘We decided to purchase this property rather than lease it and it’s proved be a very sound investment. It also shows our commitment to our business in Melbourne,’ said Iris.
Now in the final stages of their visa application for permanent residency, Iris said they would advise other people wanting to come to Australia as business migrants to do their homework and consider using a good migration agent. ‘Having a good agent who is responsible and reliable is very important and has certainly eased the pressure for us.’
Iris and Johnson are also very happy with the opportunities opening up for Nikki, who is completing her final year of secondary school. ‘The prospects are good for her and I feel very happy she is developing and improving,’ said Iris. ‘She’s got a great social life here I think she’s got a better chance of entering a good university.’
‘I really like Melbourne. I love my school and my teachers and I’ve got so many friends now,’ said Nikki.
Johnson said one of the best things about the Victorian education system was that young people learnt to develop open, inquiring minds. ‘The system doesn’t just focus on learning facts. It teaches children how to learn so they have the ability to develop new skills and take on new challenges later in life.’