Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens abroad

Is Australia tainted by the Irish?

The Irish baby boomers in Australia like to make merry because they have something to celebrate, having left a country that promised them everything but left them with nothing. But do they deserve their loutish reputation, asks Shaunagh Connaire.

Thu, Dec 15, 2011, 13:00

   

The Irish baby boomers in Australia like to make merry because they have something to celebrate, having left a country that promised them everything but left them with nothing. But do they deserve their loutish reputation, asks Shaunagh Connaire.

There is an estimated 300,000 Irish living in Australia and a few months ago I travelled there to visit the manifold emigrants of Generation Y, better known as my siblings and friends. Admittedly, I entered the country with many pre-conceived prejudices about the Irish backpacker lifestyle Down Under. Quite frankly, I did not want to meet this ill mannered and oafish plague, whose panache for drinking ‘Goon’ in the company of their county colour comrades have prompted many to shun the Australian visa, even in these difficult times. Remarkably though, after four weeks of Sydney, Gold Coast and Perth bliss, I seem to have eschewed this stereotype.

This is what I did observe. The untold story if you will.

My first acquaintance was with an Irish engineer in her twenties, based in Sydney and working full time in the medical industry. Every Wednesday evening she volunteers for ‘Active After School Community’ (AASC), an Australian government-led initiative. This programme provides disadvantaged children with the opportunity to participate in sport after school in an effort to reduce future health costs, by preventing children from requiring treatment for obesity.

When probed about the typical Irish stereotype down under, she says: ‘There is no doubt that the Irish, including myself, enjoy a few drinks over here but being verbally attacked constantly by our own national media is becoming tedious, not to mention unoriginal. I pay Australian taxes like most other Irish people here and I try to give back to the community when I can. It’s just a shame that the minority always catch the attention of the press and we all get pigeonholed in the process.’

Another Irish engineer, early thirties, spends his weekends teaching Aussies between the ages of 6-12 Gaelic football. Along with other Irish volunteers, he helps to organize kids’ tournaments between AFL teams and newly formed GAA teams in order to promote the Irish sport Down Under. In a bid to make the sport more sustainable in Australia, this group of volunteers are trying to reduce the dependence on the fleeting nature of the Irish backpacking community, and involve Australian kids in GAA from a young age.

My third acquaintance: an Irish tradesman living in Brisbane, working full time in the air-conditioning and refrigerating industry. When cyclone Yasi hit Queensland in February he decided to set up his own ‘mud army’ and go from door to door to help with the clean-up and use his expertise wherever possible. Thousands registered with Brisbane council to help the worst hit areas, and this Irish tradesman says that many of these were young Irish people who saw the damage on TV and wanted to do their part.

When asked about the typical Irish stereotype in Australia he says: ‘I have heard some things about the backpackers but its a lot worse in certain areas of Australia I think. I don’t think police or locals have much time for them down at Bondi or other party areas where there’s alcohol involved.’

Yes. The Irish baby boomers in Australia like to drink. They like to make merry because they have something to celebrate. They have left a country that promised them everything but left them with nothing. They have left a country where white-collar crime remains unscathed while unemployment soars above 14%.

1,000 people are expected to leave Ireland every week in 2011. This is a huge problem, which will have inconceivable repercussions for the future of our aging nation. So while we continue to publicly decry our own for their ostensible debauchery in Australia, maybe we should think again. It is the minority who warrant this typecast. The majority are an assiduous and admirable bunch and we should think before we begin to vilify and alienate them. This is the generation that we should want to come home. This is the generation that will have the resources and experience to lead Ireland and restore any archaic ideals that we are in fact a nation to be taken seriously. And we are not a nation who turns its back on its own.

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