Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Novel inspiration: Two weeks with Irish emigrants in Perth

Author Michelle Jackson has just returned from a research trip to Perth, where she interviewed Irish emigrants who will inspire her next novel.

Mon, Mar 26, 2012, 10:34


Author Michelle Jackson has just returned from a research trip to Perth, where she interviewed Irish emigrants who will inspire her next novel.

Michelle Jackson with her family on Rottnest Island

I’m sitting 40,000 feet somewhere above the Indian Ocean on my way home after spending two wonderful weeks in Perth, Western Australia. My trip was a Busman’s holiday of sorts dragging husband and children around the city to research the places that I will be taking my characters in my next novel. All of my books to date have had a travel theme, “Three Nights in New York,” “4am in Las Vegas,” “One Kiss in Havana” and before I start a novel I have to be in the correct place. I often feel that a destination chooses me rather than the other way around and this is exactly what happened this time after close friends of ours announced they were moving to Australia and I felt that emigration was a theme that I could really get my teeth into.

We took the Emirates Airline option to fly to Perth as they offer a direct service from Dublin which has sped up the travel time considerably to Western Australia and cut out the need to travel via the UK. “No need to worry about missing your connecting flight to Perth,” the Aussie air steward informed us. “Most people on board are going there – why do the Irish love that city?”

I wasn’t able to answer him at that stage but after spending some time there – albeit relatively short – I spoke to enough people to see the attraction. The city is booming and the reason for it is simple – the mines. There is a sense of abundance and feel good that reminded me of the Halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger. People living here don’t seem to know or care about a worldwide recession. And with the current rate of 82 Euro cents to the Australian Dollar – I may just need open wallet surgery when my credit card bill comes in.

But I had to get back to the job in hand and explore all that Perth had to offer so my characters would know their surroundings when I get down to writing the novel. We started off in Kalamunda to stay with our friends who have recently emigrated. Set among the hills it is a quiet suburb dotted with bowling greens and national parks and spectacular sunsets over the city skyline and suburbs. We saw a wild kangaroo as we drove out to one of the unspoilt inland beauty spots called Lake Leschenaultia – a hidden jewel.

From there we took an apartment on the Swan River very close to the ferry which brings those South of the river or SOR to the NOR – you’ve guessed it, North of the River. It was a good value ticket at one dollar per crossing to Barrack Street Jetty and spectacular views of the high rise Central Business District included.

Michelle and her emigrant friend Rachel in Perth

We hired a car for the duration of our stay and while it wasn’t cheap it is a good idea to have your own transport as Australians drive on the same side of the road and signs and straight road layouts make it easy to get around. We had a lot of ground to cover so after visiting the usual attractions, zoo and art gallery included, we took off for Fremantle. It is a busy working port accommodating tankers and cargo ships from around the world but still has an old world colonial charm. Apparently it was a huge draw for hippies and artists in the sixties and the Fremantle Market, open at weekends, is legendary. There are plenty of funky shops and cafes dotted along the cappuccino strip. I’d recommend it as a base if visiting family or friends in Perth. I took the visit to Fremantle prison on my own and left the family by the pool which was a good call.

North of Fremantle is Cottesloe and the salubrious districts of Peppermint Grove and Dalkeith. Cottesloe Beach has one of the most attractive restaurants in the world. The Indiana tearooms were used for Heath Ledgers memorial service.

The highlight of our trip was the night that we spent on Rottnest Island – a place I had never heard of before travelling to Perth. Originally used as a salt mine by early colonialists and then later as an aboriginal prison, the tiny island 18 miles west of Fremantle is now a haven for family holidays and day trippers. It is a car free island but bikes can be hired and there is a bus which tours the island to see the railway, saltmine and beautiful lighthouses. We snorkelled in Porpoise Bay and ate fish and chips in Aristos. There is a little creature native to the island which caused great fascination for my kids called a Quokka. About the size of a cat, these animals resemble tiny kangaroos or big rats – whichever way you want to view them, and come sundown they are everywhere. We were advised not to touch them though as they carry 47 different types of salmonella.

We were fortunate to have plenty of friends to visit so we had our fair share of barbys and brekies and I found out what an esky was! We had a marvellous time in Perth and I can see why the outdoor life is very attractive for young Irish people and families looking for a fresh start.

Michelle Jackson is an author with Poolbeg Press. To find out more see

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