Far away in Australia
Long-term emigrant Philip Lynch reflects on his many years Down Under ahead of a short series on the new Irish in Australia this weekend
In this Saturday’s Weekend Review, Ciara Kenny and Jennifer O’Connell will take a look at recent migration trends between Ireland and Australia, and talk to the Irish who are making a home Down Under. Here, long-time Irish emigrant Philip Lynch reflects on his many years on the other side of the world.
Dusk is an abrupt affair here in Australia. One minute the sun is there and then in the next, darkness is shrouding everything. It’s that quick.
As the light fades this evening, kookaburras are starting up their tell-tale chorus of chortling in nearby gum trees. Wallabies and kangaroos are emerging to graze in the paddocks. Right now in Ireland, it’s still morning. Sure we almost share the same day and yet we don’t. When I get up tomorrow morning, night will have settled all over the northern hemisphere.
For me, living my life half-way around the world has always been much more than the time difference. I sometimes feel as if I’ve fallen into a kind of parallel existence – or a trip through elsewhere. I’m here but I could be there. But of course I’m not and I’ll probably only ever visit Ireland for brief periods. And it’s a visitor I’ll always be.
Visiting Ireland isn’t easy. It means scrimping and saving. Going back necessitates travelling through time zones, over oceans and continents, and through the night and day in the cramped confines of an aeroplane seat. And of course it’s never just the distance or all those stop-overs. Returning’s always loaded.
On my first flight to Australia, as the plane passed over the equator, the flight attendants gave out glasses of champagne; and that high altitude moment felt surreal, even scary. Especially for an earnest young lad from the back blocks of Westmeath, who wasn’t in the habit of quaffing champagne. I thought we were a long way up in the middle of nowhere to be celebrating something that was essentially invisible.
That trek to see and say farewell to loved ones and acquaintances again was always something I had to steel myself for. So many of us Irish don’t do emotion very well. I’m no exception. As Roddy Doyle famously said, crying when you’re drunk doesn’t count. I remember going home once during the early years and shaking hands with my father on the threshold as if we were two politicians. I listened to his account of the Irish politics and his take on the Haughey and Fitzgerald years until late into that night. I remember too the shyness of my mother as she struggled to express her emotions, especially at the moment of my departure. So much was always left unsaid, but that’s the way it was and how it will now remain.
Going back was always more than just a journey. I was never sure what to expect. It always seemed as if things were different but it was hard to pinpoint the actual changes. The spectre of those farewells always looms large in the minds of migrants. Since my parents died a few years ago, the pull has waned. I’m glad I made the journey for their funerals. And I’d recommend others, if it’s within your means to go, just go. That cliché of closure that comes with funerals rang true for me. But it was still a wrench to leave again each time and to know that a simple trip to their final resting places won’t ever be an easy option.
As we head towards our summer solstice and the spectre of bushfire season starts again, Ireland will move further into the depths of winter. An even more extreme example of our climate difference is Christmas in mid-summer while you experience your chilliest time.
By browsing online I can read about the latest happenings in Ireland. But this news is simultaneously immediate and distant. I can read about the latest motorcar fatality in Cork or Kildare. But I always feel at arm’s length from what’s happening “on the ground” in Ireland. I don’t think it’s something that can be rectified by social media.
Dusk comes quickly here in Australia. But my memories of Ireland will last a lifetime.
Philip is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration. Read previous pieces by him about his thoughts on how different his life would be if he hadn’t emigrated,visiting Belfast after a long time away, his relationship with his ageing parents, about his dwindling connection to Ireland, his memory of the day he left Ireland in 1983, and more.