‘I just needed to get away for a while’
Stephanie Smyth booked an Australian visa on a whim. Two years later she’s closer to home in London
I was excited boarding that plane to Australia in June 2012, but the decision to go was made so quickly I didn’t know what to expect. Despite having a lovely home, fantastic family and friends and a very good job, I needed to get away for a while.
I had only decided four weeks previously to go. Suffering from Monday morning blues, I applied for an Australian working holiday visa on a whim. I filled in the details, clicked send, and by the time I got back to my desk with a coffee, there was an email waiting saying it had been approved. I couldn’t believe it, and just sat there staring at the screen. What would I do now?
By that evening I had a one way ticket booked to Perth, leaving in four weeks – just enough time to hand in my notice, rent out my apartment, sell my car and pack my bags. I wasn’t at all emotional leaving. I simply said my goodbyes and walked through security, not looking back.
It was winter in Perth when I landed, yet I was greeted by a warm breeze. A friend collected me and on the 20 minute journey to her house I became smitten with the city. I spent the next few weeks meeting new people, finding a new home, a new job, and even a new Irish boyfriend.
I couldn’t understand how people could be homesick living there. Yes, I would have loved to be able to pop over to visit my parents on a Sunday or go for coffee with my childhood friends, but other than that I felt more Irish than ever.
On my first Saturday in Australia, I saw my first hurling match and drank my first bottle of Mangers (though I still called it Bulmers). Everywhere I went I heard Irish accents. I learned more Irish songs than I knew existed. In my local grocery shop I could purchase Irish bacon, sausages, Bisto and Barry’s tea bags, even some Lily O’Brien chocolates. The prices were extortionate but they were available if I really wanted them. I didn’t.
I took an active interest in trying local Australian dishes, getting to know my Australian work colleagues and exploring all I could. I loved so many things Western Australia offered, particularly the beaches, the endless sunshine, the outdoor activities, sunsets, barbecue facilities in every park and the Perth skyline. Every day I was grateful to experience it.
For six months myself and my boyfriend worked on fly-in-fly-out (Fifo) contracts, along with many other Irish in construction there, flying out to work in a remote location for three to four weeks with a week off back in Perth. The days were long, 6am to 5pm including weekends. The accommodation was basic and the heat unbearable, hitting the late 40s at times. But the food was amazing, the pay unbelievable and the week off every month allowed us plenty of opportunity to travel.
We would have liked to stay for another six months but the company went into liquidation and we both, along with 1,400 others, lost our jobs without the pay owed to us. Had this happened in Ireland it might have had a much more negative affect on me, but in Australia it didn’t feel we were living in the real world. It was just the end of an era.
I was on an employer-sponsored 457 visa and found it very difficult to get another job. My partner was only offered other Fifo positions but we weren’t interested in doing it separately. So we decided to pack up and travel for a few months before heading home to Ireland. I had been there two years and he for six. He was definitely more ready to go home than I was, and I found the last few days in Perth quite sad.
Somewhere between the east coast of Australia, Vietnam and Cambodia, we decided not to back to Ireland just yet, but to move to London for a year instead. My brother had been there for years and loved it, and it was closer to home than Australia. It would now be a lot easier to pop home for big events such as weddings and birthdays.
We landed at the beginning of last month, and within two weeks we both had jobs, a year lease on a flat, and had brought my dog over from Ireland.
Our plan is to go back to Ireland after a year or so in London. We both want to be near our families when we are proper grown ups with our own children. But I will definitely be hoping to take a trip back to Perth, as it will always be a special place for me, a home far from home.