‘You can’t replace family so we’re moving home to Ireland from Perth’

Mark Cunningham ‘built a successful life’ in Australia but after five years he’s heading back to Galway

Mark Cunningham poolside with his daughters Olivia and Kerri in Perth.

Mark Cunningham poolside with his daughters Olivia and Kerri in Perth.

 

Mark Cunningham and his family are among an increasing number of Irish people who are moving back to Ireland from Australia.

I was an insurance assessor back in Ireland, and the downturn in the economy had put a strain on life. I always wanted to experience Australia, so my wife and my two girls, now aged 12 and eight, decided to make the trip over here in 2011. Two companies offered me sponsorship so I picked one in Melbourne, and stayed with them since.

I came out on my own at first as my wife was waiting on redundancy. She and the kids were meant to follow me four weeks after, but in the end, we were a split family for 10 months. We spoke on Skype every day, but that of course is not the same.

I put my head down and kept working, and in the last four and a half years I have built what I feel is a successful life here. I came over with a two-year plan, we said we would give it that no matter what, but I thought we would stay forever when I saw how good life was - all our ducks were lining up in a row and I thought, this is brilliant, this is the life. So we decided to build a house in Melbourne, which we sold before coming to Perth this year.

I am really happy with how it has gone in Australia overall, but now we are moving back. My wife is leaving with the two girls next week and I am following. We are going back on our terms. We could have stayed here and continued having a great life, but our kids are at a good age where they can start in a new secondary school in Ireland.

Every day of the week, Perth would win hands down when you pitch the positives against the negatives, but you cannot replace family and friends, and that’s the thing that kills us.

I think a lot of people back at home think I am living the dream, on the beach at 3pm every day sipping cocktails. But Monday to Friday, you still have to get up and go to work, do a day’s graft. In the evenings and at the weekends you have the great weather, but you are not here on holidays.

There are so many great sides to Perth, and I wouldn’t knock anyone who says, I am staying here forever. I can see a life here, definitely, but I can also see a life at home and that is the one I have chosen.

I have made friends here, don’t get me wrong, but it is not the same. It can feel like you are a kid again, knocking on someone’s door and asking them to be your friend. I have met some really beautiful Australian people who I know will be friends for life out here, and I have met some really nasty Irish people too. Nationality doesn’t come into it for me. It is about not having those long-term relationships. You can’t talk to someone you only know three months about what you’ve grown up with. They are not going to know about your school, your mam and dad. I chat away to people here, but forming a connection is hard. Going back home, I think I will appreciate my friends more than I did when I was with them.

I am afraid of my kids being around the drinking culture that is associated with being at home, where people drink to get drunk. That seems to be the Irish way, which is why the Irish probably have a bad reputation here. I think we are all tarred with the same brush when it comes to alcohol. But there are a lot of people who really respect the Irish. Workwise, we have a great reputation. I know from hiring guys that the Irish fellas will turn up for work every single day without fail, they won’t let me down.

I am going back to Galway, and the price of accommodation is a big concern. Prices have gone up so much. It will cost us about €1,300 for a standard three-bed. I have a house here in Perth with a pool for the same price.

We have to start from scratch when we get back, buying everything all over again from duvets and bedsheets to winter clothes. If the Government wants more emigrants to return, some sort of resettlement package or a tax incentive would be a good incentive, to help people get back on their feet.

I’ve never been clearer in my head about what I want. It is not a knee-jerk reaction, I could keep making Australia a success, but I want to grow old with my family and my life-long friends, my mam, my wife with her mam and dad, our aunties, uncles, cousins… you cannot replace that. I love the sun, I’m in shorts every day here, but you cannot replace family, and that’s it.

- In conversation with Ciara Kenny

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