‘I see myself as an ambassador for Ireland in everything I do’
Michael Byron, packaging manager at Wolf Blass in the Barossa Valley, South Australia
Wolf Blass packaging manager Michael Byron in Adelaide: ‘Our wines can take three months to get from our warehouses to stores in Ireland’.
When did you leave Ireland, and why?
We left Ireland in 2009. It was a longstanding dream of mine to live in Australia – since my working holiday visa year in 1990. My wife Denise had relatives in Adelaide and had visited when she was younger. Since 2005, we had been discussing if it was a viable option to emigrate. In 2007, we visited Adelaide for our honeymoon.
Following a failed cleaning business and having a feeling that things were going to get very tough in Ireland, we decided to go for it in 2008, secured a two-year temporary working visa and came over in August 2009. We came out as a family – myself, Denise, son Jake (12 ), daughter Jenna (two).
We became permanent residents in 2011 and Australian citizens in 2015.
Where did you head to, and what was the attraction of that city?
We came to Adelaide as we had a family base there and we had visited and loved it on our honeymoon. Our research also suggested it was a family orientated city and a good place to bring up the kids.
Did it take you long to get settled and were there any particular challenges you faced in that regard?
It did take a good while to settle. I got a job straight away and was able to get into a routine. However, we also needed to organise lots of administrative tasks, such as bank accounts, Medicare cards, pps numbers, insurances, and delivery of our belongings, freighted over from Ireland. It was difficult for Denise and the kids. She had to find schools, find somewhere to live, organise child minding and start to find her bearings around the city. It was a hectic time.
How did you go about finding a job and were you able to secure one in your field in a reasonable time?
I was lucky in that the first job I applied for needed the right person to start immediately. I started as a production manager in a commercial laundry 12 days after arriving in Ireland.
How did your career lead you to become packaging manager for a wine company?
I spent almost 14 years working for Diageo Baileys Global Supply in Dublin. When arriving in Adelaide, I was keen to research if there were any similar roles within the liquor or wine markets in South Australia. Some nine months later, I applied for a role as a line manager with Wolf Blass Packaging, which was the wine arm of Carlton United Breweries, the main beer company in Australia at the time.
How long does it take for a bottle of wine to travel from your packaging facility to an Irish retail store, and how does it get there?
We package to order in our facility and our main export markets are the US, Canada, Europe and China. Our supply chain is a complex one and our wines can take three months to get from our warehouses to stores in Ireland via a variety of distribution channels. We bottle Penfolds, Lindemanns, Rosemount, Wolf Blass, 19 Crimes, with an additional portfolio of 80 different other wines.
Cork or crew-cap, bottle or box ... what’s ahead for wine packaging in Australia?
Australia popularised screw cap closures for wine and 70 per cent of what we bottle is screw cap. Cork is still popular in the States and for more premium wines, but screw cap remains most popular and causes less wine spoilage than cork.
What do you like about where you now live?
We live five minutes from the centre of Adelaide. We have a beautiful home with a great entertaining area and a swimming pool. Adelaide has very hot summers and mild but rainy winters. It is a quiet city and a great place to bring up children. The city centre is surrounded by parkland and has a very relaxed feel. Compared to Dublin, traffic is practically non-existent.
And any particular challenges?
It is a different culture with a very English influence. We miss the Irish sense of humour and the people. It takes a long time to make friends here and the way of life is very different to at home.
How does the cost of living compare to Ireland?
Adelaide is a pretty expensive place. Electricity prices are the most expensive in the world. Beer is expensive also. You can pay up to €9 for a pint of beer in an upmarket pub. Cartons of beer cost from €24 to €36. Food shopping is getting more competitive since Aldi set up here last year. Petrol and car prices are cheap. Average price of a litre of petrol is about 80 cent.
What advice would you give to other Irish people planning to travel to Australia to live and work?
Do your research. Have a good plan. Don’t expect that prospective employers will be lining up at the airport waiting with job offers. The labour market is tough and competitive here. It is not easy and you have to be prepared to dig deep and be resilient to make things happen.
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?
I miss family and friends. My dad died two years ago and it was horrible being so removed and then experiencing the long lonely journey home for the funeral. We miss the craic and the people. We are very proud to be Irish and I see myself as being an ambassador for Ireland in everything I do and in providing a positive impression of our country for everybody new that I meet.
Do you see yourself remaining in Australia?
My youngest is now 10 and has lived in Australia nearly all of her life. She does not remember much about Ireland and considers herself Australian. My son is now 19 and has just completed his first year studying psychology in UCD, Dublin.
I cannot see any circumstance that will enable us to return. It is a costly process nowadays, with no guarantees, and we are happy here, with good jobs and a nice lifestyle.
If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experiences, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about you and what you do.