Down Under diaries

Almost 80,000 Irish people have moved to Australia since 2008. Has it lived up to their expectations? And will they come back?

Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 01:00

Every six minutes somebody leaves Ireland for good. In the 12 months up to April this year, 90,000 people emigrated – about 240 every day of the year. Of those about 15,400 ended up in Australia. What happens to them when they get there? How do they feel about their adopted country? Does it live up to their expectations? What do they miss most about home?

A number of people from a range of backgrounds have spoken to The Irish Times about their experiences of life in Australia. They include a nurse, a police officer, a musician, a journalist, a building contractor, an HR professional and an entrepreneur.

Each experience of emigration is as different as the factors that brought them there. But there are common threads. Choice, in our small-scale survey, seems to be the key to determining whether emigration turns out to be positive.

Those who left good jobs to go to Australia in pursuit of something better appeared to be happier. Similarly, if they feel there is an option to return to Ireland, emigrants appear to feel more relaxed about the future.

For others, particularly those for whom emigration has come about because of economic circumstances, life in Australia has been more of a mixed bag. For most people, the weather and the lifestyle have been benefits. They miss family, friends and the Irish sense of humour. Here are their stories, in their own words.

Acting sergeant, Western Australian Police. From Kilmihil, Co Clare. Now lives in Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia

Fitzroy Crossing is a small town in the outback with a big indigenous community and an extreme climate.

I first saw an advertisement for jobs in the Western Australian Police in 2006. At that time I didn’t go for it: I was a member of the Garda Síochána, at Store Street in Dublin, I had just moved from the drug squad to the detective unit and my career was going well. But it stayed in my mind.

I left the Garda in March 2008 and went travelling for a year. I started at the training academy in Perth on March 18th, 2009. The first thing I had to do was swear an oath of allegiance to the queen. That was funny for an Irishman, the day after Paddy’s Day.

A lot of our laws and procedures at home are based on English law, as is the Australian justice system, so I just had to do a three-month conversion course. I was in Perth for the first year and a half, but I wanted to experience indigenous Australian culture and outback lifestyle.

Now I’m in Fitzroy Crossing, a little town on top of the Great Sandy Desert. It’s an extreme place to live, especially in terms of the climate. It’s 43 degrees today. There are about 30 Aboriginal communities in the Fitzroy valley, and I police them all. A lot of what I do is related to alcohol abuse, but we deal mostly with social issues, such as domestic violence and suicide, rather than crime. By and large the people are very decent.

People say it must be so different out here in the desert compared with the west of Ireland, where I grew up, but a lot of daily life here revolves around socialising, farming and football, as it does at home, and in Ireland we have our issues with alcohol abuse and suicide, too.

A lot of guys from the force at home have emailed me, and I tell them all the same thing: take the risk and come. Before I came I daydreamed of living in Australia, being on the beach every day, and surfing all the time – and when I got here it really was like that.

Private-patient liaison officer, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children. From Co Wicklow. Now lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her boyfriend, Dave Mullane

Perth is very small. It’s like Cork, or even Ranelagh. It’s still a city in development.

I loved living in Dublin. We had a great life, a good circle of friends, and three of my sisters were in Dublin. But my boyfriend is a plumber, so we took the hit earlier than most people we know. I had a permanent job with the Irish Dairy Board, but it was hard to plan for the future on one salary. Dave went to Perth in January 2012, and I followed six weeks later.

We probably hadn’t done enough research. Dave found work building a new hospital in Perth city almost immediately, but I discovered only when I got here that I wouldn’t be able to work on a tourist visa. Not being able to work was really stressful. We were back living on one salary in a far more expensive place. But once we were granted permanent residency I was able to get a job at the children’s hospital in Perth.

We had thought about the idea that we would have to build up a new circle of friends, and we had a plan of sorts. Dave was going to play GAA, and I’m really into food and had been in touch with an Irish girl here who wrote a food blog. But, for various reasons, the plans didn’t really work out: the GAA grounds were quite far out, and we didn’t have a car.

I’ve found it’s very difficult to make friends when you’re an adult. Even in the work environment everything is planned ahead. No one just spontaneously decides to go for drinks. Now, after two years, we have a good circle of close friends, but it’s not the same as the friendships we left behind. I don’t think I ever thought I would be as homesick as I have been.

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Róisín Meets...Dawn O'Porter