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.


STEPHEN RYAN
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.


SARAH JANE HURLEY
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.

I want to meet my sisters’ new boyfriends, and all my cousins’ and friends’ new babies, and see the older ones grow into little divils. I want to see my friends and shop in A|wear and give out about the roads. I’m Irish, and no visa or passport or time zone is going to change that.

We’ve slowly come to the realisation that we’re not going to get home within two years, or four years. We’ll get home eventually, but while we are here we’ll enjoy it, and save as much as we can.


TONY McGUINNESS
Musician and songwriter. From Ballymun, in Dublin. Now lives in Robina, in Queensland, with his wife, Mags, and 15-year-old daughter, Georgia

The Gold Coast is an oasis of tropical bliss; a mix of old and modern. A mini Miami.

I was the bassist and songwriter with Aslan. I felt my time was done with the band, and it was becoming a bit of a groundhog day for me. I was only 46, and I was never going to retire and be a pipe-and-slippers man. Since the Celtic Tiger I felt that what Ireland had gained in wealth it had lost in soul, and I started to wonder what else might be out there for my kid.

So, in 2007, we sold up in Ireland, against everyone’s advice. Now everyone thinks we saw the writing on the wall, but we didn’t. Our house had already lost €100,000 in value, so we actually thought we were selling at a bad time. But it meant we were able to start over here mortgage-free.

We looked at Sydney and Brisbane before we took a look at the Gold Coast, and I’m very glad we did.

It’s all about the outdoors here: festivals of all descriptions, water sports, camping, fishing trips, markets, live music, arts, boot camps every morning for the over-60s, free yoga on the beach. Just about everything you can think of.

Irish people can get a huge shock on moving here, because there is not much culture. But the lifestyle is second to none.

I gave up the music completely, and worked as a courier, when we came here first, but now I play a couple of gigs a week. The rest of the time is about my family. I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to live here, in a safe, hot, beautiful country where it is all about easy living. The constant sunshine is nature’s antidepressant.

But it’s not all a bed of roses. The cost of living has nearly doubled since we arrived. The people are very, very different from the Irish. I miss the natural banter and warmth of the Irish. I have some amazing Aussie friends, but it took time.

My advice to anyone, especially families, making the move is to know what lifestyle you want and then decide where to live. Work out your budget and then add 30 per cent. Remember you will have no real support network for the guts of two years, and that’s a toughie.

And eat as much white pudding, Superquinn sausages, batch bread and Tayto as you can stomach before you leave.


ANNETTE ROBIN
Orthopaedic nurse, Mater Private Hospital, Sydney. From Co Mayo. Now lives in Mosman, in Sydney, with her husband, Bryck, and daughters, eight-year-old Hannah and seven-year-old Meghan

Mosman is like a really good-looking boyfriend who has lots of money and never lets you down. It’s not always the most exciting of places, but it’s not going to disappoint you.

My husband, Bryck, is Australian, but he moved to Ireland 12 years ago, and we had made a life there. If the crash hadn’t happened we would still be there.

In 2008 I was working as a nurse at Castlebar hospital on a temporary contract and Bryck was commuting between Mayo and Dublin. I went in to work one morning and was told that five temporary nurses were being let go that day with no notice. My job was gone. It took us another two years to leave.

Leaving was the most emotionally draining thing I ever had to do. I feel bad for my parents, because my girls are their only grandchildren. I read the papers at home and I see stuff about “lifestyle emigration”. I don’t feel we are lifestyle emigrants, even though we have a very good life here, because I feel our choice to go back is gone. We’re not twentysomethings with no dependents.

I don’t talk about the future any more. I never thought I would be moving to Australia. Now I think life throws you curve balls, and you can’t plan for forever.

Bryck thinks about going back. I just don’t know. Somebody told me it takes seven years to think of a new country as home, and I’m halfway there. I think the girls and their schooling will dictate where we go in the long term.

The best moments are little things such as picking the kids up from school and being able to go straight to the beach. When we moved over here we made a decision that we were going to live somewhere that was close to everything this lifestyle could offer us. We wanted the beach, the city and a village feel, and we have that in Mosman.

I miss all my family and friends. I miss the subtleties of Irish humour; people don’t always get you, here. My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and he’s doing well now. Those are the worst times. I think about the day I’m going to get a call, and I’ll be at the other side of the world.


PAUL QUINN
News journalist, ABC NewsRadio. From Sligo. Now lives in Waterloo, Sydney

Waterloo has a village feel; it’s close to everything, but it has its own character.

I had a job for four years in Shannonside FM as a news journalist. That was my dream job, really. But it came to a point where I knew I couldn’t really progress any more. I had friends here, and they said, “Why don’t you just come out and give it a shot?”

I arrived in June 2012, with no job. I gave myself six weeks. I set myself up on LinkedIn, and I emailed everyone. Somebody knew somebody who worked at Sky News. I met them and they were positive. Then I met the ABC and was offered casual work immediately. Now I work for ABC NewsRadio, the national rolling-news service.

Not being Australian, I definitely have to work harder. They’ll say, “Oh, you remember when such a thing happened,” but I just say, “No”, and someone will fill me in. I don’t have the same contacts I’d had at home, either, so that can be tricky.

I value my old friends from home now more than ever. I am lonely only for the first few days after I return from a trip home. Two of my cousins had babies recently, and seven friends got married this year, but I got to only one wedding.

Saying goodbye to my 94-year-old granny is very hard. The first time I came she said she might not ever see me again, but I’ve been back twice and she’s still great.

I miss frosty mornings and bacon and cabbage. I also miss silly things such as being able to call to a friend’s house. Skype is brilliant, but it’s not the same.

But I love it here: I love the weather, the lifestyle, the way people seem happier. I’m also earning more than twice as much as I’d earn in the same job at home. Sydney is more expensive, but I have money in my account.

You can do really well here, but you have to work hard. And you have to respect the fact that you’re in someone else’s country. My advice is to do your research, have it all planned out and have some savings.


CLODAGH AND JONATHAN LOGUE
Group HR manager, Microsoft (Clodagh) and principal consultant, Peopleworks Consulting (Jonathan). From Dublin. Now live in Roseville, Sydney, with their three children: nine-year-old Matthew, six-year-old Ailsa and three-year-old Eleanor

Clodagh I was approaching the end of my maternity leave after the birth of my third child, Eleanor, and as part of my return-to-work discussions I had a call to say that a role had come up in the Sydney office if I was interested.
Jonathan It was a hard decision, in that Ireland had not chewed us up and spat us out. Everything was great, the kids were settled, I was running my own business as a human-resources consultant and coach, but the opportunity came up. I tried to look on it this way: was it a good opportunity for Clodagh? Yes, definitely. For me? That was less certain. For the kids? Very probably. So on balance I felt we should go for it.

We arrived in June 2011, and by the second week in September I had an associate role as a career consultant and was beginning to build my business. Clodagh’s brother put me in touch with an ex-colleague of his, who very kindly put me in touch with someone based in Sydney, and that’s how I got started.
Clodagh One of our mantras has been to say yes to everything. If people invite you for a coffee or for lunch, you just do it. For the first month or two we all went through an adjustment phase. But with every month that passed we felt more settled. From the get-go we said, come hell or high water, we would stay for no less than four years.
Jonathan My worst moment was being in serviced accommodation in St Leonards in the first month of winter, when we arrived. It was cold, wet and miserable: uncharacteristically awful. Clodagh was at work, and I remember looking out from the 19th floor of this building, with three kids under seven, and the rain was falling horizontally, and I was thinking, What have I done? I discovered how much of my personal identity was bound up in my work identity. Since then there have been a lot of high points.
Clodagh After two years, we went home in July for the first time as a family. Goodbyes are hard, but we weren’t upset about coming back. We have a strong community of friends here, built up around the school in particular. There is always something on. Integrating into all that has been very seamless. I’ve never been able to say that it’s forever. We’ll make medium-term decisions about education and the home we own in Ireland: practical things and timing will force us to make a decision.
Jonathan For any kind of entrepreneur thinking about coming here, I would say get out here and start meeting people, because you really have to hammer the pavements to find work. But there is work. The second thing I’ve noticed about being self-employed here is that you get paid sooner.
Clodagh I would add: do your research. As much as people in Ireland have been hearing that the paths to the mines are paved with gold, every other country has been hearing the same thing. There’s a lot of competition, but there are jobs. The Australian culture is all about giving a fair go, being civic-minded, and if you exude those values, you’ll be given the benefit of the doubt here.

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