'Being away from home has opened me up and made me more confident'
GENERATION EMIGRATION:Unemployment in Ireland made me emigrate to Australia. Moving there has completely changed my life, and now I’m reluctant to leave
WHEN I first came out to Australia, I had no idea if it would be for two weeks, two months or two years. I was 19, I had lost my job, and getting out of Ireland seemed like my only option.
I had been working as a merchandise assistant for a retail company in Dublin. With a few months left on my contract, my boss called me into his office to say there was no scope for it to be renewed.
It sounds trivial now, but I was saving for a car at the time, and everyone in the office knew because I talked about it a lot. He wanted to give me the heads up that my future there wasn’t secure, that it might be wise to hold off on buying the car.
I had a month and a half to find a job before my contract ended. I applied for hundreds of positions in that time, but didn’t get one single interview. I applied for everywhere from McDonald’s to cruise ships. It was so disheartening. I had just missed out on the deadline for the CAO so it was too late to apply to go to college that September. I hadn’t paid enough tax to go on social welfare, so being unemployed simply wasn’t an option.
My two brothers were living in Australia and told me I would have no problem finding work there, so using my savings I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney.
I was nervous about leaving my family home for the first time, especially to move halfway across the world. But after the 35-hour flight I was greeted in Sydney airport by my brother and his girlfriend and any nerves I had quickly turned into excitement and overwhelming relief.
With the last of my cash I travelled down the south coast. I went surfing on Cronulla Beach, paddle-boarded with dolphins in Huskisson, and fed stingrays on Hyams Beach, which has the whitest sand in the world. The doom and gloom of Ireland seemed like a million miles away.
When I reached the border between Victoria and New South Wales, I took a job on a dairy farm, which involved everything from house-cleaning to child-minding to calf-rearing.
I applied for a course in digital media in Ireland through the CAO this year but my visa was due to expire in July, a month before the college offers were sent out. It was too risky to come home without being guaranteed a place, so I decided to extend my visa for a second year by opting to do the three months of agricultural work in regional Australia, which is required if you want to stay for more than 12 months.
The job I found was on a banana farm in north Queensland, in a small town called Innisfail near Cairns. I was there for three months before heading back to Sydney at Easter for my parents’ visit. It was the first time my family were all together in four years. I couldn’t have been happier at that time.
Work was hard to come by in Sydney after they left, so I flew back up to Innisfail in July and am still here on the farm.
The work changes every day. I could be hanging bunches of bananas or packing them into boxes, driving the transporter around among the banana trees, or injecting trees with diesel to stop unwanted regrowth. It is physically tiring but great fun, and I find it very rewarding, knowing that this job has allowed me to stay in Australia for a second year.
There are plenty of other backpackers like me working on the farm and I’ve made some great friends, many of whom are Irish and doing a similar thing to me.
In October I’m flying to southeast Asia to backpack my way through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia but I will be back in Sydney for Christmas. I would like to stay in Australia after that, and will be looking for a more long-term job that might offer me sponsorship.
I have a definite college place for next September, so if nothing comes up job-wise here I will go back home. It is reassuring to know that if I have to return to Ireland, at least I have something to go back to.
It would be hard to leave, though. I was 14 when my two brothers left Ireland for Australia, and we weren’t that close back then. Since I moved over here I have got to know them all over again, not as their kid sister but as a young adult. We have become best friends, and I owe this country so much for that.
Leaving Ireland wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity. I had to go because I had no way to earn a living for myself there, and I was becoming more withdrawn from friends and family when I couldn’t find work. Ireland couldn’t offer me what I needed so I had to create a better existence for myself elsewhere.
To all those other young people who are unemployed in Ireland, I would say, go travelling, go and see the world. You can only do this kind of thing while you are young and carefree, before you get to the stage of your life where you have too many responsibilities.
Coming to Australia has changed my life in so many ways. The experience of being away from home has opened me up and made me more confident. I came second in a banana-packing competition, and sky-dived over the Great Barrier Reef. I was at the Harbour Bridge in Sydney for New Year’s Eve, and counted down the Irish New Year with 300 people in a bar at 8am the next day. These are stories to tell my grandchildren.
The future is uncertain, but I’m okay with that for now. I’m enjoying every minute of the present.
– In conversation with Ciara Kenny
Share your views and experiences with Generation Emigration, The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens abroad, curated by Ciara Kenny
Facebook: facebook.com/ generationemigration
Email: emigration@ irishtimes.com