G'day guard - the Irish emigrants joining Australia's police force
I SPENT SEVEN years in the Garda in Dublin, but last year morale in the force was at an all-time low. Pay packets were shrinking, resources were being cut, and for me, the writing was on the wall about what I would have to do to improve things for myself and my family.
I met my wife Janey on a backpacking holiday in Australia in 2003. Life was great over there but I had my heart set on becoming a guard, so she came back with me to Ireland when my visa was up and I started training down in Templemore.
I was stationed in south Dublin. It was a nice area to work in and I had good friends in the force, but my overtime hours were slashed to almost nothing last year and the universal social charge was taking a huge toll on my wages. I was down a few hundred euro every month. It was very difficult trying to keep up the mortgage and we had to stop paying for extras, such as life assurance.
I was hearing stories of fellow guards who had so little money left after paying the mortgage that they were sleeping in their cars outside the station because they couldn’t afford the petrol to drive home. My colleagues were supportive of my decision to leave for Perth. They understood.
Our long-term plan was to go back to Australia eventually, but we thought we’d be closer to retirement. I’m only 34 now, but when we weighed up the pros and cons we knew we would have a much better quality of life over there. I was granted a career break from the guards, so we packed up last December. We were extremely lucky to sell our house in Celbridge, making only a tiny loss on what we bought it for in 2009.
The Western Australian Police have a walk-in recruitment centre in Joondalup in Perth, which is their equivalent of Templemore. I explained I was an ex-garda, and they were very enthusiastic. They know members of the Garda Síochána are well trained. I resigned from my career break with the Garda and signed up for a three-month transitional course to join the force here, which I’m halfway through now.
There’s a problem with biker gangs running the drugs trade over here in Western Australia, but they don’t have the same level of gangland killings that they would in Ireland. There are public order and drug problems, but the level of violence and serious crime is lower than at home. I’m looking forward to getting out on the beat.
I am already being paid as a constable with five years’ experience, and when I finish my training in six weeks’ time I’ll be promoted again. My full seven years in the Garda Síochána will be recognised.
I have met at least 20 ex-gardaí working out here in Perth so far who have left the force and emigrated to Australia. Some of them are senior sergeants, from Clondalkin, Crumlin and Tallaght, and they are all doing well for themselves.
The pay is much better generally, even when I convert it to euro and compare it with what I was getting in Ireland during the boom. But Perth is an expensive place. Groceries and services over here are extremely dear. We laugh sometimes about how we didn’t appreciate Aldi and Lidl back in Ireland. Out here, your weekly groceries for the family could be $250 (€200), which is double what we spent at home.
But the quality of life is so much better. With the weather the way it is in Ireland, our four-year-old son Finn was stuck indoors a lot of the time, and we didn’t want that kind of life for him. Every day he can go out and play in the sunshine with his cousins, or go swimming at the beach or in the river.