Stop the lights


The traffic control system on construction sites in Sydney, Australia, is dominated by young women from Ireland, writes PADRAIG COLLINS

Traffic control on construction sites was traditionally a job given to building workers who were approaching retirement age. But in Sydney, chances are the stop/go sign is being wielded by someone who is young, female and Irish.

Australian Retro, one of the companies providing traffic control services, has almost 100 traffic controllers, 85 per cent of whom are Irish women.

Joanne Murphy

Newmarket, Co Cork

“I did an arts degree and then a Master’s in town planning in Edinburgh. I’ve been in Sydney four years and have worked as a traffic controller for three years.

“My favourite part is that you get to meet so many people and you are working somewhere different every day. My least favourite part is that some people have no patience.

“It’s good to get the whole health and safety aspect of being on a building site. A lot of traffic control girls go on to become health and safety officers.

“I miss Ireland terribly. I’d go back in the morning if I could. The last time I was back was 18 months ago, but I’m going home at the end of the year to get married. I was hoping that I’d be able to stay at home, but by the looks of things, I won’t.”

Leann Power

Coill Dubh, Co Kildare

“I had a shop at home before coming to Australia. My lease was up and it was a case of staying for another while or coming over and seeing somewhere a bit different for a while.

“I got into traffic control through friends that have done it. I found it hard to get a job anywhere else to be honest, so I just decided to do this and I’ve done it for nearly two years now. I enjoy the work, being with the girls and meeting different girls on sites. Some drivers don’t like the fact that a girl is stopping them on the road. I’ve had a few run-ins with people, but sure you just pass them off.

“I definitely miss home. I’ve been back once. Mind you, when I did go home, I liked to come back out to Sydney. It’s a great lifestyle here and I love it.”

Blánaid Clerkin

Oldcastle, Co Meath

“I was studying hotel management at GMIT in Galway before coming over. Then my boyfriend got a job offer in Sydney and I decided to go with him for a year and try it out. That was four-and-a-half years ago.

“I’ve got to see plenty of Sydney and met loads of people through working in traffic control. I love it here. There are great hours and great money. I usually average out with about $1,000 (€770) a week. We do eight hours a day, which is basically standing around, watching pedestrians or closing off a road. It’s easy work. A lot of people might think it’s boring, but I enjoy it. Because I’ve been doing traffic control for quite a while now, they’ve sent me on for the next stage, so I’m a supervisor on my crew.

“I’ve been back to Ireland twice, but I can’t see myself moving home.”

Aisling Keane

Tuam, Co Galway

“I studied product design at Sligo IT before coming to Sydney over three years ago. I’ve worked in traffic control for a year. At first I was working in a bar, where I’d work a long week and come out with damn all money. Some girls I knew were doing traffic control so I went and did the training, got my ticket and got a job.

“I do enjoy it. Sometimes you think ‘maybe I could go and get a design job, what I did in college’, but you have good craic in traffic control and meet so many nice people when you move around from site to site. If a girl was coming over from Ireland and looking for casual work and looking for money quick to go around and tour Australia, I’d recommend traffic control to them. I’d say go for it.”

Alison Leydon

Knockvicar, Co Roscommon

“I studied maths and science at NUIG before coming to Sydney nine years ago. When I started with Workforce, I started as a traffic controller on the road. I worked very hard over the last few years and that’s how I got where I am today – manager of the traffic services division.

“I loved being a traffic controller, it was wonderful. I always had a great time doing it. I loved being outside and I loved being on the building site with all the boys. The boys were always very good, always took care of us and always made sure we were safe. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I miss Ireland at certain points. At times like my birthday and Christmas and my parents’ birthdays I get very homesick. But I go home every year, which gives me my Irish fix, and then it’s back to the sunshine.”

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