Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

“Talking to your wife only through a computer is hard”

In our continued weekly series of emigrant interviews, Stephen Fraser describes his life in Brisbane, where he got a 12-month engineering contract, while his wife Rachel is staying in Ireland.

Fri, Nov 11, 2011, 08:24


Stephen Fraser with his wife Rachel on Mt Tamborine in Queensland

In our continued weekly series of emigrant interviews, Stephen Fraser describes his life in Brisbane, where he got a 12-month engineering contract, while his wife Rachel is staying in Ireland

RACHEL AND I were married in Dublin last December. We were home from honeymoon two months when the company I worked for as a maritime engineer offered me a 12-month contract in Brisbane, Australia. I had been involved with the redevelopment of Greystones Harbour, which was coming to an end, and opportunities were drying up in Ireland.

After a lot of soul searching, we decided it would be best for me to take up the offer and move to Australia for the year. Rachel is the principal of a national school, so she would stay at home.

In the days before my departure, I concentrated on jollying my wife and my mum along and was quite relaxed. But when I got to the airport, it all hit me. It was very hard to say goodbye. The last time I saw my father was in a hospital bed; he had a hip replacement the day before I left.

Once I arrived I was so consumed with settling in and starting the new job that I didn’t have much headspace left to pine for home. The company put me up for the first month in an apart-hotel and set me up with a relocation specialist who showed me around Brisbane and brought me to view apartments.

There were a few other Irish guys already working with the company, so it was good to talk to them too. It must be hard for people who arrive in a new city on their own.

I have found it tough to meet new people, though. There’s a lot of time to fill at weekends. Aged 32 and married, I am beyond going to an Irish bar on a Saturday night. I go for walks and shopping trips and do some long-distance running. I go to church every Sunday and chat to people there. When the rugby season starts again I’ll join a club and start training, and hopefully meet new people through that.

Professionally, the move has been hugely positive. There is a natural resources boom in Australia, so I have been working on exciting projects related to the extraction of liquefied natural gas in a place called Gladstone in central Queensland. They are massive, multi-million-dollar projects, the likes of which are non-existent in Ireland at the moment.

This is the career opportunity of a lifetime.

Apart from a working holiday in Chicago as part of a J1 during college, I never did much travelling. This year has let me experience another part of the world. I’ve snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef, hand-fed kangaroos, visited Sydney Opera House and made an impulsive decision to nip across the Tasman to Auckland for 30 hours to watch the Ireland versus Australia match during the Rugby World Cup.

Rachel and Stephen in the Olympic Stadium in Sydney at the Australia v South Africa rugby match

Luckily, Rachel’s job allows her to travel. She stayed with me for the summer, and I am just back from a week with her in Hong Kong during her midterm break. I’ll be able to come home for a few weeks at Christmas, too, to spend time with my family.

I love Dublin and I miss a quiet pint after work on a Friday evening. I miss my parents and sisters, but I miss Rachel the most. We talk for about half an hour every morning on Skype, but being able to talk to your wife – your best friend and partner in life – only through a computer is really hard. I flew back from Hong Kong last week after spending 24 hours a day with her for a week, and it was very lonely.

We had always planned to enjoy being married for a while before starting a family, but the move has thrown our plans off course. We don’t know when things are going to get better in Ireland.

Each morning I log on to The Irish Times website to see what stories have made the front page.

When the news is good, you smile and think this could all be over in six months; there are also days when you realise it could take three years or longer.

The 12-month limit on my assignment may be extended next year. I would love to be able to go home next April, but I doubt there will be work in Ireland for me.

Of the 20 or so college friends I keep in touch with, fewer than a quarter are still employed in engineering in Ireland. Many have emigrated; others have changed careers.

The economy was a big stress in my life when I was in Ireland, but I have been able to let go of that worry since moving. It would be easy to play the blame game, to point the finger at bankers and politicians, but that won’t get me anywhere. I am here to work and get on with my life as best I can, and hope that it won’t be too long before I can come back to Ireland to my wife and family again.

– In conversation with CIARA KENNY