Ciara Kenny

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

County Bondi

I deliberately avoided Sydney during my first year in Australia, but living among all the other Irish in Bondi now gives me a lot of what I missed of Irish life from home, writes Ciara Flynn.

Mon, Jun 25, 2012, 09:59


I deliberately avoided Sydney during my first year in Australia, but living among all the other Irish in Bondi now gives me a lot of what I missed of Irish life from home, writes Ciara Flynn.

Ciara (right) with her friend Gemma on Bondi on Christmas Day

Irish people are easily recognisable abroad. We seem to be endowed with a catalogue of features and mannerisms which easily set us apart from other races. We sizzle in the sun and tend to stare up at tall buildings, looking puzzled.

Bondi in particular boasts peak conditions for casually playing “spot the Paddy”. A beachside suburb of Sydney , it is affectionately nicknamed “County Bondi” due to the considerable number of Irish emigrants who call it home. I am one of them.

When I first departed the nest, I tactfully avoided the word “emigration” for my mother’s sake. Armed with a fistful of cash, backpack and a working holiday visa, I vowed to return within a year. I even believed my own propaganda. It was merely a temporary escape from the gloomy recession. I was a college graduate after all. There would surely be an abundance of job opportunities vying for my attention “later”.

I spent my first year in Australia living like a vagabond, collecting a range of exotic experiences and having the time of my life. I deliberately avoided Sydney. Rumour and tale floated around the untidy hostel dorms, depicting the city as being just like home. It was apparently too easy to “get stuck” there.

Learning how to light a fire and about Aboriginal life in Katherine, NT

I travelled instead, priding myself on partaking in authentic Aussie experiences. I went fishing, shooting and four wheel driving. I swam with whalesharks and canoed gorges. I worked hard at an array of casual jobs – barwork in rural farming towns, packing fish in a cold fish factory and vegetable picking under the blistering sun.

As time wore on however, I found myself missing the little things about home. I longed for Tayto crisps, real chocolate and proper sausages.

I missed talking without thinking. I had to speak extremely slowly to be understood. Each time an Australian gleefully shouted “potato” at me in a mock leprechaun accent, my sharp reply was met with a blank look, all witticism lost in translation.

Worst of all, I was missing GAA season. I had begun watching AFL as a consolation and was even winning the pub footy tipping at one stage. But the dizzy heights of the tipping table couldn’t compare with Parnell Park on a crisp summers evening.

Yet it had become clear that going home was simply not an option. The idea of seeking sponsorship slowly became a legitimate long term option.

By the time my second year visa kicked in, I had decided it was time to settle down a bit and build a life of sorts. The day I arrived in Bondi Junction, it was like coming home.

Ciara with friends in the Outback on a trip from Melbourne to Perth

There is no challenge playing “spot the Paddy” here. On sunny days, pasty sun worshippers trek to Bondi beach in their droves, often sporting rather alarming farmer tans, wearing flowery shorts and carrying their beach gear in plastic bags.

The Tea Gardens Hotel on the main street does a roaring trade every evening when it becomes inundated with Irish workmen in heavy boots and hi-vis tops, who call in for a few sociable post-work schooners and a chinwag.

Local parks and pitches are frequently occupied by dedicated GAA men and women honing their skills. The standard is quite high and anybody expecting to join a “drinking team with a sports problem” will be left disappointed and probably coughing up a lung after a few laps.

The newsagents stock Irish food, the pubs feature Irish bands and one of the bottle shops even sells real Buckfast, apparently the only outlet in Sydney to do so (they also charge thirty odd dollars for the privilege).

Life is pretty good in County Bondi. I share a tiny two bedroom flat with five other people. Dublin, Cork and Kerry are all represented in the house and despite the inevitable good natured banter and outdated references to the War of Independence, we all cohabit somewhat peacefully. Occasionally we even look out for one another.

Aussie Rules

My best friend and travel companion Gemma works for Taste Ireland, the company responsible for importing Barry’s teabags and other delicacies. Sometimes she arrives home laden with treats for our little family. The subsequent excitement is comparable only to Christmas morning.

I bar tend at Scruffy Murphys, a well known 24-hour bar where the clientele is rather curiously Asian by day and Irish by night. I’ve met people I haven’t seen in years and exchanged stories with emigrants from every corner of Ireland. One evening I shared a pleasant conversation with a middle-aged Dublin couple who had flown out to visit their son. As they were leaving, she marched behind the bar and wrapped me in a fierce hug. “That’s all the way from your own Mammy,” she told me tearfully. I understood.

I also do some administration work at the Irish Echo newspaper. To this end, I deal with subscribers via telephone who are almost exclusively Irish and elderly. They hear my accent and are often eager to chat; one man recently told me he’d been living in Australia for 57 years. He didn’t sound a day out of Finglas.

I’d hate to be misunderstood. I am incredibly fond of Australia and appreciative of its attributes. Only a truly great nation can, for instance, casually implement a working day which features three break times per shift. God bless smoko.

I have travelled the length and breadth of this land and think it spectacular. I watch Australian television, listen to Australian news and enjoy the company of Australian friends. Some Aussie slang has even crept into my vocabulary (I challenge anybody to live here and not resort to saying “aaay?” instead of “what?”).

But as the song goes, my heart is in Ireland. I feel lucky that I can exploit the best of both worlds. There’s plenty of cake to go around after all. Some day I hope to return home, undoubtedly as the prodigal daughter. Until then, I’m one of the many proud occupants of Ireland’s upside down 33rd county.