Ciara Kenny

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

Notes from another Paddy Down Under

My Irish upbringing is embedded in my memory but I have forged a new life for myself in Australia and feel less and less Irish as the years go by, writes Philip Lynch.

Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 01:00


My Irish upbringing is embedded in my memory but I have forged a new life for myself in Australia and feel less and less Irish as the years go by, writes Philip Lynch.

Philip Lynch in Tasmania

Having forsaken Ireland for Australia as a naïve 20-year-old during the 1980s recession, I’m probably well placed to offer my views on the life of one Paddy Down Under, “without the fluff” as one commentator requested on this Generation Emigration website. Needless to say it hasn’t been all beer and skittles. But I’ll come to that later.

I was never a huge GAA devotee, even though I once fashioned a crude hurley stick from an ash tree with a spokeshave (money was scarce) and I even donned a football jersey for my tech school team. Spending my formative years in rural Westmeath, Frank Stapleton and Ronnie Whelan were as much my idols as were the great Eddie Keher, Eamonn Coghlan and Stephen Roche. More sacrilegiously, I am not particularly fond of pubs, which does little to bolster the stereotype of your average Paddy abroad. Consequently, it would’ve felt weird, even hypocritical had I suddenly embraced the Irish pub scene in Melbourne.

Sure I’ve struggled with being understood and misunderstood. But Australians do speak the same lingo as “us” albeit with some phonetic vagaries.

Multiculturalism is well established in Oz; despite the country still remaining overwhelming white and Anglo-Saxon. This is probably due to this country’s infamous White Australia migration policy only being formally dismantled as recently as 1973. The country’s indigenous Aboriginal people were only recognised as citizens having a right to vote after a referendum in 1967.

Historically the Irish in Australia have largely acquitted themselves well. The legacy of Cork-born Daniel Mannix (1864-1963) Archbishop of Melbourne for 46 years, still endures. And throughout the generations, the Irish have been well represented in the Trade Union movement. More recently, the late great Jim Stynes, who mastered Australian Rules Football, was granted a state funeral in Melbourne in recognition for his contribution as a sportsman and for his community work with vulnerable youth.

Of course many Australians can be as bigoted and patriotic as your average Irish man or woman, though I seriously doubt Aussie fans would launch into a spontaneous rendition of The Fields of Athenry or some such ballad if the Wallabies come to grief at the next Rugby World Cup. Resentment here toward asylum seekers, specifically those who come by boat from south-east Asia, is massively disproportionate to the actual modest numbers of arrivals.

The conservative opposition’s hard line policies on immigration and the Government’s carbon emissions tax which became law on July 1st have struck a chord with much of middle Australians voters. Like the Irish, many Australians love to deride their politicians. Mind yo,u the current standard of political debate here seems to dumb down with every parliamentary sitting. Australia is no exception the politicians mastering the thirty second media sound bite.

Labour Prime Minister Julia Gilliard’s popularity is in the proverbial doldrums, which is surprising given the country’s relatively healthy economic status. It’s worth noting that Ms Gilliard is female and unmarried, though she is in a defacto relationship with a bloke by the name of Tim who plies his trade as a hairdresser. It’s hard to imagine someone with a similar social standing running the show in Leinster House.

With an unemployment rate of less than 6 per cent and a booming mining industry located largely in West Australia and Queensland, the economy here is in reasonable shape. There is a dire need for engineers, electricians and other labourers and Australia simply does not have enough skilled workers to meet the demand. Such was the economic health of the nation that a government stimulus package in the form of a hard cash hand out to every wage earner managed to see off any negative fallout from the GFC.

My life as an Irish migrant in Australia will forever be marked by the tyranny of distance. Over my 30 years here, I travelled “home” on average every five years. And with every successive visit, alas, I’ve felt less and less Irish and more and more adrift from Irish cultural life. Of course this drift is something I’d never have disclosed to my parents when they were alive, but I’ve forged a new life in Australia and like many migrants I’ve had to live with my choice.

There are more subtle differences of course which remain irreconcilable, even inevitable. Those years growing up in Ireland are firmly embedded in my memory but so too are the last 30 years. A decision to migrate is a life changing decision and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Carving out a career and a new life in another country eventually takes on a momentum all of its own. At this time in my life I’m finally starting to feel at home in Australia. Perhaps I can end by quoting the last words of the infamous Irish/Australian the bushranger Ned Kelly (of Tipperary stock) who was hung for his crimes in Melbourne in 1880: “Such is Life.”

Read a previous Generation Emigration piece by Philip Lynch about his relationship with his ageing parents here.