The Aussie jobs I’d never dreamed of doing in Ireland
Like lots of other Irish women down under, I’ve spent a year working on construction sites while waiting for my teaching accreditation
Kelly-Ann Murphy: ‘It was quite exciting at the beginning, controlling traffic on the roads.’
2014 was one of the best but unexpected years of my life. I qualified as a secondary school teacher and left Ireland in the pursuit of my long-distance boyfriend Ciarán, who was living in Australia. I never imagined I would emigrate; my relationship was the pull factor that made it happen.
My Australian CV is full of variety, and jobs I would never dream of doing at home. I began my Australian career in October 2014 as a roller operator on the Gateway Project, a new road link at Perth Airport. The workplace in Australia is much more equal, with a lot more women in roles which would be traditionally male-dominated.
On my first day on the job, I sat onto my machine, altered the aircon and, most importantly, the radio station, and revved up the engine. I was a girl with very little experience, but with a taste for adventure. I went forward, back, forward, back… all day long for two months until neither my mind nor spine could take any more. My inability to use my mirrors put a great strain on my back. Women drivers!
Some of my friends were working as traffic controllers, so I decided this would be job number two. I hoped to get three months’ regional traffic control work outside Perth, which would enable me to apply for a second year on my working holiday visa. The thought of following the norm and picking grapes for 90 days like most other backpackers did not appeal.
I completed a two-day course in traffic control, a $500 (€320) investment. It was quite exciting at the beginning, controlling traffic on the roads. I will remember some of the bizarre work situations I found myself in for the rest of my life, like using a two-way radio to speak to my friend from Co Derry who was visible in the distance to save both of us from boredom, or standing with a squashed ham and cheese sandwich in one hand and an inedible, wooden-handled lollipop in the other.
My regional work was very enjoyable, compared to some of the horrific experiences I heard about from other backpackers. I travelled to Lancelin and Bunbury, which allowed me to experience life both north and south of Perth city. My accommodation was paid for and a very generous daily meal allowance was included, meaning steak was on my evening menu a lot more than it would have been if I was on my own budget.
My greatest memory from Lancelin was when I spotted a baby snake, no bigger than a worm, attempting to bite my steel-capped boot. It was far too small to cause any threat to me. My Australian workmate pointed out that if baby snake was here, then mum must be nearby. A quick exit was made.
The second part of my regional work involved a Cork native and I working in Bunbury with a 62-year-old former sheep-shearer from Adelaide. It was a scary but eye-opening experience interacting via radio with drivers of three trailer road trains to inform them of a lane closure one kilometre ahead. They needed adequate time to come down through their extensive gearbox so that they could reach a safe speed. Some drivers were very grateful, while others moaned about traffic controllers on the road again.
The six-month restriction per job for working holiday visa holders meant I had to leave my traffic control company and find a new job. I was out of work for a month; it can be challenging to find a job in Perth.
One Friday evening in August, my friend from Kilkenny rang and asked if I wanted to work in Karratha, which is a three-hour flight north of Perth, for a few weeks. We flew out that Sunday and so began my short-lived FIFO (Fly in, Fly out) career.
The food was good and my waistline agreed, but the living conditions in the donger were bleak and unhomely. A tiny bedroom and a bathroom were my home for those three weeks. I salute all the FIFO workers in Australia who work away in remote locations, usually in the mines, for two to four weeks and return to the city for one, and start the cycle again. The money is great, but I couldn’t wait to get back to Perth.
In September, I began working as a waterproofer, painting waterproof sealant on a flat roof of a 10-storey apartment block with a group of girls from Italy, France and Germany. The elevators were not active yet and we had to travel up and down the stairs at least three times a day. I had calves any farmer would be proud of. I only lasted five weeks because I felt overworked and underpaid.
In early October, I was just about to begin a job as a care assistant when I received a life-changing phone call. The day had finally come, after waiting three months for my Western Australia teacher registration to be approved. I was offered my first relief teaching shift for the following day, and I gladly accepted.
I started with two or three days’ teaching a week, so I worked as a construction site cleaner for the remaining days. Soon after, I had constant relief at a school, an hour’s drive north of Perth. My big break came in March, when I was offered a month’s work covering for an English teacher at a school only 20 minutes from my doorstep. I am still teaching there.
It took me over a year to get my Australian teaching career up and running. Work days are busy but the weekend offers so much to see and do with Ciarán and my friends, and usually in favourable weather conditions. I want to keep my freckle production factory in business for a little longer.
In May 2017, I plan to return to Ireland to try to secure a job as an English or Geography teacher. Prospective employers, please form an orderly queue! I am under no illusion that finding employment will be difficult, and there will be hoops to jump through, but I look forward to the challenge. Ireland’s call is hard to ignore.