On the crest of a wave in Byron Bay, but longing for Lahinch

‘I didn’t leave Ireland looking for a better place, I left because I fell in love’

Andy Burke is a musician, surfer and farmers' market fruit seller living in Byron Bay, Australia. He is originally from Lahinch, Co Clare

When and why did you leave Ireland?

I met Michelle, my Australian wife of 19 years, in Lahinch, she was backpacking. I applied for a working holiday visa and got one. I left Ireland in 1999. I travelled alone and nearly missed my flight out of Kuala Lumpar ... fell asleep.

What was the attraction of Byron Bay?

I asked Michelle where was a good place to surf, play music and party. Byron was a really relaxed town back then. It is still a cool place, but the masses have hooked on to surfing and the lifestyle, so now it’s a bit crowded. Can’t blame them; it’s still a good place.

Did it take you long to get settled there and were there any particular challenges you faced?

To be honest, I’ve always loved Ireland and found it hard to adjust to Australia. First of all, there’s the heat. I ended up picking fruit for my few months there and honestly, I just wanted to go home. It’s not as open a society as Ireland, so it’s harder to make friends and get work.

I lived in a place called Fingal Head for five years, alongside Aboriginal families and that’s the most welcome I’ve felt in this land ... doors always open,playing instruments and sharing their culture with me. It was was truly special.

My Aboriginal friends, the Slabb family, have their own surf, arts and music festival every August, called Jurakai Festival, and I am always invited to play at it.

I’m here nearly 20 years now and Australia is home. But I’ll always be Irish.

You are a musician ... how did you go about finding work in Australia?

I started off playing gigs at the Railway bar in Byron, busked on the streets, and started to get small gigs as well.I play acoustic,harmonica and stomp box for my solo shows, with a loop pedal for some of the songs. My music is a reflection of the ups and downs in my life, and trying to find answers to life. It's rock, folk and punk thrown in to one. I've recorded two albums in Australia, Red Little Swift in 2012 and As The Dawn Breaks in 2015.

Was music your main occupation?

No, I also had a super career working in the surf industry. I worked for Firewire Surfboards doing sales and despatch, and for Volcom Surfboards in sales.

And the fruit business?

Six years ago my wife and I started selling fruit at the farmers’ markets around the Byron Bay area. We now sell at five markets a week. The fruit comes from Michelle’s farm four hours inland, a town called Stanthorpe.

Are you on a visa, or do you have residency/citizenship? If so, how did you go about securing it?

I got my visa in 2001; maybe it was easier back then. We moved to Sydney for a year so we could be close to the immigration offices and get it done quickly.

What do you like about living in Byron Bay?

My kids enjoy a great outdoors lifestyle, with surfing, skateboarding,camping and so on. It’s just easier here because of the weather.

And any particular challenges?

The main challenge, for me, is that I’ve always missed Ireland. I didn’t leave Ireland looking for a better place, I left because I fell in love. Some day I’ll be back living on the west coast of Ireland, that’s for sure.

What advice would you give to someone considering a move to Australia?

Come and enjoy Australia,but don’t stick to one job in some city. Get out there to the smaller towns and meet the people.

Is there an Irish community in Byron Bay?

Mostly I hang with Irish friends that have moved to Australia. We all surf – and some of us talk about home more than others.

What do you miss about Ireland?

I miss the pubs, my culture, and what Ireland represents to me. I miss gigs with an intimate Irish crowd. And wait for it ... the weather. Winter in the west, being a surfer, is a cold water heaven.

What are your plans for the future?

Ireland and Australia: maybe in 10 years’ time I’ll be able to split my time between the two. I will be spending more time at home from now on. I will be back in Lahinch in September/October this year. I’ve already got gigs lined up, and pints as well.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experiences, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.