The Dubliners about to bring their family back from Australia when everything shut down

‘Our bags are still by the front door, and we will be on the first flight out of Brisbane’

The Kearney family: (L-R top row) Ryan (17), Anthony, Nicky and Katie (20). (L-R bottom row) Emily (4), Jessica (12) and Adam (11).

The Kearney family: (L-R top row) Ryan (17), Anthony, Nicky and Katie (20). (L-R bottom row) Emily (4), Jessica (12) and Adam (11).

 

Anthony and Nicky Kearney left Ireland with their children and moved to Australia in late 2009. Two months ago the family of seven had planned to move home. Then the global coronavirus pandemic hit. 

Anthony Kearney writes ...

We had lived more than 10 years in Australia and were excited to be returning home. After two years of saving and planning for our eagerly anticipated return to Ireland, things came to a very sobering end. Our suitcases are still packed just inside the front door. They are stuffed with jackets and long trousers – the sort of clothes you don’t need here on the sunny Gold Coast, a coastal city just below Brisbane, but might find handy in Ireland.

We had just finished packing up the house into a storage container and were having farewell meetings with our friends and the time to leave was near. The kids had their send-off at school and the excitement was really building around the house. I was stressed trying to paint everything in sight. 

I had recently started a new job at a high school, where children go from the age of 11 to 18 here in Australia, so I was going to stay on until the end of next term and then follow the rest of my family home then.Our eldest daughter, Katie, was also planning to go the same time as me as she is a midwifery student at Southern Cross University here on the Gold Coast.

We had heard mentions of coronavirus here and there, but to be honest, we just didn’t want to hear it how bad it could get. Nothing was going to stop us from getting home – or so we thought. The two weeks before we were to fly on March 20th were turbulent.

Leaving our family and friends behind was very tough

My wife, Nicky, and I were fixated on the Irish news morning, noon and night as we tried to make a decision. It was a tricky choice because we wanted to keep ourselves and the kids safe, but we also felt guilty that we were not in Ireland to support our families through the sad situation as it rapidly unfolded. We're still here. 

We decided to emigrate to Australia in 2009 after I was made redundant from my job of 11 years at a stockbroking firm. It was the push we needed as a move to Australia was always on the cards.

The recession had just started to take hold in Ireland, so it seemed the perfect time, although leaving our family and friends behind was very tough. But we were about to start a new life in the sun on the other side of the world with our four kids. Leaving was emotional. Our eldest daughter, Katie, was 10 at the time, Ryan was eight, Jessica was three and Adam turned two on the week we arrived in Australia in July 2010. Our life was packed into a shipping container and sent across the ocean behind us.

Both Katie and Ryan had attended a Gaelscoil in Dublin, so it was a big change. Katie loved all the attention she got at school in Australia for being the new kid with a "funny" accent. Her red curly hair and freckles only added to the affect. She became a big hit and was regularly asked to read at a school assembly in those early days.

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We had a crazy couple of years trying to adapt to a new way of life in Australia. But we embraced the Australian lifestyle and made some special friends, which allowed us to integrate. After 35 years of Irish weather, I've never tired of waking up to the sunshine and warmth each day. The climate here on the Gold Coast is perfect with sunshine at least 300 days a year.

We bought an old 1950s weatherboard house on the banks of the Tweed River. The property had been derelict for a number of years and had been previously been a law firm for 17 years. On a shoestring budget and with lots of hard work, we turned a dilapidated shack into our own little seaside palace. It was a family effort and was something we were proud of.

We had child number five in 2015 and this really settled us. Emily Rose is an Australian and gave us a big connection to the country, one I hadn’t felt before.

It took me a long time to grasp how I fitted into Australian society. Was I here as a guest? Was I an Irishman trying to be Australian? Do I advocate for Ireland or do I just say Australia is the best country in the world and how lucky are we to be here?

I was almost apologetic for the gate-crashing this country with my different accent and a gang of kids when I arrived 10 years ago. Today, we have the perfect balance between being Australian citizens and beaming with pride from our Irish heritage. It is only since I’ve come to live in Australia that I see what a special country Ireland is and has been for centuries. We really do have the best of both worlds and are so lucky to have our roots in Ireland.

People have finally stopped asking what part of England I am from, so that was an indication of becoming more Australian.

The sausages in Australia have been devastating for me though. Having grown up in a council estate in Dublin I was a connoisseur of Irish pork sausages on the heel of a batch loaf and it was snatched from my diet. You can get most Irish brands here Tayto, Irish tea bags and Clonakilty black pudding –  but to be honest unless you are sitting in your ma’s kitchen in Dublin, it just doesn’t taste the same.

I can’t wait for that fry and a cup of tea in my ma’s kitchen

We always said we would move back home after we became Australian citizens.  This was for a number of reasons. Our parents are getting older and we wanted our kids to have memories to cherish with them and the extended family. Really we just missed everyone.  We have a fantastic life here, but you can’t replace your family.

Our trip to return home is still a major priority in our lives, now more than ever. I don't think the Irish economy will be in good shape when we return, but I have no doubt the Irish spirit will be stronger than I have witnessed in my lifetime. Irish people have a resilience that’s been handed down through the generations that have suffered before us. It is in our nature to bounce back better than before.

Last week saw the beginning of the end of the lockdown restrictions on the New South Wales and Queensland border. Its great news all round with the kids for once looking forward to returning to school last week.  The Australian government managed to avoid the situation becoming as bad as some other countries. My daughter Katie and many of our good friends have lost their jobs. The government doubled welfare payments for anyone who was previously on any benefit or is newly unemployed from $260 (€150) a week to $520 (€310) a week for a single person guaranteed for six months.

But I can’t wait for that fry and a cup of tea in my ma’s kitchen, and a pint in the local surrounded by family and friends. All the sunshine in the world can’t replace that.

Our bags will remain packed at the front door, not because we have no need for the jackets but because we will be on the first flight out of Brisbane whenever that might be. Christmas would be lovely if this turbulent time is behind us.

Nicky Kearney writes ...

My family are no strangers to immigration. My brother left Ireland for Australia in the early 1990s so it was no big surprise to my mam when I left in 2009.

Over the last decade of living in Australia, our trips home to Ireland every two years to spend St Patrick’s Day and Easter with our large close-knit families were a must. Although we often would spend the following year playing catch-up with our finances to do this, we would then start planning our next trip home.

There is a constant longing to be with our families

When you live in Australia, you are so far away from home yet you know you can leave Brisbane airport on a Friday morning and be at your mam’s kitchen table for a fry by Saturday afternoon. One of the toughest parts of the Covid-19 crisis for us is that this option has been taken away from us and we really don’t know when we can do this again. We have no choice but to sit back and see what happens. There is a constant longing to be with our families at home in Dublin and a constant worry for their wellbeing.

My mam, Margaret, will turn 80 in August and as a family of eight children, we were planning on being together for her birthday party. This has all been cancelled, unfortunately. We will have to wait and see what the future brings. 

If you would like to share your experience of how Covid-19 is affecting you there (max 600 words) , email Irish Times Abroad at abroad@irishtimes.com

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