‘We hope we can finally visit my father’s grave’: Travel ban lifts for Irish in Australia

‘We continue to ask ourselves, why are we here? The simple answer is work’

July 22nd, 2020: People watch the last Qantas Boeing 747 airliner preparing to take off from Sydney airport. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

July 22nd, 2020: People watch the last Qantas Boeing 747 airliner preparing to take off from Sydney airport. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

 

A recent Irish Times invitation to emigrants to share their experiences of the pandemic included these responses from Australia.

A report last month from Crosscare on the Irish emigrant experience in the pandemic documented the difficulties emigrants in Australia faced as a result of travel restrictions. Some struggled financially, some were unable to have family members visit in emergencies, and others were refused permission to travel home for funerals. The Irish Support Agency in Sydney told Crosscare that "people are really feeling the distance for themselves and .... relatives at home".

The announcement that the 18-month travel ban will be lifted in Australia will have come as a profound relief to many Irish people stuck in the country.

Australia has some of the toughest Covid-19 restrictions imposed globally. The borders will be reopened once the country reaches 80 per cent of the adult population being vaccinated, a target which should be reached in November.

It has been a nightmare for many of the tens of thousands of Irish people who have made Australia their home.

Not only have they been unable to return home, but they have missed many critical life events such as funerals of loved ones.

Mary Redmond and her husband Paul packed up two suitcases and moved to Australia in 2017. They travelled back to Ireland in 2018 and 2019 and saw in the New Year in Sydney after spending six months at home.

They were in Australia when the news of Covid-19 first emerged.

“We started to hear more serious rumblings of a virus,” Redmond recalled. “What real impact could it have? The answer is massive.”

Mary Redmond: ‘Myself and my now husband Paul packed up 3 suitcases and moved to Sydney Australia in 2017.’ Photograph: Mary Redmond
Mary Redmond: ‘Myself and my now husband Paul packed up 3 suitcases and moved to Sydney Australia in 2017.’ Photograph: Mary Redmond

Her father went into hospital in Wexford in July with heart trouble. He died on September 7th 2020.

Abroad during Covid

“Covid stripped our chance of getting home to any part of the process from the funeral to the burial, but the part that kills me is I didn’t get a proper goodbye,” she said.

“I got my chance to say goodbye via a phone call and have a lovely conversation with my father but not a hug or a kiss. Not even so much as a look to let him know he did an amazing job along with our mother at raising six vastly different children.

“So yes we continue to ask ourselves, why are we here? The simple answer is work – we have to be here for work. We made the decision to move here because we had to, and Covid came along and took so much from us.

“Through my grief I ask, has it all been worth it? In the long term yes it has, we have an amazing life here, but for the most important moments in our lives, no it has not been.

“We hold on to the hope that this must end soon and we can go home and finally visit my father’s grave.”

Morgan Donnelly, who lives in Sydney, said he went to a packed pub on St Patrick’s Day when there were no restrictions in Australia and thought about those at home spending a second St Patrick’s Day in lockdown.

“Good times. I remember sending footage to friends back home who were in lockdown for well over a year and in disbelief at our freedoms in Sydney,” he said.

“Little more than three months later the tables had turned: Ireland had opened up and Sydney had gone into one of the harshest lockdowns worldwide.”

Donnelly says he lives just 500 metres from Maroubra beach and there is plenty to do outdoors.

Morgan Donnelly: ‘We want our kids to thrive in an environment where their usual outlets for fun and adventure have suddenly vanished.’ Photograph: Morgan Donnelly
Morgan Donnelly: ‘We want our kids to thrive in an environment where their usual outlets for fun and adventure have suddenly vanished.’ Photograph: Morgan Donnelly

“I swim or surf in the ocean every morning and I am learning to paddle in a surf ski, which is a long kayak for catching waves. The weather this winter has been mostly glorious and spring has started with a bang,” he said.

“Sport, always a massive part of Aussie life, has barely been impacted and currently my rugby league team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, are going great in the NRL.

“Of course there are challenges. For us its shaping this experience through the eyes of our two kids, age three and five. My kids are high energy and it hasn’t been easy trying to fill their days.”

However, the good life in Sydney has come at a price during the pandemic.

“The biggest pain point is the absence of opportunities to meet with our family and friends back home. My kids haven’t seen their grandparents in two years. They are growing up without knowing their family,” he says.

“With both parents working full time as well as parenting there is precious little energy at the end of the day for quality interactions with family and friends over Zoom or Skype.

“The sooner we can travel again the better. Sydney is wonderful, but so is Ireland and I look forward to a pint of Beamish with my old man in my old local when I get home.”

This article was amended at 18.20 on October 1st