With luck Bertie Ahern will come back to Sydney and buy us a round

Sydney’s Irish community is rich, poor, vibrant and often homesick, says Galwayman Gerald Faulkner

Gerald Faulkner enjoying Sydney harbour

Gerald Faulkner enjoying Sydney harbour

 

Gerald Faulkner lives in rural New South Wales; he has been in Australia since 1994. Now retired, he has worked in pharmaceutical and software sales, and in real estate, and has owned a pub. From Salthill, in Galway, he grew up in Clifden and spent time in Kinvara, where he was MC at Dunguaire Castle, “entertaining the Americans at medieval banquets during the summertime”

The flight attendants smoked on take-off en route to Sydney. It was July 1994, and the rules were hugely different in the days before September 11th, 2001. I arrived at 11am on a mild Australian-winter morning to start my new job as a salesman, selling IT services to the pharmaceutical industry. It was 14 degrees, and Sydneysiders were wearing winter coats (and scarves). This amused me.

In Britain and Ireland, where I also worked as a salesman, such a career was frowned upon. Salespeople were considered to be in the same arena as door-to-door broom salesmen. Australia had a different slant on this and had huge respect for a good sales guy or girl. The principal owner of the new company I joined was a survivor of the concentration camps, in particular Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. He, his parents and his siblings were one of the very few entire families to be freed from Bergen-Belsen when it was liberated by Allied troops, so, when it came to getting a new company car, German models were not permitted.

Australia welcomed the Irish with such enthusiasm. People always asked: “Where are you from in Ireland?”. Sharing pride in their convict background is a very common trait in Australians and they regard all of us Irish as Ned Kellys

My new apartment was just across Sydney Harbour at Kirribilli. I could walk across the harbour bridge to my favourite Irish pub, the Mercantile, in 20 minutes. I immediately got to know the Sydney Irish community. Little did I know in those early days that I would end up running the Sydney St Patrick’s Day parade and family day.

Australia welcomed the Irish with such enthusiasm. People always asked: “How long have you been here?”; “Where are you from in Ireland?”. They would add: “My grandparents are Irish. Where are the Ryans from?”;“ I’ve been to Galway. Where are you from?” Sharing pride in their convict background is a very common trait in Australians, and they regard all of us Irish as Ned Kellys, outlaws and “larrikins”.

The Sydney Irish community was diverse - rich, poor, vibrant and often homesick. They had their county associations to fall back on and also their annual dinner, such as the Rose of Tralee Ball or the Galway Association function. The internet was just starting in those days, so getting access to Irish newspapers was difficult, although a week-old Irish Times could be purchased at a newsagent in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. Phone-call costs to Ireland were astronomical. My first month’s phone bill was $450. On Christmas Day, one had to book the call in advance or else wait until a line to Ireland became available.

Gerald Faulkner entertaining the troops
Gerald Faulkner entertaining the troops

Many of the Irish who attended the county-association balls were well-to-do construction contractors. Many went on to become multimillionaires, but they never lost the common touch. They generously donated to our St Patrick’s parade costs each year and attended the fundraising auctions and dinners, without fail.

We attended many functions at the Consulate General of Ireland’s offices in Sydney. In March 2000, the then tasoiseach, Bertie Ahern, came to meet us all at the Mean Fiddler in northwest Sydney, which was owned by an Irish couple. Bertie and Celia Larkin, his partner at the time, arrived with all the glitz of Hollywood Oscar nominees.

Ahern didn’t have any money on him, so we joked that he left it in his anorak in Drumcondra. I ended up buying him three pints of Toohey’s New, a beer not dissimilar to his favourite pint of Bass. The man from Drumcondra was most affable, and broke away from the assembled dignitaries to chat and drink with us mere mortals. We had a new corner in the pub which we named Bertie’s Corner in his honour. With luck Ahern will come back one day and buy a round

With technology, the separation from home is not as bad as in the old days. I no longer need to scour through Sydney newsagents shops for a week-old copy of The Irish Times. Now I can see what happened in Galway a few hours ago. I can watch Ryan Tubridy and The Late Late Show online. RTÉ have got their technology right, for sure.

Our hearts are always at home . We miss family, conviviality and (sometimes) the rain or a hot whiskey on a cold day

Going home for us exiles can be difficult. The years have made many of our friends distant, and it can feel as though they couldn’t care less. Others can be so welcoming; they insist you stay and the kettle is always on. I was offered a large whiskey at 10am on an island off the Clare/Galway coast one time when I returned. I couldn’t refuse. It would be considered bad manners. I poured it into my instant coffee to take the sting away.

Our hearts are always at home . We miss family, conviviality and (sometimes) the rain or a hot whiskey on a cold day. Be it the Galway Plate at Ballybrit or Lansdowne Road (now the Aviva) on a Saturday afternoon, our thoughts and dreams are just behind the goal mouth at Croke Park or in full view of the green hills of Clare. We feel even more lonely with the current Covid restrictions on flights out of Australia. No doubt that pint in Drumcondra will have to wait.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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