‘Perth is a fabulous place for a family’

Australia Q&A: Nurse Gráinne Ni Shé and her young family arrived in Perth in 2012

Why did you decide to emigrate?

Myself and my husband Peter Carr bought a house in Galway in 2004 as we were starting a family, and thought we would be there forevermore. But the cost of living gradually increased over the years, and paying our mortgage after both our public service salaries took a hit became harder.

We are both nurses and were working in Galway University Hospital, I as a clinical nurse manager looking after student nurses, and my husband in A&E. I was only working part time and couldn't increase my hours because of the cutbacks and staff embargos. Working conditions in the hospital were quite poor and we didn't feel very supported. We knew we could also earn more abroad, which was a huge draw. So we decided to take career leave and move with our sons Fearghal (10) and Dáithi (7) to New Zealand in 2011.

We had been there backpacking together in 2002 and always wanted to go back. We both found jobs easily in Wellington and absolutely loved it. But the salaries aren't as good as Australia, so after 15 months we decided to move to Perth in Western Australia, when my husband was offered a research job in a university.

Why Perth?

It is a fabulous place for a family. It is sunny most days, so we are outdoors all through the year, except for a short period in the middle of summer when it gets too hot. The beaches and parks are beautiful, and most restaurants and cafes provide great options and facilities for families. My kids play rugby, Aussie Rules and cricket, and go to lifesaving classes on the beach in summer. They have adjusted very well and are enjoying school.

We have been permanent residents since February 2013, and intend to apply for citizenship in the next year or two. Our daughter Bláithín was born here in November 2013 and is an Australian citizen.

Describe where you live

We live south of the Swan River in Perth, close to Fremantle. It is 12km from the central business district, with lots of parks, protected cycling tracks, shops, schools and bus routes on our doorstep.

What are the schools like?

The curriculum is driven towards life skills and being outdoors, with daily fitness classes and sports activities. Children don’t get too much homework and use information technology in class from the age of nine. Pre-school childcare is very good, with a wide range of options, and shifts at work are family-friendly.

Is there an Irish community there, and do you participate?

There is a big Irish community here in Perth. They organise meetups at the weekends, like barbecues in the park or a night out, and there’s a big junior GAA scene. St Patrick’s Day is a big family event here for the Irish. There are a lot of social networks and Facebook groups to join to get to know a few people. We don’t make a point of only socialising with Irish people though - our kids are very integrated and we have made friends with Aussies, Kiwis, English, South African and European people.

Where do you work?

I work in the intensive care unit of Royal Perth Hospital, a busy dynamic unit with 24 beds. It is the biggest ICU in Western Australia, specialising in major trauma, severe burns, heart and lung transplants, spinal surgery and neurosurgery.

The healthcare system here is better than Ireland in every aspect, the work environment is better from the minute you walk in the door to the minute you finish your shift. There’s more support, more experts available, more resources and better equipment, and a lower nurse-patient ratio. You get better paid for what you do, you feel more appreciated, and there’s a lot of encouragement to continue further education and more opportunities to further your career.

What is the health service like for patients?

Medicare provides Australian residents with free treatment as a public patient in a public hospital, and free or subsidised treatment for some services. Emergency department waiting times are minimal and waiting lists for surgery or consultations are about maximum six months.

How does the cost of living compare to Ireland?

Costs are considerably higher here, but the better salaries make up for it. The quality of fresh foods, fruits, and salads is much better with more seasonal availability. In New Zealand, you get a lot more value for your money as the dollar there goes a lot further.

Are there any downsides to living in Perth?

Spiders! I personally can’t get used to them. Missing family back home in Ireland is the obvious one.

How do you find being so far away from Ireland?

It’s hard, we miss our family and friends very much but we keep in touch regularly on Skype and Viber and FaceTime. We have been home as a family only once, but my sister and her family have been over to see us and hopefully my parents will come over soon. We were homesick at the beginning, but we have adapted.

Have you made plans for the future?

Our career leave is up next year but it is unlikely we will be returning. Before we went home for a holiday earlier this year, we thought we would want to move back fairly soon. But we have changed our minds since that visit when we saw nothing much had changed in Ireland. We would be going back to the same jobs and same financial situation that we left behind. Getting the kids back into a school might be difficult, and the pupil-teacher ratios are very high. But we would love to go home at some stage, because I would love my kids to be raised in Ireland. I miss them learning Irish, because that is my first language. But we can’t put a timeframe on it for now.