Drinking, fighting, tricking soup kitchens - some Irish run wild in Western Australia
The Istanbul cafe in Perth: a video of Irish fighting there briefly became a YouTube sensation, but the manager plays it down
If Percy French was writing The Mountains Of Mourne today, rather than in 1896, his tale of Irish emigrants “digging for gold in the street” might be set in Perth rather than London.
Perth doesn’t have gold in the streets, but there is plenty of gold in the rest of Western Australia, along with iron ore, alumina, nickel, ammonia, oil and gas.
The state contributes 58 per cent of Australia’s mineral and energy exports, and the gross state product is Aus$70,009 (€54,615) a person; higher than any other Australian state and way above the national average $54,606.
No wonder Western Australia is the prime destination for Irish people who obtain a four-year, specific skills (engineering, IT etc) 457 visa.
Of the 5,690 Irish people granted the 457 visa from July-December last year, 1,410 went to Western Australia.
The working holiday visa programme is not tied to particular jobs and states, but anecdotally, a large number of the 21,753 Irish nationals who got this visa in the year to June 30th last also went west.
But a sharp increase in numbers has brought some difficulties. A video of Irish people fighting in Northbridge – a Perth district popular with backpackers – briefly became a YouTube sensation before being removed.
“One of my staff put it up. I had to ask him to take it down,” says Max Keyt, who owns the Istanbul Cafe in Northbridge.
“There were a few punches thrown, but it was people pushing other people around most of the time,” he tells The Irish Times. “The two fighting were brothers and everybody else just came to help. It wasn’t a free-for-all brawl.
“This particular situation started in my shop,” he says. “That day I was here and we were a bit slow in getting the food out. That does create a bit of a problem, especially where they’ve had a few drinks, but once they get the food into them they’re fine. They faster you get the food to them, they settle down and there’s no trouble.”
Keyt says cultural differences play a part. “We have a little burst of Irish coming through and having a few drinks . . . I equip my staff to deal with them, to have a better understanding of the Irish humour. Most kebab shops are run by the Greeks or the Turks and the culture is completely different. Sometimes they have a problem understanding the [Irish] humour that comes across.”
Last May GAA clubs in Perth were contacted by the police and warned about alleged antisocial behaviour among some young Irish.
The behaviour involved drinking and violence, but also rental properties getting so damaged during parties that agencies were reluctant to rent to Irish people.
Joan Ross, president of the Claddagh Association, an Irish welfare group in Perth, says that warning has largely worked.
“There’s a few Irish policemen here and they said to the GAA, ‘tell the lads to keep it down. Don’t rock the boat. We have a good name in Australia. We don’t want our reputation tarnished by a few louts’,” she says.
“They’re getting very savvy now. They’re getting units [flats] and they’re keeping their noses clean to keep that accommodation.”
Ross, who is originally from Co Armagh, says some Irish are ill-prepared for the challenges of emigration.
“They are arriving on one-way tickets with a few hundred dollars in their pocket. They think they are just going to walk straight into a job,” she says.
“There are young people who come out and they know what they need to do and they’re very streetwise. Then there are other ones whose mummies have been looking after them all their lives and they don’t know what to do. They’re the ones that seem to be falling through the cracks.”
Ross says some Irish are getting food from a Northbridge soup kitchen which feeds homeless people.
“Since Christmas we’ve had five young men in trouble. One of those lads told us that there were a lot of young Irish looking for food in Northbridge. We took a walk down there one night just to observe what was happening.
“There were about 100 people, about 20 of them were, we suspected, backpackers,” Ross adds. “We spoke to the volunteers and they said a lot of backpackers come, but they were told they had to feed the people who were regulars before the young people.
“But this lady said ‘if there’s food they get it. We won’t let anyone starve.’ We offered to make a donation, but she said they are well funded.”
Nicki McKenzie of the Manna Inc charity confirms the story of Irish backpackers lining up for food. “We don’t say no to anyone. We don’t know who is destitute. We don’t know what their circumstances are. We hope that people aren’t jumping in line for free food.”