If you were around at all last week in UCD, hospital you will have probably noticed that behind the masses of UCD volunteers, peer mentors and excited new students, graduation ceremonies were underway. I couldn’t help wondering what number of those in caps and capes would stay in Ireland, as so many graduates over the past few years have left the country in favour of what they see as a better future elsewhere.
As someone who lived Down Under for seven of my most formative years, I’d always thought I’d had it better than most by living in Australia. I grew up in Townsville, a city much further north than most travellers and exchange students care to venture and small enough to be left off most backpacker’s itineraries. None the less I have fond memories of my childhood, filled with activities most would associate with life in Australia – swimming after school, camping at the weekends, living on a largely barbequed diet. I never looked out the window before school to see if I’d need to take an umbrella, and I didn’t even own a pair of jeans until I moved to Ireland as the temperature rarely dipped below 20 degrees.
However as much as I look back fondly on my upbringing in North Queensland, this summer things were different. I went back to stay with my Father in New South Wales for ten weeks, and although the last time I visited was a couple of years ago, I wasn’t prepared for how much everything had changed. My doubts began before I even boarded my flight – instead of receiving almost twice as many dollars for my Euros when I exchanged them, I only got an extra twenty-five cents per euro. My disappointment deepened and turned to shock when I noted how expensive every aspect of life had become. Who would pay the equivalent of three euro for a can of Coke? It was almost impossible to find any kind of lunch under ten dollars, and as for the job prospects… don’t expect anything on a plate – if you choose to emigrate to Australia to search for work, you will be competing with peers who might have a lot more work experience than you, as fourteen is the legal working age.
My experiences this summer showed me how much home had changed. I noticed a definite influx of Irish people. At the only job I could find, which was in promotions, seven out of the ten other workers were Irish. So if you don’t mind taking your chances and ending up like myself doing a spot of work you could have done anyway (I know I’m not the only one who gets daily Facebook notifications from promoters of various night clubs), then by all means plan your year down under. Just be aware that the pub culture is nothing like here in Ireland – the only people you will find in the local pub are people you would want to avoid.
Although Australia managed to dodge the recession, you would be hard pressed to find well paid work right now, particularly if only going for a term or year. Most Australian employers will keep your CV on file for three months then review all the CV’s they have. There is of course some truth to the job rumours. If you are studying engineering, Australia is a literal gold mine, as fossil fuel and mining specialists are in demand to tap Australia’s rich natural resources. However, such jobs require a thick skin. An enormous organisation titled ‘Lock the Gate’ has hosted rallies, petitions and protests, with whole towns getting involved in a united effort to stop coal seam gas extraction. The method for extraction is to drill deep into the ground at the source and pump chemicals and water at high pressure into the coal seam – a process nicknamed ‘fracking.’ It’s difficult to find a home in much of rural New South Wales and Queensland that doesn’t have a yellow ‘Lock the Gate’ (against the government) sign, as the Australian Government has gotten into the habit of bulldozing on land without permission from owners in their hunt for gas.
On the topic of the Australian Government, note that coming to Australia for any degree of permanency and work can be complicated. The system in place isn’t unlike that used in the United States – if you aren’t an Australian or New Zealand citizen, you’re going to have to obtain a visa and/or work permit.
However, if you are set on going, just go! Australia is a beautiful country, so large that you can experience tropical weather up north, snowy winters in Victoria and Tasmania, and everything in between. Don’t expect to be able to surf everywhere you go as the Great Barrier Reef blocks good waves above Brisbane. Do expect a culture shock – depending on where you go you will find yourself surrounded by people from almost every corner of the globe. I would highly recommend if you are planning on going to obtain your driver’s licence before you leave, as there just isn’t any other way to cover the massive distances between towns due to lack of decent public transport outside of major cities. Domestic flights are horrifically expensive because of this, so make sure you choose your destinations well if you choose to travel around whilst there.
I’m aware not everything I have said agrees with what you may have heard about Australia. Nowhere is perfect, and although Australia and the relaxed lifestyle I had growing up there are wonderful, if you decide Australia is the place for you, whether it be for a working holiday, Erasmus, or for work after graduation, don’t get so excited that it’s a letdown – like the Debs often are after all that anticipation! Although it’s larger than most of Europe, it is only one (very beautiful) nation, after all.
– Silvana Lakeman