The Letter Home: Ash in Melbourne
Conás a tá tú and all that jazz? Greeting from Melbourne. Hope all is well back at camp. I have to admit I haven’t been a frequent visitor of RTÉ.ie these days and I have been grateful of the break to be honest. I’m probably more familiar with Julia Gillard’s fashion faux pas at the moment than anything gracing the pages of the papers at home. However I can tell from the eruption on my Facebook news feed that you are currently experiencing some beautiful, pleasant and warm weather. The milky legs are out and people are lighting the BBQ’s. It’s probably about 12 degrees? Here it’s a frosty 15 degrees. Apparently we’re due a month’s worth of rain in the next two days… nice. We’ve had to buy extra blankets. I say “get me to the east coast pronto for a bit of sun, sure isn’t that what we came away for?” But like many of the Irish here we fell in love with this place. It would be impossible not to. I’d happily stay here and put down roots. If only…
I think I was always going to be a flight risk. After I was first sent to the Gaeltacht aged twelve I realised that there’s got to be more to life than a Dublin South-West suburb. I wasn’t wrong. Not that Annagry, Donegal in all its glory can be compared to Melbourne, Victoria but the sentiment remains the same. Melbourne has the feel of the best parts of Dublin, Cork and Galway combined but on a larger, more genuinely cool scale. If you’ve ever been to Shoreditch or Hoxton in London circa 2009* you’ll know the kind of vibe I’m talking about. (*The writer is unaware if Hoxton and Shoreditch are still the acceptably cool spots to refer to in London or if they’ve gone ‘totally mainstream and yuppie’ like what happened in Camden). There are boroughs, neighbourhoods, laneways and winding streets to discover as well as the very welcome CBD grid system which makes city tasks easy to negotiate.
They love their food here. Fresh food markets a plenty and eateries on every corner and as a result everyone is a foodie. We haven’t had a bad meal yet and we’ve had some exceptional ones. They also love their sport. If you do not follow the footie you are socially excluded. If you do not play some kind of team sport they are suspicious of you. (I’ve managed to learn the rules and now enjoy the footie. As for the team sport thing I’ve be bluffing it a bit, most people believe I’m on some kind of basketball team). This is balanced nicely by a great arts scene and a flourishing music scene. Unfortunately for up and coming talent, the commercial side of the music world here pretty much depends on the fledglings of such joyous shows as Australia’s Got Talent and X Factor (ironically and annoyingly headed up by Brian McFadden and Ronan Keating, respectively), so that will give you an idea. But there’s definitely a great live music vibe in Melbourne, you just need to know where to look.
They’ve also taken to the drink the same way that the Irish have. I’m beginning to believe they had no real choice in the matter. It seems that fifty per cent of the population in Melbourne are Irish; some are making more of a holy show of us than others it has to be said. I must admit I have questioned how accurate that border security Australia programme is. From the little I’ve watched it has been threatening and scary. It would make you fear arriving in Australia in case you, a law abiding citizen, accidentally DID somehow smuggle narcotics into the country by lodging them in an unspeakable place. Then you witness, strolling up the street of your new cultured-filled town, what can only be described as an absolute out-and-out Dublin skanger with yellow blonde hair, fake hoopy earrings and Nike air max runners, and her ‘fella’ sporting a cap in a vertical angle barely balanced on his head. You know the type, the ones you avoid sitting beside on the Luas. Then you think to yourself “how in the name of God did they let them in…no, seriously?”
For those who pang for the bright lights of Dublin’s social scene and ‘Coppers’ like haunts, places such as ‘The Elephant & Wheelbarrow’ in St. Kilda, have sprung up. The floor is still sticky, the carpet even more so but instead of members of the Gardaí courting our young Irish nurses, the “tradies” are getting a look in here. I have accidentally frequented such a venue on a couple of occasions. Like at home, you never plan to go there, you end up there and then you feel dirty and guilty about it the next morning, even when/if you go home alone. I think the Irish attract to each other like magnets no matter where we go. This is not unique to this latest swarm of expatriates but it is something that I’ve tried to avoid. Sure it’s great to meet up with people from home, and I have, but if you’ve come this far why not meet some new people, see some fresh faces, hear new ideas and opinions.
On the whole though we seem to be well liked and accepted. There was one incident recently where a man on Gumtree ran an ad for workers with the tag line “Irish need not apply”, but I’m happy to report he got substantially and rightly fined for not appreciating our friendly and hardworking ways.
Speaking of work…
So as you know the big plan was to graduate (again), come over here, get a great job (insert mocking laughter here), loads of experience, save loads of money (ahem) and establish my career. Well it’s fair to say that hasn’t happened. We’re like really posh backpackers at the moment (‘flashpackers’ as they are affectionately known) in that we have little or no money but an amazing apartment in the heart of St. Kilda, two steps to the tram and one step to a wine bar. Professional planning jobs are hard to come by when you’re on a working holiday visa because of the restrictions but finding other employment has been easy.
The work (retail and hospitality) pays fifty per cent more than at home for quite literally a quarter of the work. There always seems to be more people employed than work needing to be done. The trouble is that it’s hard not to become lazy. But as soon as you talk yourself into enjoying this new found work ethic and convince yourself ‘sure you’re on your holidays’ it all works itself out. So after a number of months feeling down about my constant rejection letters and failure to live the ‘Australian Dream’, I’ve come round to the idea that we should just enjoy this for what it is while we’re here. So what if we come home to Ireland nearly thirty, no money, no jobs, no savings… right?
The only planning I’m actually getting to do these days is planning the next phase of our adventure, which I can say is going swimmingly. We are hopefully going to scrape enough dollars together to travel down the east coast, spending nights on the infamous Greyhound bus, and experiencing all that the more hippy/beachy side of Oz has to offer. Then next stop New Zealand. If I’m lucky enough to get work then great, if not we’re just going to take it day to day. Dad text me yesterday urging me not to come home, not to be homesick, because there’s still nothing happening there. Part of me wishes that we had the option to go home if we fancied it… but for now we’re wandering and experiencing and living and loving every second of being away on this big adventure.
So it’s time for me to sign off. Continue to send over the Barry’s Gold Blend, I’m nearly out and there’s something so dull and lifeless about the Lipton tea bags here. Also, there is no such thing or close to such a thing as a Penney’s here. Underwear is exceptionally expensive so don’t be shy about doing a ‘Penney’s Shop’ for me. Google deep fried pork Dim Sims, they are the most delicious and best hangover curing food items I’ve ever eaten. If all else fails I’ll bring the idea home and set up a stall near Zaytoons and steal some of their post night club business. I’ll be minted in no time. I’ll also be looking into entering the dumpling market, but one step at a time.
Love to all,
Ash McGrath is a UCD Urban and Regional Planning grad from Clondalkin, Dublin.