“It was the best thing I ever did.” “I had the time of my life.” “Honestly mate just do it!” “It will change your life.” These are just some of the many positive things that people have said to me regarding their wonderful experiences living abroad in countries such as Canada and Australia.
In January of last year (2019) I received contact from a friend who had just returned home from Australia. He had spent fifteen months abroad living for some time in both Melbourne and Sydney. Upon conversing about his travels to Australia he told me that it was the best thing he had ever done in his life. He said he was happier than ever before while he was living in Australia. He had acquired new knowledge, new friends and a new lease on life during his time overseas. There was talk of fun, entertainment, sunshine and extremely good wages amongst other alluring ingredients. He said if it were not for the fact that he has a girlfriend and a close-knit family at home in Dublin he would have considered a much longer tenure in the southern hemisphere.
At around the same time of hearing from this friend I was going through a period of stagnation in my life. As a progressive person with an interest in experiencing prosperous new opportunities I began to feel as if reinvigorating action might be a necessary recourse for me. I was coming towards the end of my 20’s, I was not advancing in my career path. I was getting sick of the same mundane routine over and over again; drinking at the local pub, seeing the same faces everywhere I went and feeling constrained in my parents’ house because of the housing crisis. I guess you could say I was stuck in a rut and therefore I started to think that perhaps a big change was needed so that I could continue to grow and develop as an evolutionary individual. Listening to my friend talk about the innate development he underwent during his travels is something that piqued my interest. It aroused my curiosity and the most mystifying thing about it was the fact that he was not the only person to preach the almighty powers of distant translocation – no no – I had heard this song sung so many times before. The way that people described the transformative force of foreign relocation was often ineffable. Based on what people had told me it was enigmatic and enriching like an out-of-body experience or an intense psychedelic trip. After mulling over my friend’s yearning to relive his journey down under I resolutely made one of the biggest decisions of my life; I didn’t need to hear any more tales of an epiphany. I had heard enough. I was going to have my own life-changing revelation. I was going to Australia!
In March of last year (2019) I took the first step of the deep plunge by purchasing my Australian Working Holiday Visa (WHV). Even that simple procedure sparked inquisition from my inner monologue; as I sat up late at night – ordering my visa online – I started asking myself “should I really do this? Might this be the wrong decision? What if I pull out?” Second thoughts swirled around inside my head but I decided to go with my nervous instinct which told me to buy the visa and worry later. So, I did just that, I bought the visa and parked my doubts aside. The next step of the process was deciding when to actually depart. I thought about this and decided that some time between January and March would be the best juncture to go because that would allow me time to get my particulars in order and it would give me time to dwell on my decision and rescind if I wanted to change my mind. I eventually concluded that January would be the best punctuation because it would open the new year with a fresh start and give me the opportunity to finish another full season at my job in Ireland.
Months elapsed before I booked any flights because thinking about the reality of such a big move made me feel anxious and unsure, although it did also make me feel excited. Initially the notion of transitioning from Ireland to Australia (in January) seemed like it was lightyears away but as winter grew closer I could no longer stave off the dilemma I had placed in front of me. As the end of 2019 neared I stood at a crossroads and had to choose one path; I could either retrace my steps and abort the mission or I could leap off the edge and dive into the abyss. At this most crucial point it would have been easier and less nerve-racking to bow out and render void my visa, but, something inside overpowered my rationality and thus urged me to roll the dice. A niggling part of my conscience said “go on, do it. You can’t chicken out now. You have to do it. Besides, you’ll only regret it if you don’t give it a try, and, you might never get the chance to do this again. Do it man. Do it!” Curiosity killed the cat and thereafter the flights were booked. I was to board a flight from Dublin to Bangkok on the night of Sunday, 5th January, 2020, and I was to land in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday, 14th January. The nine days in between were to be used in Purgatory (I spent one week travelling through Thailand prior to arrival in Australia) just to add extra spice (and stir-fried frog!) to the voyage.
Christmas came and 2019 entered the cusp of its final few days. I didn’t divulge my plans with my parents until the witching hour had nearly tolled. Nobody in my family had ever done anything like this before and so the reaction to my news was awkward, acutely distressing and yet comprehensible too; it was a sharp realization that a sense of discomfort must be borne in order to enable the greater good – a bit like finding out that one needs to have their wisdom teeth removed!
Christmas passed by and then D-Day arrived. I felt totally strange and surreal on that momentous day and the atmosphere in my home was fraught with anxiety from the anticipation of the inevitable moment. I was scheduled to take-off at 22:15. I partook in the last supper, checked my baggage to make sure everything was packed and then it was time; for the first time in my life I waved goodbye to my home – the house that I had lived in since I was born in October 1990. This was a truly surreal and overwhelming experience and words cannot sufficiently capture the medley of numbing ambiguity that I felt as I left my home and headed for the airport. As the car pulled up at Dublin Airport on that dark winter’s night in January I felt utterly bizzare and unsettled as I bid one last nervous farewell to my parents. There was a sense of emotional energy present although words and gestures were not needed to acknowledge this because men are subtle creatures and soppy feelings are uncomfortable for us. I also felt immensely proud of myself; proud because this was such a tumultuos endeavor for me to take on and yet there I was staring in the face of such a challenge with an unwavering determination to flourish through it. I was as ready as ever for the invisible road that lay ahead of me. I passed through customs and made it to the departure gate. I boarded an airplane that was destined for a transfer in the freezing cold snowy city of Moscow, Russia. Feeling totally strange I strapped myself in and at 22:15 I shot off into the sky. Nine days later after journeying through Thailand I landed in Avalon Airport, Melbourne, Australia. The time was approximately 09:00. I was jet-lagged thanks to two flights, one boat ride, a different time zone and a lack of sleep but this didn’t hinder my excitement. The air outside was smokey due to the infamous bushfires. The temperature was mild but there were heatwaves of 40°C on the way. I was here – 17,000+km away from home on the other side of the world. I had made it. I was now inside the belly of the beast.
I chose to come to Melbourne rather than Sydney because sources told me that it is a cooler city where the people are nicer, the buzz is better and the vibe is a lot more relaxed. I had been told by lots of individuals that the people in Sydney are not so friendly and that there is really not so much worth seeing or doing in Sydney. I am led to believe that Bondi Beach is only a tourist gimmick and also I know far too many people from home that are hanging out in Sydney right now and personally I have come here to get away from that familiarity from home and I have come here to meet some fresh faces and experience new things.
I have been here in Melbourne now for one month and one week investigating the truth behind The Australian Dream and my forage on this scorched continent thus far has uncovered a reality that hasn’t quite canonized me in the way that people said it would but I have been told to bear patience because apparently its still early days and the best is yet to come. However, I am not and will not be thoroughly dissapointed with this adventure because I have become somewhat sceptical of the mystic magic associated with Working Holiday Visas, and therefore, my attitude to this saga is one of a carefree nothing ventured nothing gained proverb. I am here with an open-mind to test the waters and see what happens. If Australia bestows unto me all of the salubrious wonders that people rave about then I will be forever grateful for receiving such good fortune and yet if the Dream turns out to be a hoax or even a nightmare I will still feel proud of myself for giving it a whirl. There is nothing stopping me from going home if that’s what I feel like doing at any point in time so really I am over here with everything to play for and nothing to lose.
My experience of Melbourne so far is generally good but far from perfect. I have still not found a job and in fact finding worthwhile work is quite difficult. I have also come to realise that Australia is an extremely expensive country. A pint of beer often costs about $12 and a pack of cigarettes can cost a smoker $39 depending on where they’re bought. Rent is definitely cheaper compared to Dublin and there is potential to earn a reasonably good wage but when the high cost of living is applied almost everything plateaus and becomes relative. Labouring and construction is where one can earn decent coin but that line of employment can make for extremely strenuous work.
Many WHV holders spend extended periods living in packed hostel dorms and many travellers that explore Australia on a shoestring budget do so on a substandard diet, cheap off-license booze and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements – it is important to be aware of this information when analysing reports of The Australian Dream because living standards of that sort do not fit everybody’s taste. There is truth behind the claim that the people of Melbourne are nice and friendly – I have found most people to be extremely friendly, nice, genuine and helpful. It is easy to get chatting with new people here be it in bars, shops or on outdoor excursions. As for the city itself, well, it’s just like a lot of other well-developed cities but the atmosphere is rather mellow compared to places like New York or London. The city and its suburbs seem to be of American design and architecture, and although I haven’t been to California I am led to believe that the aesthetics are of a Californian facade. The trams are trendy and efficient, and they service suburbs that extend as far out as (approximately) 8km from the city centre. It could be tempting to avail of cheap rent in far-flung suburbs but some neighbourhoods might require two bus trips or two train trips to/from the city centre and it is important to know this because public transport does not run all night and some faraway neighbourhoods are not well-equipped with great services – some neighbourhoods don’t even have a local pub. On that note there is a few dodgy localities in the western suburbs and these places may not be safe or comfortable at night time. There has been problems with anti-social behaviour in some parts of Melbourne so that should be researched when sussing the place out.
There is a variety of different things to do much like other modern cities; different neighbourhoods have a different vibe, for example, Fitzroy/Collingwood has an LGBT theme with a vibrant and diverse nightlife scene, Brunswick has a gentrified hipster vibe and part of Richmond is replete with mainstream commercial nightclubs. There is an area called St Kilda which is known for its large Irish community; I have found the demographic around St Kilda to be young and rather typical of Irish/English nightclubbers albeit harmless and fun if that’s what you’re after. The quiet residential suburbs are where you can expect to meet real local Australian people and I discovered a really nice bar with really nice people in a well-heeled neighbourhood called Camberwell. There are plenty of nice parks scattered throughout Melbourne and plenty of nice cafes and restaurants too. The climate in Melbourne is the most capricious I have ever encountered with temperatures ranging from 15°C – 40°C in the same one week. Rain, hail and sunshine can all fall in the same week – it really is the place of four seasons in one day. Hiking tours are amazing and there are an abundance of cool tours available in the state of Victoria. These tours are another great way to meet new people and make new friends. Some of the sights that can be seen on road trips and tours are beautiful and captivating so they should be a high priority for anyone visiting Australia.
Having been here for one month and one week at this stage I have come to know the head from the tail of Melbourne and I have a flavour of the lifestyle and idiosynchracies around here. I have been lucky to get myself settled into a clean and quiet apartment 6km east of the city centre. I managed to procure accomadation within my first two weeks here and I’ve been told that’s not bad because some people can take two months to find a place. The first two weeks here consisted of rushing around to view accomadation and it required quite a lot of energy. After arriving in Melbourne I made my way to an Airbnb in the Brunswick/Coburg area on the north side of town. I spent one week in that Airbnb and while I was there I had to devote my time to arrangements in a new bank, shopping for microwave meals, eating out, learning how to use public transport, developing a navigational compass, searching for accomadation and looking for jobs. The first week was messy and cluttered as one might expect. I did discover a hidden gem on my first week though. That hidden gem is an Irish pub on the rim of the city centre. It is called The Drunken Poet and it is a great social hub.
The dwellings that I viewed during my first two weeks were scattered across different locations. Using a brilliant Facebook page called Fairy Floss Real Estate I viewed available properties in the neighbourhoods of Prahran, Reservoir, Toorak, Braybrook and Kew Junction. Prahran was a convenient location but it was the first place I viewed and I wanted to explore other options before choosing a new base. Reservoir was too far from the city and the house I viewed out there was shared amongst four or five other guests and although the room was cheap the site was not in great condition and that coupled with the awkward distance from the city led me to continue my search. The house in Toorak turned out to be part of an auction of some sort so that was of no use to me. I nearly settled for a room in a spacious house in Braybrook. I would have been sharing with some Vietnamese people but I turned it down because it was too far from the city and I am glad of it because I came to discover that it is a bit of a rough area with nothing to do in the evening and to get there one must pass through Footscray which is a multicultural area with a bogus reputation. Fortunately I then found the peaceful and convenient apartment which I am now living in at Kew Junction. I was kindly granted approval to take up the spare room here and this is where I have been since Saturday, January 25th. I did however have a mad experience staying in an Airbnb before I moved into this apartment.
During my second week in Melbourne I spent 4 days in an Airbnb with an address in the eastern neighbourhood of Camberwell. It is a leafy suburb and the Airbnb was cheap. The house looked majestic and lovely but when I got inside it was horrific and creepy. All of the doors inside were boarded-up and the place was trashed. There was dead insects in the microwave and the bathrooms were in the most depraved condition that I have ever witnessed. Then it transpired that there was a bunch of mysterious dark-skinned foreigners living behind some of the boarded-up doors. It was so weird and I have no doubt that 316 Camberwell Road is the home of illegal criminal activity. I was of course delighted to get out of there and into a more pleasant surrounding at Kew Junction. I guess you could say Camberwell Road was a traveler’s experience but it is not the type of experience I’d like to repeat any time soon. On the bright side I discovered a nice bar in that neck of the woods and I ended up hanging out with cool people while I was there too.
After scoring accomadation I decided to let my hair down with regards to socialising and nightlife. I’ve had plenty of fun and met lots of great people but it has come at a huge financial cost so I recently put the brakes on to preserve my funds until I can (or can’t) find a job. On the subject of jobs I was invited to two sales interviews but these turned out to be what I call backpacker traps; one of them was for a door to door charity chugging role and the other was a commission based con job. Apart from attending public houses I also spent one weekend hiking and diving in the countryside. That was a brilliant experience and I plan to do much more of that.
From hereon the duration of my stay in Australia all depends on whether or not I can find profitable work. At times the struggle to find work can be disheartening but I won’t give up hope just yet. I have adapted well to independent living for the first time in my life at nearly 30 years of age. I have got into the swing of things over the last few weeks and I have a good routine in place with regular exercise and a fresh gym membership. I would be lying if I said there hasn’t been any hiccoughs – there has been quite a few and I’ve even stumbled upon nasty people on a Facebook page called Irish Around Melbourne (sadly and ashamedly). Yet nevertheless I am trying to remain optimistic while at the same time being realistic.
Who knows what Australia might have in store for me from this point onwards? It really could go either way; in a worst case scenario I will be going home skint in two months’ time. In a best case scenario I will be on the pig’s back flying towards the heart of The Australian Dream and if the sky really is the limit what’s to say that I won’t end up meeting the love of my life and settling down to make Melbourne my new home away from home?