Sitting here on the verandah looking out over the forest and rising moon, that recent drop of rain has the place looking a bit green on it, unusually so, for Australia. If it wasn’t for the crickets singing, I could nearly be convinced I was in Ireland, although here comes Eóghan to keep my mind from wandering there. He clambers up the steps and standing on his back legs, looks at me with his big eyes. He has grown so much in recent months I strain as I lift him onto my lap. This wombat sure has me under the thumb. He comes to lie across my chest, his chin resting on my shoulder. Soon he is softly snoring. He will be the last wombat I hand-raise before I head home to Ireland, for good, this Christmas. I close my eyes too and think about my 7 years in Australia.
I’m a long way from home; Colmcille on the shores of Lough Neagh, County Armagh. It’s ten years since I graduated from UCD as a vet. After a few years of work at home, filled with wanderlust I did what many young Irish vets do and headed for Australia. The intention was a one-year working holiday. After 9 months, that became a permanent residency visa and as the years began to whizz by, eventually Australian citizenship. In the early days, there were many of my Irish vet classmates working here too. I recall at one New Year’s party in Melbourne, 5 years ago, we counted 30 Irish vets in one group photo. As the years passed, reunions like this turned into going-home-to-Ireland farewells. Those continued and now there are very few of us still here.
Over the years here I have worked in many different places, initially on a full-time basis and later, as I wanted to travel, as a locum (covering maternity leave / holidays for clinics.)
I spent three years enjoying the Mediterranean-type conditions of Margaret River, Western Australia, an area famous for its stunning beaches and numerous vineyards. I spent a couple of years travelling and working in the hot, dry Pilbara region, North West Australia and a few jaunts over to the East coast between Newcastle and onto Alpine Victoria. I also spent two fantastic years working in Australia’s island state of Tasmania, with its manic four-seasons- in-one-day weather, much closer to that of home. A good example of this contrasting weather was one morning when I witnessed a large bush fire on a local mountain top. By that same afternoon it was completely quenched under a blanket of snow! If only it was that easy in the other parts of Australia, currently ablaze.
In Western Australia I worked with beef and dairy farms, much like home but the herds much larger. Unlike home there’s no bovine tuberculosis (an endemic problem in many areas of Ireland) and just like home, margins are tight and getting tighter. Right now, the Australian farmers are suffering through a dreadful drought and praying for those ever-elusive rains to come.
Like my work at home, a large part of my vet work in Australia involved working with pets. In the hot summer months, pets suffering from acute heatstroke were a frequent presentation at the vet clinics. I sure had never seen a case in Ireland before that. Those summer months would also bring out the snakes, and dogs and cats suffering from snake bite were a common emergency too. Thankfully, we could save many of them, if they got to the clinic in time to have anti-venom administered.
I got to know many Australian vets, along the way. Some of them had tales of their time spent in the Northern Hemisphere, working in Ireland and the UK. One Aussie fellow told me of an enjoyable year he had working as a farm vet in Donegal, surfing in Bundoran in his free time (extra thick wetsuit of course). Another Aussie vet (born to Irish parents in Australia) had spent his first year after college in Ireland brushing up on his fiddle playing, working and travelling around the Irish music scene.
I met many Irish expats too. Some would cheerfully tell me their stories of how they left and didn’t look back, others would well-up and tell me of their terrible longing for home. One lady, Eileen, had been down-under for 50 years. A retired nurse, she still had a strong West Clare accent. When she was widowed, she had started up her own native animal rescue. She taught me many things about how to care for orphan kangaroo joeys and wombats. There was something so special about an Irish nurse, teaching an Irish vet how to look after native Aussie animals, in Australia. She had a story for each of her animals (some were long term lodgers) and how they had helped her through her bereavement, especially her old rescued Labrador, Eddie and Albert, her talkative Cockatoo. Eileen got so much joy from the animals, she frequently quipped that she wasn’t always entirely sure as to who was exactly rescuing whom!
I tried to get home at least once a year. At the end of these trips I got to be very sad about leaving Ireland, a feeling that seemed to get worse each time. After much agonising, I have decided it’s time for me to return to Ireland. I will do it the other way and take a few trips to Australia in years to come.
Here, one of my last Australian nights settles in around me. As I come back from my reverie, smiling at the prospect of moving home, although feeling a few pangs of anxiety about it all, strangely it’s an Aussie accent in my mind that says,
You’ve got this …You’ll be right…. Mate.
Now, how am I ever going to break the news to Eóghan.