The Irish in Australia have never felt further from home since the start of the pandemic.
Australia has been one of the countries hailed for its swift response to Covid and its strict approach to international travel. The ‘zero-Covid’ tactic has meant that people living on the island nation, although cut off from the rest of the world, enjoy relative normalcy as the number of cases remains low.
But a return trip to Ireland was impossible.
Gordon Laffan (53 years old, Liège)
Gordon has been Down Under for 25 years, working as a club manager in the hospitality industry.
The realization that the family would not be able to come to her son’s wedding was a blow in itself, but his mother then suffered a health crisis in April.
“The last time I was home two years ago, I said goodbye to my mom. Every time you say goodbye you know there’s a chance you’ll never see her alive again, but at least you’ll be back for the funeral.
But Gordon was told that if he left Australia to return home to his mother, it could be up to six months before he was allowed to return to the country. Unable to afford it, Gordon resigned himself to staying put.
“We resigned ourselves to the fact that the best we could do was zoom in on the funeral, which is devastating. It was heartbreaking in that regard, but luckily she slowly improved.
“My son’s wedding is scheduled for December and unfortunately no one from Ireland is coming, but at least my mother is still here,” he said.
Damian Ennis (36, Wexford / Limerick)
Damian is a consultant in the infrastructure construction industry and has been in Australia since 2008.
“I think a lot of people feel the distance a lot more than they’ve ever done before. I know other Irish people who packed their bags and returned home.
However, Damian believes the sacrifice involved in a zero Covid approach is worth it, to protect others.
“As difficult as it may be, the idea is that if someone went home for a funeral and came back here, it would increase the chances of there being more funerals,” he said.
Judy Butler (24 years old, Liège)
Judy had just landed in Australia in February last year to embark on a new adventure, when everything suddenly got stuck around her.
“Obviously I didn’t have a job and didn’t really know anyone else in Australia at the time,” she said.
Luckily, co-travel friend Judy had family in South Australia, who they stayed with to tackle the first wave. “There was no support, there was nothing really for us. On the Australian news they were telling everyone to go home, if you are a backpacker go home.
After the lockdown, workers like Judy had to do the minimum farm work required to keep and extend their visas.
Judy doesn’t see herself moving anytime soon, but would like to have a visit as soon as she can.
“Anyway, I never really planned on coming home for the first year or two, but now I’m getting to the point where I would really love to come home and see my friends and family. If money, flights and restrictions weren’t a problem, I would be going home a week tomorrow.
Laura Rankin (35, Dublin)
Laura lives in North Queensland, having moved over eight years ago. She had her first child, Saoirse, in December 2019, and lacked the support of her family beyond her husband who works full time.
“I was very isolated. I had a three month old baby, the country was stranded and it was me and her all day.
It’s hard enough to miss big events and milestones with her family in Ireland, but Laura stresses that not being able to return home is so much more than that.
“It’s the thousands of little things that you miss, everyday life, not being able to come home and have that quality time, it’s hard,” she said.
“It’s a big price to pay for a normal life. And how normal is this? Not having contact with family outside of a Skype call? “
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