Spending my teens in Oz: What it's like to move from Ireland to Australia when you’re 12 years old
Kildare teen Aimee Murphy (16) was 12 when she moved to Australia with her mum Siobhan, step dad Robert and her younger brother Jack (13). Here, she speaks about what it's like to be an Irish teenager in New South Wales and why Ireland will always feel like home to her.
I was 11 when my mum and step-dad told my brother and I we were moving to Australia. My step-dad had gotten a job over there in a place called Nelson Bay in New South Wales. I was scared, I had never been to Australia before and then to be told we were moving there was tough.
My siblings Riona (6), Aoibhinn (11) and Eoin (9) live in Sligo with my dad Tom, so it was tough to be moving to the other side of the world away from them.
Moving to Australia was a very daunting task especially because I didn’t know how it would affect my identity.
I worried about how the Australians would view me, would they think we looked and sounded different? Would they make fun of me?
We spent four and a half years in Nelson Bay before we moved to Medowie.
It was really hard to leave my dad behind in Ireland. My last day with him was a turmoil of emotions. As I sat on his stairs in Sligo he gave me a letter. I could tell by his swollen, soggy eyes he had been crying. I will always remember that the card said, "When the sun rises we’ll be thinking of you, when the sun sets we will be thinking of you too," and when I look out at the ocean I think how far away can he really be?
I have gotten on well here in school . Although the school system is much different than at home I was school captain last year and I'm doing my PDHPE in September, which is the Australian Leaving Cert. I'm studying Maths, English, Music and Religion.
Moving to Australia brought me closer to my brother Jack (13). For a while we actually only had each other. Jack was only seven when we moved, and I don't think he'll ever move back to Ireland. He's been there longer than he was ever at home.
I message my friends Katie and Alex in Kildare every day. Even though we live in completely opposite time zones we still make an effort to stay in touch. We have been best friends every since we were in primary school in Cadamstown and I'm so glad we've stayed close despite the distance.
Of course there's some lovely things about living in Australia too. We get to see our auntie who lives over here and all our little cousin Manu so much more than we did when we lived in Ireland. I've made wonderful friends over here too, and of course the weather is a major positive.
I get homesick a lot and I have dreams about Ireland. It is always worse in winter, with the lengthy cold evenings bringing so many emotions to the surface. There are some moments when my desire to be at home is overwhelming, to be amongst a crowd watching a Six Nation’s match at the heart of an electric Aviva or to just be sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother sharing a cup of tea.
It's the small things you miss the most. I love batch toast and the bread in Australia is so different. A fry is the first thing I have when I get off the plane. The chocolate is so much creamier at home, and of course you can't beat Barry's Tea.
Moving to Australia has taught me a lot about myself and I am grateful for that. I have learned that it's okay to be homesick even though so many people have said I'm lucky to be here. So many Australians don't understand how an immigrant could be happier anywhere else. I’ve learned that home is home, even if it doesn’t have the best beaches, the best barbeques or the best opportunities.
I have a year and a half left in school. After I finish I hope to move home. I'd love to study sports or music but I'll have to figure that out. It would be great if I could see my dad more, since it's been four years since we moved away. All that lies between my life and Ireland is 17,175km and I can't wait to come home.
I'm in currently in Ireland for a month on holiday. It's great because I get to see my dad and my siblings, but also see my grandparents in Sligo and in Kildare. Hopefully we'll see a bit of Ireland, we're planning to go to the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant's Causeway. I'll have to get over my jet-lag first!
You can read Aimee's full essay below
It was February 2011, the worst day!
Deep breaths and 1,2,3…. Breath 1,2,3……
This was something my dad taught me. I still question whether it works, but to this day I frequently remember the words my dad would sombrely relay to me. My last day with him was a turmoil of emotions, one moment marginally exciting and the next devastatingly dragged and dejected, as I sat on his stairs, evaluating a card he had handed me. I could tell by his swollen, soggy eyes and his rosy coloured cheeks he had been crying, as he handed me a letter. He left as I began opening the envelope with trembling hands, I couldn’t hold back the endless delicate tears that slid down my cheeks.
“When the sun rises we’ll be thinking of you, when the sun sets we will be thinking of you too. You will always be in our thoughts and dreams”.
These words are still embedded within and sometimes when I sit on the tiny grains of unstable sand I wonder, beyond the crashing blue waves, how far away are they, really?
Moving to Australia was a very daunting task especially because I didn’t know how it would affect my identity not only culturally but socially and personally too. I had heard that some children thrive when they enter new environments, depending on their own circumstances, but I felt like this was potentially not optional for me. How would the Australians view me? Would they think we looked and sounded different?
Would they make fun of me? These questions teased throughout my mind that was filled with so many inquisitive and formidable thoughts, slowly beginning to drive me senseless.
Having to establish new, important relationships outside my family was extremely intimidating, the threat that the move had on my evolving personality with my friends was hard to accept. It was obviously disruptive to the stability of my established core friends and family. The culture that I had grown up was about to dramatically change.
My wardrobe was a small but drastic modification as the weather was radically different. Not all homes had a solid structure made from brick that heated the whole room at the heart of the house where many laughs and warm moments were spent. This to me was hard to contemplate and something I found extremely eccentric, since we had two fireplaces in our house. How did Santa come down the chimney in Australia or did they even believe in Santa?
As years passed the longing to return to the ‘Emerald Isle’ didn’t disappear but sometimes I have the ability to shut it out of my thoughts so I don’t live with a sudden absence and ache in my heart. But at other times, it will uncontrollably hit. The sense of melancholy and misery echoes through every particle in my body, as the absence of home reverberates throughout. I do not only miss my family and friends but also the culture.
The endless fields of green, the fresh air that rejuvenates my lungs, the infinite number of castles, folk music and dance, the verdant landscape and the mythological stories told by older relatives about the ever-famous fairies, leprechauns and of course Finn MacCool. The influence these aspects had upon me was mammoth but until I had left this, I did not know it; the culture that had surrounded me, lived within me, moulding my beliefs, values, the cuisine I craved, sports I played and the traditions I partook in. I don’t think anyone can try to envisage or contemplate how much one’s family means to them and how they play a central role in the shaping of your individuality through so many aspects, until you are away from them.
I have realised that family are your first ‘friends’, you learn and grow from what you see them do and what you see them do so very well. However, through all that had happened with the move I became extremely close with my brother, Jack. We did actually only have each other. Especially at Christmas, on birthdays and at other times where the whole family would be in one small cubed room parading around, gossiping about whatever relevant news they thought was important.
I get homesick, a lot, and with the homesickness comes dreams about Ireland. It is always worse in winter, with the lengthy cold evenings bringing so many emotions to the surface and the thought that I may one day return to be a tourist in my own town began to arise. I feel physically sick and can’t sleep, the oddest of things are the things I miss the most, like being amongst a crowd watching a Six Nation’s match. There at the heart of an electric room full of devoted fans, noises from all corners as they wait for Brian O’Driscoll to score one of this memorable try that he pulls so easily.
Things like sitting at the kitchen table with my maternal grandmother…seeing the unconditional love in her eyes, the sadness that we are gone, the pride in who we have become. I have gained a greater understanding and awareness of my place in this world because of this experience. Although as soon as I introduce myself to others I immediately feel different, my accent is a bit of a giveaway so there is an immediate division or feeling of otherness. I have learned to overcome and live with this but my culture is something I am extremely proud of.
I’ve been here for some time now and I still don’t understand some Australian jokes and some people don’t get mine, I can be with my friends, feeling so involved but always being the one step outside the circle. I have had to mature and grow up in unexpected ways and I’m sure this will benefit me in the future.
So, what has all this taught me you ask? Well it has taught me to shut up when I feel homesick because no one from the ‘lucky country’ wants to hear that any immigrant might be happier elsewhere.
It has taught me that I’d better not feel sorry for myself for having been dragged here, against my will and forced to ‘make the best of it’ throughout my formative years. It has taught me that no matter how many cocky individuals wish to tell me I’m ‘So lucky to be here and not there’, I still have the right to be profoundly homesick should I so choose, thank you very much.
I’ve learned that home is home, even if it doesn’t have the best beaches, the best barbeques and the best opportunities… (although I will be the judge of that anyway in the end.)
I’ve learned that Australians are way more image-conscious and Irish people are way too attached to family and ‘the land’, myself included. I have learned to look at my own country, culture and traditions from a different, long distance lens and admit it has flaws, while still being so very proud of who we are, who we have become and what we have, as a nation, overcome.
I have learned that I have had significant Irish and Australian influences in my short span but I cannot tell which of these influences have formed my current self. I can be sure of only one thing...I will forever be grateful for both.
In the end, with each sunset, and with each sunrise, just as they promised, our hearts long so desperately for each other and nothing on this earth, not money, not opportunity, nor adventure, makes that longing worthwhile. And all that lies between is 17,175 kilometres… and I can’t wait to go home.