It really is wizard in Oz
'I never really had a passion to travel," admits Davy Byrne, kicking back with a beer in the Divers Tavern in Broome, Western Australia.
"I was quite happy with my life in Raheny, living with my girlfriend -- now wife -- Jess, working as the manager of a mobile phone shop, enjoying my Dublin weekends, you know. But once I came to Australia, that all changed. On our very first week I said to Jess, 'We have to get a visa for a second year'. We loved it straight away."
The 26-year-old Dubliner is well into his second year in Australia now. He wouldn't come back to Ireland if you paid him, not for a good long while anyway.
His experience mirrors that of thousands of young Irish men and women in recent years. Well before the recession began to bite, they were signing up for one-year visas and boarding a cheap flight to Perth, Sydney or Brisbane with the whole continent of Down Under in their sights.
Once there, they've tended to stick like limpets, working wherever, at whatever, in order to get their fill of commodities that are not in plentiful supply back home -- hot sun, blue sea, white sand, a buoyant economy, an open road and a laid-back lifestyle.
You can't be too proud about the work you'll accept, advises Davy. "At first I did all kinds of jobs -- jobs I never could have seen myself doing back in Ireland. I laboured on the buildings; I worked as a baggage handler for cruise ships in Fremantle; I swept floors and cleaned toilets.
And, most important, I did what they call rural work, picking fruit and laying irrigation pipes on a mango farm.
"If you want to get a visa to spend a second year in Australia, you have to put in three months working in the rural economy."
It takes time to get to know the ropes as a backpacker. When Davy and Jess first arrived in Broome -- a tropical paradise by the Indian Ocean, way up in the north-west corner of Western Australia -- it was the end of August, not the best of times because the holiday season had just come to an end.
Jess did housekeeping, Davy cleaned loos and mopped up in pubs, and they just about got by.
Next time they were wiser, arrived in May before the tourists and picked up more and better work straight away.
So what's in it for young Irish backpackers? Davy is in no doubt. "Oh, Australia is just brilliant! This whole backpacker lifestyle -- it's laid-back, not nearly so stressful as life at home.
"And we love the Australian landscape; all those enormous skies and big wild views.
"What I've found is that the Aussies themselves really appreciate their own country. They aren't slaves to the working timetable and money -- they'll shut up shop and go fishing and camping, even if it means losing out on some profit. Like Ireland used to be, I suppose."
Davy's Top Tips
When you first arrive
Find a backpacker hostel ('Lonely Planet's' recommendations for new arrivals are spot on) and talk to people -- you'll hear of work and pick up tips on travelling, places not to miss and places to avoid.
Bring enough money for six weeks -- by which time you'll have found work and formed some kind of travel plan.
Bring some pictures from home to share and to remind yourself.
Bring a small laptop for Skyping home and putting your photos on Facebook.
Once you've settled in
Talk to people -- learn what they've done and seen.
Socialise with other backpackers; don't keep yourself to yourself.
Travel with other people to share driving and fuel costs, and for safety. You'll enjoy travelling more if you do.
You have to put in three months' rural work to get a second-year visa.
It doesn't have to be a continuous three months, but get it done soon; that way it won't be hanging over you and spoiling your travel plans.
Keep a diary -- you'll treasure it, and it's useful for recording tips and advice.
Do things -- such as fishing, camping, exploring -- rather than being on the lash every night.
Máire Coffey (25), from Newbridge, Co Kildare
Máire Coffey has fetched up, for the time being, in Surfers Paradise on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. She's a sorted young woman, with three years' experience working for the BBC in London under her belt.
When she decided to take a year out, Australia was the obvious choice. "Where better? I'd wanted to go for a long time, and now it's much more accessible than it used to be, with more cheap and direct flights.
"What attracted me? Well, Australia's so big, there's so much to see, and I'd heard from a lot of people who came back to Ireland from there about what a good time they'd had."
Máire found obtaining a one-year visa very straightforward -- she just applied online at visafirst.ie, and the visa came through two days later.
Landing in Sydney, she got work immediately with the television company Channel 7. "I'd sent my CV over, and they took me on straight away."
She could have stayed in the city for the duration, "but I decided, 'Well, I've taken a year out to see this whole country, not just Sydney', so I moved on up the coast.
"I just love Surfers Paradise -- it's wonderful. The jobs aren't as glamorous as TV work, mind you! I work at a backpackers' hostel a few days a month in exchange for my lodgings, and also in the evenings at Fiddler's Green, a real Irish pub run by a family from Dublin," she says.
"I haven't made up my mind about the future yet, but I might decide to stay another year. Davy's right -- it's wise to get your three months of rural work done as soon as possible after you get here, so there's nothing to stop you applying for your second year visa, if and when you want to.
"I've my three months done already, down on a stud farm on the Queensland border. It was great!" she continues.
"I'll be heading on soon, up to Cairns, to see the Whitsunday Islands and Fraser Island. You've got to make the most of it, while you're here, haven't you?"
Máire's Top Tips
Make an effort to mingle with the other backpackers.
You will meet people from all over the world, and they've all done so much and have great stories to tell.
Dive into the heart of the backpacking community -- it'll be your version of the real world out here.
With expeditions and trips -- for example, to see Uluru -- don't jump on the first deal you're offered.
Shop around -- there's bound to be a better one.
Most importantly, go there with an open mind, ready for anything.
NEED TO KNOW
HOW TO GET YOUR WORKING HOLIDAY VISA
Apply online at visafirst.ie or call 01-635 3732.
You need to be between 18 and 30 with a valid passport. You might also need a health check if you’re intending to visit/work in hospitals or schools.
You need access to sufficient funds to support yourself for the first part of your stay (about AUD$5,000/€3,830).
The Working Holiday Visa (one year) costs AUD$270 (€207).