Opinion

Monday 19 August 2019

Lay of the Land: Warming up to adventures Down Under

Stock picture
Stock picture

Fiona O'Connell

Apparently crime doesn't pay. But for the first Irish convicts who arrived in New South Wales, Australia, on this day back in 1791, at least punishment brought the consolation prize of warmer climes.

No wonder it's pleasure and not penance that has Paddies actually paying to go Down Under these days. Some never return, especially since social media makes it possible to stay virtually in touch with loved ones on the old sod.

But plenty more view an adventure in Australia as a rite of passage rather than a permanent destination, combining work experience with decent pay and all the exotic extras that come with long distance travel. While the savvy try to time their trip so they can steal themselves a second summer.

Like Katie, the petite powerhouse who works in the convenience store on the main street of this country town.

She is only in her early twenties but has common sense in spades and her head firmly on her shoulders. Katie always has a kind word for everyone who enters this treasure trove of trivia, no matter whether she's busy stocking shelves, buttering breakfast rolls or serving ice-cream sundaes to kids who seem to think we're enjoying Australia's current temperatures.

But right now, Katie is "all over the place, trying to get sorted" before she heads to Australia for a month's break. A major part of her preparation is not what she's packing but leaving behind: PJ and his Mrs Mutt, Phoebe; along with their three daughters, Maxi, Rose and Phoenix, who Katie also adopted when it became clear that nobody else was going to offer them a home.

And forget Mary with her lonesome lamb, for Katie also has two fleecy friends, Sean and Shirley, along with a cat called Thomas and 13-year-old Toby, the geriatric goldfish.

At least her boss, Catherine, understands the fussing for the voyage, for some of her children have been living in Australia for years.

But it's not just young guns that can hack the considerable hike involved in getting there - as Catherine discovered some years ago when her then 80-year-old mother asked if she would accompany her on a visit to see her two sisters, who were both nuns.

Catherine agreed, thinking she was joking. But the next day her mother started looking into flights and visas. Till next thing Catherine knew, they were fastening their seat belts and on their way to the other side of the world.

The aunts promised to spoil them and offered free accommodation. No wonder Catherine had fantasies of hanging out in hammocks and eating Bounty bars for breakfast.

Which was a far cry from the convent dormitory that awaited her, single beds separated from each other by what looked like hospital curtains.

Leaving Catherine feeling like she was doing time, instead of having a good one.

And guilty of being very glad to escape back home.

Sunday Independent

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