I’ve recently exhausted my current Netflix favourites – Narcos, House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black – and had to return to ordinary TV in desperation for something to watch of an evening. Flicking through the channels the other night (good Lord no, not another episode of The Voice of Ireland) I was surprised to see how many Australian programmes are running on some of the more random satellite channels.
There’s Border Security, of course, Home & Away and Bondi Rescue. But there’s also Australian Masterchef, My Kitchen Rules, Australia’s Got Talent, The Block, Wanted Down Under (house hunters apparently, not criminals). It’s almost like being back on my old Australian Foxtel again – not an experience I particularly miss.
One particularly shiny gem to come to RTE lately is Garda Down Under. You guessed it; former gardaí who got sick of working in the rain and who have instead joined the Western Australia police force. I hate to admit it, but it’s quite compelling.
Love them or hate them, popular shows such as Border Security and Bondi Rescue tend to form the basis for a lot of Irish people’s perception of Australia: A. It’s beachy. B. Customs officers and cops are pretty fierce.
Actually I wish I’d known the latter when I first came to Australia on holiday at the age of 18 and mistakenly ticked ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Do you have any illegal drugs or firearms in your possession?’ Man, that caused a lot of hassle.
The thing is, apart from TV shows, what Ireland knows about Australia is mostly through the eyes of our emigrants and – inevitably – from when they make it on the news when they get harmed or into trouble.
No one over here was aware of the term ‘one punch attack’ until a spate of young Irish men became involved in such incidents. Rightly or wrongly, Australia is now viewed as a much more violent place than it would have been a few years ago.
I’m often asked if I felt ‘safe’ over there and my answer is always yes. I was lucky. I never had any kind of negative experiences in my nightlife In Australia. In fact, the only one that came close to a fight was with a drunk and aggressive guy from Northern Ireland, not an Aussie.
I took precautions of course, like anyone else. I wouldn’t venture out on the streets in Coogee on my own on a weekend night as it could get a bit rough. I got taxis home. My job as a reporter took me to a lot of the more unsavoury suburbs of Sydney and I covered some incredibly violent court cases, but I personally never really felt unsafe.
Since returning home to Dublin, I’ve had more unpleasant encounters with random strangers spitting abuse in the streets than I ever did in Sydney.
Unfortunately, Australia is also still viewed by many Irish as macho and chauvinistic, sexist even. Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech was widespread and it is still remembered. Friends often ask me if I ever encountered sexism over there. The question always brings me back to when I was working as a temp when I first arrived in Australia and a bunch of businessmen in suits leered at me and discussed the ‘nice view’. Ugh. That was pretty confronting. It gave me a bad opinion of Australia from the outset and put me on my guard, but, luckily, nothing like that ever happened again. Perhaps the country has moved on since 2008, although Gillard’s speech would suggest otherwise.
Events in Australia that I always think will really interest Irish people tend not to make a splash. The tragic Parramatta police shooting was just another small piece of world news as far as Ireland was concerned. But when a drunk naked Irish man allegedly walked into a Maroubra house, everyone over here was talking about it.
The day Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott, I was clicking refresh on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website all day to find out what was happening. But I honestly don’t remember it making the news headlines on RTE that night. No one here really cared. Fair enough, I suppose. As one friend said, “Sure the politicians are always at that over there, aren’t they?”