Melbourne Beginnings: Iris Maher

Presented in partnership with Study Melbourne, this annual storytelling competition is open to all international students living and studying in Victoria. This year, entrants were invited to write or create a visual work that shares their Melbourne story.

Winners will be announced at a virtual award presentation ceremony on Thu 21 Oct. Book your place here.

Higher Education Shortlist

Far Away in Australia by Iris Maher

When we became one, there was an end in sight. Our paths would diverge drastically in a matter of months. He would stay in Ireland, and I would travel to Australia. But, as it happened, there was no ending. Our worlds collided instead of dividing. Suddenly, we were entwined and entangled with no soft ending to break our fall. We jumped into a new horizon.

This is how my story began, but this is not a story about me. It is a story about courage, compassion, and living carefree. 

“I’m tired,” I said as I slumped over our bulging suitcases in the smoking area of Tullamarine Airport.

Conor was ripe and ready for the great Antipodean adventure to begin, to brace and embrace the foreign. In fact he was more prepared than I to start my journey. I say my journey because I had a plan, and he did not. My next four years of study were mapped out. He had no map, only a hat with corkscrews dangling around its edges.

After our cigarette, we took the taxi down to St. Kilda. As we travelled, Conor questioned the driver relentlessly on an array of subjects I cannot begin to remember now. Not in the mood for conversation, I took to the window and watched.

I watched as we left the outer suburbs surrounding the airport and made our way towards the towering heights of the city. The skyscrapers gave way to glimpses of sun, sand, and sea; the vision of Australia illustrated in postcards sent home from Irish migrants past. As we travelled I reflected on the moment that brought us here…

“I’m coming with you” he announced softly as we lay on the newly acquired double bed.

“But…you just bought a bed, you can’t?!”

“If a bed is the thing stopping me from going with you, then we have bigger problems,” he said laughing at my reaction.

I was flummoxed and fretful about the sudden change of plan.

This was not the plan…

This was not my plan!

This was not any plan?

It was soon decided that he was definitely going and no man, mountain, or messiah was going to stop him.

It was November, I was set to leave in February. A short space of time to start making the necessary arrangements. While I mourned the life I felt I was marooning, he rejoiced for the new life he was receiving.

Once we were partially settled into Australia (we had a room to sleep in at least), I could see Conor’s excitement in every action. Nothing could dampen his spirits. Armed with nothing but a smile, quite literally as he left his degree in Ireland unfinished, he quickly found a job. An awful job that he would quit two weeks before Melbourne declared its first state-wide lockdown.

“I’ll get by somehow!” he said, smiling at me.

He had unwavering faith in his courageous decision that led him to this particular predicament.

Miraculously, he found another job within a couple of months. In the liminal space between careers, he gave guitar lessons and tutored in mathematics. Yet, it was I who moaned about the shops having no toilet paper, about how wearing a mask made my glasses fog up, and about the daily cases rising instead of decreasing. My anxiety was reaching all-time highs as I began to fear leaving the house. I did not consider the slew of struggles he was facing. Possibly because he faced them, as he does everything, with a calmness. I cried inconsolably about leaving my family, he sacrificed time he could have spent looking for a job consoling.  A selflessness and compassion I fear I do not possess.

Despite my never ending and ever growing list of fears, one unusually sunny weekend in April he cajoled me into going to the beach. We packed our beach bags, donned our masks, and headed to golden sand.

I stood feeling a little chilly and glanced around at others around me. Meanwhile, Conor was stripped down and running towards the sea before I took off a single sock. His strong muscular back moving with each running jaunt. Not a single care entered his mind about the temperature of the water. Strands of his long dark hair clumped together ending in a fine point down his back as he rose from the water. Standing up suddenly and turning around, he waved erratically at me, and motioned for me to join him. I shook my head.

Instead, I lay down on a carefully placed towel, I had smoothed out the lumpy sand beforehand, and leaned back on my hands. I watched him thrashing about in the water like a child.  Reminding me of a puppy as he left the sea and bounded towards me sopping wet, giddy, and talking at a mile a minute;

“It’s gorgeous, you have to come in… The temperature is just right. Beautiful. Absolutely Beautiful….God, I love the water…I need to get a boat, should we get a boat? I miss kayaking. Or maybe a surfboard. I don’t know. Isn’t this lovely? Are you having a nice time?”

“Of course,” I answered as all anxiety left my body.

His calmness was contagious. I thought about the past few months our relationship had survived; the move to Australia, the beginning of a global pandemic, and the harsh lockdown restrictions. Each on their own was a world shattering event, yet each event he faced he met it with a shrug and a grin.

I knew before we left that Conor looked like he would fit in with his long hair often tied back loosely, and his devil may care attitude. But, it is entirely a different thing to see it in person. He belongs here.

It was my decision to move. Yet, I’m still only learning to belong, but Conor belonged long before he stepped onto the plane in Dublin airport. This is his journey much more than mine. I am happy to tag along for the ride.