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Irish exposed if Australian boom starts to shudder

Blue-collar Irish workers may be earning up to €100,000 a year – but are Australia’s fortunes beginning to falter, wonders Eoin Hahessy

Australia is what Ireland once was. A nation obsessed with property. Newspapers bulge with glossy property sections; television is littered with DIY and home improvement shows.

It is simply impossible to plot a route through MelbourneSydney, Brisbane or Perth that doesn’t involve bumping into a swarm of construction workers or ‘tradies’ building the latest addition to an Australian skyline.

In a nation where median home values have increased by 86 per cent in real terms from $259,000 in 2001 to $482,000 in 2010, property prices still reserve a place in the conversational Rolodex at dinner parties.

After 22 years of successive economic growth without a sniff of arecession, Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

“The decade to 2010 was one of considerable growth in the wealth portfolios of Australian households, with average wealth increasing in real terms, from $495,000 in 2002 to $684,000 in 2010,” says University of Melbourne Associate Professor Roger Wilkins. Astute financial management, geological luck but significantly China were primary reasons why the world’s forgotten continent has seen its wealth surge.

China gorged on Australia’s natural resources, primarily its iron ore, a vital ingredient for steel and a building block for impatient industrial nations determined to influence the rest of the world.

Stretching back 150 years, mining has always been closely tied to Australia’s economic fortunes. In this last decade, however, Australia experienced a mining boom.

Modern technology, entrepreneurial determination and world demand conspired to produce sprawling vast mines in deeply barren, sun-drenched regions across Australia. Surrounded by red soils in temperatures that surpass 40 degrees, workers, many of whom are Irish, earn an average of $2,000 (€1,300) a week extracting minerals such as iron ore and coal before supplying hungry world markets. It is a desolate life and a simple formula but one that reaps handsome dividends.

One man who has had a ringside seat from the very beginning of Australia’s mining boom has been Rathfarnham native Mark Keogh.


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