'I’d been away from Ireland for 17 years first time round, but once I’d returned then, I thought I was home for good – before the global financial crisis changed that', writes Joe Walsh, former managing director of Galway airport and now based in Melbourne where he is project director at Beca
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Author: Joe Walsh, BE Civil Engineering, is project director at Beca where he leads airfield project delivery for Melbourne airport. He was formerly managing director of Galway airport

I’d been away from Ireland for 17 years first time round, but once I’d returned then, I thought I was home for good – before the global financial crisis changed that. So it was with a heavy heart when I left home for the second time in November 2011.

But now I’m in my fourth year in a fantastic country, Australia – and I have certainly found a new place to call home, which, when I left, I didn’t think that was possible.

Saying goodbye to my dad on the farm this time was one of the most difficult parts; in classic Irish father son fashion we don’t deal with the emotions that well and certainly don’t tell our parents enough how much we love them.

I owe so much to my parents in that they both gave me the solid foundations to grow and develop, to work hard and be respectful of others.

My mother was taken from us well before her time and was an inspiration for me and a day doesn’t go by where I not reflecting or thinking of her in some way or asking her for support.

Growing up in Portumna, Melbourne was a far off place where my dad’s older brother, Michael John, had emigrated to in the 1950s to then join the Victoria Police Force, never to return home and again in typical Irish fashion to lose contact once their mother had passed away.

Unfortunately he passed away in the 1990s and had no family of his own, so a reconnection wasn’t possible.

So Melbourne had a family connection and it was going be the start of a new chapter.

Being brought into the Beca family and working on Hobart airport


As soon as I landed I was brought in to the Beca family, as an employee-owned company with some 3,000 staff its core values of tenacity, care, enjoyment and partnering resonated with me.

They gave me a blank canvas and several opportunities were presented to me in terms of my role, with the rider of getting the best fit for me and consequently Beca.

As a senior member of the airport’s team my first task was to lead the runway overlay project at Hobart airport, Tasmania.

I was in the Australia less than a month and this was a great introduction to the business and allowed me to bring my approach to project delivery.

The project was a success and gave me a great insight in to working in the Australian airport sector. Tasmania is a beautiful state and Hobart certainly gave me a real Galway feel.

I’ve had incredible exposure within the business and with key clients like Melbourne airport.

Platform to develop airport’s business and delivering significant infrastructure projects


Beca have given me the platform to develop the airport’s business and in doing so delivering some significant infrastructure projects along the way. I love working with a talented group of people from all corners of the world and bringing my personal stamp to their continued development and progression in the business.

My partner Pooi Ling, an Australian citizen, campaigned for years on all things Australian and had finally settled in to our life in Craughwell and our lovely home and dogs.

I made my decision to emigrate in May 2011; in my then-role as managing director of Galway airport I had a meeting with the transport minister who informed us of the government’s decision and effectively a complete change of policy to no longer support Galway airport.

Our world changed that day and the future of Galway airport without that essential support was determined. It had a huge impact on our valued team at the airport.

My five years there were a significant chapter in my career and life which I will never forget.

We rehomed one of our dogs and shipped Tory our treasured Irish Water Spaniel to Melbourne, via Belfast, London, Singapore and Sydney, having got him from a breeder in Clarecastle we brought some of Clare with us too.

It was said to me before I left that a pet offered a great way of adjusting to a new life, I didn’t know how having a pet would affect us getting established in Melbourne so was somewhat apprehensive.

It was the best decision we made and I certainly couldn’t agree more with the view on helping to settle.

I changed my early morning walks on the old N6 in to Craughwell to early morning walks in central Melbourne, established a routine very quickly which helped me deal with my change in life.

Tory suffered anxiety on being left and consequently he follows me everywhere now and is constantly watching for me, which I love.

We very recently bought a house in Geelong, the second largest city in Victoria, with a population of circa 200,000 and everything a city of its size has to offer. It’s a great place to live and within short drives to the coastal towns of Portarlington, Barwon Heads, Queenscliff and Geelong. I commute daily to either Melbourne or Melbourne airport if not travelling interstate, this is my time to read or listen to music and get ready for the day ahead or wind down from the day gone.

Overall and despite the distance factor when I miss being close to family, I consider Australia my second home and have a tremendous sense of belonging here – and the desire to make my contribution to its continued growth and success following in the footsteps of all those great Irish people who have gone before us.

My next milestone will be to go for my citizenship in December this year – and then I will proudly carry an Australian passport.

This article was reproduced with kind permission of the author; the Connacht Tribune; editor Dave O’Connell; and parish notes curator Jim Hynes

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  Author: Joe Walsh, BE Civil Engineering, is project director at Beca where he leads airfield project delivery for Melbourne airport. He was formerly managing director of Galway airport I’d been away from Ireland for 17 years first time round, but once I’d returned then, I thought I was home for good...