‘It’s bonding to land somewhere neither of you are familiar with and find your way’

Wild Geese: Kildare native says Melbourne is pricey but has ‘remarkable’ health system

The Melbourne suburb where Andrew Brennan lives reminds him of his hometown in Kildare. "We live on the outskirts of the city, close to the Yarra wine valley. It's the Melbourne equivalent of Leixlip, where I'm originally from."

The Asia and Australia manager for Irish company Marigot, which sells marine minerals around the globe, has been based in a lush suburb close to Australia's premier cool-climate region, which is renowned for chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon wines since 2015.

A short trip to the Far East almost 20 years ago, initiated a career spanning Asia and more recently Australasia.

After completing a BA in English, history and sociology, followed by an MA in modern history, Brennan worked as a production co-ordinator for a clothing company.

"It was 2003 and times were good in Ireland, but I wanted to search for adventure and I took a teaching position in Korea. At the time, you didn't need teacher training if you had a master's, so I planned to stay for a year. I ended up there for eight years."

At Keimyung University in Daegu, he learned Korean and became an assistant director for international affairs. "I was among the first non-Koreans to be hired to the position of full-time university staff member."

His role evolved from a secretariat for the ACUCA pan-Asian university organisation to working as an assistant to the president of the university, which saw him travel the world. "A highlight for me was bringing the president to my Maynooth University.

Connections

"It was exciting, but I wanted to further my studies and the UCD Smurfit Business School fellowship was a great way to work in Asia, while completing an MsC and getting accreditation back home.

"The 'Action Learning' course saw me introduce four Irish food and beverage companies to South Korea and Japan. Through my connections in these two countries, and my ability to speak Korean, I instigated a kind of pilot project whilst working with the Irish Embassy in Seoul, which generated economic and commercial collaborations."

His fellowship also included modules taught by professors from Harvard Business School and IMD, Switzerland. Once qualified in 2012, Brennan returned to Ireland, where he got a role with Marigot, the Cork-based company, which harvests seaweed off the coast of Iceland.

"The company didn't have anyone to develop the market in Asia, so I headed off with my backpack to Bangkok and established a base for myself there. I developed a business for their marine multi-mineral called Aquamin, being responsible for brand development and management and managing a wide network of distributors throughout the region.

"It was a great time, and because I was travelling so much, Bangkok never lost its novelty. But after meeting my wife and experiencing a military coup in Thailand, we considered our future and decided we wanted to raise a family elsewhere."

The couple moved to Melbourne. Brennan stayed with Marigot, and he is now responsible for the company's group products in the Australian and New Zealand market.

Embracing

“Melbourne is very cosmopolitan and embracing of other cultures. But it’s expensive and, like everywhere else, people find it very difficult to get on the property ladder. We got very lucky, because we bought a house here four years ago during a mini dip in the market. It’s about an hour outside the city, where a temperate climate prevails and the surroundings are green and mountainous.

“It’s different to the clichéd Australian experience of beaches and sunshine.

“Obviously it’s quiet, but we have a young child and the local schools are very good and, having experienced it first hand, the health system is remarkable.”

Australia was in the news during the pandemic, due to strict lockdowns and travel bans, which Brennan says his family felt the full force of. “My wife had to watch her father’s funeral at home in Thailand on Zoom. Like so many other people, we missed two years of milestones and seeing our friends and families.”

“Looking back, you wonder how you got through it, but we did and now things are open again, I’ll be heading home for a wedding in July and we’ll be going to Thailand later in the year, so my wife’s family can meet our two-year-old for the first time.”

Going home from Australia as a family unit is difficult due to the cost involved, but Brennan counts himself lucky to get to travel home for work annually. “Even though it is very far away from family, we both enjoy life here, and it’s bonding to land somewhere neither of you are familiar with and find your way. So I think we made the right choice to move to Melbourne.”

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