I talked myself into an Australian career with the gift of the gab
Working abroad: Cormac Sheehan, digital marketing specialist, ethicaljobs.com.au
Cormac Sheehan: ‘Australia has been good to me - there’s a spirit of adventure here that’s liberating.’
Rewind eight years: it’s August 2008 and the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition are on the verge of reluctantly admitting that Ireland is in recession. Having just completed an Master’s in English from UCD, my work prospects are grim. My then girlfriend (now wife) is living in London. When I visit each month I find the city cold, alienating and aggressive, but other options are fast disappearing. I’m making a few euro doing freelance work as a music journalist, and doing a whole lot more unpaid writing on food, travel and book reviews, all with “foot-in-door” intentions. But nothing’s going anywhere. I need to get out of Ireland. But to where? To what? How?
I reluctantly sign on the dole, while secretly doing a month-long intensive TEFL course in International House on Camden Street. It’s against the social welfare rules but I don’t see another exit. I finish up and make a rash decision to move to Mexico, touring there playing guitar with a band for a month. Afterwards I find sporadic work teaching, but it’s a struggle. One could not call it a success.
An ultimatum arrives from the girlfriend and in June 2009 I find myself living in Brixton. I spend weeks traversing the city by bicycle, leaving hundreds of CVs into schools. Competition for jobs is fierce but I eventually find work at one of London’s many “visa factories” - schools ostensibly set up to facilitate entry into Britain. I remain there a year and a half, barely surviving on my wage, at the mercy of London’s astronomical cost of living. Neither my own nor my girlfriend’s colleagues are aware that we live in a squat; she works as a nurse in King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, newly qualified and desperate for experience. As a second winter in London begins, I can’t take it anymore. I issue an ultimatum of my own: Australia.
We depart in December 2010.
The first few months are hard, our relationship strained. But slowly, things improve.
All through my time in London, I’d harboured fantasies around marketing. I didn’t want to go back to college - not that I could even afford it. So I continued doing underpaid freelance journalism and PR work, constantly deconstructing ads and critiquing campaigns. All I knew is that I didn’t see a future in teaching.
The money we’d saved in London ran out fast, Melbourne’s exorbitant rents swallowing it in chunks. The girlfriend found sporadic nursing agency shifts - a tough gig - while discovering her hard-earned qualifications were not valued in Australia. I get the odd job in the markets through friends, doing casual jobs filling in on veg stalls in various parts of the city.
And then it comes - the mythical “lucky break”.
A friend gets me a job in a fast-growing organic fairtrade chocolate company of about a dozen people, working on the factory floor. The owner is interested in my MA, and within a couple of weeks I’m a production supervisor. Nobody is doing their marketing, writing or social media in a coherent fashion, and I’m lucky the owner has an enthusiastic open-door policy. I approach him with an idea for an email newsletter, and before long I’m in a dual role, supervising production and moonlighting as their digital marketer in between tasks.
It turns out I’m fairly good at it. People seem to find it mysterious, developing a voice and growing social media platforms; to me it is second nature. I have a particularly Irish talent for “the gift of the gab” and essentially this is all that it is, especially marketing of the digital variety. Listening to what your customers want, interacting with them in a genuine way and using their interests to guide your decisions.
In 2011, myself and the girlfriend get married. She finds a high-octane job she loves in the emergency department of St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
The business takes off. Within a year I’m in a management position, well paid and loving life. Soon I need to hire staff. Two years after taking the role the company employs more than quadruple the number of staff as when I started. This is Australia and opportunities are abundant. We embark on a co-promotion with a fast growing socially progressive jobsearch website, EthicalJobs.com.au, and in 2015 I end up being hired by them as digital marketing and engagement specialist.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. There isn’t a day when I don’t thank my lucky stars. And yet I still miss Ireland all the time, my friends, family and the craic. I briefly joined a hurling team, Melbourne Shamrocks, but it was on the wrong side of town and I couldn’t make it to training sessions too often. My intention is to get home for at least a month every two years, and so far it’s worked out.
Australia has been good to me - there’s a spirit of adventure here that’s liberating, despite the typical “tall poppy syndrome” which is strikingly reminiscent of Ireland’s parochialism. I can’t imagine an ethical jobsearch website getting the time of day in Dublin, never mind someone like me getting that elusive foot in the door. But there you are. I’d be lying if I said I don’t hope to one day return to Ireland, but who knows what the future holds? For now I’m just enjoying it one day at a time.