It took me time to settle in Sydney, but now I’ve built a life here
I would have been incredulous if I’d seen my future as a teenager in Belfast
Jonathan Drennan with his fiancée Christina, who he met in Sydney.
When I left my dad at Belfast City Airport en route to Sydney four years ago, we hugged briefly, in that awkward way that Irish father and sons are wont to do. Both of us knew we wouldn’t see each other for a long time. Shortly before boarding the plane, he texted me; he had to go to the car as we were saying goodbye, as he was in tears, and now so was I.
The song that had played in the car on the way to the airport in the rain was apt. “Everybody’s Talking” by the Four Tops:
“I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Thru’ the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backing off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone.”
My decision to move to Sydney was in many ways a foolish one. I had relatives and friends in Melbourne, but I was blinded by the sunny allure of the Harbour City. In my naivety, I felt Sydney would offer me a fresh start, and I would easily fall into a new rhythm of friendship and work, as I had previously in Dublin and London.
But my start in Sydney was lonely and inauspicious. I woke up every morning in search of work, and sat in interviews trying to sell my skills in a country where nobody knew or cared who I was, or what I had done. I also had no social network, and sought some sort of solace in bookshops. I vividly remember standing in a draughty bookshop in Sydney’s Central Station, flicking through an old biography of the Belfast-born novelist Brian Moore, who had made his fortune in Canada and the United States.
Progress was very slow to come, but it did happen eventually. I made friends, and found myself playing Australian Football and working in a job I liked. The years tended to go by that bit quicker then. Now, I think back to the scared young man in the Central Station bookshop and feel sympathy; I want to assure him things will get better.
Today, I oversee media and communications for the Australian Football League for New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. As I drive into work by Sydney Cricket Ground every day, without fail I always think back to my childhood in Ballyhackamore in Belfast, and how incredulous I would have found my future as a teenager.
Australian Football is a game unique to Australia, and away from the heartlands of Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, it is growing in popularity across the nation. It makes me proud to see the Irish heritage within the game, and the contributions that Irish players have made in shaping it. Tadgh Kennelly in Sydney via Kerry, and the late, great Jim Stynes in Melbourne via Dublin, are very much part of the fabric of this unique game, far from home.
On paper, life is good. I have a beautiful fiancée who I met in Sydney, and can work in a sport that I love. I miss my family greatly, and I hope one day to return to Europe to be that bit closer to them before it’s too late.
The young man who arrived in Sydney nervously four years ago has evolved into someone with more secure foundations. But he’ll never stop missing the people he has left behind.