My job is to sing. I am not quiet when I sing. My job is to show up vulnerably naked and hand my highest truth over to you and whoever else is there to listen. I feel honoured to have had you all listen this year, hold me in your space and given your hearts back. That space is truly sacred and I can no longer continue holding the court of that sacred space without acknowledging that I have been apologetically quiet. My silence has been for your comfort, but I am slowly fading inside and you don’t deserve dim after all the light you have shone on me.
Today I’m choosing to be unapologetically noisy and shine a big bold light that I solemnly swear, I will never allow to dim again. Today I’m telling my truth.
Whenever anyone asks me why I moved to Australia, I pause, there is an uncomfortable hesitation. Do I tell them I moved here because I wanted an adventure? Do I tell them I moved here because I was tired of surfing cold Atlantic waves? Do I tell them I moved here to flee the Global Financial Crisis sailing with the thousands of other Irish youth that Ireland let haemorrhage from her shores? After my pause, I normally tell a combination of those truths in a way that people won’t ask any more questions. Because all of those have an element of truth, but they are not THE truth - that truth has crippled my tongue and been too hard to unravel into words until now.
I was estranged from my husband as a result of something that is all too familiar for women all over the world, regardless of culture. My eldest and I were the victims of domestic violence.
I was pregnant with my second child to him and a court order was in place for no contact with him. I was rebuilding, and as I was nearing the end of the pregnancy, a letter came in the door. He was sorry, he wanted to change… he wanted to be a dad. So, I did what I thought was best for my children and gave him a second chance to be the father he said he wanted to be. The catch though was leaving Ireland and leaving the stress which he felt had cause him to behave the way he did. Leaving the GFC and its looming black cloud. He wanted to surf, he wanted sunshine. He wanted a new easy going life. I gave up my job, I gave up my friends, I gave up my family, I gave up our house by literally handing the keys of our newlywed home into the bank and I gave him a chance.
He left for Australia and we followed him out here three months later with only pictures of a little town outside of Melbourne to go on. All I could translate from the pictures was that there was sunshine, waves, and BBQs ahead of us. We knew no one here, but I believed in the Australian dream. I believed he could make something of himself here, make himself happy and that his happiness would trickle like gold speckles into our mending family. I bought into the Australian Dream. For the first year it was a dream. He was happy, I’d never seen him so happy. He loved work, our little ones, the beach. We all surfed and had BBQs and for the first time I felt like we were a family and we were healing together. After a year, the novelty must have worn off and the Australian dream quickly turned into a nightmare. It started to go back to the way it had been, just little things at the start. By then I was pregnant with our third child and I felt I had no choice, I had to make this marriage work. I was on the other side of the world and everything was upside down and I poured all that fear and confusion into determination. I couldn’t see any other way out than to keep fighting to stay in. I hadn’t told any of our new friends about our past so how could I explain these little things that were happening. My family were too far away and too worried about me. If I mentioned the little things they would think they were big things and they would have told me to get on a plane. I didn’t know how, or where to turn for help for the little things in Australia. The little things grew into slightly bigger things. He was unhappy. No matter how many times we moved, how many new jobs he got, or what I said or did, his unhappiness loomed. Then the little things grew into really big things and my determination was finally defeated. My determination was coming at the detriment to my children. I couldn’t ignore that. Then came the intervention orders, the courts, the child protection again but this time with a new country’s logo at the top of my stacks of papers. I was now drowning in the Australian Nightmare. This is the nightmare that eulogises perpetrators in the small talk in small towns, or in big talk across our national news headlines…. “He just snapped” “He was a good man” “He was stressed”. This nightmare silences victims in the court rooms as they tremble to the dance of the system. It curses the victim for not leaving earlier. It undermines the victims for not having collected forensic evidence whilst hiding behind closed family doors of hope, love and forgiveness. This is the same nightmare that convicts the perpetrator without actually giving them a conviction. Then it hands the victim a piece of paper to protect in one hand and another piece of paper that over rides that protection to the other hand. This same nightmare splashes our news feeds full of the tears of families left broken each week as another woman is lost to the fatal hands of her partner.
My nightmare was the nightmare of a single mum in a country that wasn’t my own. Where do I turn? What do I do? How can I go home? I am not safe here, how will I be safe at home? When you are in the middle of court proceedings one can’t just transfer countries. If the thirst for evidence in Australia can’t be quelled, how will Ireland soak any of it in? I had a job, I had amazing friends, and a truly divine support network but I never felt so alone in dealing with such a traumatic event in a foreign country. It wasn’t home, but I couldn’t go home. Groundhog day, every day. As with many victims of domestic violence the nightmare doesn’t end when you leave. A huge part of not leaving is knowing whether you stay or leave you will be stuck dealing with them for the rest of your life. I thought I was an expert at analysing and predicting from the inside, so the safer option in my head was to remain on the inside and not alienate myself to the outer game of guessing the next attack. On the outside he is predictable in his unpredictability dragging us through court systems at his whim and at our expense. An expense that as a single mama is crippling, but more crippling is the fire of stress that creeps up my spine as I tell my story again and again hoping this time might be the last and or to see the fire dim in my babies’ eyes as they relive the trauma time and time again. On the outside the walking on eggshells dance I learned so long ago is allowed to continue, because on the outside he breaks intervention orders set by courts and police don’t act on them. On the outside police tell me to move, leave my friends and support networks, pull my insecure kids out of their securities, and go find somewhere temporary, somewhere he won’t find us. On the outside police say they will warn him but it took over 75 breaches of an intervention order, over 75 calls to the police for them to act. And when they do act, he gets a mate’s club punch to the shoulder and told to “pull your head in”. On the outside that piece of paper that took me all my courage in the world to seek out, is the thinnest most fragile piece of glass that leaves shards in me every time I try to protect myself with it. The police tell me it is in the grey area. The courts say it is black and white. And somewhere in the middle the human beings they are protecting lose their colour. So I faded, I curled up into a ball and grew smaller, left our new loving community and went into hiding to set up all over again. I pretended, again, I had chosen their little town because of some Australian dream. I didn’t tell them about the nightmare. The outside isn’t as safe is it would appear. It is tumultuous, it is a torrent of upheaval, it is a river of doubts and uncertainty coming from the deep well of the Family Court systems that are meant to protect.
Yet one day in the middle of my nightmare I dreamed a new dream. In the middle of the drones of the court appearances, the wailing of the child psychologist appointments, and the gut twisting grief of losing my old dream of the perfect family, I dreamed a new one for my real family. I dreamed of travelling around Australia with my three little beings and seeing the country. I dreamed of being on wheels so that we were safe to the unpredictable winds of our predicament and so that I could rewrite our sorrow into an adventure. I dreamed of being myself again after so many years of being lost. Being myself again meant answering that little calling that had been in me since I was little, since I watched my Dad play his heart out and sing his stories. Being myself again meant singing my own stories. I had given up that part of me when the man I loved had smashed my guitars in our front garden. The dream sunk deep then. It was dangerous, I couldn’t be a mother, a wife, a creative, a musician at the same time. But as I pulled that dream back up from deep within me, I uncurled myself a little from my ball and I dared. I dared to dream that perhaps he had sold me a lie, that I could at least try to be a musician and a mother. I had played a few songs around Australia before my nightmare truly was in effect and in those dark days it was a little beam of sun, but a cloud threatened as I realised I was facing a whole other set of obstacles. Not only was I mother, but I was now a single mama so how could I drag this dream alongside all of life’s other demands? How would my music even surface?
When one faces obstacles, one must always be surrounded by some mountain moving kick ass friends. Luckily I was surrounded by such friends at the hauling up of my dream time… and there it hit me. Buy a bus, I thought out loud. As good friends always do, they told me they had a friend with a bus. It had Tassie oak floors. I wanted that bus. The owner of the bus tried to talk me out of it… why didn’t I go for something smaller, something with power steering, something from the 1980s at least. No I was sold. The dream I had was a 1966 Bedford Freedom Bus with Tassie oak floors. So I got a loan, I got a Heavy Rigid Truck License, I packed my kids onto the bus and let them dance on the Tassie oak floors. Then, I crowdfunded an album and I decided to start living my dream. I went out to the desert and recorded my album on an epic road trip of self-healing and music creating and that desert rubble became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. The desert (although completely Un-Irish) made me feel at home for the first time in Australia. I had found my heart, my home in my own heart in the heart of this country and for the first time I felt connected to this place. The universe was lighting the way for me, as I chanced upon some amazing human beings who I get to call my band, pinching myself every time I get on stage to play my little songs with some of Australia’s finest beside me. In playing my album, my songs, my story, and sharing a bit of my Irish culture around Australia for the last year, it has made me feel even more at home and actually like I’m contributing to something here in Australia. The comradery amongst the Australia music scene is truly unique and heart affirming. I have never met a more encouraging mob. We gained an instant family all around Australia as soon as we bought that old bus and our new community literally has pushed us up some of the biggest hills of our lives.
All along our tour routes we have our musical aunties and cousins. And although I am still in a way “stuck” in Australia, I am having a damn beautiful time being stuck here. We have travelled and healed and travelled some more and little by little the story is changing. Each day we still wake up to shake off the dust from our previous nightmare, but each day a little more sparkle arrives in our dreams. This past year I have sang and played and played and sang at places I never could have dreamed of and had audiences whom have given me as much as they think I am giving them. And each of those rooms full of love and hope at the end of the night has added more sparkles to my own Australia dream. I couldn’t have dreamed of the team I have around me now. I couldn’t have dreamed of a team FULL STOP. To have management, booking agents, and a label that believes in me is incredibly humbling. I do have to pinch myself most days as we send emails back and forth and that they actually think this ‘Áine Tyrrell’ thing is a good idea! It also makes me so proud of myself for honouring that little calling I had inside me to do be brave enough to do this. And if there is one thing that my journey has taught me, it’s to always honour that voice. That little calling is who I am and who I am is my own dream not someone else’s nightmare.
A few years back as people started telling me all about these amazing festivals around Australia. I dreamed a little wish list. Each one of the ones those little wishes are on our tour itinerary this summer and I don’t take that invitation lightly. Because Mullum Festival, Woodford Folk Festival, and Cygnet Folk Festival are big and beautiful, I couldn’t sit here small and quiet anymore. I’m letting my truth ring out now and just gave myself permission to be a very loud dreamer! Hope to have you come dream with me this summer. Let’s make some noise.
*** If something in this post rings true for you and your experience or if someone you know needs help you can contact:
AUSTRALIA: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
IRELAND: Women's Aid 1800 341 900