By Gregory Stanton, weekender magazine
Chris Dowding appears uncomfortable as we sit down for a Guinness. My pint disappears quickly while he clutches his, taking small sips. Perched precariously on a bar stool, this Marcoola resident puts his unease down to his persona and his profession.
“I was good at maths and not good at dealing with people,” revealing why he chose engineering as a career. “You sit in a cubicle pumping out designs and calculations. Not surprisingly, you don’t go anywhere with that attitude.”
In short, it was not the most exciting or glamorous life. After marrying in 2001 though, wife Kerryn, who had a more adventurous spirit, was able to conquer his resistance and persuade Chris to move to Dublin for work. “I was disappointed with where I was going,” he says with a grimace. “I didn’t seem to be on much of a career path. I always seemed to get frustrated and come up against this brick wall. What attracted me to Ireland was the sense of fun. I’m a serious person and I thought that would be a great experience. It was chaotic at first.”
However, the spontaneity and vitality of the Irish changed him forever. “I started to realise it was about me and my attitude,” he explains. “I was dealing with the same s…, different country. I had a epiphany. A lots of guys there [Ireland] live for the moment and I wasn’t.”
Born in Nambour in 1972, Chris grew up on a farm in Redland Bay, south of Brisbane. Rounded out by brothers Lachlan and Andrew, the trio had to make their own fun – clay bomb wars around the dam, making corrugated canoes and creating BMX jumps. Yet introversion was never far away. As a boy, Chris found solace in reading adventures such as the Famous Five.
Not surprisingly, he has turned his own adventure into a travel memoir. The 36-year-old’s Irish experiences are the subject of his first book, a Few Drops short of a Pint.
Trying to do as the Irish do, and labelling his one attempt to play Gaelic football as disastrous, Chris has pierced together history, research, anecdotes and his personal journey into a narrative about the Irish people and his new-found awakening.
“I think there had always been a need to get a story out in some way,” says Chris, who is working on his second book, about Britain. “I wrote emails home and wanted to give them [his friends and family] a sense of what it was like – rather than the usual ‘We went here’ and ‘We did this’. And I tried to make it funny.”
While living in the land of blarney, Chris’ usual serious, introverted nature gave way to a newly-discovered sense of expression, which included a drunken rendition of Waltzing Matilda in the middle of a pub. Yet he counts his visit to Belfast and feeling the “tense anger” as the most revealing experience. And he sees the quiet resentment of Belfast reflected in current social trends in the long dark shadow of the events of 9/11. “I see today we’re fortressing ourselves and we’re headed for trouble,” he laments.
However, while not avoiding the dark side of the Irish character, Chris also explores the humour. An elderly woman going the wrong way around a roundabout, happily waving to other commuters, and the traffic jam causes by a man stopped in the middle of the road to talk to a passing friend are among his [Chris’] anecdotes. “ I plain refused to drive through Dublin in my uptight state,” he says. Chris also points to the ominous national figures that indicate 58 per cent of motor accidents occur during the day, in high visibility conditions, with dry weather.
His travel experiences have taught Chris much about himself and he now revels in the chance to create and construct – with his outlook more hopeful – as director and engineer at Tod Consulting in Noosa. “As an engineer, you’re not supposed to write anything interesting,” he jokes. “But life is about now, so I have a balance in my viewpoint.” To this end, accepting risk and making the most of opportunities is a large part of Chris’ life. It’s the reason for his book, which had the dubious working title of Dreaming of Sunshine.
“The book is a willingness to look at the good and the bad,” he explains. “It looks at the dark side of the Irish character and looks at my own character. It’s got a journey that is a message of hope for anyone feeling down about their life.”
And yes, he plans another Irish trip: “I feel comfortable there. It’s like another home.”