When Briony McNamara produced her passport and announced she was leaving home for a nine-month holiday her family didn’t think she would have the nerve, reports Annie Lewis.
She only intended to travel for nine months but that itch to see the world has turned into 14 years.
Much to the amazement of her family, Briony left them behind in Queensland, Australia, and ended up in Europe 10,300 miles later.
The gulf might have been massive, but there’s been a constant theme running through her life which remains to this day – her passion for animals, although very different beasts from those she grew up with.
There can’t be many people in Portsmouth who can claim to have sat around the dinner table with a kangaroo, but Briony’s childhood Down Under included mealtimes with Joey the kangaroo and plenty of cuddles with koala bears.
Now, the 42-year-old pet lover leads an unparalleled life in Wickham, raising her two children but still devoting her time to animals in her Southsea shop, Busy-B Pet Care.
‘I grew up on a small farm in Roma, central Queensland, and was born in Brisbane,’ says Briony.
With her mother working as a veterinary nurse and her father being a fishing officer, it was hard for Briony and her siblings not to be surrounded by animals from a young age.
‘We had a kangaroo called Joey – I know not a very original name,’ laughs Briony, ‘and he used to sit with us at the kitchen table.
‘We had every animal imaginable, from possums to koalas, but my favourite was Rusty Bucket the duck.’
Five-year-old Briony became infatuated with Rusty Bucket when she picked her out at a farm.
‘She was the cutest, fluffiest little duck and I wanted her straight away. She followed me around everywhere.
‘I just love ducks. Of course dogs are amazing, but I have such a thing for ducks.’
Life in Roma was blissful for Briony, with different animals constantly by her side and every day being spent outdoors. Looking back, she says she can’t help but miss her home country at times.
When Briony’s father got a new job in Townsville, northern Queensland, the McNamara family moved away from their farm in Roma, meaning Briony had to leave beloved Rusty Bucket behind.
‘When we moved, I couldn’t take my duck. By this point, I had another boy duck too, called Drake.
‘It was so sad but I released them into a duck pond. I knew they would be well looked after but that was the one of the biggest moments when I felt a real sense of loss. I cried literally the whole way to Townsville.’
Kangaroo appearances continued to be a recurrent theme at her new home and, although it might amaze the rest of us, Briony explains it was simply a ‘part of life’.
She adds: ‘In Townsville we lived near a main road and a lot of kangaroos would be hit by cars. My mum, being my mum, would go out and check their pouches, so we adopted a lot of little grey kangaroos.’
After training as a chef and working full time, Briony had an epiphany one day, which led her to leave home and travel thousands of miles across the globe.
‘I woke up one day and told my dad I was going overseas.
‘My dad kept on saying “oh yeah Briony, as if”, but I booked my ticket that day.
‘All my family were shocked but I got on the plane and came to the UK.’
Leaving behind all she had ever known also meant saying goodbye to Jake the Great Dane.
‘He was the loveliest, slobberiest dog I have ever had. He moved in with my mum, but I was so sad to leave him.’
At 27 Briony moved to Limerick, Ireland, and worked as a chef before travelling to London, and then to Portsmouth.
‘I was only supposed to stay in the UK for nine months but I just loved it.’
Briony met her partner, Andrew, while they were both doing temporary work in Portsmouth.
‘I had two friends who moved down to Portsmouth. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was in London at the time, so I joined them. I met Andrew here.
‘Before me, Andrew didn’t really have a lot to do with animals, but now he doesn’t have much of a choice,’ laughs Briony.
‘He loves them now, I think his favourite is a Yorkshire terrier.
‘We used to look after and walk two Yorkies called Alfie and Bilbo and he grew to love them.’
Briony and Andrew have two children, Florence, two, and Sullivan, eight months, and their toothless, one-eyed whippet, Spaghetti Western.
‘When we got Spaghetti, I wanted to call him Creme Brulée because of his colouring.
‘Andrew suggested Clint Eastwood, from the Spaghetti Western films, so I suggested just Spaghetti and it stuck,’ she recalls.
Despite building her life and a thriving business in Portsmouth, Briony will never forget the land of her birth.
‘I miss my family. My sister, Kylie, and brother, Paul. Both have kids so it’s sad I’m not there all of the time. My dad, John, is an amazing man. I wouldn’t be who I am without him.
‘I feel so at peace back home but I love it here too.’
Briony keeps herself busy with her new shop, Busy-B Pet Care, in Fawcett Road, Southsea. The eight-year-old business sells home-made treats, locally-sourced pet accessories and even wedding dresses and tuxedos for pampered pooches to be a part of their owners’ special days.
‘My business is about being part of the community.
‘There’s no better way to spend your day than being surrounded by animals,’ Briony laughs.