We’re each linked to the Western Bulldogs in our own unique and special way. Humans of the West explores our people’s connections to the red, white and blue. Here is the story of Jen Sholakis…
For Jen Sholakis, a Castlemaine-based drummer who has played with prominent artists such as Jen Cloher, The Orbweavers and Courtney Barnett, footy and music have been part of life for as long as they can remember. Jen’s love of the Bulldogs is generational, the Sholakis family dyed-in-the-wool Doggies since their grandfather arrived in Melbourne from Cyprus. As it happened, his arrival was in 1954, coinciding with Footscray’s premiership success, and a Bulldog-loving dynasty was born.
Growing up, Jen’s other great love was music. Asked about some of their earliest musical memories, they recall a couple of 1980s classics. “I remember hearing ‘Echo Beach’ by Martha and the Muffins and loving it. And I loved Olivia Newton John.” Xanadu? “Yes, and ‘Physical’.”
Jen’s musical tastes then took quite a turn. “My next big love was Bon Jovi”. Sholakis was inspired to take up an instrument. Their first choice was drums, but this idea was vetoed by their parents, concerned about the noise they would make.
A compromised was reached and Jen took up guitar. Eventually, though, “in around 2000, I think”, they got their first drumkit, and the rest is musical history.
Music is an artform of emotional highs and lows, and Jen Sholakis certainly experienced their share of those a passionate Bulldog. “The memories of all those preliminary final losses, starting with the one in 1985 against Hawthorn loom large. “I still remember Leigh Matthews ruining it for us in 1985.”
All of those painful memories were offset in the most wonderful way possible in 2016, as the Dogs surged through September to win the premiership. Sholakis was at the MCG with Bulldogs mates and family, including dad Michael, to witness the drought breaking.
“We got there at 9am. We only had standing room tickets and I’m not tall so I wanted to get there early to make sure I could see.”
It was well worth the wait.
In more recent time Jen has experienced highs and lows of a different kind. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the music industry as hard as, if not more than, any other. It’s been a very difficult couple of years, with gig after gig, tour after tour, pencilled in and then cancelled.
There appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, though. Sholakis has returned to the studio to record new material with Jen Cloher, and they’re cautiously optimistic of playing some live festivals soon.
In the meantime, footy remains a strong focus. Sholakis has been passionate Bulldogs Women’s fan since the AFLW was founded. In fact Jen was playing the game long before. “I played for St Albans with Debbie Lee as my captain!”
Since then, they have also played charity matches for the RRR Megahertz in the Community Cup and the Rockatoos as part of the Castlemaine based MainFM "Main Game" fundraiser.
As it is with Darebin, diversity and inclusion is a string focus of the Mount Alexander Shire-based team, and Pride Round means a lot to Jen Sholakis.
“Absolutely. It’s such a great way to support and celebrate the LGBTIQA+ community and gender diversity, particularly in light of Darcy Vescio’s recent social media posts” [in which they identified as non-binary].
Though the Bulldogs Pride Game against Carlton this week has been sadly postponed, Jen is looking forward to being back at an AFLW game cheering on the mighty Bulldogs very soon.
With a bit of luck, it won’t be long before they’re watching the Bulldogs win and playing the drums loud and proud.