Thirty years on
Nilantha Ratnayake (OW1987) reflects on the success of Wesley’s Sri Lankan exchange program.
Being back at Wesley after 30 years, with my wife Dayanthi and daughter Dharini, was wonderful and nostalgic. I returned to Sri Lanka from Wesley at the end of December 1986 to complete my final year of high school at Trinity College in 1987. In 1990 I had the opportunity to be back at Wesley to play in the cricket match for Old Wesley Collegians against the First XI. While returning home was great, Wesley and Melbourne were always on my mind throughout 1987 and beyond.
Looking back, I truly appreciate the amazing love, care and friendship I received throughout my stay at Wesley. The families that took care of me, Dr and Mrs Rawling (parents of Tim (OW1987)), Mr and Mrs De Lacy (parents of Richard (OW1986)), Russel Geddes, and Rodney and Norma Geddes, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for opening up your homes to a complete stranger and providing me the best of everything along with all the continuous encouragement and emotional support I needed to succeed. All of you, along with my teachers and coaches, were true role models and had a massive impact on me and my outlook on life after Wesley. I also learned a great deal beyond academic matters and sport from my teachers and coaches at Wesley, to whom I’m very grateful. I realised how valuable and insightful those interactions were when I was at university.
To all my friends and teammates at Wesley and their parents who supported me and treated me with kindness, I truly appreciate all your support. Although I didn’t know it at the time, looking back now, I realise that the vast breadth of knowledge and experiences I gained from my stay at Wesley was what laid the foundation for my next phase upon my return to Trinity and then to the University in Philadelphia.
Although my stay at Wesley was less than 12 months, the experiences I gained were embedded in me and made the difference in propelling me to amazing heights upon my return to Sri Lanka and Trinity College.
Apart from being No 1 in the country over 400m in Under 19, I continued my cricket and played rugby as the wing three quarter for the First XV team, which remains to date the last unbeaten league and knock-out championship team Trinity has produced.
In February 1988 the first Youth Under 19 Cricket World Cup was held in Australia. I was not selected to represent Sri Lanka’s Under 19s, but was lucky enough to be selected to tour Zimbabwe with the Sri Lanka A team during the same time. I was honored to be selected to represent the Sri Lanka national team to tour Sharjah in 1989 and then Australia in 1989/1990 for the Test and one-day Tri Series between Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Australian team was captained by Allan Border and the Pakistan team was captained by Imran Khan.
Upon conclusion of the tour, I was kept back in Melbourne for further training under Frank Tyson.
Although I was the youngest in the Sri Lanka team at the time, all the tremendous experiences I gained on and off the field during this period molded my mental outlook to face complex situations with relative calm.
I gave up cricket early in 1991 due to lack of international cricket for Sri Lanka at the time along with heightened terrorist activities unfolding in the country. I left for Philadelphia to begin my Bachelor’s degree, followed by an MBA, and remained there until mid-1998.
I met my wife Dayanthi in the winter of 1995 in Sweden and we’ve been happily married for 21 years. Upon returning from Philadelphia in 1998, I’ve been in the apparel manufacturing business, exporting clothing to Europe, the UK and the USA.
My 2019 visit to Melbourne was special. It was the first time my wife and daughter experienced Australia. We’ve travelled to many cities and countries over the years, but meeting the families that hosted me, visiting the art gallery, dining out by the Yarra River and visiting Wesley made them fall in love with Melbourne. It’s now their favourite city! In fact, my daughter Dharini was so impressed with Wesley, she’s been consistently asking us to allow her to complete her final year there!
I was truly overwhelmed by the warm welcome back to Wesley by Jack Moshakis (OW1973) and Ian Thomas (OW1982). The visit to Wesley was topped off with a fortuitous meeting with the new Principal Nick Evans (OW1985), who was a student at Wesley the year before I arrived and whom I had met on a few occasions during my school year in 1986. I couldn’t be happier that Wesley has found a leader such as Nick to take it forward.
Wishing everyone the very best. Hoping to be back in Melbourne soon.
Nilantha Ratnayake (OW1987) pictured at centre, with his daughter Dharini at left and wife Dayanthi at right, standing proudly in front of his name on the Honour Boards at the St Kilda Road Campus