Six lessons in the school of hard knocks

English was one subject I truly loved at school. As a teenager, I would have three novels on the go at any given time. I enjoyed writing anything and everything – from letters to poetry, from short stories to scripts.

But by the end of year 12 I still had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. The women on both sides of my family were nurses. Even Florence Nightingale was in our family tree, my late grandmother told me.  In fact, my mother was the only one who wasn’t a nurse.

So, when I finished school I started a nursing degree. It was a Bachelor of Science. But I quickly realised I wasn’t particularly interested in science and the sight of needles made me squeamish. Nursing clearly wasn’t for me and I dropped out in first semester.

Lesson 1: Follow your heart – don’t settle for what everyone else is doing.

I traveled around Australia for the next few years working in hospitality. It was fun, but I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.  All I knew was that I was curious and full of questions.

I was 22 when I decided to travel to India and Nepal to ‘find myself’. And I did. By a lake on the roof of the world, I decided to become a writer. I wanted to inspire others by sharing the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

Writing is such a broad profession – I had to narrow it down. What was the real job? I decided what I wanted to do was called ‘journalism’. So when I got back to Australia I wrote my first feature about an area high on the Tibetan plateau in India called Ladakh. My article was published in Nova Magazine. I was on my way.

Lesson 2: Your unique voice and perspective is your greatest asset. The truth is powerful.

I decided to go to university and study journalism. My mother has always been supportive of my choices, but I suspect the rest of my family considered it a bit of a joke. I don’t think anyone imagined I’d actually finish the degree.

I applied to go to university and was accepted. This was wonderful – except that between having my first article published and attending my first lecture I’d had a baby and was now getting a divorce. It was a challenging time to say the least.  But I was determined to pursue my dream and started full-time studies in 1998.

However, I soon learned the job prospects were fairly grim. Only eight per cent of you will work as journalists, my lecturer told a room of bright young hopefuls. We all looked around wondering who that would be. The vast majority of students were about five years younger than me and weren’t single mothers. How could I compete?

I needed a back-up plan. So I decided to do both journalism and public relations. Employment in PR was growing fast, rather than shrinking, so I figured I could go between the two.

Lesson 3: Be creative. Think about how you can use your passion and skills in other areas.

I persevered for seven years of part-time study. My son was eight years old when I graduated in 2005 – with grades that placed me within the top five per cent of Murdoch University students.

Lesson 4: Those who believe they are less likely to succeed may overcompensate by working harder and can achieve surprising results.

Our lecturers encouraged us to move to small country towns to break into journalism. So I moved to Darwin the day after my graduation ceremony.

It took eight months of constant phone calls, emails and visits to the Northern Territory News to get a job interview. The job I got was as an advertising features journalist. Working 9am to 5pm, no weekend shifts. Ok, so it wasn’t reporting in the newsroom, but it was working for a metropolitan daily newspaper. And it fitted well with parenting. I worked there for the next two-and-a-half years.  So, as it turns out, I was in that eight per cent.

Lesson 5: Your dream job may not look like you imagined, but it will be just right for you.

From there, I moved into public relations for Tourism NT and then into marketing, writing online content for Charles Darwin University. I did a stint in radio with ABC Darwin. I worked as the freelance senior writer for Darwin Life Magazine. Darwin was a fantastic experience but definitely the school of hard knocks for me. I made some huge mistakes and had some big falls, but I learned so much along the way.

Lesson 6: There will be people who continue to believe in you, even when you doubt yourself.

When I moved to Melbourne in 2011, I had a job to come to. I’m working as a public relations executive with Swinburne University of Technology and it’s another fantastic learning experience.

The reason why I have a successful career today is not because I’m especially talented – it’s because I’ve persevered. I’ve never given up. I may not have my name up in lights, I’ve never won a Walkley award and I still have dreams to achieve. But I have built a solid and fulfilling career as a writer. And to me, that is success. I had a dream and I chased it. And I made it. After 15 years, I’m still compelled to write. I still love it. It’s what I do and it’s all I can imagine ever doing.

This was my first guest post and was originally published on Dream, Build, Inspire, Lead. I know the publisher AJ Kulatunga (follow @BLKMGK01 or @ICT_GURU on twitter) from my time in Darwin and he asked me to share my story with his readers. Here’s the orignal post: Six lessons from the school of hard knocks


The road less travelled to Ngukurr

In September 2010, I was very fortunate to be offered a freelance writing and photography assignment with the Northern Territory Government.

The job involved travelling to the remote Indigenous community of Ngukurr, located in south-east Arnhem Land. I would stay at Ngukurr for two days and cover the Futures Forum, part of the inaugural Yugul Mungi festival. I snapped up the opportunity.

Before I left, Darwin locals who had experienced remote Territory communities warned me about Ngukurr. “There will be rubbish everywhere”, “don’t touch anything, it will have human s**t on it” and “don’t walk around at night, it won’t be safe,” they told me. But other people told me it was fine and “one of the good ones.”

It was with some trepidation that I boarded the plane. This could be a tough assignment. I mentally prepared for the worst.

Ngukurr is part of the Yugul Mungi region, located on the Roper River in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria. The region is home to about 2500 people. The Roper region is hilly and lush – thanks largely to its namesake river. The views from Ngukurr across the wilderness of Arnhem Land are stunning. The Roper River is incredibly pristine – it is literally the cleanest waterway I have ever seen. Cruising down her in a boat was the most peaceful I have felt in a very long time.

Set in this beautiful untouched landscape is Ngukurr. And what I found was a clean and friendly township – albeit ramshackle in parts. It is a dry community and appears to have excellent leadership. The locals are shy and gentle but also proud and strong. The children seem healthy and relaxed. And there was less rubbish lying around than in suburban Darwin.

But I did see some surprising sights. A house with a cottage garden complete with rose bushes. Cigarettes being sold for $30 a packet at the general store. A village donkey. The community pool closed during the festival despite the heat – because even in sweltering outback towns Territorians think it’s too cold to swim in the dry season.

I know the community was on its best behaviour with their town on show, but my Ngukurr experience really shifted my perception of remote communities. I had only heard the negatives – the violence, the chaos, the rubbish. Take away alcohol and add a rubbish collection service and things can look very different indeed.