In August of 1981, in a small, now deceptively infamous town in Queensland called Cunnamulla, I was born. My parents run an extensive grazing property in far South-West Queensland, and that’s where I grew like a weed till I was 12; since the options for secondary schooling around the middle of Australia were pretty slim, I then toddled off to boarding school, where I spent 1994-1998. The less said about it, the better. Suffice to say, share-housing has not been a popular option for me since then.
I was clever and good at school (as in talented, not well-behaved – my disobedience was innocent enough but very deep-running) and was accepted into my top choice of University, so I launched that academic “career” as soon as I graduated secondary school. The St Lucia campus of the University of Queensland is one of the most beautiful places in which I’ve had the honour of spending time, and my degree, after some shuffling and argument with the administration, was wonderful. I joined the University’s karate club and thrived there, making friends and progressing quickly.
In 2001, I took a year away from University to work as a jillaroo on a huge cattle station in the north of the Northern Territory called Alexandria Station. On the one hand, it was an amazing thing to go out and do. I got to ride horses daily, and even got to train a young, newly broken horse to work cattle and behave with manners. She is one of the shining beacons of wonderment in my whole life. I also fell in love for the first time in my twenty years (oh, I thought I’d loved before, but this…this beat everything. It was the stuff of heroic sagas, of epic poetry, of timeless legend.) But the culture there was very misogynistic, and my immediate superior was incredibly cruel to me, so once the “season” had finished, I left and returned to my degree.
It was hard, that third year, when I didn’t know anyone and felt decades older than my classmates. I wrangled the administration around to let me have two majors, with just the proviso that I complete two more units than I could reasonably do in that third year. So, in 2003, I struck out to the NT again, this time south of Alice Springs, and worked for another pastoral family as a governess. I’ve never liked kids, but I figured – I learnt this way, how hard could it be to steer them through a set curriculum? Um…yeah. I lasted till August or so, then moved to the nearest roadhouse, where they employed me as a cleaner. It was fun work for a while, and kept me fit as I was the only one doing it – and there was a lot of work.
But the tourist season tailed off and it got really boring…and when people get bored they create drama. I’m not into drama, so I moved on again, eventually finding my feet in Melbourne, pounding the footpaths of (usually) affluent suburbs peddling “education systems” (read: boxes and boxes of books). Six months, I did that, making friends and taking charge and proving a great deal to myself. But it was a cult atmosphere – we lived together in a communal house, rarely socialised, did “team-bonding”, and struggled valiantly to make ends meet. Eventually, the infighting there, the ongoing and escalating drama, and the outrageous stress all got to me, and I fled west in August of 2004, just before my birthday.
I fetched up in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, where my sister lived. It was such a strange place after Melbourne – small, but spread-out; parts of it all-but inaccessible due to the woeful public transport; sandy, windy, entitled, provincial. The first Christmas Day I had here, Sister and I made the pilgrimage from our ghetto eastern suburb home to the fancy-pants western suburbs to go to the beach in the morning, before it got too hot. I remember, we called our parents from beside the beach, and Dad said, “I hope you’re not at the beach! We’re watching the news, and there’s a shark out there!”
“No, Dad,” I reassured him, as I watched the helicopter fly past us, weaving back and forth as it searched for the deadly fish. “No, we’re nowhere near the beach!” You’ve gotta save the olds some grief where you can, after all!
I arrived just before The Boom, and made superhuman efforts to find a job. A brief stint at the local market (I had no car, so usually I walked the 5km to work) kept my dignity intact while I sponged off my sister and her housemates; then I lucked out and got a job in a materials testing laboratory, got it by the skin of my teeth! But they gave it to me, and by God, I wasn’t letting go! I took that place by storm, demanding daily that I be considered alongside the men to be sent away to the site labs. They threw everything they had at me and I coped, and finally they sent me away (mostly, I think, to shut me up). Within six months, I was running those labs. The job took me from one end of Western Australia to the other – Katanning, Balladonia, Murrin-Murrin (a mine north-east of Kalgoorlie), Newman, Derby and Tom Price…to name a few.
After a while the job got old – same-same every day, and I had a need to apply what I’d learnt in another arena. I moved companies and now, five years later, I still work for the same place – a geotechnical engineering consultancy. I can feel another change coming, though. The time I’ve spent in WA has been endlessly, astonishingly, unbelievably educational…and school’s not out yet. In fact, I think I’ve been on holiday and classes are about to resume.