Monthly Archives: September 2010

Sunday Mail Column 19-9-10: The one about hero spotting

Another week, another slew of sports star scandals.  Two weeks into September and we’ve had allegations of match fixing, admissions of infidelity, homophobic remarks, the alleged flashing of genitals, admittance of drug use and charges of theft.  Have I missed anything? Oh yes, the old “defecating on a hotel room floor” allegation.

And all this would be funny (okay, not really) if so many kids didn’t completely hero-worship these people.  But they do.  Case in point.   Earlier this week I visited an all-girls high school to talk about tribes and resilience and gut instinct and a fifteen year old indicated to me that she adored a certain “bad boy” footballer.  A footballer who has been reprimanded in the past for lewd behaviour and for doing things like, um, urinating on nightclub windows. A player who is rumoured to have taken a naked photo of a woman without her permission and distributed it.  A player who is currently being investigated over allegations of flashing his genitals at a female. (Just makes you want to sing Wind Beneath My Wings, doesn’t it?)

Anyway this guy still has fans. STILL. HAS. FANS.  Teenagers who think he’s “awesome”.  It’s enough to send me into the foetal position muttering “happy place, happy place.”

I used to think the problem was we went hero spotting in the wrong locations. Like on sporting fields.  I mean, just because someone can run really, really fast or kick a ball really, really far or they’re like “totally hot” – doesn’t mean they’re worthy of our admiration.  The same goes for Hollywood. Okay, so your favourite star is good at acting and was really believable as that kleptomaniac-deaf-Irish-nun turned stripper but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily role model worthy. Sure, admire their acting. But don’t be surprised when we see pictures of them with a lampshade on their head doing lines of coke off their co-star’s stomach.

But I’ve changed my mind.  I think that stance tars all sports stars and actors (and musicians, for that matter) with the same brush, which frankly, isn’t fair. Role models can be found everywhere.  In the spotlight and not.

My point is we need to teach our kids (and ourselves) to be fussier.  More selective.  If someone is going to be “hero-worthy” they need to be more than just a great back rower.  Or lead singer. Or actor.  Or scientist. Or doctor.  They need to be a great person.  Someone who gives back to the community, who treats their family and their profession with respect.  Someone who shares our values. Someone who is well, toilet-trained.

Notice, I’m not saying our role models need to be perfect.  We all stuff up. We all say the wrong thing at times, or maybe tweet the wrong thing.  And putting pressure on our heroes to never-put-a-foot-wrong just isn’t fair. But there’s a big difference between say, Spencer Pratt and Hugh Jackman. Before you put someone’s picture on your wall, make them earn their spot.

Sunday Mail Column 12-9-10: The one about Critical Thinking

I found myself eating a large serve of humble pie this past week. As part of the Brisbane Writers Festival I was asked to interview Jessica Watson. Yes, THAT Jessica Watson. The Jessica Watson who on 15 May 2010 at the age of sixteen sailed into Sydney Harbour and in doing so became the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted, non-stop around the world.

Like many I was dubious of the whole trip when I first saw Jess on the TV news back in 2009 talking about her plan.  What are her parents thinking? I mumbled shaking my head.  Why isn’t she at school?  I muttered rolling my eyes.  I mean, for Pete’s sake, this slip of a girl looked like she weighed about the same as my left thigh (possibly less). And she wanted to embark on an eight-month solo journey at sea? Had she not seen the cautionary tale that is Gilligan’s Island?

Did I know anything about Jessica Watson? Nope. Had I done any investigation myself into her background, her sailing experience, her demeanour? Nope. Was I in fact basing my opinion of her on 30-second TV grabs and the opinions of equally uninformed media commentators? Absolutely.

Before our interview I read Jessica’s book, True Spirit that chronicles her childhood as well as her experience at sea on Ella’s Pink Lady.

What I learnt within the first 20 pages is that Jessica Watson is a sailor.  And sometimes age actually is irrelevant.  It is blindingly obvious when you read Jessica’s story that she had the experience, the dedication, the know-how, the determination and the mental aptitude to have a damn good shot at achieving her dream.  Her parents knew. Her sponsors knew. Leading sailing identities knew. It was just we, the general public, who didn’t know. Didn’t know because we didn’t bother to find out.

My experience with Jessica reminded me of the importance of critical thinking. Whether it’s a sound bite about a teenage sailor or election campaign ads or moronic email petitions about refugees or free laptops – we’ve become lazy news consumers, willing to believe whatever angle we’re fed.

We sat through a recent election campaign eating up the outrageous spin both sides fed us. It’s worth remembering that statistics can be skewed and comments taken out of context.  Are “boat people” actually queue jumpers, taking the place of those waiting in refugee camps?  The Refugee Council of Australia website will tell you. Did Jessica Watson have much experience at sea? We could have read her 2009 blog. Can I really win a Dell laptop just by forwarding an email to ten people? Google it.  We need to get off our backsides, seek out credible information sources and find the answers ourselves.

As for Jessica Watson, well in person she’s a breath of fresh air. Jess speaks with great candour about her experiences in a refreshingly unpolished, humble manner. Is she tiny? Well, yes.  But she’s also wise beyond her years. Much wiser than me. Sorry Jess.

First Sunday Club: A Liberty Swing for Macgregor State School

At the moment I’m living with a small dictator with bad table manners. You’re thinking I’ve shacked up with George Calombaris, aren’t you?  No, no. Rather Ava is channelling her inner-Napoleon when it comes to letting me know what she wants. Like cheese sticks.  And her tea party set. And Chewie – whom she now chases around the house in a Benny Hill like fashion. Some days he wears a haunted expression and is often forced to seek asylum in my wardrobe. Next to me.


The answer to all this is to take Ava to the park.  A good old-fashioned swing can soothe even the crankiest mood.  And while some friends of mine will do anything to avoid the monotony of playgrounds (I think I just saw Big Bird in that 7-Eleven, let’s go!) – I don’t mind it.  There’s something about stretching your legs out and sailing skyward that is good for the soul.

Which is precisely why I’ve chosen the project I have for this month’s First Sunday Club.  This month we’re putting our ten dollars towards a Liberty Swing for the children who attend Macgregor State Primary School’s Special Education Program.

The Special Education Program has an enrolment of about 50 students from Prep to Year 7 and attracts disabled children from as far away as Minden and Runaway Bay.  These kids have a range of disabilities including vision and hearing impairments, Autistic Spectrum disorders and speech language impairments. Approximately 30 of the students have significant physical impairments and many children have complex disabilities requiring use of wheelchairs.

So, let’s talk swings.  Just plonking your backside onto a typical swing obviously doesn’t work for many of these kids. So what they need is a special Liberty Swing – an Australian designed and made swing that is especially for kids in wheelchairs but which can also be used by able-bodied children.

Those hardworking people at Variety have committed to delivering 30 Liberty swings each year to playgrounds for kids with special needs.  But the swings are expensive and at the moment there’s a $10,000 shortfall in getting a Liberty swing installed at Macgregor School. This is where we come in.  I need 1000 readers to donate $10 to help get this swing paid for and installed.

“Over the last twelve months we have borrowed a Liberty swing three times from Variety Club Queensland and the benefits have been highlighted by the enthusiasm of every child involved as they queue for a turn,” Macgregor State School Principal Helen Leben tells me.  “The smiles on their faces and the look in their eyes says it all.”

I know that look. The look of freedom and exhilaration I see in Ava’s eyes when she’s sailing up to the clouds.

Can you spare $10 this month?

Donate online at or call 07 3367 6999 for mailing address details.  (Please don’t send cash or cheques to me directly.)