This is text of a speech I gave a Wesley College during Arts Week. I have tweaked the text to suit its written form.
As the luck of my birth would have it, I was born into a family of people with enough money to send me to a very expensive private school. All boys who attended such schools were expected to become rich, successful and famous. Or all three.
Here are some names: The governor of West Australian, Malcolm McCusker, the Premier of West Australia, Colin Barnett, mining magnate, Twiggy Forrest, musical comedian, writer and actor, Tim Minchin, writer, Tim Winton, writer Andy Griffiths and footballer Ben Cousins.
Ok, they are just names and now here is another list, this time of boys who have attended Wesley College and showed a level of success.
Brendon Grylls: you have probably heard of him because he is a minister in the WA State Government. He is a member for a region not the region he used to be the member for and not a region he lives in. He is also the Minister for, well, a bunch of stuff to do with things outside of the metropolitan area.
Ben Hollioke: a very good cricketer who, unfortunately, died in a car accident in 2002.
Earl Spalding: a good Australian Rules footballer who played for the West Coast Eagles, Melbourne and Carlton.
Jeremy Sims: excellent actor and director.
Michael Holmes: excellent television journalist who fronts a show on CNN.
Lance “Buddy” Franklin: plays full-forward for Hawthorn.
Now, here’s the thing, your school, my school, everybody’s school, they all want you to think that if you attend them you will be successful because they are special and if you attend them you will also be special and thus, doubly special.
Fair enough, but life isn’t like that.
When I went to Christ Church Grammar School, I wasn’t special. My mother said I was, but I wasn’t. She lied to me.
My Christ Church life sucked. I failed. Almost everything. The only subjects I passed were bully-bating, surfing, skateboarding and history.
Which reminds me, Geoffrey Bolton, he went to Wesley and he is West Australia’s best known historian.
Why history? Why me and Geoffry? Because history is about us. How we got here. Why we got here like this. Wearing these kinds of clothes. And you, because you are at the end of history up until now.
History is anything that went before now. And now. And now. Notice that it keeps shifting, that the now I mention now, is not the same now I mentioned earlier.
It’s the first fleet
It’s Albany 1826
It’s Mokare, Yagan and 60,000 years of Noongars, Wongis, Yamajis, Bard and Pitjitjinjara.
It’s me, as soon as I’m finished with this, yeah, history.
And that’s what I do, now, after all my early years of failing, I write history.
My history: the fights, arrests, the cold cells, the wonderful girlfriends, the ride on the open crane plummeting down a mountain with no brakes. Luckily I was stoned.
My school years were exciting, insane, boring, depressing and a dismal failure. And so, I wrote a book about it.
When I left school my father forced me to work in a bank. The bank sent me to Papua and New Guinea, where my life was exciting, depressing, insane and the bank fired me. So, I wrote a book about it.
I worked in the family business and on the family farm for four, very successful years. Great time. Big success. There’s no book in that.
I left the family, grew my hair and a beard, became a hippy, then wandered the planet as a long haired looser. Got arrested a few times. Slept in jungles. Got shot at by insane war mongers. Naturally, wrote a book about it.
Went to Curtin University and got a degree in English. Great success. Once again, no book there.
Stood for election to the Federal Parliament. Twice. Lost. Twice. Wrote a book about it.
Can you see the pattern?
I’m here to tell you it is ok to mess up that I am living proof you can recover from a lot of mess ups. That dismal failure can be turned to great success.
And this is the great thing about art. It is in art that you can take misery, that that causes you pain, re-frame it, turn it, into something different, something beautiful, or something new and exciting, something over which you have absolute and total control, the kind of control you will never have in life.
And now, as I near the end of the successful mess called life, would you like to know what I still believe in?
I am no longer religious, but I still like what Jesus said.
I still love a good phantom comic.
I still think Muhammad Ali, at his peak, was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.
I still believe in respect, kindness, generosity, forgiveness and taking risks.
And I have believed in a clean and sober life, ever since I cleaned up in 1986.
But I’m still addicted to salt, chocolate, reading, writing, boxing and surfing.
That's me, now let's hear from you.