Not long back I was listening to the radio when the host announced: “This morning we will be talking to someone about life on an outback station.” These words took me back to an experience I had when I was an impressionable 15 year-old boy, who, for no fault of his own was pretty much alone in the world. But the interesting thing is in relation to public speaking, this life-changing incident had lain dormant in my mind for nigh on two decades just waiting for a trigger like the announcer’s introduction to bring it to life.
At the time I was working in a little Italian glass factory as an integral part of a team making hand-crafted chandeliers and mosaic tiles. The thing I liked best about working there was the warmth and generosity of these open-hearted people, especially their food!
Fate took a hand in my destiny. Wide-eyed and eager to learn about life, I was fascinated by a young girl who came to work in the factory after living on a sheep station in outback South Australia in an isolated place called Copley for most of her life. Her story enthralled me. All I really new about the place was that it was somewhere ‘way out there’ and exciting! Then and there I decided that I was going to take myself to Copley and be part of the adventurous life of a sheep-station hand! That very night I wrote a letter to the station owner asking for a job – any job, and popped it in the mail. Two weeks later I received a telegram with the succinct message: “Come when ready.”
This threw me into a terrible dilemma. The truth is I’d grown to love the people I worked with. I’d really miss the melodious singing that went on all day as these marvelous artisans worked their wonders with molten glass. I’d miss their wonderful language, sensational food, and the ‘family’ friendships I’d come to be part of. Working in that factory was just like being in Italy – an adventure in itself! What made matters worse, everyone was genuinely crestfallen when I told them of my momentous decision. But I couldn’t get out of it now. So with a heavy heart I was to work out my last few days in my beloved factory.
The day before I was to leave I had just rattled around the corner of the factory on my old bike as I did every morning. Lino, one of my bosses, had been watching and said: “You sit well on a bike and would make a good cyclist.” This observation resonated with me for we often spoke for hours about the legendary Italian cyclists Bartoli, Coppi and Australia’s World Champion Sid Patterson. Without thinking I found myself saying: “Do you think so?… If you help me buy a real racing bike I’ll stay!” Lino simply said “Okay.” And that was that. To my great relief the idea of me going to work on a distant sheep station was no longer going to happen.
This chance comment changed my life. 20 years later I found myself leading a group of young people on a coach camping adventure in the spectacular but harsh wilds of the Northern Flinders Rangers of outback South Australia. As we ventured further into the outback near the crossroads of the formidable Strezlecki and Oodnadatta Tracks we came across a wind-swept railway station hundreds of miles from anywhere on the now defunct *Ghan Line. The unforgiving terrain was desolate and the station itself was half-covered in sand and all rusty. A solitary sign swung loosely on the one remaining post. It read: Copley. A cold shudder went through me. The sheep station I was so keen on going to all those years ago was now a deserted ghost town! Lino’s chance comment “You’d make a good bike rider” had saved me from embarking on an uncertain journey to ‘who knows where’.
Now with public speaking there are two important things to learn from this story: it’s always good to reflect on life’s experiences for from them we can make some telling points and learn so much; the other thing is we don’t have to painfully search these stories out for they can be triggered by all sorts of things when we least expect it – just make sure you have a pen and paper handy when this happens!
*The preservation of the original Ghan railway is now in the hands of The Ghan Preservation Society, which repairs sections of the old narrow gauge track and some notable sidings.