Surfing and the success of failure

I entered high school aged 12 with a reading age of a six-year-old. I was mildly dyslexic. I did not progress well. It was so bad I was asked by the headmaster to leave school in year 10. By then I started surfing and did not want to go to work; surfing and work do not go together well. So I stayed at school and finished year 12. How to keep surfing? Teaching was an option. I only had to attend college 3.5 days a week, leaving plenty of days to go surfing.

Surfing gave me something I did not expect. At every beach I surfed there were remains of ancient settlement, vast shell middens and scatters of stone tools. No one knew who made them so I set about finding out. Tasmanian Aborigines was the answer. I gained specialised amateur knowledge of them. I wrote a high school course about them. I did not know it then but it was the first course in Aboriginal Studies in Australian history. A distinguished academic at the Australian National University read it and he came to Tasmania to meet me. He was the first person in my life to treat me as an equal, as somebody worthwhile. He told me I should go to university. I had no academic inclination and felt a desire to see the world. So I left Tasmania on a Russian cargo boat and travelled overland from Singapore to London.

I was shot at in Thailand, stoned (literally) in Afghanistan, walked through the Himalayan snow line in shorts and thongs, climbed the great Buddhas, now destroyed by the Taliban, and stood on top of the great Pyramid of Giza. I came back a different person. Tasmania no longer felt the same. I contacted the academic from ANU and asked if he would help me get into university; he did so. I enjoyed archaeology and anthropology. I studied hard, completed a PhD and was married with three beautiful daughters. I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at ANU and ran their social and economic consulting services. It was a prestigious job and I was seduced by it. I worked hard and was successful.

I made lots of money on massive projects for the university but it killed my marriage and taught me things about myself I did not like. I walked away, battered and bruised but healed myself in the surf on the beautiful west coast of the Eyre Peninsula, where I have remained ever since. I re-married and had two more beautiful daughters. I continued to work with Aboriginal people, recording things that were never recorded about the Tasmanian Aborigines 100 years ago. In doing so, I assisted in the recognition of Aboriginal people's rights to their ancestral lands. The 'delinquent child' wrote a successful book and then another, both about Aboriginal life history. I was offered an Adjunct Professorship by the University of Tasmania. I accepted just for the ironical pleasure it gave me; the delinquent professor.

It is true my professional life has been largely an excuse to go surfing and when others ask "what I do" I normally answer "I get paid a lot to go camping". There is some truth in that but actually I work hard in a job I like, believe to be worthwhile and find forever challenging and rewarding. My story is a lesson to others: no matter what people might say or how you might be treated, everybody is good at something, everybody has a path to contentment and success should they choose to find and follow it.