Chance encounters, lasting impacts

People love to remember where they were when big events in history took place.

Depending on your age, you might have a well-worn story about what you were doing when you heard about the death of JFK or Princess Diana, about the September 11 terrorist attacks or the Boxing Day tsunami?

It connects our lives to something bigger. While we may not be personally involved in these events, they form part of the backdrop of our lives and they do influence how we think and feel about our world.

Over the years since Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983, I have regarded this yacht race as a milestone in my decision to pursue a career in journalism.

While Australia’s against-the-odds win would be the perfect metaphor for daring to dream the impossible dream and working hard to make it happen, that’s not why it feels significant to me.

So what is the connection? This is how I like to tell the story.

As a girl of about 10 or 11 years old, in the days before the internet and mobile phones, the way of life was modest and the horizons were narrow for me, growing up on a little farm in rural Western Australia.

One day, I met an American journalist who had come to WA to cover the America’s Cup being staged off Fremantle.

The female journalist happened to drive past our farm on a day trip. She saw my family riding horses using western (American) saddles and stopped to chat.

In typical country fashion, we saddled up another horse and the journo spent a few hours on the farm with us.

During this ride, I revealed to our visitor that I secretly held an ambition to become a journalist.

She told me journalism was a lot of hard work and nowhere near as glamorous as people might think. All evidence to the contrary, to my teenage eyes!

This confident, successful woman motored into our driveway in a rented yellow VW convertible with a flourish, her American accent rolling off her tongue and long brown hair swirling around her shoulders. Instant awe.

I’ve probably thought about it more in recent weeks given it’s been the 30-year anniversary of Australia’s original win and because I’m at another inflection point in my career post-redundancy.

The whole episode meant so much to me, it’s deeply etched in my memory. However, when I came to verify a few dates this week in order share it accurately, I realised there was a hole in my story.

When the Cup was raced off Fremantle over the summer of 1986-87, I wasn’t 10 or 11 years old. I was closer to 14 or 15.

Yet by that time, I had already been taking subjects like typing for a few years at school with a career in journalism in mind.

My memory had crunched the dates, but in fact there were three or more years between when I first contemplated the idea of becoming a journalist to when I expressed that ambition for the first time out loud.

Even that day, I remember we had almost done a full circuit of the farm on horseback before I plucked up the courage to reveal it to this glamorous stranger.

When my father drew alongside us, our new American friend showed her interest by recounting our conversation to my Dad.

At this stage, I hadn’t even told my parents, so she was breaking my big news.

My Dad’s reply was typically matter-of-fact. Something like: that sounds about right, she loves to ask questions and she’s interested in writing.

It seems cute now, but at the time, wanting to become a journalist felt like an impossibly-big dream for someone like me and I had been afraid to share it.

What my memory’s trick with the dates had done was overplay this woman’s significance in my decision to become a journalist, yet underplayed her true role in allowing me to finally give voice to that ambition.

For her, this was no doubt a pleasant interlude but one that’s likely long-since forgotten.

For me, the impact of this chance encounter is a reminder that people can leave bigger footprints through our lives than they may ever know.

That’s a wonderful thought as I look around me at the interesting people and conversations I’ve been having in my travels this year, and think about how all of this might help shape the decades ahead.

M

3 thoughts on “Chance encounters, lasting impacts

    1. Thanks Lisa, in a way it’s touching on similar ground to your beautiful piece on your neighbours. Those simple, everyday interactions that have left such a profound impact. Lovely writing as always Lisa. Cheers, M

      Like

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