Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 6 November. The keynote speaker was journalist and author Peter FitzSimons.
Without further ado, please make Peter FitzSimons welcome.
Thank you Kate and thank you all for that very, very tepid welcome. Little joke.
Thank you Kate and congratulations on the organization you run, and thank you to Mark for the welcome. But I might say, I must of heard a thousand Welcome to Countries in my time, I don’t think I’ve - well that's one of the best two Welcome to Countries that I've ever heard. That was absolutely inspirational. I don’t know if Shannon’s still here, but I wish all people could hear such an inspiring, inspirational Welcome to Country. Well the first thing to say is don’t panic, I’m not nearly as rough as I look.
I'm actually very nice - when I came here a very nice woman said to me, you know, ‘what's wrong with you, why you looking so bad?’ - it's just the way I look. I look normal, I just look a bit grim. I can’t help, it’s just how my face in repose looks. I often say too, in a room like this, I don’t know a single person here personally - I still feel curiously like I’m among my own people, I think that’s probably for the fact I’m married to Lisa Wilkinson. Who you will know perhaps from the Sunday Night Project, and co-host of the Today show.
I am told quite seriously by many of my mates the fact that I am married to Lisa makes me the president of the Australian men punching well above their weight club. And I am delighted to see so many of my fellow members here today.
In terms of talking here today, I want to say, just, I’ve been around here – this is my third go and I might say I find it inspirational what you do, and humbling. And I always feel an enormous sense of privilege, looking back at my own life and how lucky I’ve been, compared to the lives of so many other families face. And that so many of you are working on the coal face to improve their lives. They say if you have a happy childhood you remember the sunshine, they say if you had an unhappy childhood you remember the wet Wednesday afternoons. Trudging home from school with the rain crackling down your back. Well for me, I not only remember the sunshine, I remember a very specific scene. I grew up on a farm, a wonderful farm 60 acres an hour north of Petrie. Mum and dad both served in the second world war, came back, carved it out of the wilderness more or less.
And they grew oranges, lemons, tomatoes and children. And I was the youngest, the seventh of those children – I was the longest. Mum says I was 25.5 inches when I was born, and I was so long when I was born, mum said I was born on the 27th, the 28th and the 29th of June. And the specific scene that I remembered – waking up on the veranda of our farm house, the sun was shining and I’d get the cricket bat out from under the bed, and walk very purposefully towards the cricket ball my dad had suspended beneath the gumtree. And when I walked I’d always here the same thing – the dolcett tones of the great ABC broadcaster Alan McGilvray.
And he was always saying the same thing – it was the final day of the deciding Ashes test. Australia always had an almost impossible 361-runs to get on just the one day. And there was McGilvray, here’s FitzSimons and Redpath, walking out to open the batting for Australia. Alas, Redpath always went cheaply – both jungle brothers let me down, and it was always myself and Danny Walters. Putting on a double century partnership for Australia. Even Douggy left me in the end, and it was always me in the final opener of the day, shielding decayed Lily from a strike – so I could hit the winning runs on the final ball. And if there was still time before mum called me for breakfast, I could also win the Davis Cup, with my good friends John Nukem and Ken Rosewater. They were my best buddies and I played with them and we always beat America, and we always beat France – we took on those imposters Sweeden, we all thought Neville never wanted to see us again.
That was my childhood, that was an absolutely wonderful childhood blessed by wonderful parents, fantastic brothers and sisters that, on mums death bed, that my great wish is for all of you to always look after each other. And we always have, ever since. And one of my roles that I do now is I’m Pro-chancellor at Sydney University, which is not nearly as high faluten as it sounds because I’m no where near the Chancellor. She runs the show and runs the show wonderfully well. But I have the honor of filling in for her ten times a year perhaps in the great hall of Sydney University, handing out PhD’s, and handing out degrees, handing out masters and so-forth. And I have something of a stunt speech, I say there’s only two types of people in this world – those who graduated from Sydney University, and those who wish they’d graduated from Sydney University. But I also say congratulations to all of you up the front who I’ve just given doctorates and masters to, and get distinctions. But you’re not my people. My people are you poor bastards up the back, the only people more stunned than you today that you got it are you parents on the right.
But my major theme is, you will know you were it – today that you’ve got your doctorate, you’ve become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or whatever – it’s a great day for you, but this is not the real test of whether you’ve chosen the right career. The test will come five years from now, ten years from now, by the clock on the wall on the Monday morning.
If you looked at that clock on the wall, and it says thirteen past nine, and you immediately, instinctively dock three, carry one, subtract two and work out that in three hours and seventeen minutes, you will be at lunch. At two-thirty in the afternoon you want it to be five pm so you can go home. Tuesday you want it to be Friday so you can go home. August you want it to be December so you can go home. You’re in the wrong gig. You’ve got to find yourself in something, where you look to the clock on the wall and it says thirteen past nine, next time you look it says ten to nine a Friday night in late November and you don’t know where the day, the week, the year has gone. But you resent it, because you’re so in to what you’re doing.
So for me, again, pure happenstance, whatever – I found it. I absolutely love what I do, I couldn’t say exactly when I was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, but I think it was the thirtieth of May, 1986. And from that moment on, everything changed. And that’s what I’ve done ever since, with articles and books. And I’m not going to hijack this occasion and beg you to read my books. Honestly, hand on my hard hat, that I don’t care if you do or don’t read my books – all I care is that you buy my books.
But one of my great corners, or one of the great privileges that I have felt over the last thirty, fourty years I’ve been doing it – is chronicling great Australian stories and ideally promoting great Australian values. And I am something of a failed law student too – I have passes in law subjects but the only thing I can remember is an English law board in 1796 said “I do not know how to define obscenity, but I know it when I see it”. And I feel very much about Australian-ness. I do not know how to define Australian-ness but I know it when I see it. And there are great Australian values that I feel in some ways, have been lost. And the greatest Australian value of all is egalitarianism – that we are all equal beneath the Southern Cross.
Another great value, even though it has become somewhat hackney and somewhat hijacked for political purposes, but the idea of mateship. And there was a brilliant book written on this subject, The Battle of Tobruk, 1941 in the second World War. Brilliant. As a matter of fact, I wrote it. And the great line out of it was, Chester Wilmont – so the essence of what happened in Tobruk, Germany went all the way through Poland, all the way through the low countries through to Africa. Army after army after army. Knock em over knock em over knock em over, get to the Australian’s – they stop them. It was the first time in the war the German’s were ever stopped – extraordinary story. But Chester Wilmont, the great ABC correspondent, wrote these words from Tobruk – he said the great and abiding spirit that drives Australian night life is not classicism, it is not orthodoxy, it is not religion. It is a thing that Henry Lawson called mateship – the spirit which makes men stick together.
In Australia, this idea of helping your mates – standing by your mate – has allowed men to stare down famine, flood, bushfire – in Tobruk it’s allowed them to stop all the Stuka bombers and the Panzer tanks. It’s a spirit not even Hitler could break. And even though that’s a slightly patriarchal mateship – not a lot of inclusion of women, in that particular quote - I absolutely love that quote and I absolutely believe it’s true. And I only think there’s one higher value in Australian life than mateship, of helping your mate, standing by your mate, and that is helping people you don’t know – you’ll never meet, you’ll never know - for generations to come. That is what you do.
If I had one message, I always say that – people talk for thirty minutes, or they talk for fourty minutes or an hour – there’s only one thing that people might remember. If I can say what I say now, and the one thing I’d ask you to remember is, what you do is extraordinary. What you do is inspirational, it’s fantastic, but no bastard knows about it. That’s the truth of it. That is the absolute truth of it.
When I go among you, and I was talking to Jeff from (inaudible) – extraordinary stories, what you do in your community center. Extraordinary stories, the pressure you’ve been put under not to help asylum seekers and so forth, how come I don’t know that? I’m a journalist, I read papers back and forth everyday, I write half of them. I’m on the radio, I do TV – I don’t know those stories, and if I could encourage you down any one path – I was saying this last night. In Australia right now, the thing that sells both in media and in politics is anger. Give me a pissed off person, and I’ll get you a mob – just get them in there, and the more pissed off they are – if they’re fired up by a nuclear act, everything makes me angry. The refugees, the Islamic people, disabled people, welfare, bludgers, lefty lovies – if you give me somebody that speaks like that, a mob will gather.
Where is the alternative of all this? Where is the inspirational stories, people telling your inspirational stuff. Again I was just listening up the back to the financial reports and the rest, but the truth of the age in which we live, is that invective sells and invective sells big time. I think, however, that where the mood is changing, the wind is changing, is that Australia is returning ideally to the values we were based on – egalitarianism, on helping each other, on rolling up our sleeves. My favourite song, I wish it was our anthem, I came from the dreamtime from the dusty red soil plains, I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame, I stood upon the rocky shore, I watched the tall ships come for fourty thousand years I am the first Australian.
And we got that and everybody would go in, we are one but we are many, from all the lands on Earth we come – it’s inspirational. It’s a great value for us to have, but as I’d say, the problem at the moment is, we don’t – the wider Australian people is unaware about all the inspiration you offer.
And the other fact, this is just coming out of my heart, that in the political world we live in, it’s all about the numbers. It’s all about the money, it’s all about the cost, it’s all about the budget blowouts. If there’s one case you’ve got to sell, and you’ve got to sell it really well, is that for every dollar you put in at this level, you’re saving ten dollars later, and again the people are not aware of that. It’s all about the budget this year, it’s all about the short-term gain, it’s all about the next election. And there’s nothing about, that we see – and I’ve seen it close-up in my own past, one of my roles, was president of the northern suburbs basketball association. And I think we were the second biggest basketball association in Australia. Just very quickly, we took an abandoned carpark, well not abandoned but a cheap and nasty, horrible old carpark and for three million dollars we created a center with four basketball courts that is in operation from 6am until 11pm throughout the day. Our youngest is five years old, our oldest is a basketball referee, 92 years old – not very good, blind, can’t see facts – it doesn’t matter. But the youngest is five years old to 92 – what an extraordinary community centre that is. What an extraordinary thing that we self-sustained through membership fees, so for three million dollars that came from the council and state government, we were able to create something that brought the community together – got the kids off the streets, got people healthy. The health benefits, absolutely staggering, and yet at the moment, again in New South Wales, the big deal is to knock down three existing stadiums and replace them with modern state of the art stadiums for money-making businesses.
Okay. If I may say, I’ve lead the charge in Sydney, saying this is outrageous. Instead of putting billions towards elite money-making businesses why don’t we get a hundred three million dollar centers and put them in dollops of community around that - have tennis courts, have netball courts, have basketball courts – have all of those things that bring the community together. But again I say that – I don’t say I’m voice of the dark by any means on that, but I say that your story, the story you have to tell is ten times more inspirational than mine. In terms of diversity, inclusion, my greatest friend in this field is a fella you may have known by Matt Laffin – does anybody, does that ring a bell? You remember Matt Laffin, he was three-foot nothing, he had a crooked spine like a corkscrew – it was a version of Spina bifida – and Matt was, he was the sole child of two wonderful parents in Coffs Harbour who instead of doing the stuff of putting him in special schools, or any of that stuff, he went to Coffs Harbour High. They raised the money to send him to Saint Johns College, and he went and he became, at really serious, macho Saint Johns College and Sydney University – really traditional – he went on to become a senior student. He goes up to become Lead Prosecutor of Department of Public Prosecutions. So by the virtues of inclusion, he not only takes his place in this eminent institutions, but dominates them. And I was saying to Mark last night that of all the functions I’ve attended, particularly north of the Tweed, about ten years ago Matt got me to accompany him – I think it was the Queensland Disability Services dinner. And it was intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities and there were five hundred people there. I must say I’ve done some difficult things in my time in terms of difficult audiences – that was a difficult audience.
Particularly because some of those with intellectual disabilities were crying out and it was just hard. So I got up and told great big stories and it went okay. Matt got up – so wheels got up on the stage, microphone down, the Governor was Quentin Bryce. She wasn’t then Dame Quentin Bryce, her excellency Quentin Bryce the Governor. And Matt talked to this audience of five hundred people and talked about the virtues of inclusion and the virtues of diversity. And he said you’ll have good times, and you’ll have bad times and he said I want to tell you about my best time and my worst time coming together. And he said I graduated, I was the department head of the Department of Prosecutions, the public prosecutions, I worked for six months putting a bad guy away. Finally, after six months work, Supreme Court of New South Wales, the gavel comes down from the judge – guilty, off he goes. And he said I went in my wheelchair and I got out and I was on Elizabeth Street. I was wheeling along Elizabeth Street, it was November, the sun was shining, the birds were singing over me – I had beautiful women passing me by and waving, and I stopped at the corner of Market and Elizabeth Street at the DJ’s – famous David Jones display window, and there was a mirror. And I looked and I stopped, and I looked at myself – little bloke in a wheelchair, chest out to here, jutting jaw – what do you think, who are you kidding, look at ya. And he said, but what could I do – it was my lowest moment. I put it back into first gear and I crossed Market Street, and I put it in second gear, and I was motoring along Elizabeth. I came to Park Street, I roared across it, didn’t even stop at the green light. And I kept going until I got to you here tonight. And the room went crazy.
The room went absolutely ballistic, it was the point that he was making was, there will be hard times but in hard times, all you can do is keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving. And I might say that’s another theme – I was saying to Mark I might do a little bit on teamwork and inspiration.
So very quickly on the subject of teamwork, the most wonderful definition of teamwork I’ve ever heard goes back to 1995 when the Herald sent me to the World Cup in South Africa. I was following the All Blacks around for the seven matches they played, and playing on the wing for the All Blacks was a young man by the name of Jonah Lomu. Two meters tall, did the hundred meters in just about even time with his football boots on and I was there in Cape Town. For the semi-final the All Blacks played England and the ball came to Lomu on seven occasions. He got the ball on seven occasions, personally scored four trys, he setup two trys and he put one Pommy in hospital. Rugby Union doesn’t get any better nor more (inaudible) than that.
And on the eve of the Grand Final I was speaking to Sean Fitzpatrick the All Black captain, and of course the subject of Jonah came up. Sean drew through his pocket a fax he’d just received from an eight year old boy living on a farm just outside Christchurch, and written large in this childish scrawl it says dear All Blacks. Remember, rugby is a team game. All fourteen of ya, pass the ball to Jonah.
In terms of other inspirational people that I’ve met, in about 96, 97 I was in Auckland. And I said to a mate of mine, I’d love to meet Sir Edmund Hillary, do you have any idea how I might get a hold of him? He said have you tried the phone book? And sure enough, the Auckland phonebook in 1997 was only nine pages thick. There he was – Sir E Hillary, 278 Remuera Road, North Auckland. I called him up, he said come on over. I took a tape recorder, and what an extraordinary thing – to spend an hour with the person who had accomplished, with Tenzing Norgay, the most mythological feat of our time.
The synonym for achievement in the last hundred years is the climbing of Everest. And we got to the obvious story – he starts out with 200 people right down at the base and as they go up they shed 50 people, and they shed 50 people when they get to base camp. They leave 50 people behind at base camp, and they establish camps all the way up until they get to 27,000 feet and the idea is to get to the top, 29,000 feet. And at 27,000 feet there were just 20 left. And the expedition leader George Low looks who are the two strongest, he says you Tenzing Norgay and you Ed Hillary – off you go.
Sir Edmund told me the story and oddly enough he had the icepick that he actually used at the top of Everest in his hand as he told the story. He said they were meant to get a clear go at it, the weather was meant to be clear. Two thousand feet they had to accomplish. They set off at three o’clock in the morning. At 28,000 feet every step that they took was a new record. Nobody had ever got above 28,000 feet and lived. And then suddenly at about nine o’clock in the morning, after six hours of climbing just after 28,000 feet the first unexpected thing happens. The blasting blizzard blowing off the Western Tibetan plains. And the point that he made was, in the face of this blizzard there was no time to whinge, there was no time to whine, there was no time to shake our fists at the heavens above – where did this blizzard come from? We simply had to get on with it.
The next thing was, at 28,500 feet they came face to face with what has since become known as the Hillary Steppe. 150 feet of sheer rock face. I asked the obvious question – Sir Edmund you’re already record-makers, you’ve already got all reasons to turn back. Nobody can blame you for turning back – you’re face to face with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Why did you not fall face flat down in the snow and say I cannot go on? Or do what I would have done – take the backpack off, put it on the side of the mountain, sit up on it, turn it into a taboggan and woosh – back at base camp in three minutes flat with a cup of hot cocoa and everybody patting me on the back saying well done Edmund you bloody beauty.
And the answer he gave is one I’ve always used myself in tough times ever since – he said I was standing there and the blizzard was blasting, they knew I had to do something. He said about hip high there was a cleft in the cliff, and I was so exhausted I wasn’t sure if I could possibly get my left foot into that cleft. And I looked over on the right, and there was a crag about yay over – two yards over, one yard high. And I wasn’t even sure if it was possible if I got my left foot into that to get my right foot into that. But what he said was, with every fibre of my bone, and everything I had in me, I focussed on getting my left foot into that, and then I focussed on getting my right foot into that. And as trite as that may sound, that is the truth – that is the way Everest was overcome. By focussing on what could be done, by not wasting their time shaking their fist at what couldn’t be done – not wasting any of their precious energy they focussed on that.
The upshot of that story is, they get to the summit, they wait for eight minutes, taking it in, taking it in, they get back down. When George Low, waiting at 27,000 feet sees two ants coming down, he journeys up towards them and shouts through the blizzard when he was 20 yards from them – how did you go? Edmund Hillary shouts back at him, George we knocked the bastard off. They get back to 27,000 feet, back to base camp. By the time they get to Kathmandu there are runners coming out, one of them is addressed with a telegram to Sir Edmund Hillary – he’d just been knighted. Huge reception at Kathmandu, huge reception at New Delhi, Calcutta, in Singapore, in Perth, in Sydney. Finally he flies in to Auckland Harbour – all around Auckland Harbour is everybody he ever went to school with, university with – all of Auckland’s there. There’s his mum and dad from the farm at Waikato. There’s the Governor General, the Prime Minister – three cheers through to Sir Edmund Hillary – you’ve done New Zealand proud, your name will go down in history. Finally it’s all over and he retires to the antechamber with his mum and dad from the farm in Waikato for the first time. And for the first time his mum can speak to him in private, and the first word she says to him is Edmund – tell me you did not say that word they said you said. It had been reported on the BBC.
Finally just again, in terms of stories that I do, that I love in terms of accomplishing things – which is what you do. You’ve no doubt got plans of things you’re going to do for the next two years or the next ten years, and I wish you well.
I have a very strong view on plans, particularly when Australians are involved, on the virtue of values, not instructions. And that we embrace values and we embrace inspiration. And this story I tell does not involve Australians much, but this story of the accomplishment of the South Pole – of how the South Pole was won. So, the book that I did on Mawson, Douglas Mawson, 1895 – the world knew more about what was on the surface of the moon than did about what was in Antarctica. And it was not until 1895 that the first foot was set foot on Antarctica.
The Brits being the Brits, the British Empire – we’re gonna put the Union Jack there. They sent down Robert Francis Scott, a major in the army to plant the Union Jack, and he gets down there, 29 people – and if you can imagine Botany Bay, just to give you the configuration of Antarctica, it’s like Australia, but it’s as if Botany Bay is frozen and stretches all the way to Broken Hill. And then you get a ten thousand foot ridge, a mountain, and then there’s a plateau, a polar plateau, and another 800 or 900 miles until you get to the South Pole. The essence of what happened in 1901, Scott of the Antarctic, gets down to the twenty-nine guys. His three strongest, one was a guy called Frank Wild, and another bloke, the third bloke was a bloke by the name of Earnest Shackleton. And Earnest Shackleton was the twenty-ninth man that joined them, and totally more anonymous than a lost dog, but he recognised him and the values of a British Bulldog, and they strapped him in. The whole thing about Antarctica is you can’t; there’s no food out there. There’s no birds, there’s no fish, there’s nothing. Whatever you take you’ve gotta drag, whatever you’ve got that’s warm you’ve gotta drag. And they strapped in Earnest Shackleton and he pulls, and pulls, and pulls – and they go right out across the frozen Ross Sea.
They get to the trans-Antarctic mountains – they ran out of food so they have to turn around, they’re not going to get to the South Pole this time. There’s a big Ross glacier going up. They get back and they turn Shackleton around, and he pulls and he pulls and he pulls, and he collapses thirty miles from the edge. And they put him in a sled; they saved him and got him back. And Scott in his report talked about invalid Sir Earnest Shackleton – at which point when Shackleton reads it back in London, the steam comes out his ears: ‘Invalid am I? I’ll mount my own expedition’.
He, in 1907, mounts his own expedition, which Mawson went on. He gets out and he goes up the Ross glacier; he gets to within ninety-nine miles of the South Pole and he looks at his men – he does his calculations - how much food have we got and how far have we got to go? He realises I can get to the South Pole, I can plant the Union Jack but I could not get back safely. His key thing of leadership, the absolute number one value of leadership – look after your people and make sure everybody gets back. He turns around and he comes back.
So he sets the scene to which I am getting. In 1911, Scott of the Antarctic makes his second go, using the information from Shackleton, and when he’s in Melbourne on his way down, he gets this telegram from a fellow from Norway by the name of Roald Amundsen. ‘Dear Captain Scott, just so as you know, we Norwegians are gonna have a go too, we’ll see you down there’. And for me, when I was doing my book on Mawson, I flew to Cambridge University which is where all the letters and diaries from Scott of the Antarctic are, and I flew from that green and pleasant land of England and come out of the clouds over Oslo, Norway where Amundsen’s from. And so I go from the green and pleasant land of England, what do I see? Frozen mountains, frozen glaciers, frozen lakes; besides which frozen people are walking frozen dogs. People that have ice with their mother’s milk. That was the first clue of who was going to win.
I’ll just quickly tell a story – how do you get to the middle of the South Pole? Scott of the Antarctic had a plan. We’re going to have eighteen people, we’re going to have five means of locomotion. So we’re going to have snow tractors, we’re going to have ponies, we’re going to have dogs, we’re going to have men with skis; we’re going to have men hauling. We’re going to establish a food dump here, and a food dump there, and a food dump there. We’ll start out with eighteen men, then the first three will come back, and then the five will come back and we’ll all meet here on October the second. We’ll try to get there on October the twenty-seventh, and the five, seven will come back and we’ll take you to… endlessly, endlessly complicated.
Over here, sixty miles away, Amundsen starts out with a much simpler plan. We’ll start off with five men, we’ll have fifty-two dogs. The first dog that slows down, we’re going to eat him. The second dog that slows down, we’re going to eat him – everybody understood, no more than the dogs. Where’s Fido? Don’t ask. Keep going. And on that, I just say that story – all that happens is, Amundsen plants the flag, seventeenth of December. Thirty-four days later, there is Scott of the Antarctic more dead than alive. They’re just completely exhausted. And through the sleet that’s blinding them, they see the worst thing when they get to the South Pole. The Norwegian flag waiting for them and a note that was left in the tent – Dear Captain Scott, I got here on the seventeenth of December to the same place where you are. We’re heading back, and if we don’t get back can you please give this letter to the King of Norway saying we’ve named this plateau after him. And so Scott, in that blinding moment goes from being the conqueror of the South Pole to being a delivery boy for his most bitter rival. As they go back – the final part of it is; so the first part of it is – with a simple plan everybody understands.
It’s all very well to have a logistical nightmare plan, or all kind of involvement, but if no bastard understands it or you have to read page after page, it’s values – it’s values. Amundsen’s value was, the key value everybody understood was, can it provide propulsion – does it keep us warm, does it feed us? I want it onboard. If it doesn’t, it’s gone. He was actually brutal about that simple value, everybody understood it. And the other thing was, when they got to the South Pole and there was the Norwegian flag and this was a great moment in Norwegian history – it had only been in existence for six years. No man more than him had the right to grab the flag and stab it in and say ‘I name this South Pole; I honour this in the name of Norway, the king of Norway’. No man had the right to do that more than him, on his own. But he took the four guys with him, he said their own Iwo Jima moment – we’ll all grab it, we’ll all put it in. It’s about us. And so it was known.
Then with Scott, when they turned back on the twenty-third of February, they’re more dead than alive. And they discover fossils. And the fossils are the things that prove that Antarctica was once in temperate climates, so Scott of the Antarctic said ‘load the sled up with the fossils’. So these poor bastards, pulling for their lives suddenly had thirty-four pounds of fossils on-board. So they slow down, they slow down, and back at base they’re looking out and the polar winter’s coming. They’re hoping for five specs in the distance to come, nothing comes, the polar winter comes. After six months, they go out in the spring and they’re looking for them and they think they’ll find them. Two hundred miles, three hundred miles out, they found them – eleven miles beyond, they got to within eleven miles of safety.
The story that I love, they’re going out – there’s twenty-five of them, and this guy named Sinus Wright can see this strange shadow out on the horizon. He skis over and he sees this lump on the ski field, and out the top there’s a tent pole. And instead of shouting to the others ‘oi I’ve found them’, he said I felt like a man found in a cathedral with his hat on. I signal them to come over, they came over, the captain said ‘alright, slowly’, so he scrapes it away. He was a Canadian, he stayed outside, and eight Englishmen went in. He said thirty seconds after they went in there was a clap. It was the snap, the crack of a pistol. And what it was, was not the crack of a pistol.
What it was, when they’d gone in they found – there was only three survivors, three men in the tent. Two of them were laid out in the Christian burial face, eyes closed, and the last one to have been alive, and was dead, was Captain Scott. Half in his sleeping bag, half out, with his last will and testament – his journal under his emaciated, frozen right hand. And what had happened in the silence is they had lifted his right hand off the journal. The snap in the silence had sounded like the crack of a pistol. And they open up the journal and here are the last words ever written by Scott of the Antarctic.
He writes, ‘whoever finds this, please give it to my wife Kathleen Scott…’. And the last thing he did on Earth – he scratches out the word wife, and writes widow. And he dies.
The point being, he got the detail right. But the big stuff – the big stuff – the right values. And John Howard; I heard John Howard do a speech on leadership and I’m not necessarily in agreement with a lot of what John Howard says, but it was a particularly brilliant speech. He talked about leadership, which is what you do in all of your communities. Leadership. He said leadership is getting the big things right. Making the big decisions, appointing the right people, having the right values. Demonstrating the right values. Details certainly, you need to attend to details – but leadership is getting the big things right.
Anyway, I could talk – I kid you not, I could talk for another twenty-three and a half hours. I’m a record holder with Richard Glover for the longest ever interview. I had done twenty-four books at the time – we did an hour on every book. Although Glover swears that he only asked one question – ‘Peter, tell me about yourself’.
But we did do twenty-four hours. I could go on and on but I won’t – thank you for your attention, I welcome any questions you might have. Thank you.