Managing editor David Donovan talks about his tortuous journey, and how it led to him establishing Independent Australia.
Earlier this week, someone asked me the following question through social media:
‘David, have you written any pieces on your own journey? I’d be interested to read about what led you on the path you’ve taken e.g. you’ve studied law, accounting and journalism why? and where do you see things heading? what were the turning points, the hard time, what got you though, and why did you make the choices you made?’
So, in response to this, as perhaps a salutary tale for people still unsure about the path they wish to take in life, let me share a little bit about my journey.
To begin with, I was always a very good student and loved reading from the earliest age. I was fortunate, as the youngest of four children, that my sister Natalie – who was exactly three quarters of a decade older than me to the day – was like a little mother to me and helped me get a quick start. She enjoyed my company, I guess, and so she taught me to read as a tiny tot. In fact, I can’t even remember not being able to read.
So, from an early age I read a lot — everything I could lay my hands upon pretty much. We lived in the country in Central Queensland and I lived a happy and healthy childhood, with parents that were affectionate and loving — and had lots of books (mostly about cricket in my Dad’s case). I spent most of my childhood working hard on the land – mustering cattle, fencing, fighting fires – to help our always battling family make ends meet, as all country kids do. Nevertheless, we wanted for nothing we really needed and, without doubt, I had an advantageous upbringing — something many children, sadly, are not fortunate enough to receive.
My life changed a little when I was in grade 5. Then, all Queensland primary school students of my era were given a standard comprehension test. The format was 50 passages of text, with multiple choice questions following each in which students was asked us to select the answer that most accurately described the meaning of the text. To the astonishment of the teacher at this tiny one teacher school in the middle of nowhere, I answered all of the 50 questions correctly. I was later told that I was the only person in the state to obtain a perfect mark in this test.
I was sent away to Rockhampton for further testing, and it was established that I was what they called “gifted and talented”, with an IQ not quite in the genius range, but close — about 145.
I breezed through primary school. At secondary school, I mostly concentrated on playing cricket, and I never topped any classes, but was in the top 2 or 3 in each. Every year I received a speech night prize for being the “most academically proficient” in the grade. I was interested in everything, but not enthralled by anything in particular. If pressed, I would probably have answered that I most enjoyed writing — and I certainly produced many stories and poems and essays. However, the truth was, I mostly enjoyed reading; I liked to understand the way the world worked, and what made people tick. I never had a photographic memory, or a prodigious recall of specific facts, but I always had a knack of being able to see the big picture, to put the pieces together — to comprehend.
Of course, just before I began my final year at school, I rode into a barbed wire fence on a motorbike. Yet, despite suffering two collapsed lungs, severing my vocal chords and having a brace over my voice-box for half that year, I still managed to be back at school a week later and playing cricket again within a fortnight. And I still ended up graduating amongst the top of my class at the Rockhampton Grammar School.
During that last year at school, of course, we were asked to decide what to do at university. I had no idea what I wanted to do. The advice I got from most adults was to do whatever earned the most money. This seemed sensible at the time. In the end, I decided on doing a combined degree in Law and Business (Accountancy). I was told that since I loved reading, I would be suited to studying Law, with accountancy there as a backup. In truth, I had next to no idea what doing Accountancy even entailed at that time except in the vaguest terms.
Once I got to university, I was extremely disappointed with my selection. Most of the early subjects involved the business side — and they were fantastically boring. I still have no idea how any 17 year-old can be expected to sit through a lecturer droning on about double entry bookkeeping for three hours — it was close to obscene. As for the law subjects, I was astonished to find lecturers telling us that the law was all about applying a vast array of narrow, specific – and sometimes completely conflicting – principles that have been built up through centuries of case law precedent — with justice and truth having, seemingly, no part to play whatsoever. In fact, as law students, we were told that some of the law would outrage us, but is “just the way it is” because it had grown that way over the centuries — and that was that. As for reading the law, this involved reading the judgements of some of the driest and most banal people ever to hold a quill — crusty old men passing judgement on others and the law itself in stilted technical legalese. This was not the sort of reading I ever wanted to do. Law was simply accountancy with words — dull and without any particular moral or ethical foundation.
For two years, I battled through and (mostly) passed my subjects, avoiding all but the most compulsory lectures and tutorials. I regarded the course as a tribulation I needed to get through on the way to a career, although I still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to actually do.
In my third year, our family was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy due to a horrifying and contemptible miscarriage of justice. Without going into detail, we were defrauded, and though we litigated against the perpetrators, we were unsuccessful — the expenses of the trial and lawyers, along with 27% interest on our mortgage at that time, ultimately costing us our grazing properties in Central Queensland. Utterly disgusted with the legal profession and its total disinterest in justice and truth, I dropped out of the law course at the end of that year and resolved to just finish off the Business part of the combined degree, which I did.
So, despite having absolutely no interest in accountancy, I somehow became an accountant. I started work at Rothmans of Pall Mall — a cigarette company. You can read more about that experience here.
I despised accounting from the first. I had no interest in adding up how much money other people were making. The whole profession seemed, to me, to be entirely superfluous; something that would be replaced once humankind developed powerful enough computers — and not before time. After a couple of unhappy years there, I decided to go back to university to finish off my Law degree part-time — being a lawyer couldn’t be any worse than being an assistant accountant.
Luckily, as I was filling out my enrolment forms, I stopped for a moment to ask myself what I really wanted to do — to make sure I wasn’t making another mistake. At that time, I really wanted to write novels. But I also wanted to make a living and, given the work ethic drummed into me by my family, doing a Creative Writing course seemed a trifle indulgent. I figured that many writers, like Hemingway and Orwell, had subsidised their creative writing with journalism, so I thought maybe I would enjoy that. Then again, I only had a handful of law subjects to go to finish that degree, which would be wasted if I started a new course. I resolved to toss a coin to decide; heads I would do Law, tails Journalism. As you may have guessed, it came up tails.
After a couple of years studying journalism part-time, still working at Rothmans, I decided to go overseas to see the world. I planned to only go for six months, but I started making good money working for investment banks in London, so I stayed away for 2 years, breaking off an engagement in the process. When I came back, in 1999, I had enough money to study full time and finish off the Journalism degree, which I did in a year.
Then I went straight back to London, though this time with my (now) wife Belinda; I hoped to break into Fleet Street, like lots of other Aussies had done. I thought my business degree, job experience and journalism qualifications would make me an attractive prospect to write for, say, the Business pages. I was almost mockingly rebuffed at every turn. In the end, with Belinda initially having trouble finding work in London, I was forced to go back into the finance industry to make ends meet.
I spent another four years in London working mainly for investment banks, but also for a publisher and an advertising agency, as a finance analyst. I didn’t particularly enjoy the work, but I became good at it. I began to really understand economics and the way the world of commerce actually works — not the way university lecturers tell you it works. Looking back, I can see now that being forced into this industry, almost against my will, has rounded off my knowledge base — I would never have discovered anything about business if I hadn’t been forced to learn about it. (Being able to do my own tax return also saves me money every year.)
Of course, during all this time, on the side, I moonlighted as a freelance journalist and wrote poems — and read.
When we came back to Australia, in 2004, my eldest brother and mother (Dad had sadly died several years before) had re-established the family fortunes — this time in the avocado industry. I was asked to help this rapidly growing business and agreed, moving to Bundaberg and becoming the financial controller of the family business: Donovan Avocados. When I left it in 2008, it was one of the top few avocado producers in the nation. Selling my share in this thriving enterprise left us financially secure. I worked for a while as Finance Manager at a regional airport, but my heart simply wasn’t in it. It was time to move on.
In June 2010, I started Independent Australia.
Not to become a journalist — I can see now that this was never really my ultimate goal.
Not to become a writer, either — in all honesty, writing for the sake of writing is of no interest to me at all. I feel, without any conceit, that my skill is being able to see the big picture that is sometimes obscured to others. Moreover, I believe in truth and doing what is right. I have seen, up close, a moral vacuum in our business, justice and media industries. AndI want to help heal the hurt and broken heart of this nation — because it is broken. I feel it is the duty of all of us to strive to make our world a better place than we found it. That, at least, is my mission.
Gratifyingly, thousands of people read IA’s “news with a conscience” every day. In Australia, I am hapy to say, there are many people who want to help salve this nation’s soul. IA gives these people a voice, and a forum. Now, after a long, sometimes arduous and often confusing journey, I am happy doing just what I want to be doing. I have lived a blessed life, so far — and I am only 41, so hopefully I may have more years in front of me to continue my work. No man, however, knows his hour.
So there, that is my journey so far.
If you are starting on your journey, don’t worry about making the wrong choices, or making mistakes along the way — all these things, if you choose, will help make you wiser, and become part of what makes you who you are — and special. Sometimes, doing something that turns out to be unpleasant and that you don’t enjoy at the time may be the very thing that is crucial in ultimately making you a success. At least, that is the way it happened with me. Mind you, being a success is something only you can judge in your heart; it doesn’t come from the words or plaudits of others — and never through vulgar monetary compensation, or consumption, or the acquisition of material goods.
To me, being a success is about doing what you want to be doing every day, and finding fulfilment there. To feel like you are being a force for good. There is nothing better than waking up every day with enthusiasm and joy. My advice to all young people is to follow your heart; be passionate about what you do. Strive to make a difference, not a fortune.
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