Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Delivered at Winthrop Hall on Tuesday 16 September
Academic Board, our all important graduates, my dear family, friends of this great university, unlikely that it is that I should stand here before you - this boy form the bush with a terrible stutter who took a minutes to say a sentence - in fact I'm sure my children often wish those days back - but today my wonderful and patient bride, my wise counsellor, my mentor Nicola and I are very proud to stand with you in this top 100 university to encourage and to toast your success graduands. Enjoy it for a moment, perhaps no more than nanoseconds as the world awaits you and it's importantly the world needs you.
It is often that we look back and say - if only I knew then what I know now, life would be so different. As Nicola and I are here tonight we need, in really the honour of this university and our grateful service to it, to accept Honorary Doctorates from this great institution and I thought I may encourage you graduands on reflection of some of our own mistakes. There have been plenty. And perhaps in so doing protect you a little from repeating them.
But, now let me reflect - This great hall - when political exams - those monotonous, boring, international political exams seemed to turn from moments to minutes to hours to day and economic exams to months as you waited for that hour hand to fall on the three hour mark. And when the clock ticked so slowly on the wall you felt entire battles were won and lost and history was written before the minute hand moved next, all happening outside these walls. As the wealth of nations blurred in my mind, time dragged through these monotonous exams. I imagined the Jacarandas outside blooming, shedding their flowers and then blooming again in the next season. And as we ploughed on from an international politics essay to the attempted extinguishment on John Maynard Keynes fiscal economics to all the rage at the time of monetarism taking over the world, yes the seconds turned to months. You could almost feel the earth turning as you prayed for exam time to finish.
Yet outside the world was all action. Another alumni, The Honourable R.J. Hawke, had just become Prime Minister and was beseeching employers of Australia to allow their employees to sleep off the effect of the drinking binges celebrating The America's Cup and sleep through the following working day. When Treasurer Keating floated the Aussie dollar seemingly around that time on a sea of Australian beer and the first Chinese major leader, the Premier Zhao Ziyang pulled in to one of Australia's stormy airports to start what I think has become a beautiful and perhaps the most important bilateral relationship with the words ‘campai'.
As the cold war raged, and it did rage, and you can all remember it, the iron curtain separated nations, we sat here watching the seconds turn to days and minutes into weeks and months seemed to roll by and you wondered which century the economics or politics exam might finish.
But there was an exciting part - a friend of mine gave me a toy rabbit's foot to put on my desk as a token of good luck having bet against me that I would fail this particular literature exam. It was on these hollowed and quiet halls that the only sound was not the straining students but the quiet click and the menace of the examiner's clockwork, timber and metre of a stiletto heel as she slowly marched between the desks, always approaching from behind, leaning over our shoulders, ensuring the stress of the environment was maximised by the menace and closeness of the examination. We all knew her and the dreaded exam was not delaying preparation so much at the constant inspection. But back to the rabbit's foot ... The examiner's beady eyes fell on the furry memento. Involuntarily she reached out and touched it, she fell into that trap of curiosity. Very voluntarily, I let out a short, sharp squeak, as though the rabbit had been pierced by her very finger. Her scream of surprise and fright was blood curdling and remains to this day the most exciting thing to have happened in any politics exam, anywhere, ever.
And so life, graduands, like with humour, is what you make it.
There are opportunities here and everywhere and I ask you don't take to bets against yourself. Don't do what others did in my time, which is to streak around the then commerce buildings as paid dares from the university ref tavern to raise money - and of course I'll plead the fifth amendment.
I of course as you'd imagine didn't do any of this. I enjoyed carving emu eggs to put me through these university days. And I owed that as much to the Indigenous elders who taught me the values then that I hold so dear and which guide my life today.
And life is about how you take opportunity graduands. Perhaps let me give you one personal example... a dear aboriginal friend of mine's life ended abruptly, as so often happens with our first Australians. Leaving behind him three gorgeous children to make their little way in the world. The smallest girl of three was being coached by her 15 year old sister in some of the most violent swearing I've ever heard and so sending her on her way of disparity. That little girl of 15, a most beautiful little girl, only visits the high school she should be attending for the last two years to peddle drugs back into the school and foster an even more unhealthy and cash stretched young lifestyle.
The middle child, little boy, was also given the same opportunity at boarding school. He joined at year seven with a scholastic age of one-and-a-half only last year. Less than two years later he's keeping up with his cohort in year eight and has just accepted a prestigious scholarship to one of the finest schools in Australia.
So graduands it all comes down starkly to the choices you make. How you stick at them, how determine you are. So as you venture out into the world from university to much greater shores they're lessons that I hold dear in some challenging situations which perhaps you can take.
Let's start there, let's start there with challenge - When we are most challenged, when all the cards of life have fallen against us. When thing seem they couldn't be worse and the day around you darkens, it is exactly at these precious times that real wisdom, character, strength inside you rises. Think not that you will ever strengthen your character, grow your fortitude or speed your success when everything for you is going well, it will not, in fact often the opposite is true. Unless your personal fabric of humility is so secure - welded to your very soul, your success will corrupt the correcting little messages of life that we always receive and skew your decision making against you. Remember humility and remember strength comes when times seem darkest. And those lessons will run with you. So when times are tough, when you do fall, when you do skin your proverbial shins, that is exactly when the wisdom and character inside you grows.
So therefore graduands, never fear but embrace failure as it will enmesh within you the fortitude you need for later success. It is through that hardship that you become strong. Not if you listen to the imposter of great successes .... Then through celebrating your success too much, taking yourself too seriously will you be assured of failure.
I certainly recall well many failures. I recall well bringing a new technology to Australian shores, importing a billion dollars in capital when I was in my early 30s. A billion dollars counted for something back then. With that exuberance of success we signed a lump sum contract for the world's biggest engineer to see the world's largest greenfields complex mineral processing plant built right here in Australia. That operation is still one of the largest nickel and cobalt operations in the world, the termination of my career at that point, and I thought everything I stood for was rort form the failure of the engineer to complete against his contracts. However it was exactly at that time of great failure when certainly my little family was the only people and a few friends and mentors who stood with us in that storm. When failure was apparent and obvious and written into every paper, that the little seeds of success of Fortescue metals group began to grow. I didn't know it but at the time I remember the seeds and now I look back and say, when you water those seeds with that great adage of never, ever giving up and those seeds will grow.
And it was an aboriginal elder who said to me," young fella leave your cheque book at home. Keep your branding iron hot". And I know that probably seems a little departed from that academic wisdom. But for those of you who have perhaps not wrestled a young steer to the ground and for proclaimed it as the station's own through that hot branding iron, that simple saying means - look for solutions and opportunities that can survive without money.
In the end some capital made be required but if at first a value cannot be rort from that idea then move on, do not waste your capital, leave your branding iron - put your branding iron back in the fire. Look for another opportunity. Certainly leave your cheque book at home.
And so it is with these massive ups and downs in life that I say I'm here due to the success in my own wife, Nicola. Her success, not of course only academically, or in business and in family but in philanthropy and in mental shift to all those she works with. In the massive swings and roundabouts which we've had in developing resources companies I began to learn with Nicola that one plus one could equal a truly great number. I'm also just as certain that without her I wouldn't go back to half that great number, I'd go back to one. It's that core of family that roots our society and stability that we must all hold dear. The power of your loved one to straighten your course and refine your ideas that will lead from a loving relationship to one with also flowers of achievement. Be that in your children, your career or the help that you give your friends and your fellow man often unacknowledged and ungratified.
So it was that last year that Nicola and I became Australasian signatories to The Giving Pledge to dedicate the vast majority of our wealth to philanthropy. And it was way more than a personal statement. Indeed it was to us a call to arms. Effective philanthropy is so much more than simply writing a cheque. And while writing a cheque is powerful, I challenge every one of us to give but also give of that most important element. Give from that fire in which we all burn. Give your time. It is at least as valuable.
For those of you who might in your success graduands move on quickly and consider philanthropy, could I say, pursue a dream of passion. Pursue something which wells in your heart wherever you see it - either the little hand reaching out to you from society or even the gaping wound, use the intellect in which this great university has helped arm you. Give generously in a way that strengthens and not weakens the receiver . That is the challenge, that you may determine that while enhacing a person or community's circumstance, you empower their ability to stand independently without you and without your charity. In other words, give of your precious time. Teach people to fish not just give them a fish. Be unafraid to always teach.
We live in a time when the United Nations predicts that moving people into cities in the developing world is commencing at its great threshold. It is not receding. Over the next 50 years we will need more than 600 new cities the size of Shenzhen, a city alone in China of 10-million people. Be you philosophers, be you accountants, business people, people of letters, go out and be scientists, developers, designers or any other agents of change. But most of all remember that the power of humility alone will protect you in your success.
And the dangers of success be warned. Be very generous with your time as much as your capital. Proceed always with a kind spirit. So in change, challenge and adversity and in particular failure that great teacher, that great enhancer of your wisdom and strength of your character be unrelenting, be unreasonable in every endeavour and challenge that you set yourself.
As I've been taught by the elders of my childhood. Imagine what you wish to create and the world in which you wish to live and hold that thought dear in your mind until the steps to achieve that goal unfold in your imagination.
Most of all don't let anyone bet you against your own success. Take time to celebrate. Keep your branding iron hot, as hot as you can and perhaps leave the rabbits in peace.
Thank you very much
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