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Engineering and travelling
When I left school I got a cadetship to do engineering and part of that was I had to work part-time for two years. I was a fitting and turning apprentice which was the best thing that ever – the most valuable learning of my whole life. Cause I’ve spent twelve years in universities but those two years in the work shop I learned how to put things together. So I built three houses and you know – that was incredibly valuable. Because on a farm of course, you’re your own jack of all trades aren’t you doing all of that?
This cadetship with this particular company – they paid for me to go to uni. So it was pretty good deal for me really. Engineering. University of New South Wales. I worked for several years as an engineer and then I went travelling The idea was to go overland to Europe but I never made it, I never got out of India; fascinating place. Having been a very straight sort of a bloke in a suit and gone to India, I came back here with hair down to my shoulders and a big moustache and, you know, I used to wear pajamary clothes and I got involved in this food co-op at the uni. I suppose by the time I got back, this is 1970, I’d kind of had a change …I’d broken free of the … Well my father, he’d started out fairly poor and worked his way up to a very high position, with no education, in the Public Service, apart from an accountancy ticket, and he thought I’d go the next step and become Prime Minister or something because I was good at school work and such. But I kind of got in touch with my own aspirations in Asia I think. So I broke free of that because I’m not an ambitious person.
But when I got back everyone’s saying ‘Oh you’ve got to get a job.’ So I went and got another engineering job and I got sick of that. I’d met a bunch of people when I was travelling who’d done their PhD. And that seemed like a pretty good life to me (laughs) so I just went back to uni and talked to a few of my old lecturers and said ‘what’s happening?’ And as it turned out one of my old structural engineering lecturers had some money from the Royal Australian Navy and a really good scholarship. It was $3000 a year, which was good in those days, and he just wanted me to do this project which I did. It was all mathematics, never went near a ship (laughs), totally not interested in ships! That wasn’t a career choice for me, it was sort of a delaying tactic.
So I was doing the PhD and that was going alright but then I read the Limits to Growth Report. Life changing event, life changing event! I still tell all my students about it. I’d say that book has sold fifteen million copies; it’s the world’s biggest selling book on the environment, fifteen million copies. And one of the authors who’s still alive, Jørgen Randers, he’s actually only 67, he’s just written a book forty years after you know, like yeah, a number of people, CSIRO have looked at it and they’ve said ‘yeah we’re tracking business as usual,’ (laughs) nobody’s really listening.