Sunday, May 16, 2010

Life advice from a 16 year old? Thanks, but no thanks.

Australians everywhere wet their pants yesterday in excitement at the homecoming of 16 year old sailor, Jessica Watson, who (in case you've been living under a rock) has just completed a solo round-the-world voyage on a 10.4m sloop.

She was greeted in Sydney by thousands of people, including the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who called her "our newest hero".

Jessica's response to this hero's welcome focused heavily on the concept of dreams:

"I'm an ordinary girl who believed in her dream ... You don't have to be someone special to achieve something amazing. You've just got to have a dream, believe in it and work hard."

Jessica clearly had no shortage of belief fueling her dream: on top of her own, she also had the belief of her parents (who both gave up their day jobs to help her achieve her dream), as well as the belief of adventurer, Don McIntyre, who provided Jessica with her yacht, "Ella's Pink Lady".

Don McIntyre owns a 600 tonne icebreaker (complete with a helicopter) - so, for him, purchasing a life-size pink sloop for a teenage girl is probably roughly equivalent to an ordinary parent purchasing a Barbie Dream Boat for an ordinary girl. But Jessica Watson would have us believe that she, too, is "an ordinary girl". I beg to differ.

A 1-foot Barbie Dream Boat with plastic accessories?


A 34-foot sloop with state of the art communication and navigation equipment?

 (Forgive the image quality. I couldn't make it to Sydney Harbour yesterday to take a non-copyrighted photo, so I had to draw a picture instead. Unfortunately, my illustration makes Ella's Pink Lady look a bit ... ordinary).

I can't help but wonder what the dreams of Jessica's three siblings are? (She has one older sister, and a younger sister and brother). How many dreams can one family possibly accommodate, when just one of those dreams is a full time job for the dreamer's mother and father?

I don't doubt that Jessica worked very hard at realising her dream. But I think Jessica would do well to realise that she's an extraordinarily lucky young woman: lucky to have been born in an affluent country at an affluent time; lucky to have supportive parents; lucky to have the physical and mental ability to do what she dreamed of.

Not everyone is so lucky.

The day before Jessica exhorted everyone to "have a dream" and "believe in it", the body of another young woman - Nona Belomesoff - was found in a creek bed South West of Sydney. Nona was allegedly murdered by a man who knew about her dream, and took advantage of it.

According to the murdered girl's father, Nona "loved animals and saw this [meeting with her alleged murderer] as an opportunity to follow her dream. ... He said he could get her a job ... Nona said if she didn't go she would lose her job and this job was her dream. So she went, and that was the last time we saw her."

Sometimes, hard work and belief simply aren't enough to make a dream come true.  


  1. Thank you for the most rational response to this folly so far. I found there was something highly irritating about this whole saga. It's quite unbelievable when journeys like this are compared to epic journeys made in the past (such as Shacleton's journey on the Endurance, a truly fascinating story), considering those people had absolutely no way of letting people at home know where they were, how they were, or indeed if they'd make it back. With today's technologies, there rarely is a way of truly getting away from it all, as this girl was showed, sailing the world with a GPS system, blogging on a nearly daily basis, and telephoning with friends and family (and having your parents fly over you off the southern tip of Argentina - who paid for that I wonder?).

    It was an achievement, no doubt about that, but apart from taking attention away from more serious happenings in the world, what the hell was it all for? And which parent in their right mind lets their 16 yr old daughter do such a thing?

    One can only hope that the earnings this adventure will bring along with it, helps the other siblings who no doubt will have made some sacrifices along the way too.

  2. @ tearmunn - I agree! So many things about this whole spectacle got up my nose.

    Aussies just LOVE a "winner". Our Premier Kristina Keneally waxed lyrical about how Jessica "won against the knockers and the doomsayers", etc etc.

    But I don't remember the Prime Minister or the Premier coming out to celebrate the winning spirit of Andrew McAuley (who sadly died in his 2007 attempt to cross the Tasman in a kayak).

    Sometimes, the "doomsayers" turn out to be right.

  3. what upsets me most is this notion that "having a dream" and "working hard" is all that it takes, and that this is somehow good.

    Where is the introspection? Where is the question of right and wrong? The question of valuable, versus self-indulgence?

    I can respect Jessica Watson's personal achievement for what it is. A personal achievement.

    But our national "heros" need to be much more than people with a dream. They need to be people with a conscience and a real respect for the environment and its preservation. Ambition (another word for dreams) un-tempered by consideration for the natural world has bought disaster to the ecosystems of the world (think BP, Goldman Sachs, Chernobyl etc).

    We live in a time where the resources that all 6.9 billion of us rely on are stretched to breaking point. We need people with ambitions that include reducing our population, reducing our consumption, and making sure that life is possible for future generations. Not people who encourage us to continue the mindless consumption of resources based on a personal whim.

    So, well done Jessica for making it home, now it's time to repay the debt that you owe to the planet for your adventure. I look forward to seeing what you can do with your new found fame.