‘One chance,’ he says, ‘one chance is all life offered me and then life said, “Okay, you’re on your own from now.” And very often — you’ll live long, to sixty, seventy, eighty — but that’s the only chance you’ll get. So it’s all about recognising it, seizing the moment and making the most of that opportunity.’
The hall is silent. You could hear a pin drop. The hall is also crowded — packed to the rafters, as they say in Australia. The average age of the audience is probably 18. And getting an audience of that age to sit still without shuffling, rustling, whispering, groaning, moaning, sighing … well, it’s an achievement in itself, as well as a testament to the power of the speaker.
As speakers go, Dan Murphy isn’t one of those slim, fit, dressed-in-a-business-suit-and-tie types. In fact, he’s the very antithesis: slight, frail, bent, attired in faded grey slacks and a checked shirt that isn’t even tucked in — what used to be called a ‘bush shirt’ back when I was a child.
It’s that quiet chat you have with yourself in the mirror each day. And if it’s an honest chat, you’ll tell yourself the right things, the first of which is: Be true to yourself, not to anything else
Dan is, in fact, a man who lives in what in Australia is known as ‘the bush’ — the wild, sometimes untamed, countryside. His cheeks — bearing a week-old stubble — express his clear disregard for the razor. As a figure, he’s the type of man that might on odd occasion invite ridicule but that’s only if one doesn’t know his background.
Here, today, in this hall, it’s the respect that’s heard in the silence as he tells his story — or, as he puts it, ‘my journey through life.’ It’s a story that could easily be a movie, it has all the right ‘movie’ elements: a man born in more than prosperous family surroundings where the promise of success in life is always on offer; where the stairway to success is waiting just outside the front door, metaphorically. But a man who chooses, instead, to take that other stairway, also waiting outside the door, metaphorically — the one with the stairs leading down … and down, and down.
‘Sometimes,’ as Dan says, ‘It’s an insane desire in a young body to see how far down one can take one’s self.
‘Be true to yourself’
Some of you youngsters may know that by another name: self-abuse.’ Often, the chances of re-climbing those stairs is next to impossible, he points out. ‘In my case, it was a case of self-worth. I found I was trying to measure myself up against standards and always falling short. At least, that’s what I always thought.
My dad was such a successful man his success cast a very large shadow and his boots seemed impossibly hard to fill.’ Expectation shouldn’t be what you think the world expects of you, he adds. Expectation should always be what YOU expect of yourself.
It’s that quiet chat you have with yourself in the mirror each day. And if it’s an honest chat, you’ll tell yourself the right things, the first of which is, ‘Be true to yourself, not to anything else. Do what makes you feel comfortable; what makes you and your conscience sleep easy at night, because, ‘I tell you, conscience is a very light sleeper.’
Making their way back up
Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, when you’re sinking rapidly on the way down, you’ll encounter someone — someone like you struggling to make their way back up. ‘If I have anyone to thank for my success and fame as a proud farmer, with 200 acres of land and fifty milking cows, it’s my brother James. He was sinking down the “drug staircase” faster than I was when we were teenagers. In deciding to save him, I reckon I saved myself.
Let me leave you with a valuable little saying,’ he adds. ‘As youngsters, be alert, listen sharp, because very often opportunity knocks only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.’
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.