Lisa Tarca is Creating a Just and Right World

Lisa Tarca is the Chief Operating Officer at The Hunger Project Australia. Lisa has forged a career in advocating human rights and justice although her journey started in a very different sector of work. By taking advantage of her background and experience in economics, information systems management and consultancy, Lisa has been able to assist the not-for-profit sector in visioning their passion for creating a just and right world by applying forward thinking business strategies. In her spare time, Lisa has volunteered with Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative and The Song Room.

Lisa talks to Dalton Koss HQ about her career journey from the business sector to human rights advocacy in the not-for-profit landscape and the importance in maintaining a work life balance.

From a professional viewpoint, I started my career in the early 1990’s with Accenture. As a learning organisation, they are excellent and recognise the importance of investing in their employees. They were progressive and one of the first organisations that I was aware of that promoted women up the ranks. Any employee who had the desire to learn was provided with an opportunity to move forward. There was a “work hard and play hard” mentality. You needed to be willing to give a lot to the organisation, but they gave a lot back. I had mentors and learned skills such as people management, even if it was provided in a clinical manner. My Bachelor of Economics and Masters in Information System Management allowed me to pursue the application of technology systems within a corporate structure.

From Accenture I moved to one of my clients Verizon. This move to a client was a risk. As a leader you need to know which risks to take. I had a team of 200 people and budget of multiple millions of dollars. There was a lot of pressure and I didn’t think I was ready for it. After chatting to a lot of supportive friends I convinced myself that I could do step into this leadership role. Even with this confidence I needed the extra support to make the tough decisions. However, this experience taught me that I could stand on my own. I was working and living in New York with an office on the top floor of the building located near the CEO. There were late nights and weekends, and there were sacrifices. I also negotiated in this role that I needed space to be a mother. I did this role for 4 years and it was fantastic.

During my time at Accenture I was living in New York when 9/11 happened. I helped out at the Mayors Office as a volunteer. This voluntary experience was an epiphany for the professional direction I would take for the rest of my life. I am lucky to have organisational and project management skills that can be applicable to other causes that make a real difference in the world. It was this dilemma that I faced when I took on the Verizon role. I was already in the headspace of wanting to create change. But I took on the Verizon job so I could build my skill sets. I decided that four years was enough. I didn’t want to go any higher; I wasn’t interested in the CIO position. It was an exciting time, but I wasn’t prepared to give my heart and soul. Work life balance was far more important to me. This role gave me financial security and flexibility to make other choices.

On leaving Verizon, I decided to take some time off to research the non-profit/for-purpose sector. I attended workshops and trained myself. I wasn’t set on an ideal of what I wanted to do. There were certain causes that spoke to me such as human rights. My family background includes refugees from World War II and so I had a personal interest in human rights. From a leadership perspective it is important to realise your passions and what makes you tick. Belief and passion is integral to being a leader. I wanted to incorporate IT into for not-for-profits after noticing this gap in my research. With this in mind, I met Mel Washington from Human Rights First and discussed with him the opportunities I saw for the sector in adopting new IT approaches in their daily business. This led me to applying for an IT role at Human Rights First. It was the first time in 15 years that I had to sit for an interview and it was a little daunting. I was fortunate to be offered the position. I took a major pay cut, but that was fine as I was more fulfilled by this position and the salary was enough to cover my basic needs.

I went from managing 200 people to Director of IT with a team of three. The first year was one of the best times professionally speaking. It was so much fun and such a great team. I added value immediately. It was a pleasure being part of a team that turned around thinking to creating a difference. I stayed at Human Rights First for 4 years. Mel left, and I was promoted into his role of Chief Operating Officer. Shortly thereafter, our Chief Financial Officer also resigned, at the same time as the start of the global financial crisis. Due to a high dependency we had on foundations which were invested with Bernie Madoff, we lost 20% of our funding in one day when the Madoff scandal was revealed. It was during this period that I assumed responsibility for the finance function, with help from a new Director of Finance, and under the guidance of the organisation founder and a relatively new CEO. It was a challenge. We had to let go of staff. It was essential that I delivered this information in a way that was compassionate and organisationally responsible.

During this period, the love of my life finished his Masters in Finance and we knew we were moving back to his home country of Australia. I decided to take a sabbatical to pursue other interests before our move to Australia. I did consulting with Human Rights First for the first 6 months and to this day I still maintain a relationship with this organisation. Whilst visiting Melbourne, I did a barista training course. I completed a month-long intensive yoga teacher training at an Ashram in the Bahamas, and then became a yoga instructor for a short time whilst living in Santa Fe, NM. During this time I also worked as a barista and volunteered with Human Rights Alliance and coordinated the LGBT parade. These experiences provided me with a great network and friendships with eclectic people.

When I came back to Australia, I initiated research into the Australian for-purpose sector. I connected with the Ethical Jobs Network. I found a link into Social Ventures Australia (SVA); a great organisation that bridges organisations that have capital to for-purpose organisations which need funding. Though I enjoyed this work, I felt that many of the projects were too short and I left them before seeing them through to completion. It was through my time with SVA which I started volunteering with Boomalli and The Song Room. Through SVA, I came into contact with the organisation One Laptop per Child (OLPC). Australia was not part of the OLPC business model, however, one entrepreneur – the eventual CEO of OLPC Australia – convinced the organisation that this project was vital in aboriginal communities. This same person convinced the then Gillard Government to roll out laptops to aboriginal communities that was supported with a $12 million budget. They asked me to come on board and help with their role out plan. I knew this project was to be delivered over a finite time. It was a risk, but I said yes. I was in this position for just under a year and the project came to a conclusion faster than I expected due to tensions between myself and the CEO. I still keep in contact with the alumni of this organisation. I found myself on the job search again.

Via a SVA contact, I was informed about the Chief Operating Officer position at The Hunger Project Australia. I was interviewed and got the job. I am still in the same role at this organisation. I enjoy working with each individual in this organisation and have immense satisfaction from the work we deliver.

Lisa Tarca working with community women leaders in India.
Lisa Tarca, COO of The Hunger Project Australia, working with community women leaders in India.

The 5 key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership have been selected as a personal reflection of my leadership journey and from my mentor experiences, they include:

1. Responsible – In a past role, I completed the Gallup Strengths Survey, which includes 33 words to describe strength within the context of your professional effectiveness. There is no right combination; it is your personal attributes for leveraging your strengths. It creates a shift in your personal thinking moving towards positive working applications. Responsibility is one of my key words resulting from this survey. I am not one to stand aside when I see a problem. Rather I take responsibility for the issue, even quite often when I didn’t create it. By being responsible, I am also creating my integrity.

2. Connections – This word is attributed to my yoga spiritual teachings and practices. I believe we are all connected. We all have commonality and connection and I believe in the power of connection. In a leadership position, it is about using your connections responsibility and not exploiting them. You need to give back to those connections.

  1. Achiever– An effective leader gets the right stuff done and makes it happen. They understand the bigger picture of why stuff needs to get done.
  1. Compassionate – I have a Yin-Yang philosophy. Compassion and vulnerability is not a weakness. My role models have been the most compassionate people. Compassion opens the possibility for relationships.
  1. Committed – Leadership is taking and channelling your passion and committing to whatever it is that drives you. You need to be very clear on your purpose and then communicate this to those you lead. You need to align your passion to the work you are doing. You make the leap from understanding your passion to executing your passion. You are committed to doing that.

There have been a number of successes, challenges and failures in my leadership journey. I have been very lucky with receiving a number of promotions and progressing well within those opportunities. I am also relatively successful in balancing work life commitments. However, I am continually challenged in whether I am getting my work life balance right. I am constantly recalibrating and revaluing while balancing my relationships. I didn’t succeed in my One Laptop per Child role that I set out to do. It was a learning experience but I gained some of the most wonderful relationships. What felt like a failure at the time, was a learning experience in retrospect.

My success comes from family support. My mother came to the USA as a German refugee and came out as a lesbian vegetarian campaigner later in life. Education was an important investment. I continually gain new perspectives from my current role at The Hunger Project Australia. We are lucky. There are so many people who are suffering and experience hunger and I see myself as incredibly lucky that I was born into a life of opportunity.

There is a natural cyclical pattern in life. Be conscience when you are in a good cycle and save money so there is flexibility later on during tough times. Reinvent yourself during tough times; you may have to sell your services in a different way. Be adaptable and flexible mentally, physically, emotionally. It makes you resilient. If you design your life to have support structures in place, you can survive, you become resilient.

Wellbeing is a big part of my life. I do yoga 5-6 days a week and cardio exercise. I grew up with my mother farming organic produce and consequently buy organic whenever possible. To maintain my mental wellbeing, I keep studying. I am currently learning Italian and chat about politics and problem-solving with my Mathematician husband over dinner.

Taking time to reflect, balance, recharge, skiing and visiting family in the USA keeps me ahead in life. I advance my knowledge in a particular area to learn new things. I stretch myself by investing in new challenges. It is not about staying ahead of the game; rather I invest in life so I can keep growing.

For those who want to transition from corporate roles into the Not-for Profit landscape I strongly recommend the Ethical Jobs Network (www.ethicaljobs.com.au). I also suggest reading the Social Venture Australia’s quarterly magazine where contributors are leaders in Not-for –Profit organisations (www.socialventures.com.au). The stories promote the sharing of incentives and ideas for creating a great culture of rewards and strategy. Business Chicks Australia also provides an amazing network that connects women entrepreneurs across all ages in Australia (www.businesschicks.com.au).

To learn more about Lisa and her work at The Hunger Project Australia, please click on the links below:

Lisa Tarca on LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/pub/lisa-tarca/8/497/748

The Hunger Project Australia: www.thp.org.au

Rethinking What’s Possible Workshop: http://thp.org.au/communities/rethinking-whats-possible

Album Rescue Series: Mary Margaret O’Hara ‘Miss America’

The long format essay seems to have died; something I partly blame on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on Twitter (@touringtim) and I love the expediency of only having 140 characters to say the important stuff. This reductionism can be even more extreme. A friend and colleague of mine writes four word movie reviews, e.g. Whiplash “drummer learns two songs” or Apocalypse Now “Chopper, hopper acid dropper”. This got me thinking about how best to describe Miss America released by Mary Margaret O’Hara in 1988? Four words is far too easy an option, so I thought lets make this really difficult and describe this album and artist combined into ONE word, and that word is . . . UNIQUE. This is a classic, perfectly formed, beautiful gem of an album that passed almost everyone by, hence its well worthy of an album rescue.

O’Hara is one of the most unique performers on the planet and what she does to music via the conduit of her voice is akin to the tricks a contortionist performs in the circus ring. Her timing is unconventional, her timbre idiosyncratic, her voice is expressive as it soars, falls and goes everywhere in between on this album. There are very few singers to whom she can be compared, so I won’t try. This album is one of those records that has to be heard to be believed though I doubt it will ever be fully understood, its often bewildering, at other times bewitching but totally intriguing. Miss America remains stunning nearly 27 years on from its initial release in 1988. There’s nothing else quite like it, so perhaps it’s appropriate, frustrating and mysterious that O’Hara never recorded another album. I’m discounting the soundtrack for the 2002 Canadian movie Apartment Hunting, which was released without her approval. Miss America is a rare and precious because it makes you long to hear more, I’ve being playing this record since its release and still haven’t tired of it. Trying to describe this record is almost impossible, words just aren’t complex enough to fully capture or describe O’Hara ephemeral voice. This is an album that you can only start to understand through repeatedly listening to it.

O’Hara was born in Toronto in the early 1960’s, the precise date is unknown, and graduated from Ontario Art College after studying painting, sculpture and graphic design. The art college route into popular music was a very common one and is superbly articulated in Simon Frith’s 1988 book Art Into Pop. With a surname derived from Irish ancestry she was one of seven children and raised a Roman Catholic. Van Morrison, Dinah Washington and the jazz records that her father would play in the family home, shaped O’Hara’s musical taste during her formative years. She also painted, and acted, like her sister Catherine, who would go on to star in Home Alone. After playing in bands at clubs across Ontario, the acting and painting were dropped and music became her primary creative outlet. Visionary executive head of Virgin Records’ A&R department Simon Draper was blown away by her demos, and O’Hara was quickly signed in 1983.

It took almost five years to make Miss America partly because of O’Hara’s perfectionism and partly due to her unconventional recording habits. Primary multi-track recording was undertaken in 1984 at the rural Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, South Wales. As a residential studio this facility has played host to almost every super-star band from the 70s, 80s and 90’s. Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody there. Rolling fields full of sheep obviously have a positive effect on the creative art of record production. Sonically this studio sounds superb even by today’s standards. At the time Rockfield was stocked with the very best recording equipment available. Andy Partridge of XTC, who was also signed to Virgin Records, had raved about the demos and he took up position in the producer’s chair on the recommendation of legendary producer Joe Boyd. Straightaway, there were problems. There are stories of Partridge stopping his production duties after a day when O’Hara’s manager fired him. The myth is she found out that he was an atheist and that Partridge’s co-producer on the project John Leckie (who later produced albums by XTC and The Stone Roses) was a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a controversial Indian guru who reportedly supported free love. I guess this was too much for a Canadian with a strict Roman Catholic upbringing or its just another smoke screen? Tapes from this 1984 session were recorded by in-house engineer Paul Cobbold, but were left unfinished.

The Rockfield tapes lingered or languished in Virgin Record’s “to difficult pile” until Canadian guitarist, composer and producer Michael Brook broke the stalemate in the summer of 1988. After Brook saw O’Hara perform at Toronto’s Music Gallery, he made direct contact with Virgin and offered to help her finish the album. Virgin jumped at this opportunity. With Brook’s assistance, O’Hara and her band re-recorded four songs in the summer of 1988 and remixed seven of the original cuts from the Rockfield sessions to finish the album. Brook was once a member of the new-wave band Martha and the Muffins, remember that fabulous single Echo Beach? He obviously knows a good tune when he hears one. Three of the 1988 recordings were produced by O’Hara and Brook; the rest were “constructed and conducted” and produced by O’Hara. According to an article in Canadian Composer she mourns the lost of the original tapes, but she is still proud of the songs that eventually emerged on Miss America. O’Hara talks about the song To Cry About, later covered by Hull band Everything But the Girl, which tells us much about the emotional weight wrapped up in that album. “Virgin said I wrote that about my boyfriend who died. I didn’t. I wrote that song in August 1980, in the bath, when we were still together.” When the song was played to her boyfriend, full of lyrics about loss and timed disasters, he said it was about him, but O’Hara didn’t agree. A year later in 1981, the boyfriend drowned. “And then the lyrics were obviously about him, as if I’d seen it happening”.

Legendary 1960s wall of sound record producer, and now prison inmate, Phil Spector once said that a record only needed three vital elements to be perfect: –

  1. It must be ridiculously repetitive
  2. Have a primeval beat
  3. Be about sex

According to Spector’s metric this record is a fail on all three accounts. This probably says more about Spector’s chutzpah than it does about the music that we are considering here. Luckily there’s another set of much more appropriate metrics as proposed by ex-record producer and now academic Richard James Burgess, in his 1997 book, The Art of Record Production. According to Burgess there are eight elements that are needed in equal proportions to create the perfect pop record. The recipe is thus: –

  1. The song
  2. The vocal
  3. The arrangement
  4. The performance
  5. The engineering
  6. The Mix
  7. Timelessness
  8. The Heart

It’s quite possible that Dr Burgess is onto something here. It has to start with the song, a narrative, the story, an exposition that has a beginning, middle and end. You know when a song is strong because it can be sung with minimal or no instrumentation and still amaze the listener. Try this simple experiment with virtually any song written by Lennon/McCartney or Bob Dylan; it works. French philosopher Roland Barthes, as always, has much to say about the vocal or more accurately “the grain of the voice” in his 1977 book Image, Music Text. Every singer perfects his or her own chant, his or her own speed, rhythm, cadence, volume and grain of voice. “The Grain“, says Roland Barthes, “is that materiality of the body” the voice is the most misunderstood instrument on the planet. Very few singers posses the grain and the majority posses no grain at all. Mary Margaret O’Hara is the personification of the grain of the voice.

Arrangements on this record, which are credited to O’Hara, are intentionally sparse, comprising guitar, drums, bass with the occasional keyboards and violin. This is on purpose to give as much space as possible for O’Hara’s swooping, diving, twisting vocals. Everything is rigidly ‘on grid’. The current mode of production via a digital audio workstation (DAW), allows for the manipulation of the music and to place it precisely on grid. This variant of hyperreality was 20 years a head of its time, it simply just did not exist in 1988. This level of absolute millimeter precision came from spot on playing, hence its sparseness. If the playing were any more complex then it would be impossible, without DAW technology, to get it so perfectly on grid. If you listen to the album loud (I do) and on good speakers (I have) you can hear the click track bleeding through. The click track provides the rigid architectural skeleton on which this music is built upon. I’d go as far as to stay that Miss America was probably the last great structuralist record before the onset of post modernism.

The performances by O’Hara and band are sublime and it’s virtually impossible to fault. One reason why this record is worthy of reconsideration is because it captures these virtually faultless performances forever. The metric I use to judge audio engineering excellence is if it’s transparent then its good. According to this metric the engineering on this album is beyond good because it’s totally invisible. The mix adheres to the holy trinity, as instilled into all mix engineers, of PLACE, SPACE and BASS. Without an expansive explanation the mix on this album is as good as it gets hitting all three markers. Is this record timeless? Well I’m writing about it almost 30 years after it was released. Does this record have heart? Indeed it has a giant beating heart full of passion and emotion.

This record starts straightforwardly enough with To Cry About. O’Hara’s distinctive voice appears over super sparse ringing electric guitar and five-string bass. She sings passionately of love lost “There will be a timed disaster. There’s no you in my hereafter“. This song sets the scene for the whole album; it’s practically an advertisement for her voice. When the drums kick in on track two’s Year in Song it takes us to totally different unexpected territory. The drum sound on this track is pure 1980’s with super loud punchy kick drum, massive gated reverb snare, tom-toms that sound like cannons exploding and zingy cymbals. O’Hara begins the song with recognizable, but somewhat cryptic, lyrics and around halfway through she starts to free-associate, or to play with the lyrics in a way that a poststructuralist poet would envy. I am not sure what she is getting at or is trying to work out in this song; it’s an enigma. Indeed she sings “What iss [sic] the aim eh?… joy?” Possibly the aim is finding and going with the groove, letting the sense of the song take care of itself or of just getting lost in the music. By the time she’s barking about “ta-ta music” in lines too way difficult to decode without the printed lyrics, O’Hara seems to have created her own set of self-expressive language.

O’Hara’s songs twist logic, language, time and space to fit her own unique version of the world. It’s virtually impossible to know how much calculation went into these songs and performances; we just don’t know how much of the supposed spontaneity is planned or is organic. In Body’s in Trouble, track three, the body is both an object and a person and its also producing the sounds we are listening too. I’m sure Roland Barthes would love this track. O’Hara is not explicit about the dilemma; she just pushes and pulls and plays around with the idea of forces at work. Meanwhile, the music rises, dips, bends, and breaks. Far more grounded is track four, Dear Darling, a country styled ballad that addresses the classic themes of devotion and longing. In conveying “A thing of such beauty” that “Must be called love,” O’Hara proves that she’s the vocal and emotional equal of country legend Patsy Cline. By track five, she’s morphed into a French chanteuse fronting an English Ska band on the bouncy, piano driven A New Day, which advises “When your heart is sick with
 wonder
 at a long and lonely way
 walk in brightness
 ’cause it’s a new day”. Sounding like the previous song’s somber cousin, track five, When You Know Why You’re Happy is a slow vamp over which O’Hara meditates on knowingness and happiness. Next up is My Friends Have, which is propulsive, while Help Me Lift You Up is its gentle flip side. Keeping You in Mind transports us into slinky lounge-jazz, with a highly articulate and emotional violin solo. Then unexpectedly and from an entirely different universe comes the off-kilter but funky workout of Not Be Alright. This is the only track on the whole album that makes use of a synthesizer, a Yamaha DX7, which was known for the precision and flexibility of its bright, digital sounds. The lyrics of this track are insightful e.g. 4th verse “My tail, this tail, this tail is tall. This tale is tall. Innocent to a fault.” O’Hara makes it perfectly, inarguably clear that some unnamed situation will not “Just will not be alright”. Sometimes things do go wrong and everything does turn to shit and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. In the last track, a solitary bass accompanies her, while she offers us (or possibly herself?) the assurance that “You will be loved again” a truly beautiful sentiment on which to close the album. Miss America is not an easy listen by any means but like most difficult journeys in life the destination is worth it.

I once worked in the same London building as O’Hara’s European booking agent, Boswell, who introduced me to her music and I’m forever indebted. My first encounter with O’Hara was one evening as I was finishing work when Boswell burst into my office and skinned up a huge joint and threw a CD of Miss America onto my desk. While we smoked the joint together he gave me his agent’s spiel as though I was another gullible promoter and he persuaded me to accompany him to O’Hara’s first London show. I’m not completely sure what happened during the 20 minutes it took us to get from our offices in Islington to the Town and Country Club venue in Kentish Town but something meta-physical definitely happened. We walked into the auditorium just as the second track off the album The Year In Song kicked in. At the precise second that I first set eyes and ears on O’Hara the tetrahydrocannabinol flooded my body and overpowered my senses. The sheer power and pure emotion that this alabaster skinned, curly red haired siren with bright red lipstick was emitting was un-opposable. This dangerous beautiful creature had used her enchanting voice and music to lure Boswell and I onto the rocks. Like two shipwrecked sailors we were helpless and couldn’t fight her immense siren like powers. It was a full frontal 100% attack on all of our senses; it was an out-of-body catharsis experience. On this occasion Boswell had not sold this artist short, it was totally incredible and it’s a memory that I shall forever cherish.

Virgin Records dropped O’Hara after the release of Miss America, partly due to poor sales and partly because they considered her material not commercial enough. Miss America is an incredible piece of work from an artist that shone incredibly brightly but only for a few minutes. Maybe she was just too creative? She wrote, performed, arranged, produced, mixed and even painted the album’s artwork. She sounds like a female harbinger of Jeff Buckley; you can fully understand why she enthralled Morrissey and Michael Stipe. This is a record that everyone who truly loves music should own; it has great melodies, twisted vocals, outstanding performance, and virtuoso musicianship and in CD format its sonically a near perfect audio artifact. Mary Margaret O’Hara once described herself as “an ancient baby whose cranium never quite fused together”.

Chapeau!

Mary Margaret O'Hara's own artwork adorns the front and back covers of her album Miss America.
Mary Margaret O’Hara’s own artwork adorns the front and back covers of her album Miss America.

Bridie O’Donnell Embodies the Multidimensional Modern Women

Dr Bridie O’Donnell is a Medical Doctor and Educator at Epworth Health Check and Breast Care Physician at Epworth Breast Service. While most people polarise themselves into either the arts or science, Bridie is the embodiment of the multidimensional modern women, displaying great breadth and depth across multiple landscapes through her various roles that include: team manager and rider for Total Rush Hyster women’s cycling team; broadcaster; SisuGirls Podcast creator/presenter and Ambassador for Disability Sport and Recreation.

Bridie discusses her unshakeable desire to be exceptional with Dalton Koss HQ.

In May, 2015, during the 2015 Mersey Valley Tour in Tasmania, Cycling Australia delivered a fantastic development opportunity that allowed 13-16 year old young women to have access to professional cycle racing teams. Part of the program saw two young women sitting in the team car with our team director. The program organiser also asked me to talk to the young women on a panel one evening after racing. This wonderful opportunity to chat with these young women prompted a discussion on whether I am a role model. I used to think that to be a good leader and/or role model you needed to have a high level of achievement, for example, be an Olympic or world champion. My thinking on this has changed. I have come to realise that being a good leader/role model is about the choices you make and the learning taken from these decisions.

I am a good role model due to the choices and pathways I have taken. I didn’t choose the easiest paths; there were many negative and hard moments. I became an athlete late in life and I often took guidance from the wrong people in my haste to progress quickly. In both medicine and sports, I do my best to model how to do things, and communicate how to do things. I have high standards of organisation and communication and I know I find it difficult to work with people who are not organised or are poor communicators. I am incredibly clear about what I expect from people in advance. I am consultative, and it is important for me to understand other people’s values. For example, as Team Manager I meet with all the riders pre-race to chat about our tactics and who will be doing what. I also lead by example. I am the hardest riding member of the team. I am modelling for them: honesty, clear communication and commitment to the team not as an individual rider within a team. I can be a workaholic when it comes to team commitment and I am willing to work hard and do what others are not willing to do. As I started my professional cycling career later in life, I have always considered myself to have lower levels of physical talent. I found this out the hard way when I was a professional cyclist in Europe. However, I always move on from disappointment. I always make an effort to understand and take into account expectations from those around me as it can affect team performance, whether it is in sport or medicine.

IMG_7528
Dr Bridie O’Donnell is team manager and rider for Total Rush Hyster women’s cycling team.

My experiences in medicine have created a personal foundation for clear communication. Over the years I have noticed that a high proportion of doctors are poor communicators. This is due to the traditional modes of medical education and student selection processes. Of course there are numerous specialist skills but they often exclude being a good listener, empathetic and approaching the patient’s problem from a holistic viewpoint, i.e. what else is happening in the patient’s life that is influencing their current health problem. I see it as my duty to teach mindful listening for influencing behaviour change. To create an appropriate strategy for any patient it requires listening time to develop a holistic approach to address their needs. Generally, doctors are time poor, over worked and resentful, and this influences how they view their patients. This creates poor behavioural models in senior doctors that continue to manifest across generations of medical practitioners.

Personally, there were few opportunities and accessibility to great medical mentors. My behaviour and approach to patients and colleagues has been developed from observations of how not to behave. I try my best to be kind and to pause before I verbalise my frustration with a patient on their unhealthy choices. It is incredibly important that I listen to my patients so I can understand their values. This allows me to assist them in finding different paths to create behaviour change. It is about asking the questions, “Is this important to you?” and “What would have to change for this to become a higher priority / likelihood?”

It is important to acknowledge how lucky we are. I am very fortunate. My parents were educated and employed. They were interested in education. At a young age I said to my parents that I wanted to be a doctor and they supported me. It is a fortunate position to be in and I was very lucky. I went to university, received a top education and probably will never be unemployed. When I took time off medical work to become a full time athlete I didn’t have the disposable income that I was used to. I quickly realised that material things did not make me happy. 

Key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are:

  1. Action: Always model good behaviour, act on your personal values and what they stand for. In sport there is general hypocrisy, deceit and not honouring the things you promised to do. On a hilly stage of the 2015 Mersey Valley Tour it was my job to get my team leader to the bottom of a major climb in the best position. I was physically and mentally exhausted, but it was important that I acted on what I promised. I dug deep, pushed out the mental blockages and got on with my promise. Acting on this promise provided me with ammunition to prove to my team that I followed up on my deal and highlighted the importance of making a race plan.
  1. Kindness, thankfulness and gratitude are all required in leadership. Kindness will always be taken on board by the recipient and will influence their acts and attitudes in your relationship with them. However, it is important to be kind and express gratitude when it is deserved and not as a means to win friends.
  1. Listening and Empathy: If you do not listen and try to understand someone’s perspective you will never get that person on board. Understanding a person’s motivation and perspective is essential for any successful teamwork.
  1. Honesty: You have to be honest and upfront with yourself and to the people around you.
  1. Being Tall: metaphorically and physically. Feeling tall comes with confidence and age. Now that I am 41, I find men still tell me what to do, even those with little or no experience in my field. I just smile and say ‘thanks,’ but let them know that I have a plan. I don’t need people to like me anymore. I am better at negotiation and doing what is best for me. Men are usually more assertive as women are taught to be softer in their approach. I don’t care about this anymore and I stand tall for myself. 
IMG_7877
Dr Bridie O’Donnell’s knowledge and wisdom across multiple landscapes combined with her passion for living a full life makes her a powerful agent of change.

My biggest challenge was leaving my secure and stable situation in Australia to start a professional cycling career in Europe. Over time I have come to realise that this experience taught me a lot of things. I was stripped of my ability to freely communicate. I was living in Italy and riding for Italian professional teams who spoke little to no English. My Italian was poor and my inability to communicate was stifling, isolating, lonely, disempowering and terrifying. My Intel was at base level with limited ability to ask the important questions such as, “When will I get paid?” and “Where do I go after the race?” I could only connect to others one on one or in small groups. I was living with younger women of different maturity levels and I missed my family. My ego also raised its head; I was grown up, a doctor and I was being patronised by those who were supposed to guide and coach me in this journey. It was also difficult to acknowledge to myself that I signed up for this, placing my strengths on the line. This European experience has become relative to everything else that I have done in my life.

After four years in Europe and year in the USA, I came back to Australia to work in medicine. It was easy in comparison! They paid me to show up….I received good feedback… patients loved that I had energy. What is not to like when I get paid, thanked and appreciated for my work in something I enjoy. It was a breath of fresh air.

It has been a relief that I didn’t need to go down a traditional medical career path. When you do something slightly different from the traditional path it surprises others. It is risky. Medical practitioners are often very risk averse and frequently scared of ‘failing’ when it comes to their ego. We need to fail more to test and push ourselves. It is similar with people in long-term relationships not asking themselves if this is as good as it can be? Could I do a better job as a partner? It is absolutely important to ask ourselves whether we are doing the best job to be our best in our personal and professional life. We all have scope to be our best and decent self and not go down the path of being mean and deceitful. 

I am a big fan of change and taking control of my destiny. I don’t fear anymore. I was married, got divorced and I don’t have any major regrets; it was a hard but the best decision. Life is a natural progression; the more skillful you appear, the more maturity you have, the more senior you are. They say courage is ‘feeling the fear but doing it anyway,’ and it’s true: I feel fear a lot of the time but I go ahead and try things anyway. The fear of looking foolish, making a mistake or humiliating yourself can be controlling but it is important to embrace risk. Change is the only way to becoming the best you can be.

What am I successful at? Time management, communication, making mistakes and the ability for self-reflection. As I mature I am being kinder to myself. I even like myself. Being a perfectionist it is not sustainable on a daily level and it is ok to be mediocre some days. It is about how you manage feelings of disappointment, frustration and mediocrity that makes you a successful leader. It is important to acknowledge how you feel, let it sit and watch it. It is about managing whatever you are going through. Having a good coach and/or mentor with realistic goals is really important. You need the right coach when you are an athlete and it is the same for mentors in a business context. We don’t always know what we need from a mentor/coach until we have a bad experience.

Each year in August every professional road cyclist worries about whether they have a contract for the next season. This worry is linked to your sense of self worth and ability as a bike rider. You receive feedback about variables that you cannot control. I see a lot of athletes that end up in crappy teams because they do not want to compromise on their values. People do not know when to quit and when they should compromise. There is a myth in the sports industry that hard work is rewarded. I learnt the hard way that very few people reward you for your hard work. Rather, I witnessed on a number of occasions that selfish behaviours are acceptable and rewarded. Having a small taste of being a high profile person is exhausting and can be quite corrupting if you are young. However, this comes back to being kind and behaving as a role model, but simultaneously being straight forward and honest.

I do something everyday to maintain my mental and physical health and wellbeing. Most of the time it’s riding which makes me feel well, or less tired or just gives me greater mental space. If I don’t do it, I feel subhuman. Part of it is the solitude and my need for time out. It is quite tiring to be a good behaviour change Doctor, a mindful listener and assist patients making decisions, so in order to be at my best I need my time out. At those times, I don’t want to talk or engage with others. I prefer to ride and train on my own rather than engage with bad conversationalists. I enjoy watching great TV series or doing Sudoku; it is not overly intellectual but I am being entertained. I am a big fan of film and watch a lot of movies. Boredom is underrated. Seeking constant stimulation, such as being plugged into social media, is unhealthy. Doing routine work such as cleaning and listening to radio is a great way to disconnect.

Instead of following the pack, it is important to find a sporting club that supports your needs. As a female cyclist it is important for me to be a member of a club that places female cycling at the forefront and that advocates and promotes women events. Currently, I’m coincidentally only working with women in medicine, which is a big change from my former life as an elite athlete where all positions of authority are held by men. I enjoy working with women. Too often I see older men giving unsolicited advice that is laced with discriminatory behaviour to women younger then them. It is fortuitous to work with hard working and smart women. Your working environment needs to be invigorating and supportive and how this plays out will vary with age, your role and where you want to be in the future.

To learn more about Bridie and the organisations she supports, please click on the links below:

 Dr Bridie O’Donnell: www.bridie.com.au

Disability Sport and Recreation: http://www.dsr.org.au

Sisu Girls http://www.sisugirls.org

1596944_303493906510727_47484254202463562_o

SEA CUCUMBERS

Very different to cucumbers that we eat in our salads, sea cucumbers are animals that live in our oceans. They look like a cucumber due to their shape and appearance (see pictures above and below), even if they are not always green in colour. Sea cucumbers have an incredibly important role in maintaining a healthy ocean.

Dalton Koss HQ often hear marine scientists refer to sea cucumbers as being the worms of our oceans. Sea cucumbers clean and fertilise the sand like worms clean and enrich our soils. When a sea cucumber eats sand from the ocean floor, it moves through its gut where it takes out very small pieces of food. Everything else, for example the sand, is excreted. This excreted sand is clean and contains healthy bacteria.

Sea cucumbers go about their business eating and cleaning the ocean's floor. Quite often the body of a  sea cucumber is covered with sand allowing it to camouflage with the ocean floor. This image was taken along the Coral Coast, Fiji.
Sea cucumbers go about their business eating and cleaning the ocean’s floor. Quite often the body of a sea cucumber is covered with sand allowing it to camouflage with the ocean floor. This image was taken along the Coral Coast, Fiji.

Apart from the amazing role sea cucumbers play in keeping our oceans clean, here are some other INCREDIBLE facts about these animals.

FACT 1: Sea cucumbers are soft to touch because their spiny skeleton has been reduced and absorbed into its leathery flesh.

The exoskeleton of this sea cucumber can be found within its soft leathery body wall. When handling sea cucumbers it is important to hold them gently underwater to minimise stress to the animal. Do not squeeze or pull them.
The exoskeleton of this sea cucumber can be found within its soft leathery body wall. When handling sea cucumbers it is important to hold them gently underwater to minimise stress to the animal. Do not squeeze or pull them.

FACT 2: Sea cucumbers are also called holothurians. This is because they are scientifically classified as Holothuroidea. In fact, the Class Holothuroidea belongs within the Phylum Echinodermata, which means the sea cucumbers are close relatives to sea stars, sea urchins, feather stars and brittle stars.

FACT 3: Sea cucumbers can be found in tropical and temperate oceans across the globe. They prefer to live in the subtidal zone so they are not exposed to the sun and air at low tide.

FACT 4: Sea cucumbers have two openings; a mouth at one end and an anus at the other.

FACT 5: A sea cucumber’s mouth is very different to other animals. The mouth is surrounded by tentacles. Each tentacle is made up of little tube feet that move sand up to the mouth opening, similar in function to a conveyer belt. Some sea cucumbers use their tentacles to filter feed, meaning they catch plankton and other particles drifting in the water column.

Although this sea cucumber is bent in a funny position, it is clearly displaying its anus, mouth opening and tentacles. This image was taken at low tide along the Coral Coast, Fiji.
Although this sea cucumber is bent in a funny position, it is clearly displaying its anus, mouth opening and tentacles. This image was taken at low tide along the Coral Coast, Fiji.

FACT 6: The respiratory system, that allows the sea cucumber to breathe, is located in its gut towards the back part of its body.

Dalton Koss HQ’s most favourite sea cucumber fact is their ability to throw out their respiratory system through their anus as a defence mechanism when they think they are being attacked. By throwing out their internal organs it distracts the predator into thinking the sea cucumber is dead. What is more amazing is that the sea cucumber can then regrow its respiratory system and continue to live.

As an animal that comes across as simple and unobtrusive, the sea cucumber plays an important role in maintaining beautiful oceans for us to enjoy.

The simple and unobtrusive sea cucumber going about its business of cleaning the ocean floor.
The simple and unobtrusive sea cucumber going about its business of cleaning the ocean floor.

Managing The Talent

I am not certain if the above title is misleading as it’s often disputed that you can’t actually manage talent. For approximately 30 years I have been involved in the management of talent, also defined as artist management, in one form or another. I have often been asked, “What do you actually do”? Good question. Ideally the management of talent should be career development planning. This can range from: sourcing new talent, developing material and pitching to record companies, publishers and booking agents. It can be likened to a good coach working with either a sporting team or an athlete. However, in the music business, this career development can often turn into fire fighting and damage limitation. Ex CBS head, Walter Yetnikoff, described the role of artist manager in his 2005 book Howling At The Moon as “A manager is a cross between a Rabbi, Priest, guru, banker, financial adviser, friend, psychotherapist, marriage guidance counsellor, sex counsellor and business partner”. In essence, there is no solid job description with a list of selection criteria for the role of artist manager. It is the number of skills that the manager has at their disposal and can be deployed at various stages of an artist’s career that hopefully, gets the right results and the job done. The hours are long; the work is hard, its underpaid and nobody ever says thank you.

Burning Tree outside the front door of my old company 'Tim Dalton Productions' in Hull, UK.
Burning Tree outside the front door of my old company ‘Tim Dalton Productions’ in Hull, UK.

The music industry is a volatile, dynamic and a rapidly changing area of business, that’s why we work in it right? As such the music business is not exempted from the repercussions of unplanned, uncalculated and unstructured activities. Therefore, as it is with every modern business, each manager needs to know her/his role and what is required to play that role. The role of the talent manager is now more than pitching to labels or simply supervising other elements that contribute to the artists’ success. What it is about is creating visibility and value (building equity and mind share) and developing revenue streams. Artist managers are now evolving into creative business development managers. Not quite the men in beige offices sat behind their spreadsheets, Venn diagrams and BCG quadrant charts but definitely getting there. This is a far cry from the trailblazers like Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin), Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones), Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols) Brian Epstein (The Beatles) or my personal role model Bernie Rhodes of The Clash.

In 1991, I solo managed my first band, Opik, a group of art students back in my hometown of Hull, UK. I met them the first week of starting a documentary film making degree in the university’s refectory when I shot my mouth off to them about my previous 14 years worth of exploits in the music industry. Within weeks we had inked a deal with major record company BMG’s imprint DeConstruction Records and became Kylie Minogue’s label mates. We bought two very cheap rundown Victorian houses and installed a recording studio across the attics with our advance. We lived, worked and breathed music and had our very own alternative bohemian lifestyle for the next few years; it was a total breeze, it didn’t feel like a job. There was a sense of community and collaboration, well we did live together. Due to our creative output and hard work we became one of the few bands on the label’s roster to actually recoup our advance and make a profit. We also made some serious kick ass music too.

On tour with Primus in Europe. We stopped at the top of the San Bernardino Pass enroute to Italy for a snowball fight.
On tour with Primus in Europe. We stopped at the top of the San Bernardino Pass enroute to Italy for a snowball fight.

At the opposite end of the spectrum I managed Finley Quaye, which consisted of some very hard work, lots of upset, sleepless nights, pain, suffering and where every single penny was well and truly earned. The metaphor I often employed at the time when speaking to record company colleagues was that it was like dragging a three legged elephant up Mount Everest in a blizzard with a broken piece of string, with no pants on while juggling.

I have this unproven theory that the greater the talent the more difficult it becomes to manage. Finley proves this theory. A man of immeasurable creative talent, good looks, a songwriter, performer, actor, painter, the list goes on, he was the complete artist. I once had a very serious ‘career development’ meeting with Finley about his disruptive behavior and his ability to completely destroy any pre-made plans. The result was lots of tears (him not me), lots of hugging and promises of behavior modification from that point forward. The next day at Air Studios in London he turned up on time and sober ready for the recording session (a first) and asked if he could leave his backpack under the mixing console for safekeeping. Thirty minutes later everyone in the studio was laughing uncontrollably, feeling very heady and slightly sick. It didn’t take to long to work out why. Finley’s backpack contained a canister of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which he’d opened and effectively gassed the studio. Session cancelled, at great cost, lots of technicians and musicians with laughing gas hangovers and a very irate angry record company. This behavior was too much for me to handle, time to move to a safer and easier gig. This lack of respect for his own career development has led to Finley being homeless for the past 8 years and in dire health, if you believe the Internet.

Sadly these types of stories are all too common in the modern music industry. Artists start to believe their own publicity, indulging in unprofessional behavior and then blame someone else when the shit hits the fan. Ian Hunter’s 2014 book The Great Ones Are Always The Cracked Ones elucidates the nightmare of managing former Kooks front man and songwriter Max Rafferty. Hunter’s story is a sad one of lies, betrayal and ultimate failure. But this is a two way street, in the past it was always the shylock managers that were the villains; those archetypal managers with the huge cigars and Rolls Royce’s out shilling the rubes. This is an old American term for planting an accomplice in the crowd to drum up enthusiasm for a dodgy product. The etymology of the terms comes from ‘shilling’ meaning conning and ‘rube’ was a name for a country bumpkin and was heavily used by circus folk known as ‘carnies’. A classic example of how not to manage a band would be Bill Collins and Badfinger. Despite being signed to The Beatles’ Apple label and selling millions of records, the band never saw any of the money. Partly as a result of miss-management, Peter Ham and Tom Evans both committed suicide. Artists and creatives in general are vulnerable human beings and require a high level of compassion (a DKHQ key word). In the music business, version 2.0, compassion and duty of care are both important concepts.

Outside Tokyo airport with De La Soul.
Outside Tokyo airport with De La Soul.

Ironically the music business is improving in direct contradiction to the decrease in music sales. The Association of Artist Managers (AAM) has recently published its Code of Conduct for Managing Artists. It’s all common sense stuff, which good managers should be adhering too rigidly. I like to think that at DKHQ we always run ahead of the pack, being at the cutting edge of current thinking. To this end I would like to see all students studying music/entertainment management get free membership to AAM as part of their education. The Code of Conduct is influencing and positively driving improvement in music business. To ensure that this code is understood and adopted in succession planning by the music industry, it has entered the curriculum at various higher education institutions teaching music and entertainment industry management. As a music industry veteran, I regularly speak to early career music industry managers via master classes and guest lectures. I think engagement at this level is very important as it fosters good practice and establishes some of the basic ground rules.

A career in the music industry, and in particular artist and talent management, is never going to be a mainstream career choice. It’s unlikely that you will ever see a national newspaper advert for an artist manager but it’s a great rewarding profession and the jobs are definitely out there for clever creative managers. In the often repeated words of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager “I’m Elvis’ manager because he says I am and, because I say I am”.

Album Rescue Series: Big Audio Dynamite ‘This Is Big Audio Dynamite’

Its 1985: Ronald Regan is president; Margret Thatcher is Prime Minister, monetarism rules, capitalism is king, the miners are on strike and This Is Big Audio Dynamite. Despite what many people think, Joe Strummer wasn’t the perfect human being. Joe made some huge mistakes in life, no one’s perfect; probably the biggest one was firing Mick Jones from The Clash. Later in life Joe would admit that the one great regret he had in life was firing Mick Jones as he fully appreciated that this single action effectively finished the band. Like exiting any bad relationship the sense of release can be overwhelming and often results in extreme experimentation.

In Mick’s case this led to a very brief period with The Beat’s Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling’s new band General Public. My ex-class mate of Kelvin Hall High School (Hull), Roland Gift, was responsible for taking bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox from The Beat to form his new band The Fine Young Cannibals. A classic case of one door closing, another one opening. The analogy here is that it’s very similar to dating a young inappropriate girlfriend after a long marriage. It’s great fun for a couple of hot dates but its certainly not going to constitute a long-term meaningful relationship. After this short affair Jones formed Top Risk Action Company (TRAC) with some former collaborators including former Clash drummer Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon. This collaboration soon fizzled out partly due to that old uninvited guest, heroin.

The antecedents of This Is Big Audio Dynamite’s (B.A.D.) experimental funk elements were beta tested on The Clash’s Sandinista and Combat Rock albums. Working collaboratively with Jones on B.A.D. were video artist and long time Clash associate, friend and filmmaker Don Letts (samples and vocals), Greg Roberts (drums), Dan Donovan (keyboards), and Leo ‘E-Zee Kill’ Williams (bass). Another important ingredient was Basing Street Studio’s sound engineer Paul ‘Groucho’ Smykle, B.A.D.’s very own ‘dread at the controls.’ Smykle had a serious dub mentality, having previously worked with the likes of Black Uhuru and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Adding samplers, dance tracks, and movie sounds to Jones’ concise pop songwriting, B.A.D. debuted on record with the single The Bottom Line in September 1985 and the album This Is Big Audio Dynamite later that year. The singles E=MC2 and Medicine Show became sizable hits in England, and reached the dance charts in America. The album did not sell well only reaching number 27 in the UK charts and a lowly 103 in the USA.

This Is Big Audio Dynamite is a futurist piece of modernist audio art terrorism. As is often the case with modernism, what was once forward-looking seems inextricably tied to its time. It had one foot in the present and the other firmly in the future. The clanking electro rhythms, Sergio Leone samples, chicken-scratch guitars, bleating synths, and six-minute songs of This Is Big Audio Dynamite evoke 1985 in a way few other records do. This is definitely not a criticism; on the contrary 1985 is a good year for me as my son was born, probably the greatest event of my life. Any record that captures the zeitgeist of 1985, by my reckoning, is a good one. Big Audio Dynamite’s boldness remains impressive, even visionary, pointing toward the cut-n-paste post-modern masterpieces of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Breaking new ground opens up the creative highway for other artists to follow.

One reason that this album took some flak is that it doesn’t sound like The Clash. There was a long shadow cast by The Clash that B.A.D. could never fully escape from. We shouldn’t think badly of this album for that reason. If anything Jones builds on the foundations that he laid with the Clash, he was prepared to move on and develop. At the time of its release This Is Big Audio Dynamite sounded like the future, it was a soothsayer for what to expect over the next two decades. B.A.D.’s philosophy was to utilize all the elements of the media to create a fuller sound and write songs that were about something. A combination of New York beats, Jamaican bass, English rock ‘n’ roll guitars and dialogue from spaghetti westerns and Nick Roeg films all found a place on this album. Mick Jones did not abandon his innate gift for hooks, if anything, he found new ways to create rhythmic hooks as well as melodic ones, it’s quite accessible for an album that is, at its core, a piece of modernist avant-garde rock. This Is Big Audio Dynamite is the album that The Clash should have released as the follow up to their last album Combat Rock but didn’t. It certainly stands as a monument to the times and as a musical signpost for the way things were heading.

Mick Jones and film/documentary maker Don Letts are both visual artists to varying degrees. Jones always had a keen eye for fashion and visuals, his influence upon The Clash, and in particular the notoriously scruffy Joe Strummer, was instrumental in their look. Letts’ scopophilic regime was to view the world as though it was through a movie camera lens. In an article for The Sabotage Times (1/10/11), Letts recounts that during the writing of the album (and with Jones’ guidance) he had thrown himself into co-writing lyrics, which he approached in the same way as writing a script or treatment for a film. With Jones’ wide-screen vision for the band, the songs soon took on a cinematic quality. The songs featured heavy sampling of film dialogue. A good example is the 6 minute 31 second opening track Medicine Show which effectively sets the scene for the rest of the album “Wanted in fourteen counties of this State, the condemned is found guilty of crimes of murder, armed robbery of citizens, state banks and post offices, the theft of sacred objects, arson in a state prison, perjury, bigamy, deserting his wife and children, inciting prostitution, kidnapping, extortion, receiving stolen goods, selling stolen goods, passing counterfeit money, and contrary to the laws of this State, the condemned is guilty of using marked cards. . . Therefore, according to the powers vested in us, we sentence the accused before us, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez (‘Known as The Rat’) and any other aliases he might have, to hang by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on his soul. . . Proceed“. This whole scene is re-appropriated from the 1966 film The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. As writer, arranger and producer of this album, Jones is aware that the songs must be able to support this heavy use of sampling. Songs on this album are constructed in such a way that in the words of Bob Dylan “they have legs and can stand up and walk”.

Jones brings at least one Clash track with him; track four, The Bottom Line. In its Clash form this song was called Trans Clash Free Pay One, much better with it’s re-titling. Rick Rubin loved this track so much that he produced a 12” re-mix, which was released on his Def Jam label. I am sure that The Clash’s 1981 17-day residency in support of their Sandinista album at Bonds Warehouse in New York City provided Jones with material aplenty. Jones is the classic autodidactic, someone who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education. Jones took much of the same raw material that influenced hip-hop artists, such as The Beastie Boys, and processed it in his own special way. I don’t think there’s anyone who would dispute the claim that the Clash where musical pioneers. This Is Big Audio Dynamite could be offered as evidence in support of the argument that B.A.D. were far more forward thinking, cutting edge and perhaps more of their time, than Jones’s previous band. They were much less confined by the Stalinist constraints of punk rock and were determined to try and shake off the Clash’s formidable legacy. Mick Jones, the member who brought hip-hop beats into the Clash’s repertoire and wrote their sole No 1 hit single, set out to create a new sound that employed the emerging technologies used by dance and rap music. He could have simply formed a crap Clash cover band, like Joe Strummer did, but he made a decisive decision not too. Spoken in the best spaghetti western voice of Clint Eastwood “For this reason, consider this album well and truly rescued”.

Naomi Edwards Is Creating Happy Beaches

Naomi Edwards lives on the Gold Coast, a popular Queensland coastal strip on the east coast of Australia. Naomi’s passion and drive translates into a number of diverse roles including: Young Social Pioneer for the Foundation for Young Australians, National Landcare Ambassador, Founder and Researcher for Happy Beaches and a Griffith University student and coastal community advocate and expert.

Naomi chats with Dalton Koss HQ about her passion for beaches and her drive to empower the people around her to have ownership of their dreams.

I always wanted to be a pilot. The idea of flying through the clouds enchanted me. But during my high school years at Keebra Park SHS, I went to Queensland’s south-west outback for 10 days on a science school trip to work alongside Peter McRae, a lifetime campaigner and conservationist for the endangered bilby. Peter inspired and transformed me to live a life with purpose where sustainability is at the heart. His passion for world sustainability led me to study environmental science and post-graduate degrees in international and community development, and coastal cultural studies to refine my purpose. I preferred to be outdoors, volunteering and looking after coastal environments. It didn’t take long to discover that my purpose was to inspire communities to care for beaches and influence coastal management decisions having grown up along Gold Coast’s beaches.

My journey really began with volunteering at my local beach with watering native dune seedlings during south east Queensland’s decade-long drought. The Friends of Federation Walk have been restoring the dunes at The Spit for over 15 years and my experiences volunteering with them changed my life – again. As one member made quite an impression on me by stating, Naomi, it is up to you what you want to do with your life but why not create a masterpiece.” And there I was standing on a sand dune creating a masterpiece. What was once a bare sand dune is now a thriving coastal rainforest, a beautiful ecosystem for native biodiversity.

Yet, I recognised that only a small group of dedicated people volunteered and wonder what difference we could make if more people supported the cause – perhaps more positive outcomes for the sustainability of the coast. I shared the possibility with my fellow science students and academics at Griffith University. What started as four university friends turning up to volunteer, evolved into twenty undergraduate students consistently volunteering every month, planting trees and keeping up with the restoration maintenance. We called ourselves Griffith University Science Maintenance Team to help support the small group of volunteers. Despite the less-than-engaging name for the group, this was the launching of my first coastal community project – without even realising. Then all of sudden I saw plenty more gaps, patched them up and inspired and supported other’s to do so too.

After completing my Bachelor of Environmental Science, I planned to study an Honours vegetation ecology, specifically, carbon sequestration. However, I was having too much fun on the beach working with volunteers and in between researching various forest structures measuring over 15,000 trees for the Program for Planned Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research (PPBio) project. It was these experiences that opened a world of opportunity, fuelling my passion for community wellbeing and the environment – particularly, beaches and dunes.

As I believe where there is a need, there is an opportunity, where there is passion, there are people, and where there is a dream, there is hope. My dream is to transform the sustainability of beaches to be happy beaches, so there is hope for the coast and the future of beaches and coastal communities around the world.

I have never really considered myself to be a leader, rather an instigator for progressive change for the environment, particularly beaches. There has been a lot of learning along the way; there was no strategy and there is no strategy. Luckily, I had wonderful support and mentoring to guide my spontaneous acts of action. As I just did things, didn’t wait and thought about it later.

I would probably put myself in the change maker category. As our future is today’s experiences and if want to see change we have to be in action. That means we are always setting ourselves up for the next thing even if we fell like we are in limbo.

Every possibility presents an opportunity to act.

The five key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:

1. Passion – Passion is the key driving agent for all change makers. It fires up the heart and soul and keeps you grounded and focused. It is important for leaders to have a passion to drive energy, a vision, ignite others, influence and open opportunities.

2. Plan – I was fortunate to be guided early on by leading change makers in my community. They encouraged me to package my dreams and desires for every idea – too many ideas – into an achievable plan. This has also helped others and myself stay on track and work towards common goals and objectives to achieve and complete projects and lasting successes.

3. Integrity – Integrity is the foundation of leadership. Yet it can be overlooked or not recognised as it shown through the small actions. This involves keeping your word and helping others without expecting something in return, and always living by your values. People will believe and support you when you have integrity. Do not compromise your values.

4. Commitment – You have to be accountable, do the hard work and create a community full of leaders in their own right, which takes commitment.

5. Consistency – Consistency helps you get over the line to reach success. It helps establish your reputation. It also makes you relevant, and maintains and helps you refine the freshness of your message.

I have experienced a number of key successes and challenges in my leadership journeyBeing creative, having fun and working with the right people has led to many successes in my life. I can’t really pinpoint any specific key successes rather I simply acknowledge the entire journey. In the beginning the biggest challenge was overcoming the overwhelming state of the environment when learning about climate change, marine debris impacts, species extinction etc. You can’t let the negative side of things get to you or else they will bring you down. You have to maintain a positive outlook and act on what you can do. 

I don’t really believe in failures as every action and project occurs the way it is suppose to be. It is about learning from every experience and building your experience bank for next time to do it better, bigger and most likely more innovative. “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A poem for a Way of Life).

My success is attributed to inspiration and support. I am continually inspired by others, from Peter McRae at the beginning of my journey to the many community champions I come across in my work. I love hearing about other people’s ideas, dreams and hopes and where I can offer my experience and support. Without my support base I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am thankful for the support my family, friends and close networks.

I have been fortunate to live a life where as one door closes another one opens. I think staying true to my passion, being committed and consistent has laid a fun and creative journey filled with endless possibilities!

I apply a holistic approach to maintaining my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I am happy, positive and optimistic and stay true to my passion. I support my support network and encourage others around me to live a powerful life, a life they love. I go to the beach – a lot! I enjoy eating wholesome food but also indulge in sugary sweets when I want. I enjoy walking my dogs and exercising.

You have to think and act beyond your own capabilities to grow, learn and reflect. This begins with dreaming up boundless possibilities and opportunities, sharing them, and then inspiring others to follow and be part of the journey as anything is possible! Leadership is helping others to take ownership of their ideas.

Two organisations I recommend for others to join are:

Landcare Australia – there are many opportunities for all walks of life to get involved in caring for the land and sea.

Foundation for Young Australians – delivers a range of initiatives (co)designed with and for young people to deliver change across Australia.

To learn more about Naomi and her Happy Beaches vision, please click on the links below:

Naomi’s blog – http://coastaltangents.com/

Naomi’s latest project – http://www.happybeaches.org/