Back in the ’70s my parents divorced. I was only two and a half, Mum had no choice but to work full time, and I spent a lot of time with my Nan.
A seamstress by trade and an amazing home-style cook, Nan was a constant ray of sunshine in my life. She was quirky and creative and way back before I was born, she did amateur theatre with a gang of like-minded mates in the community.
She taught me how to skip and speak German (her brother was in the RAAF), she introduced me to Broadway show tunes, and she was known for spontaneously doing handstands – the kind where you balance your feet up against a wall. She was an inspiration and really fun to be around.
We’d get our creative on while Mum was at work, and she picked me up every day from school right up until she died. She was riddled with cancer and was only 69 when we lost her. Mum and I were devastated.
Both Nan and Mum were creative and it was obvious from a very young age, that they had passed this onto me. It’s in our genes. I loved to draw, paint, colour, make dioramas, take photos, write stories. Being creative was my happy place, and still is to this day.
So when I was in high school I told my Careers Counsellor I wanted to study graphic design. I may as well have said “I think I might move to outer space and study alien lifeforms!”. I don’t even know if she knew what graphic design was and she suggested I do a secretarial course. WTF? Was she serious? Did she not hear a word I just said? So I totally ignored her, followed my creative heart and worked towards getting into a graphic design course at uni.
In Year 12 I took on an extra subject and studied photography. It wasn’t offered at my school (at the time it was the smallest private girls school in Melbourne), so I had to go to our affiliated ‘brother’ school down the road. I think there were three of us girls who’d walk down every week for a lesson with the boys.
Well, what a lesson in sexism and a whole year of it to boot! Our female teacher made it clear from day one that she didn’t like girls. She wasn’t interested in us being there and pandered to the boys’ every whim. When I mentioned to her that I was going to apply for the graphic design course at Swinburne University, she practically laughed in my face and said that I’d never get in. Again, WTF?
I made a point of working my arse off and produced some really good work, which according to her wasn’t any good. She’d say things like “you shoot like a boy!” (whatever that meant) and “try harder next time”, I was astounded at her lack of support and total disdain for me. She had no idea how much her words hurt, and I started to believe I wasn’t any good at it.
Fast forward to the end of Year 12 and me eagerly checking the mail box for (fingers crossed!) an acceptance letter to Swinburne. I’d been through the pre-selction process and got an interview to show my folio, which went really well. And bingo, I got an ‘A Letter’ – BOOM! Straight in to the course of my dreams, and straight from high school which was no easy feat back in the early ’90s. It was a highly sought after course and a lot of students had to do a gap year to build up their folio to get in.
I was stoked. Over the moon. Really proud of myself, considering I hadn’t even studied graphic design as a subject. I had my paintings and drawings from Art class and I had my (mostly black & white) prints from the Photography class.
So then I thought to myself, I’m gonna bloody call that teacher and stick it to her. And I did. And she choked on her pathetic excuse for a congratulations. I had to hold back from saying “screw you, I did it! and with no bloody help from you!”
I’ve been in the design industry for over 20 years. I’ve worked as a designer, moved to account management and worked as an Account Director in top branding studios in Melbourne and London.
Now I’m building my own photography biz creating images for amazing local brands and businesses.
So what’s the uptake of this little story? Don’t EVER let anyone try and squash you or your passions. Believe in yourself. Follow your heart. Be the you you’ve always wanted to be.
Steer clear of people who are negative and don’t give two shits about you. Surround yourself with like-minded souls who encourage and support you. Find your tribe and hold on tight to them.
And a message to my Ava – may you always have an outlet for your never-ending well of creativity xox
BECAUSE CREATIVITY MATTERS!