What's that saying? Never argue with an idiot, they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.
Sigh. Sadly I should have heeded this when the announcement of the Young Australian of the Year was made public, and a stream of vitriol spewed onto my screen in the online community of Twitter.
For the uninitiated, the YAOTY was Jessica Watson, a teenager from Queensland who at 16 became the (unofficially) youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world. Bloody good achievement, considering my biggest adventure at 16 was the first-Saturday-in-every-month challenge to sail non-stop and unassisted past the doorman at the local football club disco.
[About the Awards: Each year our nation celebrates the achievement and contribution of eminent Australians through the Australian of the Year Awards by profiling leading citizens who are role models for us all. They inspire us through their achievements and challenge us to make our own contribution to creating a better Australia. ~ from www.australianoftheyear.org.au]
Tara Winkley, a young woman who is working tirelessly to change the lives of Cambodia's orphans. Bravo, what an angel. Would have been a worthy winner.
Angela Barker, a woman who was brutally bashed resulting in horrific injuries, who now campaigns for the rights of those suffering brain injuries. Bless her. Another justifiable winner.
Kalinda Griffiths, who has become a strong voice for Indigenous women in her health research and fight for equality. Good for her, she would have made us proud as a winner too.
Clinton Heal, a skin cancer survivor who has worked hard establishing care and support groups to help others. What great commitment, I would also have been happy to see him holding the award aloft.
Vincent Buckskin, a young Indigenous man who is dedicated to educating the community and sharing Kaurna culture through dance and language. Well done, would have been a deserving choice.
Kirsty Albion, a passionate campaigner about environmental protection who is inspiring young people to have a say on climate change. Again, a valuable contributor who could well have won with all our blessings.
David Bresnik, a generous and committed volunteer whose involvement with the St Vincent de Paul Society is providing young people with a positive role model and serves as an inspiration to others. We could have easily applauded this young man with the highest honour too.
All brilliant young Australians. I read about them, absorbed it, felt proud of all 8 of these young people, felt momentarily lazy and unaccomplished as I pondered what I, at age 46, had done with my life, and then moved on, thinking nothing more of it. Until I saw this tweet...
"Jessica Watson is proof any young Australian can achieve their wildest dreams ..if daddy is filthy rich"
Should I have just rolled my eyes at the inaccuracy of this statement and let it slide by? Probably.
Did I? Not on your fucking life.
My reply:"What makes you think he's filthy rich? He was a real estate agent and their family lived on a bus or a boat for years."
This is fact. Her parents were a real estate agent and an occupational therapist. The family of 6 lived on a modified double-decker bus after living on a cabin cruiser in earlier years. The children were mostly home-schooled and all sailed from a very young age. Yes, of course they had to raise funds to try to get the journey off the ground until sponsors were found. I have no first-hand knowledge of the family's personal wealth, or lack thereof, so I would never be so presumptuous as to make statements one way or the other. But 'filthy rich'? And insinuating that she won because of these supposed riches? My hackles were raised.
"not every 16 yr old owns a 20foot state of the art boat"
No they don't. But look at all the 16 year olds whose status-loving parents buy them a $20,000 hotted up car which they then proceed to wrap around the nearest tree during a drag race or whilst showing off to friends, killing themselves or worse, killing an innocent victim.
Or the gadget-loving parents who fill their homes with up-to-the-minute technology, home theatres and gaming consoles, and their 16 year olds never lift their Dussault-clad butts off the white leather sofa.
If I could afford it, I'd much rather buy my child a boat if they were a fully-trained, skilled and experienced sailor, and had a dream to follow their passion. You simply cannot put a price on fresh air, exercise, life skills and building up a resistance to sea-sickness.
The fact is though, Jessica's parents did not buy the boat. Australian adventurers Don and Margie McIntyre (well known for their sailing and Antarctic expeditions) purchased the yacht for Jessica and provided much of the equipment. They believed in her ability, as did the other sponsors who eventually came on board (pardon the pun).
Oh, and it was a 34 foot boat.
"i hate her with a passion"
Oh wow. I didn't even know how to respond to this. How a fully-grown adult can say this about a teenage girl whom, as far as I know, they have never met personally (and obviously don't have a lot of knowledge about), is beyond me.
"she had more resources than 99% of 16yr olds and not worthy of young aust of year"
Yes she did have more resources than the average teen. But from what I've read (in an effort to educate myself so I don't make ignorant comments in public) Jessica, her family and supporters worked relentlessly to get those resources. It was a hard-fought battle.
But what about past winners of the YAOTY award?
Did Lleyton Hewitt win in 2003 because his Daddy was rich and spoiled him with the best tennis racquet money could buy? No, he was provided with the tools he required by sponsors, paid to play tennis, supported by a team of professionals and made it to world #1.
Did Casey Stoner win in 2008 because his Daddy was rich and bought him a pretty motorbike? No, he was employed by a team and paid by them and their sponsors, and provided with a bike and all the equipment to be a World Champion.
Did Ian Thorpe (2000) and Kieren Perkins (1992) win because their Daddies were rich and bought them giant swimming pools? No, they had sponsors, Swimming organizations and Government backing, and some incredible technology from Arena (changed from Speedo, thanks Nadine) to help win Gold medals.
HOWEVER, at the end of the day, Lleyton still had to hit the ball over the net, Casey still had to ride the motorbike around the track, Ian and Kieren still had to swim the laps, and Jessica still had to sail the goddamn fucking 34 foot boat.
"they are rich enough to buy the boat in the first place"
Oh my fucking god. Dude. Have you not listened to anything I've said?
My head. Brick wall. Hitting.
Someone once said something like "Your thoughts, ideas and opinions are your truth. Your truth is important. But your truth is not necessarily The Truth."
I'm all for thoughts, ideas and opinions. Especially opinions. I have many of them; some great, some bloody ridiculous, but they're all mine. Everyone has the right to express them, even idiots. But please do not spread hatred and supposition.
At no point did I disagree with anyone's opinion that someone else should have won. That's their opinion; there is no right or wrong in that. Eight randomly selected people on Twitter at that time would most likely have chosen eight different winners.
Should the argument have been based more on the fact that we reward funded sportspeople with more recognition than we do to community-minded strugglers? Perhaps.
Would I have voted for Jessica to win? Probably not. But I am not on the National Australia Day Council so all I can do is stand and applaud the 8 amazing young Australians who have done us proud and will probably continue to do so.
Can't we just support every person, whether they be 16, 46 or 66, rich or poor, self-funded or sponsored, who chooses to get up off their arse and actually DO something with their lives?