‘Change can come in many ways but for me it became very important to think differently. I had always considered myself to be a victim of abuse from the institutions, the state, my parents and myself. I had to change me. I needed to learn a new way to think and act, and the ball was in my court. I realised I am what I am and how I conduct myself is up to me. The greatest lesson I learned through taking this new approach to life is that I have choices. Blaming others is not the foundation of a good life, it only enables resentment and anger. Finding fault in myself and others was not a helpful mindset; it had only led me to the brink of death. I decided I would build my character instead. I chose to do it. Recompense also comes in various forms and for me it was in love and forgiveness. I realised my life was mine to do with as I choose, and I choose to be positive in all of its manifestations. I have come a long way in the gruelling but fascinating decades that have unfurled ahead of me like some crazy, dangerous road. I could have died at so many points along the route to where I find myself today, and I am grateful to be alive, thankful for the lessons I have learned and the growth I have experienced. I had plenty of good reasons to not just turn my back on society, but to give it a single digit salute as I walked away forever. My main beef was that society had turned its back on me first. The world was cruel – at least the world that I knew right from the time I was a little boy.  I was born into poverty in an alcohol-blighted household where chaos and domestic violence were the only true constants. My four younger sisters and I were whipped and beaten so much we thought it was normal. When I was ten years old our mother surrendered the five of us to a Catholic-run orphanage in another town. I was already cultivating the seeds of anger, and spite and resentment but it was in the orphanage where the deep roots of distrust took hold. Like our home it, too, was a twisted and violent place, and I quickly developed anti-social attitudes in response. This worldview – formed before I even hit puberty – set the stage for ongoing conflict as I blundered hopelessly through life. As time wore on, I grew more and more aggressive and socially isolated. Before long I headed down the depressing and lonely path to homelessness. At 35, after years of drifting up and down the east coast of Australia, I found myself rambling around alone in a glorious rain forest. Under the high canopy and surrounded by impossible beauty I felt safe; confident I had turned my back on society for good. Up went that middle finger. I stayed in that forest for a long time and sometimes I even dared to think I was happy there.  After years of living in bush camp and sustained only by a pathetically inadequate diet, and copious amounts of home-brewed creek beer and drugs, psychosis began to settle in. I found myself having in-depth philosophical conversations with my ancestral forbears who came to sit with me around my fire. Was this what going crazy felt like? But after a year or so even the ancestors eventually gave up on me and invited aliens to try to convince me to leave the forest. They were all concerned I was going to die in there. Indeed, most of my teeth had fallen out through my inevitable physical disintegration. I was emaciated, feeble and talking to aliens. Finally, I agreed to their entreaties to leave the forest and save my life. They convinced me to give society another chance. I was 45 when I finally staggered out of the forest and back into the world. Weighed just over 41kg I was barely alive. Suddenly at an unexpected crossroads in life, I was faced with some decisions about how I was going to approach my new task, which was to learn how to survive in the jungle I had previously walked away from – the jungle of western society. It was just as I had left it so I decided it was me that needed to change.’

GREGORY P. SMITH PhD

LECTURER AND SOCIAL RESEARCHER

SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES

SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY