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Today's quote:

Friday, December 2, 2022

There are moments in life when the ball hits the top of the net and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back.


With a little luck, it goes forward and you win ... or maybe it doesn't, and you lose. It's those moments of good luck that often determined how the rest of my life would pan out.

Such as that moment in 1964 when the friendly interviewing officer in the Australian consulate wrote "Appears good type. Understands employment prospects. Should settle without difficulties. Questions to the point. Neatly dressed" across my "Auswanderungsantrag nach Australien mit Fahrtunterstützung" (Application for assisted passage to Australia) and stamped it with a florish and in red ink "APPROVED".

Or that anxious moment when, just weeks after my arrival in Australia, Mr Reid of the ANZ Bank generously ignored my stumbling English and gave me a start with the Bank and into a better career than I had ever dared to hope for when I signed that application for assisted passage.



Or that moment three years later, when the partner in the Canberra firm of chartered accountants, Hancock Woodward & Neill, sent me off to their branch office in New Guinea with the words, "No need to tell me anything about yourself. I heard nothing but good things about you from my golf partner who works with the ANZ Bank. I just wanted to shake hands with you and wish you all the best in your new career."



And then the brief encounter in late 1970 with the manager of Bechtel Corporation who were building the Bougainville Copper Project. He had sent me the airfare to fly across from Rabaul for the interview, took one look at me, and sent me straight back with the words, "Pack your things and be back here on the first day of next month" (on three times my current salary plus free board and lodgings and a company vehicle).



Two years later, with the Bougainville Copper Project completed, I was walking the streets of Sydney, looking for a job! I had applied in writing for another job on the island with a company who had just won a new contract there, giving as my address the only permanent contact I had, a friend in Canberra, to whom they sent a telegram asking me to come in for an interview. My friend knew I was in Sydney and living in some sleazy boarding-house on the North Shore but which one? He must've tried half the numbers in the Yellow Pages before he got to the one that I was staying at in Neutral Bay. If you know anything about boarding-houses you know that their only telephone is the one hanging on the wall in the empty hallway and anyone passing it may answer it - or not. The chances of that 'anyone' being someone who happened to know that one of their only recently arrived boarders was the one my friend was looking for, and that I at the time also just happened to be sitting in my windowless walled-off-end-of-the-corridor "room" and was able to come to the phone, are so infinitesimally small as to almost non-existent. The next day I attended the interview and the day after I was flying back to the islands to take up my new position as accountant and office manager in what was until then the biggest job in my career. Six months later I had successfully pulled off a challenging start-up job, handed it over to a friend, and, with a glowing reference in my pocket, headed back to Sydney on a promotion. For a split second the ball had stopped and hesitated on top of the net, and then gone forward, and so had I.



And the ball kept bouncing across the net, often without even touching it, such as when I received a telegram from France's biggest oil company to take up the position of chief accountant in Rangoon in Burma, sight unseen!!! That was after I had grabbed the very last copy of Friday's FINANCIAL REVIEW in which they had advertised it. Had someone else snatched that last copy, I would never have seen the advertisement!



Sometimes the ball volleyed across the net, such as when a bunch of executive headhunters phoned me just when I had got my first taste of domestic bliss and had settled down in a small house on the beach in Far North Queensland with a wife and a neighbour's dog and an easy job that paid the bills. Would I be interested in kicking off a multi-million-dollar joint venture on the Ok Tedi Project in New Guinea, they wanted to know. The call of the wild again! Four months later I was back in town with a new reference in one hand and a new problem on the other: the river that Heraclitus had predicted two-and-a-half-thousand years earlier I would not be able to step back in again had totally dried up, with the small house on the beach still occupied by tenants and no job available to pay the bills. With wife and neighbour's dog also gone, I very much regretted that easy volley across the net four months earlier.



And so those unexpected discoveries continued with my serendipitous - which means 'unexpected discovery' - discovery in yet another issue of the FINANCIAL REVIEW of an half-page display advertisement - by this time I was only replying to display ads; by my reasoning, anyone who advertised a job in the classifieds couldn't afford me! - for a Group Financial Controller in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With the tune of Peter O'Toole's "Lawrence of Arabia" in my ears, I applied and was sent the airfare to attend an interview. It must've been my mention of the Alhambra and that they'd had street-lighting in Córdoba while the rest of Europe was still dressed in fur pelts that got the ball over the net, because a week later was on my way to the world's largest sandbox.

In between these notable ones, there were countless other matches in a dozen other countries which I've always played to win. Given that I've never been much of a tennis player, I've certainly had more than my fair share of good luck. "Game, set, and match", I'd say! (and that's all I'm going to say, as I've stretched those tennis metaphors far enough)

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