Ted O'Connor, 27-years-old
Reporter / Producer at ABC News Asia Pacific
Calls Melbourne home these days but grew up near Mortlake
Since graduating university, Ted O’Connor has spent the better part of six years moving from town to town, doing the hard-yards forging his career as a journalist.
Between his first job at the Wimmera Mail Times in Horsham and his current position with ABC News in Melbourne, he’s lived in Shepparton, Ballarat, Townsville and Hobart, chasing stories and his goal to be a news-breaking television reporter.
At 27-years-old, he’s not exactly a veteran but he’s no freshman either – Ted has made his way to the ABC through determination, commitment and quite a bit of humour.
As he says, it’s a long way from his days as a ‘bit of misfit’ growing up on a farm near Mortlake, in South-West Victoria, where football was life and, therefore, Ted was “pretty useless”.
And so begins our chat with our first Rural Inspire Mentor for 2018.
Tell us about where you grew up – what was life like in your town?
“I grew up on a diary farm just south of Mortlake at a place called Ellerslie. Life was bliss early on. I loved tearing around the farm, ferreting, building things, kicking the footy, and helping out the old man (on the farm). As I got older I played footy and cricket but was pretty useless at both. I loved music in my teenage years and Triple J felt like a close mate.”
Where did you go to school? Did you enjoy or loath it?
“I enjoyed school until Year 8, but because I hit puberty pretty late it’s fair to say I was at the bottom of the food-chain. I didn’t come out of my shell, so to speak, until year 12. And then dramatically again in first year of uni. Looking back, the main issue was, as I see it, a bad over-masculine culture among some of the boys and I certainly didn’t fit in with that.”
What kind of student were you?
“I was good at anything reading or writing but rubbish at all things hands-on like woodwork. I worked hard because my parents wouldn’t tolerate anything else.
The best teachers tried to show me a world existed outside of Mortlake, in which there were plenty of people like myself.”
At what age did you “realise” what you “wanted to be”?
“I was 16 and I did work experience at the Warrnambool Standard and absolutely loved it. I have one teacher, Mr Carter, to thank for that because I initially wanted to do work experience at the local surf store.
The following year I did work experience at The Age and I won ‘Best Work Experience Student of the Year’.”
Do you think growing up in a rural area is an advantage or disadvantage?
“For me, it’s been an advantage, because it’s given me certain character traits, which have helped me get through life. I don’t judge people. I have a good work-ethic. I understand why people are poor, or how droughts can cripple a community. I empathise rather than blame.
I’m also very resilient but I was lucky -- my parents are educated and they motivated me. I had older cousins who went to university and little things like that add up.
Let’s be clear, the numbers and the stats show it (living rural) is a disadvantage but realising that the only way to make it is by having a crack, that can be liberating.”
Are you proud of your country upbringing?
“I’m really proud of it. Admittedly, I think it helps now I’m ten years out of school and all the bad times are a distant memory.
I know now that I did have a tough time in school – more through bad luck than anything else -- because at university I had no trouble making friends.”
If you could offer one piece of advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
“I’d be hesitant to offer any advice. Sometimes you just have to find your own way. In the country, there can be a lot of snobbery and social ladder-climbing-- find a crew of friends who want no part of that nonsense and you’ll enjoy life.”
Do you think there should be greater government assistance to help rural students attend university?
“Absolutely, there should be, because the hard truth is many rural parents don’t value education highly enough. It’s like an ingrained generational thing that keeps rural students from realising their potential. Students from the bush should have every assistance to see what career opportunities are out there for them.”