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John O'Brien

OK, this is weird. I usually sit here at the keyboard writing about other people. Now I gotta talk about me. I've binned the first draft to go about this differently - by interviewing myself.

Q. So John, give us the boring stats first.

According to the taxman, I'm a white male in his mid-50s making a meagre income from journalism. Professionally, I supplement this building and maintaining Wordpress websites. I do enjoy these gigs but they are just jobs and don't fully define who I am. That is a far more complex topic.

Q. What does define who you are?

Always inquisitive, I like to know how things work. And not just physical things but personal and natural systems. I just like to keep learning and sharing that knowledge with others.

On the surface, I was raised suburban middle class. I've never owned or worn a suit and find ties an anachronistic noose. Jeans, boots, t-shirt - sorted. Bald and bearded, I've become a hillbilly and I love it.

I'm a walking, talking contradiction. An extroverted introvert and chameleon to suit the moment. I'm complex yet simple, full of myself yet equally full of shit. A luddite who likes technology - a tree hugger that gets therapy from a 2-stroke chainsaw.

This creative uses both sides of the brain - it rarely stops whirring. Is an intellectual bogan a philosopher or a wanker? Sometimes, I can't help being a smartarse just to see the reaction but more recently I've been a voice of calm and reason. Maybe I'm maturing ...

Q. What expertise do you offer CX readers?

I'm an expert in generalism, a classic Jack of all trades. This is no weakness but a strength. I can get my head around any topic and know how to fill the holes in my knowledge that are needed. If not, I know who to ask and am not afraid to do so. Humility and honesty cost nothing.

I do have specific professional experience within many areas of AV (control, lighting, video, audio) and construction (planning, management, on the tools) but many of my jobs have relied more upon broader life skills than granular specialist knowledge. What you learn in one place can be easily applied to another - a screwdriver is universal and has many purposes.

Q. What other things have you done in your (work)life? Can you be more specific?

What haven't I done? I studied Architecture at uni but bombed out early with an A+ in pub culture. I've been a project manager's assistant, builder's labourer, storeman, set designer, dishwasher and taxi driver. I worked in auction rooms, nurseries and picked fruit. I also did time as a short order cook, cinema maintenance guy and spent my spare teen hours as a mechanic's assistant, servicing cars and trucks while my mates were doing paper rounds.

That was all before Rock and Roll lured me in for seven years of lighting, audio and stagecraft. It was fun helping a bunch of pop stars pop but road life took its toll, so I retired to lighting theatres then went sideways into videowalls. Corporate shenanigans blew up that otherwise excellent job and I started corporate theatre. After working the biggest stages in the land, lectern and whiteboard delivery sucked, so I went back to school and got an IT Diploma, right as the dotcom-boom imploded.

Q. That must have been dis-heartening? What happened next?

Timing is everything but you can only control what is in front of you. Like ever, I used the new circumstances to my advantage and got a tech support job with Crestron (AV & IT backgrounds merging), which also started me as a trainer. I left after two years but was head-hunted into the new distributor not long after. I worked hard and bloomed there as a technician, programmer, trainer, system designer and sales rep. 4 ½ years marked an employment personal best, unlikely to be repeated.

A GFC redundancy was a blessing in disguise, fast-forwarding my way out of city life. My partner and I had 53 acres of Taungurung bushland ready to build a house on. I went three days per week as a Project Manager in residential integration and spent the other four days commuting to our hideaway, getting started on the house.

The owner building saga was worthy of several TV shows. It took well over five years, nearly cost our relationship and broke my back twice. On the plus side, we made peace and now live in a gorgeous, entirely unique hand-crafted palace that we own outright. In a place that inspires and nurtures us surrounded by an awesome group of friends. I'll put up with snakes and fires for that ... although I did get bitten by a red-back recently.

Q. What are some other dramas ... the highs and lows that you've experienced?

Other than the usual fare that we all go through; injuries and illness have been the biggies. My back played up over many years but none so bad as crushing a disc (L5-S1) twice while building. All up, three years of convalescence followed those incidents but I've come good and Pilates twice a week keeps me strong enough to stay farm fit and still be useful on the fire truck. My mind is even stronger for having forged through that adversity.

I've had some awesome moments and seen some crazy sights. Listing them all would take pages. I've made a stack of mistakes and owned them all - it's the only way to improve - but I've also had plenty of wins.

Things were already on edge here when this last year swamped us all. But I get up each day and hope for the best. I'm never down for long and always find a way to look for even the smallest bright spot to hang on to. Even as a confirmed realist, I'm ever optimistic.

Q. Why did you become a writer? What led you down that path?

Precisely because I was holding on to a silver cloud in a tough time. Stuck lying on my then feeble back, staring at the ceiling day after Groundhog Day, I looked not at what I couldn't do but what I could. I could open a laptop and tap away, so I did. I got back into designing and maintaining websites but the real find has been writing.

While building, I'd been publishing regular progress diaries but wanted more. I reached out to CX and other AV industry mags and started combining my industry knowledge with word-smithery. CX has been a stalwart ever since.

I've done a lot of corporate documentation and always loved playing with language but never expected to be using it as I do now. The process of researching, interviewing, blocking out, fleshing out and final editing continues to be fun and I enjoy getting better at it all the time.

Hitting send on the final draft is the most daunting aspect of this gig but when it's gone, it's gone and I move straight on. Learning to let go of perfectionism has helped me both as a person and a writer.

Q. What gets you excited?

My great passions are natural building and photography. I love how light works with each. I'm in awe of the natural and built worlds. And music. And science. And people. And art. And how all these things overlap.

Tech is interesting from a professional point of view but it doesn't rule my life. It's just another extension to a lifelong desire for knowledge and understanding.

Q. What annoys you?

Money and power games by the greedy. Lies, skulduggery and spin to support this. Polarised, tribal, yes/no, red/blue partisanship when the world is so finely nuanced and rarely grey.

Discussion and discovery are far more interesting than dogma, labels and closed minds.

Q. How good is country life?

I enjoyed inner city life for a long time but always dreamed of open spaces and slower paces. Hard graft and perseverance have allowed me to now be living that dream. It's brilliant on so many levels. The biggest surprise has been the community bonding. We find ourselves ever busy helping out others and it is immensely rewarding. I pinch myself often.

If our local internet and telephony were more reliable than a Third World tin-can in a thunderstorm, the circle would be complete.

Q. What would you like to leave the readers with?

I enjoy being a bit of an enigma, with more layers than an onion. What you see is not necessarily all that you get. I equally enjoy being honest, trustworthy and dependable regardless of the surface fluff. If I can be this way while sharing knowledge, helping others and raising smiles, then I'm on the right path.

More on the professional services that John offers and personal interests that he follows can be found at boganvilla.com.au

John O’Brien has a go at dissecting the Victorian Inquiry John has professional experience within many areas of AV (control, lighting, …

August 18, 2021
John O’Brien | Australasian Special Events