SEO Explained. Google Ads Decoded. Web Design Uncovered. Facebook Exposed. Content Marketing Gone Viral. All the Information. None of the Sales Pitch.
SEO Explained. Google Ads Decoded. Web Design Uncovered. Facebook Exposed. Content Marketing Gone Viral. All the Information. None of the Sales Pitch.
"It's Not About Having the Most Men in the Room,
It's About Being the Smartest Man in the Room".
A couple of weeks ago, the wonderful people at St. Vincent de Paul asked me if I would be interested in putting down on paper for their media department, what happened to me, twenty years ago today, on Christmas Eve, 2001. Because what happened was – in its own small way – a Christmas miracle. I know, because it happened to me.
Twenty years ago, this Christmas, Australia was a very different place. Especially for me.
In December 2001, Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm was number one in the Australian charts, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone topped the weekend box office at the cinema. And my beloved mother was dying.
There is no easy way to deal with a loved one who is terminally ill. No escape from the feelings of helplessness that overwhelm you, every waking hour of every day. The quotidian existence of a carer looking after a family member edging toward that undiscovered country, is as relentless as it is unforgiving. And while a carer would give anything to avoid the circumstances they find themselves in. They would never shirk their responsibilities. Never look the other way. Because a carer understands instinctively that whatever hardships they have to deal with during this time, pale into insignificance when compared to the pain and suffering their loved one is going through.
As the youngest child and the only family member who lived in Sydney, it fell on me to look after my mum when she got sick. Dad had passed when I was only 11, back in Wales, before we emigrated half a world away to Whyalla, in South Australia, so mum could look after her aging, infirmed parents. And for as long as I can remember, it was always my mum and I against the world. We came from working-class South Welsh stock, so we never had much in the way of money or possessions. But we always had each other. And the thought of losing her. Of being truly alone for the first time in my life, terrified me more than I can say.
Couple these feelings of helplessness, with the crushing burden of financial hardship. Then pile on the emotional self-flagellation that comes with feeling like you’ve let your loved one down, because you can’t afford to look after them properly when they need you to; and your world becomes a grim, relentless place.
I was a grown adult. A man in his early thirties. And at the very moment in my life when I needed to, I couldn’t afford to look after my beloved mum in the way she deserved. How could I not hate myself?
“And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche
I knew that if I’d just made better choices in my life, I would have had money in the bank to look after mum when she needed it. Money to get her an air-conditioner that cooled her bedroom down properly so she could sleep easier. Money to buy her a better TV so she could watch her favourite shows without the picture ghosting. Money to buy her a proper medical bed where the back could come up at the press of a button, so she wouldn’t have to sleep on a dozen pillows, and wouldn’t get bed sores and suffer so needlessly. Money to be able to go to the supermarket and not have to stack the trolley with black and gold brand products because that’s all you can afford. And even then, you’re always worried that your debit card won’t have enough in the account to pay for the groceries when you get to the checkout. And that you’ll have to take things out of the trolly while everyone behind you watches, wishing the world would just swallow you whole.
This was my world in the Christmas of 2001. And it was entirely a hell of my own making. Because I should have had money in the bank. Should’ve had some savings to fall back on to help mum when she needed me to. And yet I didn’t.
In my 20s I was a professional film actor for the better part of a decade, and did 5 feature films, co-starring in 3, along with a bunch of TV, stage etc. And during this time, I made good money. Not great money, don’t get me wrong. Actors are out of work far more than they’re in work. But it was good money all the same. And in-between acting gigs I managed various video shops to keep the rent paid.
However, like most 20-somethings, nobody could tell me what to do with the money I made. I was young, I was immortal, and I knew everything. And if I blew the money I had, what of it? There was always tomorrow to make some more.
Except sometimes there isn’t.
Mum had been a smoker her whole life. Despite a thousand, thousand attempts by her kids to get her to quit. And not long after she retired, all those years of smoking finally caught up with her, and her health went downhill fast. When I realised this, I asked mum to move from Whyalla to Sydney to live with me, and my then-girlfriend, so I could look after her. But to facilitate this, I had to quit acting, because I needed regular money if I was going to be able to look after both mum and myself. Because the sporadic money acting brought in just wasn’t going to cut it. And you can’t have a proper ‘day job’ (as actors refer to them) and still be available for auditions when your agent calls you. It just doesn’t work that way. So, I had to make a choice. And of course, I chose my mum. After informing my agent I was no longer going to be acting, I applied for a bunch of full-time jobs, and eventually got hired to produce a Film & TV conference for a major event company in the Sydney CBD. A job which led them to offer me the position to project manage the two huge trade shows (Broadcast 2000 and Digital Media World 2000) the film conference was attached to. This being an event that ended up having over 300,000 people come through the trade show doors in Darling Harbour over the 3 days it was on, and at which Senator Alston, the then Minister for Technology and the Arts, officially launched digital television in Australia.
I sold $1,475,000 worth of sponsorship on those two trade shows in under nine months. To everyone from Apple to Microsoft. From Panasonic to Sony. And I made a solid wedge of cash in the process. And my new career in IT was officially off and running, and life was good again.
Then I quit.
This idiotic act, when viewed through the lens of time and the perspective of age, beggars belief. I see that now all too clearly. But as the old saying goes, ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’. And so, against the advice of my mother, I quit the job when the trade shows were over, and took the money I had made, and used it to launch Australia’s first-ever streaming film and music website: IndieFilmWeb.com (IFW), using an idea I’d come up with whilst visiting the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) trade show in Las Vegas, and the Broadcast Asia trade show in Hong Kong.
These days of course we don’t think twice about watching a movie on our computer. But back in 2,000, the streaming industry was in its infancy. And the first time a movie ever streamed on an Australian website was on IFW. Which back then, was a big, big deal.
Sponsored exclusively by Apple, we launched IFW on August 14, 2000, to much fanfare at a celebrity-packed 500-strong launch party at the Riche nightclub in the Hilton hotel in Sydney.
I put all the money I had into launching and running this fledgling website. Safe in the knowledge that once the company was up and running, we’d be able to tap into the deep wells of venture capital flowing like mana from heaven, to online businesses during the dot-com boom. This remember was four years before YouTube even existed, and streaming media was the new frontier in entertainment. And in Australia, IndieFilmWeb.com was at the cutting edge.
What could possibly go wrong?
What happened next was, for a wiser head than mine, eminently predictable. For the signs had been there in the stock market for at least 18 months, if I’d been willing to see them.
The market corrected, and the dot-com boom collapsed into myth and legend, devastating the burgeoning internet economy, and wiping IndieFilmWeb.com out of existence. Taking my token savings with it.
And then, as so often happens at these pivotal moments, life pilled on heartache upon misfortune, and mum’s health took a turn for the worse. Which meant I was no was longer able to look for a full-time job to try and right the ship, as I had to be around the house in case mum needed me. Mum had a nurse visit three times a week, and a subsidised home-helper once a fortnight to do a bit of a clean-up around the house. But she needed her son full time. And I needed her.
And that’s how, in Christmas of 2001, I found myself with no money in the bank, debt collectors hounding me almost daily, and trying to survive on unemployment benefits of $316 a fortnight.
Mum, God bless her, chipped in her old age pension of $402 a fortnight to help keep a roof over our head. But living on a combined income of $718 a fortnight, when your rent alone was $500 a fortnight, was an impossible task. And needless to say, there was nothing left over in the budget for Christmas excesses. No money for Christmas dinner. No presents under the tree. No God bless us, everyone.
Despite all this, despite everything, we still kept the Christmas spirit in our hearts, because mum loved Christmas. And me? I’m the biggest fan of Christmas you’ll ever meet. As a devoted Catholic, I appreciate it as the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And for that reason alone, the day is sacred. But I also love it for Santa, and for Christmas lights and presents under the tree, and the smiles on children’s faces as the big day approaches. I love it for Christmas carols, and for snow (if only in my memory from growing up in Wales). And I love it for Scrooged and It’s a Wonderful Life playing on TV, and for all that goes with people enjoying the season of giving. For Christmas is the time of miracles. Both large and small. If we but take a moment to see them when they appear, and to appreciate the unseen hand guiding them from above.
It was in this spirit of giving that the wonderful people from St. Vincent de Paul came calling in our hour of need, with a gesture that I will forever keep in my heart. For on Christmas Eve, 2001, they delivered an enormous Christmas hamper to our door, completely out of the blue!
My mum was lucky enough to be visited by sisters from the local Catholic convent in Lane Cove a couple of times a week, to keep her company. Her favourite was Sister Mary Gomez Peters. An absolute saint of a woman, she would sit there with my mum, sipping a cup of tea, reading from the bible, praying together, and just generally having a good old-fashioned chin-wag! Which cheered my mum up enormously. And her visits were the highlight of my mum’s week, and brought joy into a house where joy was in short supply.
It was, I suspect, Sister Mary Gomez Peters, who told the staff from the local St. Vincent de Paul, of the dire circumstances my mum and I found ourselves in. Who gave them our address. Because when the enormous Christmas hamper appeared out of nowhere on our doorstep, it took us completely by surprise. And was, in a very real sense, for us, a Christmas miracle. For this was the last Christmas I ever had with my beloved mum. And this hamper meant we had a good old-fashioned Christmas dinner together, one last time, with Christmas pudding and hot custard for afters. And together we counted our blessings, while God smiled down upon us.
Two months later, on February 23, 2002, my beloved mum, Valerie Sylvia Morris, passed away peacefully in her sleep, at the Royal North Shore Hospital. The dreaded call came in the wee small hours of the morning, as they always do. And woke me up in a very, very, empty house, bereft of hope. And silent as the grave.
Even though I knew the call was coming, Mum’s death devastated me beyond any words I can pen here. How do you describe the loss you feel when your beloved mum is taken from you? How do you express what cannot be expressed? I was hollowed out by it. Cored from the inside and left a shell of a man, wracked with guilt that I hadn’t been a better son. That I had let my mum down so very badly when she needed me the most. That she had been made to suffer because of my ineptitude. My foolishness. My headstrong belief that I knew best, and to hell with the consequences. The cognitive dissonance of it overwhelmed me like a tsunami, as I realised the son I thought I’d been, the son I wanted to be, wasn’t the son I was. She deserved so much more, my mum. So much more. She was a nurse during her working life, with a heart as big as the ocean. And she spent her entire life looking after other people. Both strangers and family. The last 20 years of her working life she spent as a geriatric nurse at the Whyalla hospital in South Australia, looking after all the oldies in their hour of need. And then, when it was her turn to be looked after, I let her down. And all these years later, I still live with that guilt, despite the passing of so much time. She deserved so much better from the world. From me. And I wasn’t able to give it to her.
The weeks after her death passed in a blur of tears, and a blanket of grief and guilt as black as sackcloth. I didn’t even have enough money to bury my own mother. What sort of a son lets circumstances come to that? What sort of a human being?
My uncle, Chris Morgan, who was always there for my mum, came to my aid and paid for mum’s body to be flown back to Whyalla, where he still lived, so it could be buried near her mum and dad, per her wishes. He paid for the funeral expenses. Organised everything via phone. While I sat at home in a waking coma, barely able to move. Ghosting through an empty house full of memories and loss, day after day, week after week. But I made a promise to myself then, in the shallow moments between spasms of grief, and the near-constant onrush of tears. A promise that I would never again let life crush me. That I would never again be a victim of my own ego. Of my own stubborn nature. Of my own hubris. And I promised that once I got back on my feet, whenever that was, I would remember that last Christmas I spent with my mum. A Christmas made possible by the kindness of St. Vincent de Paul, and the unknown people who generously donated food for the hamper we received late on Christmas eve, 2001.
Ten months later, when I was finally employed again – albeit it modestly so – I made a pact with myself to give something back to St. Vincent de Paul, as my way of saying thank you for making that last Christmas with my mum, special. And in early December, 2002, I went and bought a large plastic clothes basket, the sort you carry your washing to the line in, and I took that basket to my local Woolworths in Crows Nest. Plonked it in the trolley, and filled it to overflowing with food. Both practical (tinned beans, tinned meats, soups etc) and also seasonal fare (chocolates, Christmas pudding, etc.). I then bought a Christmas card, and I wrote a long letter to the person getting the hamper, describing how St. Vincent de Paul helped mum and I when we needed it most. How much it had meant to us. And that I wanted, in some small way, to pass that feeling of generosity on. To pay it forward. Then I sealed the card in an envelope, along with some cash, and put the envelope at the top of the pile of food. Then I wrapped the entire basket in a metric ton of glad-wrap to seal it all in, and practically gave myself a hernia carrying the damn thing across the road to my local St. Vinnies in Crow’s Nest, as the wheels of the trolley locked as I tried to get it out of the supermarket! My only request as I handed over the basket to the staff at St. Vincent de Paul, was that I remain anonymous. And that the entire basket goes to one little old lady living alone, who needs it the most.
And I’ve been doing this every Christmas since.
In 2018, when I moved to the Central Coast, I started duplicating the hamper tradition, for the St. Vincent de Paul’s in Erina Heights. While also driving back down to Sydney to do the hamper for the Crow’s Nest branch each year too.
I’m fortunate that the wonderful staff at the Crow’s Nest St. Vincent de Paul’s know me well enough to greet me each Christmas when I come in, with hugs and smiles. Something that warms my heart more than I can say. And when the lovely Lauren at the Crow’s Nest branch asked me this year, on the 20th anniversary of the delivery of that first Christmas hamper, if I’d like to write something for St. Vincent de Paul about my Christmas tradition, I had to think long and hard about if I wanted to say yes. Because to my way of thinking, giving means so much more if you’re anonymous. If you do it because it’s the right thing to do, rather than because you want to be seen to be doing the right thing. But ultimately, I decided that I would write down my Christmas tradition. Both as a way of honouring my beloved mum, and to publicly thank St. Vincent de Paul for all the wonderful work they do. Because the volunteers who give up their time to sort through the donations and work in the various St. Vincent de Paul stores, deserve more credit than any of us can know. And if I can pen a few words by way of shining the light of thanks on them, for all their hard work. For all their selflessness. Then I am only too happy to do so. Because they are the real heroes of this story. As they embody the spirit of Christmas every day of the year, by their tireless hard work and generosity of spirit.
As to me? It took me a long, long time to get back on my feet after my mum passed, I won’t lie to you. But I’m happy to say that my life now is blessed. And that the lessons of my youth have finally been learned. Albeit the hard way. I am now happily married, and own and run a successful Search Engine Optimisation business called ‘SEO North Sydney’, where I spend my days building websites and getting small businesses on the first page of Google. So that early foray into the world of IT with IndieFilmWeb.com wasn’t completely wasted after all, I’m glad to say! And – while I no longer act anymore – I do write professionally and am repped by William Morris Endeavor, one of the world’s big 3 agencies, in Hollywood. The writing is still a side-hustle, like most everyone else with Hollywood aspirations, but I had one of my screenplays, ‘The Nihilist, the Bag & the Rock’n Roll Launderette’ set up with Warner Brothers Independent Studios in Hollywood (with Kevin Spacey, Alan Rickman, John Cusack and Vinnie Jones attached), at one stage. And one of my books, ‘Monster Town’, was set up at Sony Studios with Producer Basil Iwanyk (John Wick) attached. So hope springs eternal! Plus, I’m pottering away on a new novel, which is exciting. After a decade spent building a business, meeting (and marrying) the woman of my dreams, moving out of Sydney, buying a home together, and generally building a life, it’s wonderful to be back in the writing saddle again, as writing is my ‘happy place’. And with a bit of luck, this new novel might just be the one to claw its way out of Development Hell and actually get made as a movie!
So, yeah…I guess it’s fair to say that between family life, running a business, and writing novels, etc, I’m keeping myself pretty busy! However, no matter what I’m doing. No matter what’s happening in my life. I’ll never be too busy to remember the true spirit of Christmas, and the wonderful people at St. Vincent de Paul, who brought it to life for me.
And if reading this story has touched you in some small way, then perhaps you might be able to start your own tradition of giving something back to St. Vincent de Paul this Christmas? Because there are a lot of people out there doing it tough, in ways we never hear about, never see. And if I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that the little miracles are what keep the world turning. Not the big ones.
And God bless us, everyone.
Brian M Logan