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Faculty of Education and Arts - Occasional Speaker Dr Don McAlpine

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Dr Don McAlpine


It has taken me almost a lifetime of work to accept that I may have been successful.

The confusion probably comes from self-assessing what is success. With the help of my American friends I have been able to tick all the boxes relating to financial security.

I have been able to keep working for 45 years as a director of photography on feature films.

I have received some recognition from my peers – evidenced by Australian and international awards.

 Looking back these attributes have contributed to a most joyous and positive life.

Maybe in fact this simplistic assessment of success is only part of the story. Maybe it is more informative to try and find the origin of this success. When I began I had none of these attributes but I recall I probably felt as successful after my first film as I did after my most recent assignment.

Maybe the positive attitude I have attempted to apply to all my dealings with the myriad of ever-changing crew I have encountered over some 55 feature films was a paramount factor in my success.

Maybe the wondrous joy I feel when confronted with the terrifying and exhilarating experience working with a new director, script, cast, crew and location is a true measure of success.  

The ultimate success was, and still is, that somebody offers you another project.

Of course I had to acquire considerable knowledge about the cameras, lenses and now virtually defunct film and more recently the wonderful world of the digital camera. 

While working in television and later as chief camera person at Film Australia I had the chance to be involved with many of my contemporaries who probably exhibited more technical and creative qualities than I possess.

John Seal and Dean Semler are the only two from that myriad of talent that have similar careers. I have known both men from our days at the ABC in the 60s. I believe it is their attitude and how they relate to people that  separates them from the rest.

I am making the preposterous assumption here that there is something in this 80-year-old’s experience that might be of value to this youthful audience.

 It is attitude. Positive attitude.

As a 15-year-old lad I used to work on the wheat harvest during vacation. The old farmer, probably younger than I am now, commented on how well I was sewing up the wheat bags. In passing he said,” If a job is worth doing it is worth doing properly”. I was pleased with this praise and it has become my mantra.

'If job is worth doing it is worth doing properly.'

 Incidentally this old farmer offered me a share farming contract when I left high school and proceeds enable me to experience a year as an 18 year old discovering Europe and finding an amazing world existed beyond my country town. I think this broadening experience also played a massive part in what I've done and who I am.

The job can be worth doing for a host of reasons from hunger to artistic expression. I believe the main reason for striving to do your best is personal satisfaction. Too many times I have seen a crew member with great ambition performing a minor job within the film not to their full ability.

They are too preoccupied attempting to fulfill their ambition.

If you are exceptional at what you do someone may reward you for your endeavors.

If they don’t you will have pleasure and self-satisfaction of knowing you did your best. It is a very competitive world.

In life there is no finishing line.

For me the only competition that really is productive is competing against yourself to achieve that something extra.

There is also a contradicting and may be cynical belief hidden under this significant headdress. It is a belief that many issues in one's life are decided by blind luck. My alternative mantra is, “there is no justice in the world – thank goodness”

I have been exceptionally lucky. May you all have more than your share of luck as I have.

In closing I would like to thank Edith Cowan University for bestowing this honour on me today. I began my career as a schoolteacher, and this honorary doctorate is a fine cap to that career. For most of you today represents the culmination of hard study and maybe the start of your careers. The greatest gift I could wish upon you is to find a vocation that gives you as much joy and fulfillment as I have chanced upon.

Thank you.

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