Humans of Old Trinity #3 - Robbie Gillies

Name: Robert Gillies

Nickname: Probably just Robbie

Years at Trinity: 2003-2008

How’d you end up at Trinity?

My brother went to Trinity before me, that was about it. I’d put my name down at a few schools but Johnny had a really great experience at Trinity, so the choice was pretty easy.

What are you doing nowadays?

At the moment, I’m employed at the Alfred Hospital. I’ve just started a psychiatry rotation as a junior doctor there.

Is that what you’d always wanted to do?

Well, at high school I loved psychology, and I always thought I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. But then I got a shock with my marks in VCE, and ended up going into Medicine, with the thought of doing psychiatry instead. But yeah, originally as a schoolboy I always had my heart set on doing an Arts degree and doing clinical psychology.

Why’d you feel attracted to psychology?

I’m not sure, actually. I always find it sort of difficult to understand or make sense of interests themselves. I don’t know if they’re explainable a lot of the time. Since I started studying psychology in Yr 9, it was just the subject that I always loved. I enjoyed chemistry and biology as well, but psychology was always just fascinating. I guess I’ve just always been someone who loves interacting with and understanding other people, and always curious about human behaviour.

What sort of a kid were you at Trinity?

Tough question. Probably shouldn’t be this tough for someone who’s supposed to be into psychology! I wouldn’t be surprised if I came of as a bit of a weirdo. Some people called me eccentric, I don’t know if that was completely true. Back in year 7 and 8 I used to get a lot of Friday and Saturday detentions, I was a pretty difficult kid to manage early on. Then I mellowed, and I guess ended up being a pretty happy-go-lucky kid. I used to float around, I had friends from all different cliques in my year level, which I loved. I guess I was someone who just tried to get involved and loved trying new things. It meant that I ended up being involved in music and sport and drama and bushwalking.

You mentioned you originally wanted to do Arts, but then changed your mind to study Medicine. I imagine that wouldn’t have been a very easy decision to make. How did it come about?

I took a gap year in 2009 and went across to London with a good mate of mine, Tom O’Donohoe. We had a long summer break from our teaching gigs in August, and Tom was sitting the UMAT in London that year because he really wanted to do Medicine. Because of the way our travel plans were, I decided I’d just sit it with him as well, rather than travel by myself. It was probably just me being needy more than anything! But yeah we took a week off from touring Greece, came back and just bunkered down at his boarding school while everyone was on holidays. We woke up early every day and worked solidly for about 15 hours on those online UMAT courses, then ended up sitting it together in London. I remember at the time I didn’t even really want to do it – I was doing it for no better reason than because Tom was doing it, and I had no one else to travel with!

You just did a UMAT for fun?

That’s sort of how it came about! I wasn’t particularly passionate about a career in Medicine at all back then, but that’s how it all fell into place. And I know that’s a cruel thought for some people, because I know there are people who’d do anything to get into Medicine, and it was something that kind of just happened to me. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, I love the life I have now. It’d be a bit scary to think how life would have played out without medicine, but at the time I was definitely pretty passive in the whole process. 

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How’d you get from there to where you are now?

I came back from my year away and did my first year of medicine at Monash University with a couple of mates from Trinity, so I always had a close group of supportive friends and I had a great time studying. In second year, I took an opportunity to go to Malaysia and do an exchange to the Monash Campus over there which was terrific. Then I took a year off after my third year and to do medical research in New York City, which was an incredible time and a lot of fun. I came back after that, and started spending my summers overseas in Cambodia doing some volunteer English teaching.

Geez, you’ve been everywhere!

Yeah, I guess I just always had an itch to get out and travel and see the world. I’m the first to admit that I was pretty self-indulgent with my travel for the first few years out of high school! Later on, I realised I wanted to see more of the developing world and get my head around poverty and some of the really complex social issues going on overseas. I also spent a bit of time up in Maningrida with a couple of Trinity mates helping out at one of the youth community centres, which was an opportunity organised through the Old Boys’ Committee, actually. Then I took another year off and ended up studying a Masters of Public Health in Townsville, and took the opportunity of living on Tom O’Donohoe’s couch for a year, he was a pretty good sport about that one! But yeah, I finally ended up graduating from medicine in late 2016 and doing an internship at the Alfred in 2017, and I’ve been with the Alfred since.

Wow, you’ve been all over the shop. Has it taught you anything significant?

I think I’ve learnt that you never regret travel – be it for a holiday or for study or just to get away. No one ever comes back from travel and regrets it. I’ve never really heard anyone come back and say anything less than that travelling was the best thing they ever did. So that’s something I’ve learnt – as cliché as it is – to literally try and take every opportunity that comes past, and not worry about whether it will set you back a bit or stop you getting ahead, because invariably travel and breadth and extra education tend to get you ahead again anyway.

Was there any experience that really stuck out for you?

I’ve always looked back on my time in New York as one of the best years of my life. I lived in Manhattan, researching at a hospital and living with two mates in a three-bedroom apartment – we had different travellers staying on our couch every week! It was just wall-to-wall fun for the whole year. I probably look back on that as the best year of my life, the best thing I’ve ever done.

You said that you never regret travel. Has there been anything you have regretted?

Ooooh yeah, there have been plenty of things! From little things to big things, from conversations I’ve had to things I’ve done. But I don’t think I’d change anything, you know? I think it’s fine and completely natural to stuff things up and learn from our mistakes, and I think looking back on things I can put a positive spin, or take something away, from almost everything I’ve done. But I think in that regard I’m lucky in that I haven’t made any massive life choices that I regret. I’ve always been someone who struggles to answer questions like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Why did you do the things you do?” or “What do you plan on doing next?” – I can probably guess what I’ll be doing next year, but it’ll never surprise me if my life turns out completely differently to how I thought it might turn out.

Could you tell us a bit about HoMie?

So after my volunteer work in Cambodia, I set up an organisation called Dream Larger in 2013, which was essentially a fundraising charity for indigenous groups in South-East Asia doing educational projects and infrastructural and leadership development projects. After that, I set up another organisation called Yarra Swim Co with a mate from Melbourne Uni who was studying Urban Planning and wanted to make the Yarra River a bit more swimmable. Then Nick Pearce and some of his mates started up a Facebook page called Homeless of Melbourne, which was a really brilliant idea – sharing stories and photographs of people who were experiencing homelessness in Melbourne, with the aim to destigmatise homelessness through conversations and education. He came to me a few months into that endeavour for a bit of help, and I had a bit of free time, so he and I worked on establishing the Homeless of Melbourne organisation and creating HoMie with Ed Beasley. That was a pretty incredible ride, which we’re all still on – Nick’s the CEO now and I’m on the board of directors. The organisation keeps going from strength to strength – we’ve now trained and employed 10 interns who’ve been experiencing homelessness or hardship in Melbourne, and we’re going to begin executing an expansion plan for the store and the program in the years to come. It’s something Nick, Ed and I are pretty proud of.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Something that’s stayed with me is the old cliché that opportunity is its own reward. A few times I’ve had to push myself at forks in the road when the future is uncertain – not knowing exactly why I’m about to say yes to something, not being able to justify or rationalise exactly why I’m doing something, not necessarily even being enthusiastic about a big opportunity – but just say yes. Just take for granted that something positive is going to come from taking leaps of faith down the track. I think Trinity definitely instilled in me, and probably in a lot of us, that it’s always worthwhile getting out of your comfort zone.

The current Yr 12’s recently had their final VCE classes, and they’re now our newest class of Old Boys. Is there any advice you’d like to give them as they move on into the next phase of their lives?

I’d just say have fun. From 18-25 are some of the best years of your life, so just enjoy it, don’t take life too seriously, don’t get caught up in the minutia. I think for a lot of us, you know, we come from pretty privileged places in society, and things tend to work out if you just concentrate on being a genuine person and having good intentions at heart. So just enjoy yourself, travel, make friends, be curious, follow your intuitions, and take opportunities. It’s pretty safe to trust that those processes will lead you to the right place. And don’t discount the importance of your network; along with our education it’s the most valuable thing Trinity provides.