Humans of Old Trinity #8 - Scott McMahon

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Name: Scott McMahon

Nickname: Macca

Years at Trinity: 1990-95 (Yr 7 -12)

How’d you get to Trinity?

Until about the age of 10, I lived at Mt Macedon. I moved into the city when I was in Grade 4 and went to Deepdene Primary School. I lived in North Balwyn and then went to the school that Mum chose for me.

Why’d you move into the city?

My parents had split up in the mid-1980’s. Mum needed a career, and there weren’t too many jobs out in Mt Macedon for a single mum, so we moved into the city and she started working at Swinburne University. Mum had a friend whose daughters went to Ruyton, so my sister went there. As Trinity had a close link with Ruyton at the time, and given their proximity to one another, Mum decided Trinity was the place for me to go.

How’d you find the move, was it challenging?

As a kid, probably not. This was the path that my life took, and for me, it was just normal. For someone not going through a family break-up, or having to move from the country to the city, it might seem daunting. But for me, it was my life and my Mum went out of her way to ensure that my sister and I were always supported. My parents split up when I was young and we moved several times, which included me attending three different primary schools. I suppose when you look at my life after leaving Trinity, it’s been quite similar in that I have moved around the country a lot. I have often said that I have lived a nomadic lifestyle, as there has never been a long period of geographic stability (until recently) in my life.

Do you think your parents splitting up affected you at all?

Not in a negative way. If anything, it made me have a bit more independent. I learnt and grasped things earlier in life because of that fact, especially seeing the hard work and sacrifices that my Mum went through just to send me to Trinity.

How did you find Trinity?

I loved it. Over time I have reflected on my years at Trinity and the friendships I made there, the activities and things I did and were exposed to. While I may not have appreciated these things at the time, with the benefit of hindsight and other experiences in my life, I really draw upon my time at Trinity and the experiences and go “Wow, that set the foundations for me.” And not just from an educational perspective, but in my personal growth as a man.

What sorts of experiences were you referring to?

I think a lot of schools have them, but the House system was one which I always found rewarding, because you had to interact with people that you wouldn’t normally interact with. You got involved with new activities. I’m not a musical person – I was a maths, science sort of person generally at school and played sports like cricket and football – but the House system exposed me to different areas and relationships in that way. For me, one of the things that still sticks out in my mind was when I was the House Vice-Captain in Yr 12. I was in Henty House and during the House Music competition that year, held at the Camberwell Civic Centre, we did Priscilla Queen of the Desert for the musical. Despite being tone deaf and not being a musical student, I threw myself out there into one of the lead roles. I had two boys who could actually sing either side of me, but I was front and centre in front of the entire school in drag singing and dancing, well out of my comfort zone. But it was sort of something that you wanted to do because of that House spirit and bond.

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What sort of a kid were you at school?

I suppose I had about two or three different friendship groups. There was a group centred around the guys I knew from the classes I did, especially in the senior years with Physics and Maths and so forth. Then there were the guys I played footy with; you’d gravitate around that social circle as well. Then there was another group of friends that I was pretty tight with from about Yr 7-11, and I suppose we were quite a diverse group. When you look at the general student population of Trinity, we all come from very different backgrounds, but we would form our friendship groups around our shared interests and experiences.

Do you still see much of your Trinity mates?

Unfortunately, no. There was a period there for about four or five years after I left the school where I’d still come back to Melbourne regularly when I wasn’t training or while I was still junior in the Army, so on those occasions I would see them. My life took quite a different pathway from the rest of my classmates, so after I moved away from Melbourne the ability to maintain those friendships diminished over time. I think over the period of the last 20-odd years, the connections with my classmates filtered away. I still stalk people on Facebook every now and then and see what’s going on in their lives, but that’s probably the extent of it. It was great to return to Trinity for my 20-year reunion and catch up with a whole lot of guys that I hadn’t seen since leaving the school in 1995.

You mentioned you took a different path out of school than your mates. What was that path?

I was focused on joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot. And that was my pathway until about August of Yr 12 when I did some extra testing with the Defence Force and they said, “Look, you don’t have the spatial awareness it takes to be a pilot, but you can look at other areas within the Air Force.” I wasn’t prepared for that at the time, so I moved on and wasn’t quite sure what to do. So, with three or four months to go in my Yr 12, the one thing that I had my mind set on wasn’t going to occur. That old adage of putting all your eggs in one basket came back to haunt me in a big way, and I had to quickly figure out what I was going to do. I completed Yr 12, did well academically, and got accepted into Melbourne Uni to do an Arts degree. At the same time, I joined the Army Reserves unit that is located in Surrey Hills. I was attending the Army on Tuesday nights and some weekends, and was really enjoying it. I wasn’t enjoying the Melbourne Uni scene as much, both socially and what I was studying, and I was increasingly becoming a lot more comfortable around the Army environment. I applied to go to the Australian Defence Force Academy with the Army midway through my first year out of Trinity (1996). After more testing and passing a selection board, I was accepted and moved to Canberra and commenced my studies and training at the Academy in January of 1997.

There a lot of things that you reflect on that you did at Trinity and get involved in at Trinity – sometimes quite obvious things. The passive learning and development that occurred throughout my years at Trinity I have found to be very complimentary to the culture and values of the Army, and it is those aspects and experiences which made my move to the Army feel so natural for me.

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What drove you to join the army?

I think it was that prospect of something different. When you come out of your 13 years of education, you think, “Ok, what’s next? Do I get a degree?” I could never see myself wearing a suit every day, going into a high-rise office. I really enjoyed the Leppitt program at Lake Eppalock, being a Leppitt Leader, some of the House leadership options afforded to me, and even being a School Prefect. Those exposures to leadership gave me the desire to pursue something different. It was by pure chance that I ended up with an Army career. Just after being told by the Air Force that I was not suited to be a pilot, I was walking through Doncaster Shopping Centre and there was an Army Reserve recruiting stand. It immediately took my interest and from there that different pathway was something I wanted to pursue. And all these years later, I’m still here.

That seems to be something a lot of people realise coming out of school – that we might be getting prescribed a Uni pathway, but that that’s not for everyone and there are plenty of other options.

Yeah for sure. My stepdaughter’s in Yr 12 at Assumption College. My wife and I keep trying to reinforce to her that while Yr 12 is important, and an ATAR is important, in three or four years’ time no one remembers what school you went to or what ATAR you got. In 10 years time, no one really remembers what University you went to, or if you got a High Distinction on this paper or that. You’re judged on who you are at the time. It can be hard being in an environment of “You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that,” and chasing pre-determined milestones. It’s when those milestones don’t line up, that life can be confronting for some people.

How’s your experience of being in the army been?

It sounds cliché, but its more than just a job, it’s a lifestyle. You asked me before if I’d kept in contact with any of my Trinity mates. While we all have shared experiences and a common bond that naturally lends itself to long lasting friendships, it’s the same in the military. The experiences that I have shared with my mates in the Army were at a different age and time in my life, and the type of training and adversity that we were exposed to in the military required us to bond closely with one another. The only way to achieve what needs to be done is by working closely as a team, so that naturally made those friendship bonds even tighter and longer lasting. I have a core group of mates, and because we’ve gone through very similar backgrounds together, we’re mates for life. We could not see each other for maybe 6-12 months, but when you need them they will be always be there. A year or so ago my step-daughter was travelling and it looked like she might get stranded in Sydney. I rang up a mate who was in Sydney and said “Look, she might be stranded in Sydney could you take care of her?” He was in the middle of dinner with his parents after just being away himself, but said “Yep, I’ll drop everything now and go to the airport.”

Back to your question, its hard to say how I’ve found the Army because I don’t know anything different. It’s what I’ve always done. The Army gives you a sense of belonging – it’s very much a values-based organisation and one large family. It’s something you fundamentally believe in – geez, I’m sounding like a recruitment poster here.

What’s your role at the moment? How has it developed?

I’m a Transport Officer. In the Army, there are different employment areas like Infantry, Armoured, Signals and Supply areas for example. I’m in the Transport area and I’m an Officer. From a relatively young age you’re given a lot of responsibility with frontline units in the northern parts of Australia. The operational tempo is high, with a lot of leadership opportunities, and a different work environment to experience that is quite unique in comparison to the rest of society. As my time in the Army has continued, and I’ve increased in rank as well as with different experiences, my life has changed a bit. Over the last probably nearly 7 or 8 years I have been focused predominantly on the education and training area of the Army. I’m currently working as the Operations Officer of the Army School of Transport. I often explain to people unfamiliar with the Army, that it’s a bit like being a deputy headmaster at a school. I’m responsible for scheduling of the courses, all the resources requirements associated with these courses like making sure we’ve got enough fuel, ammunition, cash, vehicles, instructors and the like. It’s very much a co-ordinating function working directly to the Commanding Officer. This role, and my location, really suits my current lifestyle. My wife, who is also in the Army, and I live just outside of Seymour; we’ve got a bit of land and we’re trying to put some roots down after years in the Army involving multiple relocations around Australian and overseas. Now is the time for us to get a bit more stability in our lives as the kids get older, and we really want to give them a place to call home.

What are some of the most challenging part of your experience in the army?

I think it’s always been the balance between your job and the additional service expectations and demands that go with it. It’s never been a 9-to-5 Monday-Friday job, so trying to find a balance between those demands and your lifestyle needs is a constant challenge. Early on in my career it didn’t really matter, it was just me, I didn’t have any strings attached. But then when you get a significant other in your life, and children come into the picture, it’s trying to balance up those needs. I need to be able to provide for my family and their needs, as well as meeting the needs of the job. There was a time when my daughter was one year old and I was deployed to Afghanistan. When I came back, I was only home for about a week and a half before I had to go away again for a couple of months. So before I knew it, my daughter was already two, and I’d only spent a couple of months with her in that second year of her life. As many parents will know that is a great period in a child’s life, and my daughter and I will never get that time back together. You give up things. And I guess that’s what some people may not truly understand about service in the military. You give up certain aspects of your life, and freedoms that the rest of society takes for granted, for the greater good of the country.

What did you do in Afghanistan?

I was a Movements Officer. I was co-ordinating what we call the intra-theatre lift, which was the movement of Australian personnel and equipment into, and throughout, Afghanistan. It involved a lot of planning and engagement with coalition partners, making sure we had the right people and the right equipment, on the right flights, getting to the right areas. It was great, and I had a lot of independence in my role. My higher headquarters was based in Kuwait at the time, so it was essentially me and my small team undertaking this role. It was a real challenge, but it was one of those great challenges that you remember. It was exciting.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your time in the army?

Hmm. You’d think that would be one of the easier ones to pinpoint, wouldn’t you? I guess the variety of jobs that I’ve undertaken, the varied locations and the experiences that I have gained have all been rewarding. In late 2004 there was the Boxing Day tsunami in South East Asia, and I was part of a force that went to Indonesia to provide immediate disaster relief. The acknowledgement and thanks that we received from some of the locals was rewarding. The same thing can be said of my deployment to Timor Leste in 2006. The appreciation from the civilian population for what we were there to do was gratifying.

There is also the reward in just getting to do your job. When its something that you train all your career for, and then to actually get to go out and do your job, there is a sense of achievement in doing that. Finally, the opportunity to work with some of the people that I’d been able to work with, who have come from all facets of Australian life, has been extremely rewarding. We’re all from different backgrounds with one aim, one goal, and when you work together collaboratively in a team, you can achieve some great outcomes.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

There’s probably a few there. One of them was from Rohan Brown during a Year 8 football game against Camberwell Grammar in the pouring rain at Hayes Paddock. There was about an inch of water all over the ground. All he said throughout that last quarter, constantly bellowing from the sidelines was “Never give up”. While a simplistic message for a bunch of 13-14 year-olds, when you look at life and the things it throws at you, you can’t give up that first time something gets difficult. Always strive to overcome. Some other great advice I have received or used, is to always make your bed every day, so at least you’ve achieved one thing. If you do that at the start of the day, you’re off to a good start. And lastly, always seek to learn something new every day. If you always learn one new thing each day, then you’re constantly evolving and improving.

Where to from here?

My wife and I have made a career decision to pursue our lifestyle as opposed to promotion and potential movement around the country. We have both experienced the “fun years” in units up north, where the operational tempo is very different to where we currently work. Our plan is to continue to serve in the Army, but in a manner that allows us to keep ourselves close to our current location here in central Victoria. Because we undertake roles for only 2-3 years at a time, we need to ensure that we keep abreast of employment opportunities outside of the Army should our needs not equate to those of the Army’s. If the Army said they wanted us to go up north again, then we would need to have a serious discussion about what that would mean for our family and the lifestyle that we want to lead. However, at this stage, we are not planning to leave the Army and the Army is not planning on leaving us.