“It does help me. I lead a wonderful life. I didn’t know all these lovely [services] existed, so I’m doing my best to take advantage of them.” – Keith Stevenson.
Keith Stevenson describes himself as many things: writer, documentary producer, illustrator, nature lover – but one thing he isn’t is a “nearly”.
“I’m a bloke who believes if you think something, do it. You can be a nearly – ‘I nearly did a trip overseas’, ‘I nearly wrote a book’, ‘I nearly started a garden’ – I’m of the philosophy of don’t be a nearly, do it. Have a go,” Keith says.
Keith, 87, an Australian Unity Home Care customer who lives in Temora in the Riverina area of New South Wales, says this approach has taken him from working in a Campbell’s chicken farm to starting his own award-winning film company. It all started with a good hook, and the gusto to try it.
As a young art school graduate, Keith had his sights set on a career in advertising. But with little experience, he knew he needed to do something different. “I was looking for an opportunity, and I wrote a letter [to a prospective employer] that said, ‘I’ve got more talent than a Swiss Army knife’,” Keith recalls. A little while later, he got a call back from the agency.
The bold letter may have given Keith his start, but what sent his ideas to great heights was his ability to recognise the wonderment in all things, a characteristic instilled from a young age.
“My grandfather used to walk with me and point out the wonderment that surrounded me… birds, moths, spiders, butterflies. I think I’ve always lived in wonderment, but was not acutely aware of it,” he says.
Keith’s keen eye led him to spot opportunities that many others overlooked.
He recalls riding the elevator with the branch manager of the Institution of Engineers who he’d become friendly with. They spoke about the television shows based around professions – doctors, lawyers and architects – but never engineers. After a look at how engineering was presented in the media, Keith noted that they weren’t trying to showcase the beauty of engineering.
Keith created the award-winning SBS series The Elegant Solution, the first documentary by Thought Films, a film production company he founded with a business partner in 1995. It was the beginning of a career as a producer that would take Keith all over the world.
It was during a stint in South Africa in the early 2000s that the seed of the story of his new book, Clear The Way, was planted. Keith was at the Boer War Museum of Johannesburg and learned that many Americans involved in the war were of Irish descent and eager to oppose the British.
The complex history of South Africa and his own Irish heritage prompted him to learn more about British colonial history, Irish evictions and the Irish diaspora of the 1800s.
Clear The Way explores this history through the eyes of two families torn apart by British repressions in South Africa and the Irish evictions. It took Keith two and a half years to write, but he’s been immersed in the story for more than 20 years.
When the time came to publish, unsurprisingly, he decided to do it his way.
Rather than submit the manuscript to a traditional publishing house, Keith self-published the novel with the help of his children and his local library in Temora. Although he admits that self-publishing came with unique challenges, the freedom has been worth it, particularly choosing who he works with.
“I try to keep it among Riverina people… I found a local editor, a person to design the inside of the book, my son did the cover, suddenly the creative person controls the medium,” Keith says.
Keith, who still lives in his own home, has received help with cleaning from an Australian Unity Home Care Worker for the past three years. He says this support has given him the gift of time to pursue his creative projects and enjoy his surrounds.
“It does help me. I lead a wonderful life. I didn’t know all these lovely [services] existed, so I’m doing my best to take advantage of them,” he says.
Far from resting on his laurels, Keith is using the extra time to write a column for the Temora Independent, which is often accompanied by his illustrations. And he continues to learn, explore and enjoy – something that he hopes more of his peers will seek out.
“I see people who seem to think that you have to play some sort of role when you’re old. You have to become stodgy, afraid, careful, cautious, but I think maybe it’s the time to live the other way. It’s a time to be curious, ambitious and fun-loving,” Keith says.
When asked about where he gets the courage to go against the cage of age, Keith responds with, “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid,” quoting a line from the South Pacific song, You’ve got to be carefully taught. “I guess I missed out on the ‘being afraid’ lessons; I was too involved in the wonderful.”
Clear The Way is available in print or eBook format from online retailers such as Amazon, Booktopia and Fishpond.
Words: Alegria Alano Photos: Matt Beaver