"One of the weirdest realizations of travelling alone overseas and coming back was that there are these things that no one will ever be quite able to relate to me about…And part of it felt like I was my own person then."

Alyssa: I got to know Murphy when we worked together on a student magazine titled 'The Wild Boar', which we then left shortly after and started on 'The Swine', another student magazine where he was the Editor-in-Chief. I thought he’d be interesting to interview - James shares his experiences on travelling alone and what he’s got planned for the future.


I'M FROM A seaside town called Mornington. It’s about an hour and a bit from the center of Melbourne. I moved into the city when I was about 19 and pretty much as fast as I could—I didn’t really like Mornington Peninsula that much. 

I liked my high school and I made some good friends, but I felt a little suffocated in the outer, outer suburbs and I wanted to be where the action was. I was pretty keen to get out of there and come to the city and find a little bit of home, youth culture and stuff like that. I love going back to Mornington for the scenery but not the people (laughs). It’s a bit of a stuck-up vibe up there. People move out to the suburbs to have their own plot of land, and go to the local supermarket and not talk to people…I think Mornington’s just in that horrible sweet spot between affluent people who want to live on the edge of the city and in kind of small communities. When you go over to the other side of the Mornington peninsula to Flinders and Merricks Beach, you find all those beautiful little communities where everyone knows each other—you go down to the beach and everyone’s talking to each other and finding out what’s going on; on my side of town, no. It’s quite private—people like to keep to themselves. There is a little bit of community there but it’s for older people, not for young people really.

I am quite in love with Melbourne and I fall more in love with the city the longer I’ve been here. You’d think it’d be the opposite—you think you’d become disillusioned with city life but no I’ve really come to love it. When I was first living here and started university, I was thinking I’d love to get awesome marks and get a scholarship and go study in London or New York, or one of those global cities and go to NYU and get like this world class education. But the more I fall in love with Melbourne, the less inclined I feel to leave.

At the moment I still think I’d like to go overseas but I don’t know, I could almost get a worldly education in Melbourne. I definitely wouldn’t stay overseas longer than to do a Masters course. I want to live in Melbourne my whole life. I have been overseas but I’ve never lived overseas so I don’t know what that’s like. I travelled by myself to South America and I loved the experience, but I wouldn’t do it again. I got very lonely.

One of the weirdest realization of travelling alone overseas and coming back was that, yes, there are these things that no one will ever be quite able to relate to me about…I could tell people about it, but they weren’t there. And part of it was like, I felt like I was my own person then. I had stuff that was sort of mine. It didn’t belong to my whole year level at high school or my family—it was just mine. I felt like I came back my own person. I went to Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. Bolivia I did with a little group tour because I thought I’d get kidnapped and die.

Did you speak Spanish there?

Haha not much! I got by on English and learnt survival Spanish. I went to Spain because everyone was going to Europe. I had already been to Europe but I always wanted to go somewhere else. I’ve been to Japan for a couple of weeks, Hong Kong for a couple of days…I think I would like to go to Asia but I’d pick my places carefully. I’d more inclined to check out India than Thailand or Vietnam…there’s such a strong touristy-trade going on between Australia and those countries to the point it seems like people go because that’s what you do, and not going there for any intense experience.

So anyway I went to Bolivia. I was there for 10 weeks. It was a long time away from home and I stayed in hostels. I got stranded over New Year’s Eve in one town because there weren’t any buses leaving. I got kicked out of my hostel because my booking ran out, and I booked myself into this place that was seedy as all hell. The people that owned it spoke zero English. I ended up booking two nights in a 5 star hotel on the beach. It was pretty cheap and I was like, screw it I’m going to stay there (laughs). That trip really changed me I think, and gave me a certain sense of self-confidence that I could survive and adapt and make do but also that I did actually need people. I did get really lonely and I couldn’t do everything by myself, and realized how much I love talking to people. Even having a chat with the bartender or someone who’s making my coffee. So yea that really made me value community, friends and companionship, so I don’t think I would travel alone again, which is part of the reason why I’m panicking about thinking whether or not I’d go and live overseas for two years to study. The thing is the countries I’d go to for study are English-speaking so I’ll probably be able to make friends; I’m a lazy English-is-my-first-language person.

I was very shy when I was young, not so much now. I’m terrible at forcing myself to meet new people, thus South America on my own was a bad idea on one level because I was terrible at meeting people by myself, so that was hard. I did drama all the way through high school, in plays and musicals and that really gave me a lot of confidence. I was a bit of a class clown as well and I could perform for an audience, but not like in a social group of five.

In prep and year 1, I studied Japanese. And then at the next school I studied Indonesian for 4 years. At then after that the next school I went to offered French and Indonesian, and for whatever reason I swapped to French, and now I can’t speak any of them! It was a huge mistake. I think it would have been better if schools just offered one second language (eg. Indonesian) all the way through. Not only would I be better at it, I think a lot of Australian kids would benefit from being able to communicate with our neighbours.


What did you study and why?

I majored in politics and minor in philosophy and economics at Swinburne. I’ve been described as ambitious, and I am. I chose to do politics because at some point in Year 12 I was sick of all the pressure and do something at university that would give me a ‘career’.

Pressure from whom?

Not my parents, they were pretty chilled out. I suppose the expectations put on me by the high school teachers and by my peers and by other people’s parents. Even though it was a fairly chilled-out private school, it had a reputation for being one of the ‘hippy’ schools. It wasn’t, but it was…well fair enough. I felt like there was all this pressure to do something and get a degree that would give me a job straight away. I loved studying history and English and the humanities. I was really interested in politics and stuff like that, and for a while I was going to study advertising and did work experience at some ad firms.

I think you’re too honest to do advertising.

Well that’s the thing. At the second ad firm (CLEMENGER BBDO) where I did work experience at, I was in year 10 with a friend and I wanted to be a advertising creative, like a creative director. It seemed glamourous—lots of money. So while I was there I wrote an ad with my mate, for the ad firm’s client. We pitched our M&M’s ad and anyway we did lame stuff like photocopying for the rest of the time we were there. A month later the ad was on the telly and we didn’t get any money for it or weren’t even told they were going to use our ad. And I thought, “Shit man. An industry that would rip off a year 10 kid’s idea is pretty brutal.”

I had someone in the industry tell me that I’d be good at advertising and I thought, “I don’t really want to be this brutal, cut-throat guy! I don’t think I’m cut out for this evil industry!” So naturally I stuck to politics since then, which is probably as evil half the time! But it seemed kind of noble. I felt so relieved picking something I like—being passionate about this and knowing that I’d be good at it because I really loved it.

I studied economics originally because it is a really intense part of politics, and I wanted to understand the jargon. The concepts, words, theories and stuff like that because it’s crucial to politics and at Swinburne, they didn’t really teach much economics with politics.

What do you want to do after graduation?

I’m going to do my Honours in politics and philosophy here. I think I want to be an academic, but I also want to be a writer. Not writing fiction, but essays and arguments. I wouldn’t mind doing research for an institute or something like that, like a research institute on public policy. But I would love to be a critic, speak and write in public about what’s going on. For quite a while I wanted to join a politic party and I was deciding between the Greens and the Labour Party, and the more I’ve experienced party politics, the more turned off I’ve been. I really don’t want to be a politician anymore. I think I would hate it now. I’ve had a bit of taste of that through the student union and gone off with a few of them to conferences and fund raisers and…I don’t know, it’s all a bit gross (laughs).

The only reason I don’t want to be a journalist is because I think the state of journalism is a sorry one. I think affecting change is one of the roles of being a critic and writer, and that’s why I don’t want to be a journalist. I don’t want to be running for The Age (Melbourne newspaper), and reporting, “This person said this and this, and this other person was involved and said this and this.” I don’t care for that really detached and uninvolved view. I want to have a view about it and argue about it in public. What I think about this and why it’s good or bad. I want to try to change things and not just report on what’s going on.

What I study is all related, it’s just that Swinburne doesn’t teach it all together, but I think a lot can be said from learning from lots of different fields. Technically, I don’t have a minor in Philosophy. I did three units of philosophy and one unit of climate change studies, which was under Engineering…technically. That made me really depressed but I needed to know. But what was good about that was that I learned some climate science, which was awesome and learned about geology and geography, evolution and biology…having a basic understanding of all these different fields really helps to have a general appreciation and understanding of the world. I really love learning things from all over the place and incorporating it into what I’m trying to do, rather than being a physicist and only learning a very narrow area and then writing academic papers on the physics of green lasers in Argentina or whatever. I love to have a general broad understanding that’s helpful in every day life.

I can stick with a topic and read a book for a long time and think deeply on something for a while, but it doesn’t come intuitively to me. I have to put a bit of effort into concentrating and rewarding when it does. A short attention span is a cultural problem as well I think, we manufacture it. MTV won’t show a shot that lasts more than five seconds without moving.

I’m very good at getting rid of my free time and filling it up. I need to make plans probably two weeks in advance when I’m at university! Sometimes I do give myself way too much to do and it stresses me out massively.

Have you ever had a burn out?

Yea. I hit a certain threshold of ‘busyness’, at which point I start to get acute anxiety and can’t deal with it. I’m not sure where that line is yet—where I can work out from whether I’m really happy because I’ve got lots of stuff on and being productive and where it rolls on to become something that can make me anxious. It does happen and a couple of times with The Swine magazine, only because it was in combination with other deadlines and stuff like that. I definitely rely on the help of other people when I’m at that line.

This interview with James was originally published in WOOP ZINE #2 in early 2013.