Where are they now – Ethan O’Brien (SPC 1999-2004)
December 7, 2020
The College recently reconnected with former student Ethan O’Brien (SPC 1999-2004) who has tried everything from working in the mines in Western Australia to backpacking across Central America and being a scuba diving instructor in the Caribbean where he met his future wife. The couple have made their home in Oregon, in America and are using many Aussie practices in the development and evolution of their successful farm and online store. Ethan shares his many happy memories of his time at SPC and how it has helped him in every adventure.
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
Four days after finishing my final Year 12 exam at SPC, I moved to Perth and then on to Kalgoorlie to study Mining Engineering at the Western Australian School of Mines. The four years in Kal were tough but I made some great friends and got a lot of useful work experience. Upon graduating, I worked Fly-in-Fly-Out (FIFO) for a while to save some cash before travelling to Canada (with another SPC alum, Dane Bergman (SPC 1999-2004)) then on through Central America in what ended up being two years of backpacking.
I travelled all through Central America and ended up living on a Caribbean island off of Honduras called Utila for one and a half years. There I became a scuba diving instructor and ended up meeting my future wife, Courtney, who had a restaurant on the island. We ended up leaving the island after a military coup, 7.6 magnitude earthquake, and visa issues dried up the tourist trade and therefore our source of income.
After a short stint in Los Angeles (Courtney’s hometown), we moved to Perth and I got back into the mining game where I worked for a consultancy and then an ASX listed mining company. Perth life was good, Court and I got married in 2015, we were doing well and progressing our careers, however it was almost too comfortable and neither Courtney nor I wanted to be in the city forever. We talked about buying land and starting some type of farm. We agreed to look at land in America to be closer to Court’s family and settled on a great property in Bend, Oregon. After trying a few different crops (hops, garlic, mushrooms, etc.) we decided there was a gap in the market for lamb. We now sell grass fed lamb and beef direct to consumers via our online store and ship our products all over the USA.
Our business, North 44 Farm, continues to grow and be a labour of love for us, our extended family, and employees. I also still do some mining consulting work, and am a part-time raft guide, just for fun.
How is the coronavirus presently affecting your work and industry?
The Coronavirus has affected us in a number of ways. Firstly, as we live in the US, it’s been interesting to juxtapose the Australian response to that of the US. The common American ideology of ‘personal freedom at the expense of one’s neighbour’ will forever be a frustration to me. It is my opinion that the response needed to handle coronavirus well is unfortunately the perfect antithesis to the American culture. Having experienced this culture first hand, I highly doubt the country will be able to get a level of control over the virus, even with a vaccine, given the attitudes of a substantial percent of the population.
Fortunately, being business owners, we get to design our own protocols in our workplace and often look to Australia for what best practices should be. We have actually increased our customer base due to greater interest in farm direct products. Also given that people can order online and we will deliver or ship directly to the customer’s door, people feel less exposed than they would in a traditional supermarket.
Do you have family ties with SPC?
I have a number of family ties with SPC. My father and uncles went to school at St Pat’s. My dad (Andrew O’Brien) was a teacher and Rowing Master at the school for a few years. My grandfather (Kevin O’Brien) and two uncles (Simon and Chris O’Brien) have at various times, been rowing coaches and Rowing Masters at the school. Their faces may still be seen in photos on walls of the school for their efforts with successful first crews at the Head of the Lake and national championship competitions.
I currently also have a cousin attending SPC, Mathew, and his brother Daniel will start attending in the new year.
What are your fondest memories of your time at St Patrick’s College?
I have many fond memories of St Patrick’s College. I enjoyed representing the school in a number of sports but to me, the best competition was always in the jerks courts, the four square/downball areas and in ‘markers up’ competitions. I remember fondly debriefing the weekend’s mischief in the tuckshop area with friends, Head of the Lake assemblies, jumping off the old library skyway, battling the year above on the oval over who can remember what, running ‘the gauntlet’ in the hallways between classes, exploring the old Christian Brothers residences before they were knocked down, etc. Just a few quick memories in an endless supply. I’ve found it’s the smaller memories that stand out to me more now than any ‘glory days’ stories, and it’s the people you share those memories with that glue them all together. I grew so much at SPC that I look back at all my six years fondly.
Which teacher from your time at SPC had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I remember most of my teachers from my time at SPC. Notable mentions are Hutchy, Danny Moore, Lindorff and Porter, all of which had a positive impact on me. Howard Clark and Mr Beatty were particularly supportive of me when I was having a tough time early in my SPC life. I have to say that one teacher in particular continues to have an impact on my life. The impact is not through any continuing personal contact, but via his teaching of a skill that I still use to this day. I had Ian McKail for Year 11 and 12 English and English Literature. He taught us a technique for memorising whole essays using mental ‘houses’. I have used this technique for basically every test in my life since. I hope it’s still being taught at SPC but I think McKail left SPC not long after I did. The teaching of the skill may have left with him.
How has your education shaped your professional life?
I was a lazy student who cruised through school and got an average Year 12 score to match my effort. This is clearly on me and not anything the SPC staff did or didn’t do. I actually appreciate in hindsight, that the staff recognised that a perfect score wasn’t for everyone. However I do believe the educational base that all SPC students received was quite high. I didn’t come to this conclusion until travelling the world and seeing firsthand, just how our SPC education compared with those of other nations. In my professional life, I think the most pertinent SPC education was non-formal. I could not have transitioned from schoolboy to miner in the matter of months without utilizing the social lessons learned at SPC. Team dynamics, conflict resolution, individual decision reasoning, even dealing with fools and bullies, are just some of the educational aspects that come to mind that I still use in my professional life today.
How has your time at SPC shaped your personal values and your family life?
I’m not sure I can directly pinpoint any of my personal values to SPC, as nothing stands out in my memory other than the birth of my distaste for religion. I have developed my values through the totality of all my experiences, so in that sense SPC has played its part.
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
I don’t believe one message would fit all students of today, given all their individual differences (age, personalities, desires, etc.). I can only pass on select ideologies that have worked well for me and therefore may benefit some students. I have taken a lot of risks in my life and most have worked out positively. The positives have come via my work ethic, ability to be flexible, and a genuine interest in understanding the other side of the risk. Experience teaches not just to go chase the dreams but actually how to structure the chase itself. Life is full of unexpected turns and learning how to take risks, absorb the teachings, and continue to fail and succeed is essential, in my opinion, to living a life well-lived. In short, learn from the risks you choose to take and apply those lessons to your next risky adventure.