ABC television channel recently featured the heartwarming success story of Southern Cross University professor Gregory Smith who proved that anyone can overcome the greatest of life’s adversities and emerge successful.
By unshackling himself of a long-held destructive self-image, Dr Gregory Smith made peace with the demons of his past.
As a young boy, he suffered a violently destructive upbringing at the hands of an alcoholic father while his mother helplessly did nothing. When he was 10 years old, his parents split up and his mother abandoned him and his 5 sisters at an orphanage. At age 14, a state psychiatrist dashed his sagging self-image by labeling him “a personality disordered adolescent, sociopathic type” and “functioning at the lower level of the dull range.” He eventually quit school and became an alcoholic like his dad.
Seeking refuge and emerging out of the forest
In 1989, after walking the dirt road near the hills of Mullumbimby, he settled at Goonengerry National Park, a 442-hectare wet sclerophyll forest. “I ended up there because I had really nowhere else to go.”
Eventually exhausted by years of sleeping rough in the forest, he moved out, determined to turn his life around. He doggedly pursued an undergraduate degree and then a PhD at Southern Cross University. Today, Dr Gregory Peel Smith is a well-admired professor of the university’s Social Sciences department.
Kerry Pritchard, one of his students, who herself experienced an almost similar fate, says, “Gregory represents the capacity for transformation against all odds and a real triumph over adversity – how to take the crap in life and grow beautiful things out of it.”
Becoming an academic success
From being a homeless alcoholic living in the wild, Gregory Smith became an academic success after completing his undergraduate and PhD degrees in Sociology. He also landed a book deal, Out of the Forest.
The book tells of his inspiring comeback from living off anything he could forage in the forest in his attempt to stay away from the society that let him down to eventually going back to school to finish his studies after leaving school at 14. “Today, I don’t think I’m a sociopath. Today, I don’t have to live up to it. I’m just another human being, doing the best I can,” he says.