Monday, January 26, 2015

Lennie Gwyther's true grit

On Australia Day, here's a post for all those Aussies out there.

In her writings on the value of effortful practice, determination and having a ‘growth mindset’, Carol Dweck concludes that the secret of great accomplishments depends not so much on IQ but on passion, dedication and sustained effort.

While I was in Melbourne last week, I came across a newspaper article by Carolyn Webb in The Age about a boy who had in spades the kind of tenacity and grit Dweck is talking about. It is the story of nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther, whose dream was to be at the opening of the Sidney Harbour Bridge in 1932. [The Bridge, as many Australians call it today, was known at the time as 'The Iron Lung of Australia on acount of the amount of work it brought and the hardship it alleviated at the time of the depression.]

As a reward for looking after their farm in Leongatha, in south-eastern Victoria, after Lennie’s father had broken his leg and couldn’t get in the crops or do the ploughing, Lennie was allowed to plot his route to Sidney and to undertake the 1,000-kilometre expedition with no other companion than his horse Ginger. In the fierce February heat, this was no mere summer saunter!
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Boy_on_a_Horse.jpg

At a time when the mood in Australia was at a particularly low ebb, the story of what this boy was intending to achieve became one that fired the popular imagination. Boy and horse were cheered on through town after town until they arrived in Canberra, then still a small town, where Lennie proudly shook the hand of prime minister Joseph Lyons and was invited to take tea in the then members’ refreshment rooms.

By the time he reached Sydney, crowds were waiting to greet him and he was invited to take part in the opening parade across the bridge. Having been given a signed cricket bat by his cricketing hero Don Bradman, Lennie was given permission by his father to do the whole journey in reverse and, on June 10th, just over three months after setting out, Lennie arrived home at Leongatha to the cheers of an 800-strong crowd and a civic reception.

As I'm sure Carol Dweck would agree, the combination of self regulation and determination possessed by this young Australian boy are an inspiration to all young people everywhere.

As Stephanie Owen Reeder, author of Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony, to be published on February 1st by the National Library of Australia, remarks, “these days a nine-year-old child is probably not even allowed to walk to the shops by themselves”*.

Footnote: Lennie’s father Leo Tennyson Gwyther, a captain in  Australia’s 2nd Field Artilllery, won the Military Cross and Bar during the First World War.


*Quoted from the article ‘Epic trek of boy and his horse inspired a nation’ in The Age, Friday January 23rd 2015.

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