“I’ll have a crack, I’ve got nothing to lose”
Mitchell Cross, BBM 2019 Landscape Construction Scholar, shares the ups and downs of his scholarship journey in the time of COVID-19.
The journey: My Perspective
The journey of a lifetime. I had it planned out, it was ready. I was ready. I get to travel, and represent Australian landscapers in three of many prestigious garden festivals in the UK. Yeah sweet. I’ll be fine.
I thought “I’ll have a crack, I’ve got nothing to lose”
If someone had mentioned this opportunity to me in July last year, I would have said “like that could ever happen to me, I’m just a landscaper”. It was my grandparents actually, that led me onto bbm, after hearing the advertisement on 2GB’s “the garden clinic” hosted by Graham Ross, an icon in not only the Australian horticulture industry, but also internationally known for his knowledge and brilliance through a lifetime worth of dedication to horticulture. The exact words I remember my Nan saying over the phone were “this could be your big break Mitch! You’re a perfect candidate for something like this, and you get to travel too!”
So I thought, alright I’ll have a look at this. As I went through the website, reading what past scholars in the trade had done and watching videos of success and amazing experiences in all these different fields, I thought “I’ll have a crack, I’ve got nothing to lose”. An hour went by, as I was filling out the trade application, typing out why I would be a good candidate, meticulously going over what I wrote so I sounded somewhat educated and creating sophisticated sentences, adjusting so I didn’t sound exactly the way my thought process was. After I was happy with what seemed like an artists review of how excellent they were with their work, I submitted the application with the thought of “well, I’m not expecting much but this would be pretty cool if it did happen.”
Everything froze for a bit
Some weeks pass, my mind is completely in work mode. August was over and the weather was warming up, the beginning of spring had brought a fresh smell to the air. Everything was good. I woke up in a surprisingly good mood, unsure why, it was just the first Tuesday in September, but I just ran with it. I happen to check my emails while waiting in the ute this particular morning, and to my surprise there was an email from BBM youth support. I opened it, reading the words with curiosity spiking in my mind. I read it again. I had to blink a few times, even Pinched myself. I got out of the Ute, folded the tray down and sat for second, still staring at my phone. I could feel my heart beating faster than a drummer playing a solo. This was the day I received the confirmation of my youth scholarship application. Everything froze for a bit, as my mind started ticking and rolling through what this meant. With this opportunity, I could become more than just a landscaper, I could run a company, build things and encourage designs to challenge the limits of what we use as resources, to repurpose and have a far more open minded view of how the trade industry views landscaping itself!
This exact thought process was my everyday waking mental pep talk, from the moment I knew what I was in for.
After keeping things on the lowdown until the 2019 scholars were announced, the day came when I announced this life changing experience to friends and family, to which the reactions were pure astonishment as how I’d managed to score such an achievement. I genuinely think when I told my parents and grandparents in the same day, there could have been an ambulance at the front door with defibrillators ready, within seconds of the news sinking in.
The BBM Awards Night line up
Fast forward 2 months, and it’s the BBM Awards Night. It’s surreal still to me, walking into Parliament House in Sydney, with my parent, all dressed up. This was a Big deal. After being debriefed and accommodated with the other scholars in a separate room, before the awards ceremony, we shared our goals and experiences within our own established sections of our scholarships. After everyone was familiar, and nerves have calmed a bit, it was time to head into the ceremony.
After hearing speeches from past scholars and the Governor General, the awards were acknowledged and scholars were called out in their groups, to be photographed and listen to scholars that had advice and experiences relevant to each sector. Once the ceremony had ended everyone was invited to the hall room, where sponsors and representatives of selected degrees and establishments who had viewed the scholarship awards ceremony, would float around to mingle with scholars and would create a connection with each individual, where the aim was to talk to as many people in your relevant field to gain contacts and mentors. To my surprise, my past Tafe course coordinators were invited, so it was a welcome surprise to talk with them and hear detailed knowledge of what to expect and how to go about my scholarship plans.
As well as my Tafe teachers, I ran into Graham Ross, and boy, was it a surreal experience. The first words he said before I could say anything was “Mitch! I’ve been looking for you! I’ve been caught up with everyone at the moment but I’m glad you found me!” This took a bit to sink into my metaphorically thick skull, Graham Ross, was looking for ME! Wow – I felt special. I couldn’t help but blush and smile like a little child. The conversation I had was so detailed, but I took everything in, and Graham made a tremendous effort to give me help with contacts, took the time to really understand what my goals and ideas were leading to, and most importantly, he gave me a proper understanding and perspective of the opportunity that lay before me. Graham put me in direct contact with Andrew Fisher Tomlin, Director of the London College of Garden Design, whom I liaised with and was able to sort out accommodation ideas, and then further my array of contacts. This was the chance to kick-start my landscaping career through exposure to a completely different world, in a different country, where horticulture and construction come together to create a visual symphony of perfection.
The Journey I had planned
The plan was to leave Sydney with my family on April 4, to travel Europe and see some sights as a family for three weeks prior to beginning my placement at the first garden show, Chelsea, constructing the “Facebook garden” with a select team of high profile landscapers, led by a prestigiously acclaimed designer of exquisite landscapes. After Chelsea I would then work within a high end landscape construction company, led by Mark Gregory, for the duration of a month, on placement to exercise and indulge the different techniques of how gardens are built, with an entirely exotic use of mediums and plants I wouldn’t ordinarily see or use in my day job in Australia. From that point onwards, I would then move to work at Hampton court garden show, with a new team led by young designer of the year, Will Williams, and a team he handpicked to also take me on to compete in the Tatton park garden show, in the north of England, prior to Hampton courts construction was completed. In between the shows I’d have a week or few days to spare, where I allowed to explore the towns and see for myself how different the countryside is to our Australian landscape. My return to Australia would be late July, which would allow me 7 days after my placements with my contacts were complete, and I could enjoy my last days taking some time to gather my things and ready myself for the departure back to Sydney.
The day I had heard on our site radio that the COVID-19 pandemic had spread from Italy to Switzerland overnight, I received a call from mum explaining that our family trip would be on hold given the latest crisis. My heart sunk. Not even the view of the beach and perfect summer weather of the day while at work could cheer my mood. I knew this would mean that I’d have to travel directly to England, commence my placement and then return home. As the rest of the week went by, more cases were popping up in Europe, so I thought it was best to get in touch with my contacts just to see what the situation was like on their end. As I would hear back individually from each person, the responses were more or less the same “just wait it out for now Mitch, we will see how it unfolds over the coming week. In the meantime stick to your schedule, there is still hope yet”. At that time, in February, I was staying on the Central Coast of NSW on the tail end of a major landscape job on a beach front block in Macmasters Beach.
As I was staying up away from home week to week, the time was passing faster and faster. Even though my plans we all locked in I started to worry, and it wasn’t until news came through that England had been struck with the first wave of COVID-19, l knew this wouldn’t happen. Well at least this year.
I had spoken to BBM directly to see if there was any way to postpone this wonderful opportunity until 2021. Once I had confirmed my deferral I knew I had to inform my English mentors of what the new plan was going to be. I emailed each contact to wish them the very best, understanding that I wouldn’t be coming over this year, and I would be keeping in touch every month or so to try and maintain a place and any updates that would come within their teams for the garden shows and placements for 2021.
Returning to Sydney
After coming to terms with the situation, and having returned to Sydney after completing a four month construction masterpiece up the coast, Sydney was recording cases of the coronavirus spreading, even through my own neighbourhood.
Negativity was beginning to show in the media and in people I would speak to, but I knew only one thing would get me through this increasingly tougher time. When I had a meeting with Graham, he said something that really resonated with me and that gave me the drive to go forward. What he said was “don’t let an opportunity walk away from you”. I had been doing my own works on weekends when I would come home, and even still doing continuing with projects I had been working on in the year before.
My focus had shifted slightly, to really refine how I visualised a landscape project. The finer details that go into creating something, from essentially natural elements we take for granted. My mind was always on, I was sketching small designs of what I could do on these private jobs, and it occurred to me, this was the perfect time to refine my capabilities. My competitive nature really came into play as I would push my days out, coming straight from my day job, to continue working on my side jobs, with only one intention. To deliver the best possible quality of work for someone to enjoy in the comfort of their own backyard.
Fast forward a few weeks to the current situation. Isolation. Only essential work, essential trips and no socialising, unless it’s an essential reason. Really not a fun time for anyone. But in my world there is a bright side. As long as the sun is out, there’s a garden waiting for a facelift.
My normal work days remained the same, just with more pressure to perform on site to maintain a healthy relationship with co-workers and clientele, while still getting work done at an efficient rate.
To keep my head level and fresh, I kept up my strict physical training routine, coming home each day to alternate between boxing and weight training, as if I would do any other day, just without the gyms to train in.
After work on the weekends, I decided to take on a different kind of job, given I couldn’t do my own works anymore, and being completely incapable of sitting still for more than 30 seconds without fiddling with something or being hungry and raiding the fridge.
To keep my focus and productivity during my weekends and weekdays after work, this project was more of a personal challenge, as my family is heavily “car obsessed”. I decided to start a project car build, working on a motor and building it from home to suit the car I had ready for it. The knowledge and practices I had learned from an early age were crucial skills my dad would taught me, having had construction, engineering and fabrication experience through his life. I was educated on how things worked, not just on cars, but framework and building materials and what to fix, how to modify, maintain, how to solve a problem with simple tools and resources and most importantly, adapting mechanical and structural ethics, to work in a variety of different situations.
This is where my dedication and appreciation to landscape construction stemmed from, using knowledge I was taught from a young age and trade knowledge I had earned from 5 years experience in my trade, to create structures, solve problems and create an organic masterpiece to work within components of natural materials, reshaped and repurposed to serve as a feature or structure in a garden layout.
With all this time up my sleeve now, when I’m not training or working on the car, I’m diving deeper into the maintenance side of gardening, after everything has settled in, and how to shape the foliage of plants to better accent the features that surround them. For now I’ll maintain conversation with my overseas contacts, keeping everything up to date with my itinerary plan, and staying safe as advised under the current government isolation laws.
And now to put an end to this little journal entry.
This opportunity that I have been given is the real mystery door that has opened. You must open it and walk through it, and follow the path that awaits. Although this minor setback has stopped me now, it’s a perfect time to make sure everything is prepared for when I am to embark on my journey, as I will be fully established with my plan to move forward.
To all the new scholars may I say this, don’t wait for something to happen, make your move first and initiate the bond with your contacts, it will serve you well and it will teach you the importance of planning, organising and will heavily impact your social skills and confidence when speaking to someone new for the first time. Make the very most of every moment you have and stay positive, a smile will make a world of difference, and it looks good on your face as well, from a social point of view.
And last but not least, I would like to firstly thank BBM YOUTH SUPPORT, for giving me this awesome chance to excel in my preferred field, a chance I wouldn’t ordinarily get in my day job. Secondly, for being incredibly supportive in this tough time, and accommodating of any queries or questions I had over the past few months.
Secondly my deepest gratitude to Graham Ross, for setting me up with essential workplace contacts, and taking such time to answer any of my queries and give me options regarding how to go about travel, where the best possible opportunities would suit my field and most of all, to not be afraid to reach out and ask for advice.
And finally, to Andrew Fisher Tomlin and the associated designers and landscapers in the UK I have been liaising with, thank you for being so incredibly patient and helpful, taking the time to allocate associates for placements and experiences, assisting with my every question and email to better my organisational skills and planning with itinerary for this journey.