Australian Bush Kid

Boy George

Writing By Regina Revazova

“I am Scottish by birth and Australian by experience,” George McKinlay likes to say. Sometimes he adds “and Argentinian by choice.” He sips his coffee, broadly smiles and waves off his hand, implying the latter was not necessary.

George has a slight British accent. He is loquacious and delves into abstract discussions of Assistive Technologies (AT) and his personal life often. George is a middle age white male with green eyes, pale reddish skin tone and lively grin on his face. He is also father of a cute eight-year-old daughter, Chu-Lan.

Before he started working in the AT field, there were remarkable twists and turns in his past. George traveled almost all over the world map from Europe to Australia, from Australia to Mexico, from Mexico to Argentina, from Argentina to United States. “Nevada is where I never expected to end up, I must admit. But I moved here, studied here, I have contacts with people,” says George about the latest, almost ten year unexpected spin of his life.

George was born in the post war impoverished Scotland that had “dirty streets and absence of medical coverage.” His parents took him on a boat voyage when he was one year old. After a four weeks’ journey the family landed in Australia. This move effectively changed George’s perception of Scotland as a homeland: the place did not leave him with any memories due to his young age, and Australia became his native land, where he spent the next 22 years of his childhood and youth.

George derives his first memories from the suburbs of Perth. Surrounded by stubby trees and dry Australian soil, the outskirts of Perth weren’t quite countryside and weren’t quite city. “The bush is Australian forest. I grew up in the bush with bare feet and often t-shirt went off as well,” says George. “During long summers my skin was constantly burned, and during the winter we had to take turns and bring firewood to our school to keep us warm.

George ran to the one-story wooden school that had four classrooms in total at that time; he ran through the forest with other kids, jumping unshod and raising up road dust. The closest neighbors were half a mile away. Narrow dirt roads connected houses into a sparse community back then, but today highly industrialized city of Perth has almost two million people living there. “We referred to going to Perth as ‘going to the City!”

His father was a builder and the main breadwinner for a family of four, always constructing houses where the family would reside, until the house was ready, and then he sold them and moved on to another building site. George moved from place to place every two or three years, but, fortunately, within the same neighborhood. “He had that immigrant mentality, when you have to get up and make yourself successful,” says George, referring to his father.

The only exception from this pattern of constantly moving from one local house to another one under construction to another undone house and acres and acres of arid soil was 18 months spent by the family in New Zealand when George was in high school. The contrast was immense for the boy, his free, shoeless and t-shirtless childhood was all of a sudden swapped for strict school rules about students’ appearance. Australian freedom on daily basis was changed to a pair of uncomfortable blue pants, boots and t-shirts in an austere high school. “I liked New Zealand a lot. I just hated the British nature of it. It is very rigid. Australia is a little more of a mix of the American system and the British system.”

Then the return to Australia followed. He graduated and pursued his BS in Demographic Environmental Studies at Murdoch University in Perth during spectacular times in Australia. “I grew through the seventies, when Australia became enlightened. We moved from a policy of white Australia: the Socialist Labor Party got into power and changed that; we extricated ourselves quickly from Vietnam, and also we made education free.”

When a society goes through a dramatic transformation in a short period of time, people face a lot of social turbulence. For instance incarceration rates go up and one might find himself thrown into a jail or worse, while another one will start a new political party.

George was in his early twenties when he started working on a documentary about local prisoners in Australia. And all of a sudden the new world of organized crime in the ranks of police and the government became a great revelation to the young film maker. He was visited several times by police and gangs. He was threatened.  “I did not realize how sensitive that issue was and how tightly organized the crime was. Things were getting rather hot there, and I decided to move to Central America. I thought it would be much safer for me.”