Paul - embracing life's adversities

Photo of Paul on a beach

Story by Madeleine Rojahn

Paul was 29 when a free-falling boulder the size of a laptop scythed into his skull and caused him a devastating brain injury. A professional mountaineer from Manchester, Paul was tackling the Totem Pole on Tasmania’s Tasman Peninsula when the incident occurred.

Today, 22 years later, Paul and I are walking through South Hobart’s Rivulet track with Pancho, his three-legged rescue greyhound, who gallops ahead sniffing at the flora. Paul’s physical movement is also compromised due to the Totem Pole incident, with the damage to his brain affecting his walk.

“We make a funny pair when we walk together,” he jokes, referring to Pancho and himself.

Up above to our left are abseiling ropes dangling from a cliff, which catch Paul’s attention. “I remember training for the Totem Pole on that climb – but the Totem Pole is four times that height,” he says.

Paul tells me that on a breezy day, the 65 metre tall, slender rock sways menacingly for climbers on its summit.

Paul has been telling his story through the Hobart Human Library for almost two years. In his story, he describes the highs of being a world-class mountaineer, and the lows of his life drastically changing to one painted with discrimination, humiliation and even physical abuse – all based on his disability.

“I have gratitude for that rock that hit me. Often people say, ‘well how can you be grateful for such a catastrophic event?’ I say that to accept the terrible things brings courage and strength. And that’s a message I tell people.”

But perhaps most notable is his acceptance and optimism towards his current situation. Paul’s story is one that provokes thought and reflection in his listeners, who range from children to adults.

“Often there’s one kid who cries… maybe there’s something going on in their life. Maybe they’ve been bullied or they’ve been a bully. When that happens I just hope they’re okay. But I think it’s good to cry sometimes and have that moment and be vulnerable. “

“By telling my story, I make it okay for others to then go and tell their story and show that being vulnerable is okay. And I think that’s fantastic.”

Paul says the Hobart Human Library is part of the forward momentum towards a more equitable and accepting society.

Learn more about Paul on his website, on Australian Story or on Conversations.

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