Famous Scout - Former QLD Premier Peter Beattie

He says Scouting taught him leadership, self reliance and tolerance

Peter Beattie served as QLD Premier from 1998-2007.

As the sun rises in the North Queensland town of Atherton, Peter Beattie travels through the quiet streets on his regular morning walk, pointing out things that are different from his days growing up there.

A hairdressing salon stands where he once lived with his grandmother; Atherton High School has undergone massive expansion. He stops in front of a concrete and timber building, surrounded by trees and only just visible in the morning half-light. "That’s my old Scout Den. It hasn’t changed” he says.

Peter Beattie with Scout Leader in 1968!As he stands in front of the old Den, it is easy to imagine him, reduced in size to a short- trousered version, roaming the streets of the town with half a dozen other Scouts on a Patrol activity. “One of the beauties of living in a small country town, of three and a half thousand people, is that you can get involved in a lot of organisations,” the former Premier says.

“I played cricket, football and hockey. I was involved in drama, Gilbert and Sullivan – The Pirates of Penzance, all that sort of stuff. And Scouts of course. Scouting was a pretty important facet of my life. There used to be a mountain called Mt Baldy, we used to go climbing up that. Scouting was exciting – in the rainforest, all over the place. You could hike, camp, there were so many opportunities. It was wonderful.”

Mr Beattie has demonstrated his leadership and problem solving skills over a long career in and around politics. But having successfully climbed the mountain that is Queensland politics, he reflects on an assault on another peak that was not so successful.

“I remember camping on the top of Mt Bartle Frere and it rained all night – the only time in my life that I have slept in water. It was an extraordinary experience. We dug all the trenches around the tent as normal; in fact they were deeper than normal. But because the rain was so heavy it didn’t make any difference. It just filled up and flowed right over. So it gave a new meaning to sleeping bags. Let me tell you, we wrung them out but they were bloody heavy to climb down the mountain. And of course you had leeches and wait-a-whiles – I mean it was a real character building experience.”

He also remembers another activity, this time a hike, in which the Patrol became lost and was still walking well after sundown. “We set up a tent in the dark and we couldn’t really see because it was pitch black out in the bush. And we ended up camping, unbeknown to us, and it just happened to be how we walked down this particular ridge, we ended up camping between a railway line and a road. We were woken up by some vehicle going past about four o’clock in the morning. We thought someone from outer space had arrived. It was a frightening experience – we thought we were in the middle of the bush, suddenly this vehicle came careering down the road.”

Peter Beattie and family at 18th Australian Jamboree at Springfield QLD in 1997-1998Despite applying the euphemism “character-building” to many of his experiences as a Scout, Mr Beattie readily acknowledges the Movement played a significant role in his later successes in life. The skills he learnt have been particularly useful in the cut and thrust world of politics.

“The good thing about Scouting is that you learn to fend for yourself. I mean from a young age you learn to do everything from putting up a tent in the dark to identifying what’s poisonous and what’s not, and what’s dangerous and what’s not. Let me tell you its very helpful. There are a lot of rare poisons in politics – it’s nice to tell the vipers from the carpet snakes.”

He also credits Scouting for helping him develop what he regards as an important quality for any leader – projecting an image of confidence in the face of adversity. “Keep the troops happy” is a motto that has stayed with him from Patrol Leader to Premier. “I can remember, we went to the Chillagoe Caves…..the other side of Dimbulah (in North Queensland). “And they were widely accessible to the public in those days – this is going back a long time. We stayed there a couple of days and camped, and I'm sure the Scoutmasters who were with us, were lost, when we were in the caves. I’m sure they did not have a bloody clue for about three hours, because the caves were largely unexplored and they weren’t under the control of the National Parks. We eventually found our way out….but they appeared as if they knew what they were doing, everyone was happy and we managed to get out. But I could see the sigh of relief when they rediscovered the main cavern that we’d come back to. I’m sure that it was by accident. So if dealing with a crisis, be relaxed when you are doing it and not panic, that’s a skill Scouting gives you.”

Mr Beattie’s daughter Larissa and sons Denis and Matthew have all been Scouts, and camped at the 18th Australian Jamboree at Springfield QLD in 1997-1998. He says: "Their involvement in the Movement has been tremendous for all of them.

They can do things like get out and light a bonfire, and get rid of that youthful enthusiasm. I think it is great. They have learnt reliance on themselves. The biggest thing is having confidence in yourself – if you have that then your chances of success increase. So I’m pleased about what Scouting has done for my kids.”

Mr Beattie believes that Scouting can play another important role in young Australians’ development. The Movement, he says, promotes tolerance of people who are from a different ethnic or cultural background, or of those with differing physical or mental abilities.

One of his strongest memories of the 1967 Australian Jamboree at Jindalee QLD, which he attended as a Scout, is his introduction to Malaysian culture. He says his twin sons camped with a Scout who had some physical disabilities during their 10 days at Springfield. “He was part of the organised activities and they assisted him.  That was part of their tolerance and understanding that not everyone is the same in a physical sense and that tolerance is important”.

For a man whose success or failure depends heavily on television – it is impossible for a political leader to meet everyone in the State personally – he blames the electronic media for ruining children’s recreational pastimes.

He says a fair few Australians have stopped “being joiners” since the introduction of television in 1956, and Scouting was one way of bringing people back together again.

“I think when you’re a kid it’s important to get out, get in the bush, get the twig up your toe and learn the pain of all that, but how to deal with it, and actually get out in the wild, if you want to put it in those terms.

“I’m a great believer that if kids get bored, and if they don’t have an outlet for their energies, they will end up frustrated and they will be stunted in their growth. It’s all about learning how to cope with life.”

 This is courtesy of Australian Scout Magazine, August 1998, Page 55.