Flying the Blue Peter

In Matt's Musings, Travel
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Mel and I used to work at a place called Outward Bound. It was wilderness based education -taking people out into the middle of nowhere so they could get some space and perspective on their lives. The goal was simple – to challenge you and expand  your whole idea of what you are capable of. Once you get out there and you look into the fear, the uncertainty or the sheer determination needed to journey through the wilderness for 3 weeks –  coming back to the normal routine seems a little easier. Suddenly losing your iPhone charger doesn’t really seem that big an issue any more.

There are so many things about my 6 years there that I could ramble on about for an eternity. Like the fact that in 6 years I can recall exactly ONE day where I actually felt like I was working for money.  The rest of the time I was just doing what I loved and at the end of the month I happened to get paid. But there was one symbol of the place that ran deeper than the rest. The Blue Peter.

The Blue Peter is a nautical flag – white square on blue background – that is a symbol of Outward Bound internationally. It starts to get more beautiful when you know the nautical background. It is the flag that ships fly when they leave their home port destined for somewhere else. Leaving what they know, leaving safety, leaving certainty…to face one of the most uncertain and hostile environments on our planet – the ocean. It says to all those who know: “Here we go….not sure when we’ll be back and I am not even sure what will happen to us….but we are leaving anyway.”

As a participant at the end of the longest Outward Bound programs you got a little Blue Peter badge. It always moved me as an instructor when I would hand these out at the end of a 3-4 week journey. You have never seen someone cradle something so small and seemingly insignificant in their hands and marvel at it.

So as an instructor at the start of a wilderness journey I would stop and explain the significance. I recall standing at the gates of the Outward Bound property, 24kg of pack on my back, food, maps, compasses, shelters – surrounded by 12 nervous participants and explaining what it meant and what they were about to face. But for me standing there I was never really scared. I had responsibilities of course, I had uncertainties but I had also spent so much time in the outdoors that I felt comfortable and excited. It wasn’t my comfort zone that was being stretched it was theirs. I was in control to a degree. So as I talked about the Blue Peter and fear and uncertainty – I had a twinkle in my eye because I wasn’t scared or facing the unknown.

I sit here today in the comfort of a Darwin hotel. Laptop open, surrounded by what I know – but in 48 hours I will be sitting in Dili surrounded by everything I DON’T know. Feeling vulnerable and hideously responsible for the three little lives in my care. I don’t know what foods I can eat for the diabetes or what happens if something goes wrong. I am nervous. And I realised just how little we get really, truly challenged back in the security of our ordered lives. We think we do, but the challenge is often just more of what we know. The late nights, the long work hours, the relationships. But how often do you stare into the face of something completely unknown and let  the thought roll around your head: “I have NO idea what is about to happen to me….”

It’s not in my nature to be comfortable here. I like control (yes…I said it). I like knowing. I like being in command of my environment or at least so prepared that I am in command of my response to that environment. So I have been playing mind games. Visualising flying in low over a Dili city scape. Getting ready for that SMELL. Imagining where I will change money, what I will say to the taxi driver, what will be going on around me. All in some desperate attempt to be in control again. But I have to now let that go.

So my challenge course begins. Staring into something I don’t know. A little sick with the burden of responsibility. Wondering how I will go with the emotional energy needed to face into a journey. Because journey is what we came for. Journey is different from going to a destination and staying still. Journey implies uncertainty and the unknown. Journey means that you are leaving for a distant place and you are not exactly sure what will happen along the way. But that you are still prepared to leave anyway.

Here we go….flying the Blue Peter all the way……



  1. Go, you good things….

    You’re both experienced leaders. You know what to do!

    Sh*ts getting real! Excitements 🙂

    • Thanks Ryan!! I love seeing your posts and knowing you are watching keenly. Gives us a boost!

  2. Matt, great post. I love the idea of the Blue Peter. Inspiring to ask “when was the last time you flew the Blue Peter?” I think it’s all too easy to take the easy life, but you five are showing us how we should get out and fly that Blue Peter!

  3. Bon Voyage lovely people! All of us back here in safe-ville are cheering you on each step of the way.xx

  4. Love it Matt! The image of your hat alone brings back many memories. I still wear my Blue Peter too!
    Make Uncle Kurt proud 🙂
    To swerve, to jive, and to play the field (or something like that)

    • So lovely to hear from you Benny! From the comment above, it sounds like you could pass some things on to the current OB generation! Xxx Mel

    • Love you being on board benny. Thanks for all the love you are sending!

  5. Wow. Here you go! This post made me a little teary. Dili. Three young kids. What could possibly go wrong? But that’s the point. You don’t know. But what you do know is that you’ll work it out together. Love coming along for the ride. More than a little green with envy.
    May the force be with you.

  6. Hi to all you Shanahans,
    Your Blue Peter blog inspired me to search for my old OB memorabilia.
    After 30 years and many house moves I managed to find my diaries, maps and photos, but alas no Blue Peter. Flicking back through my diaries brought back many memories of places visited, Tidbinbillla Range, Corin Dam, Angle Crossing. I’m sure you would remember these places as well.
    Love your blogs and photos, keep them coming
    Steve N

    • Aahh yes Steve, all those places are very familiar. Glad you enjoyed a trip down memory lane. I’m sure you could get another Blue Peter – it only takes about 24 days! Thanks for reading x

  7. As a current OBer, it makes me very glad to know that these symbols still mean so much to so many former generations… also – “To swerve, to jive, and to play the field” – haha, how come I’ve never hear that one!

    Great stuff!! Good luck!

  8. Go for it guys! One of my favourite moments in life is when the plane has taxied to the runway, squared up, starts moving then reeaally accelerating. It’s too late to bail out then even if it were life and death and you just have to let go. I haven’t felt that excitement for a long time now, and I’m really happy for and envious of you guys.

    Bon voyage!

    • Thanks Patrick. Hope everything’s going well with the bub. Love to all of you xxx

    • Yes Patrick, that was one of those moments when I looked back over my shoulder at Mel and thought “here we go!”. Day two in dili is going ok. You just have to fight this urge to head out Into he the streets and just walk all day. The girls don’t last that long. But they are doing brilliantly. Only slight pangs of homesickness and the occasional urge to be able to just stick your head over the fence and says hello a friend.
      Thanks for the thoughts.

  9. As a new OB-er, reading this makes me proud to work there (although it DOES feel like work every day in a sales role). Lovely post, I’m hooked and following you all the way!

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