Derwent Waters Retirement Living resident Ivan Davis spent half his life following orders. Now he's found a new passion he hopes may help him change the rules.
Ivan Davis has two speeds: one flat stick and the other full throttle.
What the Derwent Waters resident doesn't have, however, is a single regret at not making the most of all the opportunities that have come his way.
After dedicating much of his career to the military, more recent times have seen the 67-year-old working to improve the lives of others via an assortment of roles, including foster carer, half-way house supervisor, community housing manager and trainer of the long-term unemployed.
Two years ago, he took on a new challenge after agreeing to contest his local seat on behalf of the Animal Justice Party.
While unsuccessful this time around, Ivan feels it's important to offer his voice for those unable to speak for themselves.
His efforts are not entirely selfless, he says.
"If I can walk and/or talk, I can provide some sort of community service and in those many and varied processes have fulfilment. Some people just need a quiet, non-judgemental, listening ear. I haven't driven a community bus for years but recently I typed up an old mate's stories before he died. I am thankful for all these opportunities because they create joy in my life."
Working out what's important
Born and raised on Kangaroo Island, Ivan's family were pioneer farmers and raised him and his five siblings on a subsistence farm which was surrounded by scrub.
Most of his schooling was completed by correspondence and school of the air. While he and his family enjoyed limited interaction with other people, they never considered that a disadvantage, he says.
In 1969, when Ivan turned 15, he joined the Australian Regular Army as an apprentice musician. Viewing music as his best means of communication, therapy and recreation, Ivan grew up with a bellows organ but later mastered the clarinet. In due course he reached a level significant enough to be playing lead chair in various Army bands while adding saxophone, flute, bass guitar, guitar and the bagpipes to his repertoire.
His pay at that time equated to around $85 per fortnight and for this he was given the opportunity to train as a soldier and a musician at the Army Apprentice School at Balcombe in Victoria.
Ivan says that at the time the program was run by ex-Vietnam veterans. Many had problems of their own in a society that often treated them as pariahs.
"The system was set up to allow apprentice with one or two years' experience to adminster and discipline newer, younger soldiers. Many did not survive this regime which was eventually abandoned due to its many failures."
Having passed selection, he was posted to Perth. After two years with the Special Air Service (SAS) regiment, he took discharge but after less than one year out of the army he re-joined.
While those early years in the army were undoubtedly tough, Ivan stuck at it and in a military career spanning 23 years, he reached the rank of Warrant Officer Class One with the appointment of Regimental Seargent Major at the Defence Force School of Music.
He was discharged for the second time in December 1992.
A different calling
Despite acknowledging that democracy is "messy", I van says he became interested in a political career some time ago after it dawned on him complacency breeds contempt.
That idea stuck with him and he realised to effect change, he first had to be prepared to get his hands dirty.
"I think that there are many reasons for people to be overly critical of our governments and yet remain uninvolved. One reason is that being involved requires real effort. Just to stay informed requires us to look at news reports or listen to commentators who have different views to ourselves. It seems to me that few people are prepared to do that.
"To actually make a difference requires even more effort. To write a personal letter or email takes thought, effort and organisation."
Ivan says his interest in animal welfare was initially sparked by his father.
If an animal was suffering and we couldn't help it, he would insist that it be put out of its suffering, he says.
"In other words he would euthanise it by killing it as quickly and stress free as possible. Along the course of the years I was always appalled by any form of factory farming. It seemed to be an affront to our humanity and yet it was legal and those farms have thrived. I was bemused by our ability to adore and protect some species, while we put others through a life of pain and suffering and then eat them.
"Finally, after years of knowing that I was not a very compassioante person something happened in my mind and I realised that every sentient life form was very similar to me. They wanted to live, and to prosper."
Ivan says personal experience has taught him how it feels to be powerless - a situation he does not wish to repeat.
"I still hate bullies. I don't know why but instead of becoming a bully myself, I choose to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves. For me that not only includes all sentient beings but also for our environment, our home, and the only world we currently have to live on."
The true test
Ivan rarely passes up a chance to challenge himself physically and mentally.
Earlier this year he undertook a day-long expedition within the Derwent Legislative Council electorate. The expedition was an Ironman triathlon format: swimming in the Derwent River, cycling up the Central Highlands, and a 42-kilometre run through the suburbs of Claremont, Austins Ferr yand Herdsmans Cove.
A late bloomer in a physical sense, his interest in fitness didn't develop until he turned 18 and discovered he was adept enough to pass the physical requirements for the SAS.
However, years of running and putting his joints under stress soon caught up with hima nd he found himself unable to complete many of the tasks he had previously taken for granted.
A radical change ot the way he walked and ran soon had him back training and he began working towards a lifelong dream of being a professional athlete upon his retirement.
"I knew that would be almost impossible as an age group triathlete but I gave it a fair go. For three years I trained like a professional athlete, often up to 30 hours a week in actual training.
Unfortunately, Ivan says he reached the limits of his capacity which was not good enough to be a real professional.
"In spite of that I would often tell people I was fully sponsored professional athlete, and then quietly add that was due to the age pension."
The unfortunate side of public life
As both an athlete and a politician, Ivan’s choices in life have meant he has been forced to develop a tough skin over the years – having regularly found himself the target of the general public’s ire.
To this day he finds cycling on public roads daunting owing to the small percentage of road users who seek to intimidate their fellow road users by either driving too close, too fast, or by hurling abuse.
“I am aware that there is a very small segment of drivers out there that treat me as if I am almost just another animal in their way. Then there is another small percentage of drivers whose skill level is low. They can also be very scary. I have personally been twice knocked off my bike by cars and every serious cyclist personally has known somebody who has been killed by a vehicle driver.”
As with cyclists, politicians are not always popular, Ivan says.
Surprisingly, he says, as a politician he has copped direct abuse from only one individual.
“Most people either ignore me or are thankful I am there. The thankfulness is most apparent when I knock on doors. When I do stalls at markets or in shopping centres most people ignore me, but some will stop for a chat and even when we disagree, they are polite and reasonable.
“The only place people are unreasonable and not polite is on social media. The bad behaviours and the medium are in my opinion damaging for our society in general,” he says.
What lies ahead
If it hasn’t become obvious by now, persistence is a key factor in both Ivan’s professional and personal life.
But making each moment count, is clearly what matters most to the proud father and grandfather.
Married to wife Angela for the past 25 years, Ivan says he would never have been able to achieve what he has had it not been for the unwavering support of his life partner.
“I am extremely thankful to have the opportunities in front of me. I am also thankful to have a partner willing to put up with me,” he says.
“When I retired, I realised that I could still be alive and active for another 30 years. That meant to me that I must do something if I didn’t want to end up bored and bitter. I don’t anticipate leaving any significant legacy. What I do today is what counts for something or nothing. If I leave this world better for being here that will be good.”
Article originally featured in Chapter - Winter 2021. Click below to get your FREE copy.