If Riley Upton had no idea where a Bachelor of Arts would take him three years ago, he certainly doesn’t now.
Even though the 21-year-old stepped into a full-time job the week after submitting his final assignment last year, his immediate future is still up in the air, in the most wonderful of ways.
“Honestly, every week for me is something different,” Riley says. “I walk into work on a Monday morning with a rough idea of how the week will pan out, but more often than not it goes in a completely different direction, which is just magic.”
The Bendigo Campus alumnus has just clocked up seven months at The Maryborough Advertiser. As a country journo he’s doing the police rounds, the court reports, the sports results and everything in between.
“Last week the owners of the Talbot Post Office sold up after 20 years of running it – that was a lovely story, that was really cool,” he says.
When Riley finished VCE at Highview College in Maryborough he initially planned on taking a gap year. But a summer spent working at a local supermarket was enough to show him work alone wouldn’t satisfy. So, the school leaver followed his interests to La Trobe. He says without a clear idea of what he wanted to do in life, going with his heart seemed the obvious next step.
“I’d always seen the Bachelor of Arts as the sort of degree people study when they have no idea what they want to do. I basically thought, I’d always loved reading and writing and I absolutely loved history and when I was trying to figure out what to study I saw I could do a double major in English and History at La Trobe.
“These are areas I love and want to know more about, so I thought I can’t go wrong if I just follow what I love doing. It was perfect for me. At the risk of sounding clichéd it really opened up a whole new world and certainly broadened my horizons.”
Riley grew up just outside of Maryborough on a hobby farm, surrounded by rescue animals. He says being a bookish kid in a community focussed on country sport and agriculture, his interests were seen as quirky, but he didn’t mind that. They were his ticket to come to Bendigo and learn about the likes of the Cuban Revolution, the rise and fall of Nazism and how to understand literature through different perspectives.
“To really dig in and cover such a broad range of subject matter was really good,” he says. But it wasn’t easy. “Going to uni was quite a hurdle for me, even without what was going on in my personal life.”
The week Riley started uni, his dad unexpectedly passed away. He’d had a heart attack in his sleep. “I woke up early to get ready and head off to uni, and I was quite nervous, then my mum called out to me,” Riley says on learning the devastating news.
Throwing himself into study wasn’t so much a distraction, but something positive to put his efforts into. “I think it helped a lot. It gave me something to focus on,” he says. “If you look at English and history, the thing I love about the two areas is that you can just get lost in them.”
Riley did just that, committing wholly to his course, getting noticed by his lecturers, and his community. While filling up with fuel at the local servo one morning he bumped into a staff member from the paper, who asked what he was studying. Once they realised there was a local interested in writing, Riley’s skills were put to use on special publications and features, and once uni finished, he was offered the full-time job.
“I certainly never thought I’d be a journalist,” Riley says. “Uni was a whole new experience and I had no idea what to expect but I just went for it, and it’s certainly done a lot for me. In my time at La Trobe I learnt a lot about myself. Much more than I ever thought I would. Education is a wonderful thing and I was lucky enough to learn just as much about English and History at La Trobe as I did about myself.”
The job is fulfilling Riley’s love of stories, and he is acutely aware it’s also ticking the history box. “I think of that quite often,” he says.” The Maryborough Advertiser has been pushing out newspapers since 1856. I’m quite honoured that I can be a chronicler and keep track of the changing times of this community. There’s something very special in that.”
Riley says while he is enjoying establishing himself as a local reporter, he also has further study in his sights. He’s interested in other degrees, plus has an English or History honours year in mind. In the meantime however, he’s getting plenty of practice writing.