Paul Galea and Steve Russo (2008)

Steven Russo (2008)

Paul Galea: Hello, Steve Russo

Steven: Hi Mr Galea.

Paul Galea: How you going, mate?

Steven: Not too bad. Yourself?

Paul Galea: Mr Galea!? I think I’ve been called Mr Galea by people who are old enough to be grandparents now. Anyway, Steve, one of the things I’m very interested in is that I know that you have channeled your love for rugby league into a career. Do you want tell us how that came about? And it’s still a major part of what you love and do. Explain to us how you took a love for rugby league and the Balmain Tigers or the the West Tigers into a career.

Steven: Okay, I guess it’s been an interesting career. Probably a long and winding career with a few different ups and downs and dips and stuff. So I finished school in 2008. Wow, it’s 14 years ago. That’s pretty depressing. Straight out of school, I went to Sydney Uni and studied politics and marketing but I really hated the politics and Sydney University wouldn’t budge on letting me change subjects. So I left Sydney Uni and went and studied sports journalism at the University of Canberra. I spent three years studying sports journalism and basically did a few internships. I did internships at the New South Wales Rugby League and at the Canberra Raiders. I did that stuff for about two years and from that point on, I was very lucky to get a job at Rugby League Week, which was one of the premier Rugby League publications at the time. Sadly, it’s no longer with us. While I gained a lot of invaluable experience, met a lot of interesting people and wrote a lot of interesting stories, I didn’t really love journalism. To be perfectly honest with you, I loved aspects of it. I think I felt I was being a bit invasive of other people’s privacy at times, and I felt like I was being a bit hypocritical trying to get people to kind of tell me stories and give me really great quotes, and, in reality, I wouldn’t necessarily do that myself, and I felt like I was being quite hypocritical. So I figured out that I was probably more of a storyteller than a journalist. I preferred to kind of entertain and inform people. I think I am very much more of a writer than a journalist. So while I got to do that, I thought hardcore news journalism wasn’t necessarily for me. So I resigned from that after two years, and I moved overseas. I actually lived in London for two years, with a fellow IGS alum, Sam Spence, who was probably my closest friend at high school.

Paul Galea: He’s a good man, Sam. Is he still teaching?

Steven: He was teaching, but he actually is now studying his Masters in Early Childhood Education. He’s a qualified high school teacher but when he was living overseas, he was working in a nursery, as they call preschool over there. He is now studying to be a preschool teacher. He’s doing very well. He’s the most friendly, child oriented person I know, so I think it’s very good. I think he finishes either this year or early next year.

Paul Galea: Yeah. Great! Sorry. So you’re in London?

Steven: Yeah. I lived in London for two years and it was hard for me to get a really good job. I was obviously on a working holiday visa, but I still wanted to further my career. I didn’t want to go work in a pub or anything like that. I’d worked in hospitality a bit in uni and I didn’t really love it that much. So it was actually quite hard to get a very good job over there because I was on a working holiday visa, so people didn’t really want to take a chance on me. People thought I might be a bit of a flight risk! So I just basically worked in a bunch of marketing jobs. I didn’t mind doing that because it allowed me to keep writing and it kind of felt like I was learning a few commercial things that would be relevant and make me a little more hirable, when I eventually came back to Australia. It’s actually funny. The company I was working for was an educational tech company. It was the last company I worked for in England and they offered me a visa and said, “You can stay.” And I wanted to stay because at the time, I was with my girlfriend, who I am actually still with, who I met over there. We were gearing up for me to stay, and then the company says, “Oh, yeah, we’re actually downsizing. I’m sorry. We can’t afford to give you a visa anymore.”

Paul Galea: That would have changed things a bit for you.

Steven: Yeah, to be perfectly honest, I think it was a blessing in disguise. When I left Australia, this is weird, but when I left Australia, I didn’t feel like I really fit in. But then, having lived in England and then coming back to Australia, I realised how much I actually really did fit into Australia in the sense that, my sense of humour and my kind of approach to life was very much an Australian kind of thing.

Paul Galea: That’s interesting to me. So you actually had to go overseas to realise how Australian you were.

Steven: Yeah, it’s funny, you say that because I would say things that are obviously very Australian, like I’d use an Australian idiom and English people were like, “What the hell are you saying?” I remember I had two friends I used to hang out with in England and they were both Australian, but people would go to me that out of the three of us, I was easily the most Australian.

Paul Galea: Well, I’ve got to say that doesn’t really surprise me. But I agree with you. One of the things that after all my travels was that I realised that yeah, while these places were great, there was no place like Australia to live and it was who I was. We are all very much shaped by what our country is, so I can really relate to that. Very interesting.

Steven: I wouldn’t say I’m particularly patriotic or anything like that but I did realise when I did come back, I just settled back into Australia so well. I felt so much more comfortable coming back. It felt like everything felt so much more familiar as it would, having grown up here. But having spent my early adult years, maybe going, “I don’t know, maybe I’m not into Australia, it’s so isolated, it’s away from the rest of the world. Maybe I need more experience overseas? ”But you come back here and it’s even little things like, without trying to be disrespectful to the British, their food, the quality of, particularly, their produce. It’s not very good in comparison to Australia. I genuinely missed Australian food when I was there and I missed Australian coffee. And while I love travelling and I’d love to go back overseas, I’m very lucky in that my partner is happy to live in Australia and stuff like that. So yeah, it’s a bit of a weird one because, well, I’m very much someone who believes in internationalism and making connections around the world with people. I think it did take me living overseas to realise that I’m probably most comfortable living in Australia.

Paul Galea: Yes, but again, there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as you understand that the world is out there and you’ve got a broad outlook on things. And I think you do, from speaking to you.

Steven: It’s the constant conversation I have with my partner. You know what? I’d still love the opportunity to work overseas, but it would have to be really something stable. And I would love to eventually settle down back into Australia.

Paul Galea: Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of a lot of Australians do that sort of thing. So you come back to Australia, you’re fitting in. Then what happened?

Steven: I moved back to Australia in October 2018. and I think between October and October and February, I was working as a freelance news producer for a company called Perform Media. Basically, I was just packaging sports highlights for news packages. So I’d have to cut up the footage and then voice it, write the scripts, etcetera. Then I got a job with Kayo, which is a sports subscription service, and I was just in their marketing department, writing marketing emails for them. I was there until April 2020 when the pandemic hit and they basically lost their main source of income when the NRL and the AFL were suspended. So I unfortunately got made redundant. In 2020 and 2021, I basically just freelanced, doing a lot of freelance writing and marketing. Funnily enough, I also went back to that job news producing. It was only a part time job, but I helped out, doing just freelance social media management, freelance writing, freelance video editing and stuff like that.

Paul Galea: Okay, can I just stop you there? So, freelancing is people commission you to do stuff or do you pitch things at people as well? Is that what you were doing? A bit of both or….?

Steven: You can pitch, but no, it was mainly just I would go looking for work. It was funny because obviously lots of things were shut down in the pandemic, and jobs everywhere were scarce. I spent probably half that time upskilling; so doing online courses and learning new skills. Then I would just look at online classifieds, online job adverts, and if people were looking for jobs to be done, whether on a part time or full time basis, that suited my skill set, I would apply for them. And as it transpired, I basically got three or four part time gigs. I’d spend two days with one employer, two days with another. I was working three or four part time communications jobs.

Paul Galea: Okay, so you know what that tells me, Steve? It tells me that you’re a man who wasn’t prepared to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You got off your bum and went and got better, got more skills. And then you went looking for more work. And that sort of persistence and that sort of positive attitude often will be enough to take you a lot of places. That’s very interesting. Keep going.

Steven: Yeah, well, I think just going back to that, from my perspective, I think that what COVID has taught us and the whole pandemic has taught us is that life can change within a blink of an eye. I know that’s cliché, but that basically is the truth. You have to be “future proofing”. I’m constantly trying to future proof myself because I never know how the industry I work in is going to change. So if I can be as versatile as possible and have every skill under the sun relevant to my industry, you would think, theoretically, I would never struggle to find a job.

Paul Galea: And it’s very smart and again, with the way that the world is at the moment, and particularly in journalism slash writing, that’s something you’ve got to be aware of all the time, isn’t it?

Steven: Yeah. So, in my current job, I am a content producer for a sports wagering company, so that’s kind of fun. I basically have the most millennial job ever in the sense that I am paid to make memes, particularly around sport. And I also video edit for them or I’ll write parody songs. It’s a pretty open kind of job, and I also do a bit of freelancing. I’ve just started doing some freelancing for the NRL editing old video highlights for them because anyone who knows me well, knows that my main passion is the history of rugby league, particularly in the 1980s. For some reason, the other, actually maybe vaguely interesting, thing from another perspective is that during the pandemic, I became renowned on social media for rugby league themed art, which is pretty funny because I dropped out of art in Year 9! My parents actually specifically sent me to IGS to do art because they figured that I was artistically quite talented. But then when I became a teenager, I basically didn’t want to do any art and I dropped out of it. But it’s quite funny now that I’ve gone back to art and I was recently actually on TV. Andrew Voss, who’s a rugby league commentator, reached out to me and asked me to a television segment with him in 2020 about rugby league art. So I was on TV talking about the concept of rugby league art.

Paul Galea: Okay, that’ll just about do me! That is almost like an oxymoron. Rugby League art!

Steven: Yeah, it’s hilarious. Well, that’s what I figured. It was just such a niche. I think my whole kind of thing is spotting gaps in the market and I’ve always been kind of someone who is quite obscure, quite weird and wanted to bring my own kind of weird spin into things. So I like to draw a lot. I just figured, why don’t I combine my passion for art or my passion for stupid drawings and cartoons and my passion for rugby league and try and combine them? So I think I have a semi successful following. I’ve sold a few bits and pieces; a few posters that I’ve done and stuff like that.

Paul Galea: I didn’t know that about you. So that’s been an interesting road, but always with that sort of theme of writing and creating. See, I would not have thought I would be saying that you’re a pretty creative guy! Just going back, you mentioned IGS. Let’s just go back to IGS. Any happy memories, things that stand out from any time there?

Steven: Oh, it was great, IGS. Especially, probably, the last two years of school. I think obviously the IGS ethos is very individualistic. You’re treated as an individual, and I think that’s what I loved about being at the school. You hear stories about how, particularly, independent and private schools can be very like: we need to mould you into this specific person, and you need to fit this kind of regimented idea as to what kind a “insert school’s name” student needs to be. IGS was great, very individualistic, I remember. I mean, you probably remember me having really disgustingly long hair at IGS and you would never get away with that at any other kind of private school. I also think it just trained me to be a better person. I think I’m a lot more aware of broader social issues due to the fact that I went to IGS and obviously the emphasis on language was important. Having said that, I did probably only really concentrate in Italian in my last year of school. But the fact that I did was very beneficial, because having a second language is still one of the most useful skills in my repertoire! My heritage is Italian, so if I go to Italy, it’s to see relatives. It’s much easier to navigate my way around the country, having learned a language.

Paul Galea: Steve, I’ll have to get you to write some of our advertising copy. That was a beautiful, acknowledgement of what IGS can do. Thank you. That sounds good, mate. You sound as though you’ve made your way in the world and that you are happy. I always ask this question. Any advice to give to the kids who are at school, particularly those in about Year 11 and 12 who are sort of on the cusp of going out into the world? Any ideas about some things you’ve learned along the way?

Steven: Let me think about it. Well, I guess the one thing is I will give people advice on is that while it’s obviously important to do well at school and try to make the most of your last two years of school, it’s not always the be all and end all. I did very well at the end of school, but I think ultimately, while probably some of the good habits I developed at in my last two years of school really helped me,  don’t think your results will ever determine where you go. So if you don’t think you’re necessarily doing as well as you should, don’t worry. There’s always hope beyond that. I think I also would just have to say; embrace everything that school has to offer. It’s going to sound really pathetic, but, and it’s something that I’ve said and it’s a sentiment that’s basically echoed by my parents. But I think it rings true. School is in some respects the best times of your life because you have very minimal responsibility, and you just basically get to go and hang out with your friends all the time. And, yeah, I have no shame in saying that I miss going to school because there was some good structure and, well, I felt, relatively speaking, life felt so easy at school. But yeah, just embrace everything school has. I mean, particularly at IGS, we all have very fond memories of ArtsFest and just writing and making stupid films for IGS ArtsFest or even to cross-dress as I once did. That was pretty fun. We did that for a performance; ’The Rocky Horror Picture’ show performance. Just embrace everything school has to offer. I mean, it may not be the best times of your life, but you may look back on it and go gee, that was a really good time. So just make the most of what’s on offer.

Paul Galea: That is really good advice. It’s been great talking to you, Steve. You’re a very interesting young man, and I look forward to bumping into you at the footy at some stage and we can discuss pertinent rugby league matters when we see each other. Good to talk to you, mate.

Steven: Thanks. Rex.