John Curley: From agriculture to accounting
Former Sydneysider John Curley made a tree change then a temporary seachange, changing careers along the way. He now resides in Dubbo with his celebrant wife Sue. AS TOLD TO Natalie Holmes
I was born and raised in Sydney.
My father was an ex-dairy farmer who ended up in Sydney by accident. I spent a lot of holidays working on a farm in Goulburn which was owned by close friends. They had fine wool sheep, cattle and did contract haymaking. By the time I was 12, I would travel all over the countryside driving an old TEA20 tractor with mower attached to cut hay. I really enjoyed it. I lived in suburbia in Sydney, but back then, they were half acre blocks with no fences.
We would roam around and everything was fine.
It was completely different by the time I had grown up. They are now all ¼ acre blocks with six foot high fences. I went to school at Stanmore in the city. I was a day boy and would spend an hour each way on the train to get there and back. I used to read a lot. I always did well at school.
Loving livestock, I thought veterinary science would be a good career. I attended Sydney University but after a year which included carving up greyhounds to study anatomy, I decided it was not for me.
My father found me a job as a jackaroo
near Warren on Gunningbar, a 20,000 acre wheat and sheep farm with irrigation.
Their 2000 acres was watered from Auscott’s tail water. I enjoyed being outdoors and I learned lots of new things. I did that for a while and then the place I was on went bankrupt. My dad decided to retire at Wellington. It was a smallscale farm on the Bell River with sheep, cattle and irrigated lucerne hay.
Unfortunately, he died soon after. I worked there for 15 or 16 years.
I suffered a repetitive strain injury from throwing hay bales.
It got worse and started to change my life. The specialist ended up telling me ‘keep doing what you’re doing on the farm and you’ll end up in a wheelchair.’
I knew he was only doing it to scare me but I had to reassess my whole lifestyle. I leased out the farm and eventually sold it.
That’s when the lightbulb popped. Fortuitously my accountant asked me to come and work for him.
So I started university again through distance education. However instead of working, my wife and I bought a yacht and sailed for a couple of years, ending up at Lizard Island.
That’s the other thing I did was sail.
It was my childhood pastime and I was sailing when I was four in Manly Juniors. Sue and I had different ideas about sailing though. When I thought it was really exciting, she thought it was terrifying. Sailing is such fun - It can be exciting, it can be scary, it can feel incredibly peaceful. I remember some rare nights sailing through phosphorescence and the trail we would leave behind looked like millions of stars in the water.
I did half my accounting degree on the boat.
But I only had a digital phone and not analogue so if I needed to talk to someone such as a tutor, I often had to go 50 feet up the mast to get reception.
I did my degree through UNE and they were really good about sending materials to different places where we stopped.
They went to a lot of trouble. When my accountant rang and said he really needed me, I decided it was time. I had done a bit of financial planning and I was always keen on investing money. I finished my degree and did my professional year and became a chartered accountant. Then I did a Masters in Tax because I enjoyed the law side of tax.
I worked with my friend Kevin Rankmore at Ryan and Rankmore for a couple of years in 1997.
He was fantastic and very supportive. He’s a good friend.
Running my own business made sense, I’m good at decision-making. I had the farm experience and I now deal with a lot of rural clients. My rural background helps and you know what they’re talking about and what they want to achieve.
One of the things I love about accounting is fee for service – unlike the former commission model of financial planners.
And I love helping people. I do enjoy the whole variety of business. I also have a passion for small business. The variety of work is what l love about public accountancy.
Lately, I’ve fallen in love with technology which surprised everyone.
I even taught myself to type. Technology simplifies so many things. When I started, we only had one computer between four of us and there was a person doing our data entry operation. Since then, there’s been the advance of mobile phones and so many changes in computer technology. Now our whole system is on the cloud.
We never have to worry because they back it up on servers based around the world.
I believe it is also far more secure. Having real time data also help you make sensible business decisions. I love Xero and it has become our main accounting platform for both financial reporting and tax. We also use BGL and Box in our business.
The practice I run now was started by Gareth Peacocke.
There were three Peacocke brothers in Dubbo. The other two, Gerry and Peter were solicitors. Gerry went on to be a politician and was the local MP. After working with my friend Kevin for nearly three years I decided it was time to become a business owner again.
Kevin tried to find a firm to buy to go into partnership.
He introduced me to Gareth who had been thinking about retirement. Two years ago Peacocke Accountants split over the future of accounting. We split because I believed we should embrace technological change.
I believe that where internet is suitable, the cloud was the future.
I’m even more firmly committed to that now. We no longer need a server and we don’t have any complications. I’d like to grow the business some more and welcome more clients.