OUT OF THE WOODS
Introduced by Tim Costello
From a homeless alcoholic living in the wild to academic success and a book deal, ‘Out of the Forest’ tells the next chapter in the inspiring comeback story of forest dweller Gregory Smith.
When he left school at 14, dogged by the crushing assessment from teachers that he was ‘functioning at the lower level of the dull range,’ Gregory Smith had already endured a violent upbringing and months in an orphanage after the break-up of his family.
At 35, struggling with a lifetime of trauma, he opted to escape into the wild with no desire to return to the society that had failed him so dismally.
“I’d exhausted all my options,” he says. “I ended up there because I really had nowhere else to go.”
Living off the land and sleeping rough eventually led to a personal restoration and he emerged to gain an undergraduate degree and then a PhD at Southern Cross University.
When his story first aired in September last year, it struck a chord with viewers and it took Gregory three months to respond to the initial onslaught of mail.
“I had over a thousand emails,” he says. “Refugees in Africa, alcoholics in Texas, people in Europe wanting to have existential conversations with me about how to live in a forest.”
In the intervening year, he’s used his profile to become an advocate for the homeless, providing advice to government committees and local councils about how to improve services, particularly in his home area of Northern NSW.
“One of the things both the book and the Australian Story did for me is it magnified my voice,” he says. “If I can make a difference to the way we see vulnerable people. Then I think I would have achieved a lot in my life.”
In this updated episode, the program returns to see what’s changed in Gregory Smith’s life. And the news is all good.
“Gregory represents the capacity for transformation against all odds and a real triumph over adversity,’”says one of his students, Kerry Pritchard. “How to take the crap in life and grown beautiful things out of it.”
Update producer: Vanessa Gorman
Australian Story’s ‘Out of the Woods’ airs Monday December 16 on ABC TV and ABC iview.