You walk past somebody on the street who’s homeless. And you could stop and buy The Big Issue. You could give them an extra five bucks. You could look them in the eyes and say, “Hey, g’day, what’s your name?” But instead you’re in a bloody rush. And you don’t really want to confront the fact that people are living on the streets. So you just choose not to be kind. But if there’s only one rule we should strive to live by it’s “be kind.”
I love that. It makes me think of another thing that I read about you—that you had chosen to live quite simply, you drive an old Toyota. And I wondered about your relationship to money.
Well, first of all, I do not live in a hair shirt. We’re sitting in Balmain, and yes okay, it’s true, I’m not a fashion icon! [Laughs]. One of these articles said, “Audette Exel lives on a shoestring” and I snorted. I eat more than I should. I live in a lovely two-bedroom terrace house that I walk to from work. But everybody makes a thing of my car! My car has become this iconic thing! There’s nothing wrong with my car! [Laughs]. It gets me where I need to go.
I don’t understand why people are so dominated by their attraction to money. It’s an addiction that I do not have, thank god. And when I watch the Lord of the Rings—“my precious”—it’s actually a brilliant way of describing what can happen to you if you become fixated on money. Why, really, does it matter that your house has a bigger and better view? Compared to the opportunity you have to save a life or to have a life of adventure yourself. I mean, money matters enormously for people who desperately need a level of safety and security. Everybody deserves that. Everybody deserves health, education, food on the table. I absolutely do not decry that for one bit. But I do not really understand why it would matter to have another $10 million in the bank when you already have however much. I don’t understand why people think money matters more than love, joy, peace and justice. I don’t understand why it matters to people to wear incredibly expensive jewellery. It’s just not my thing. At some point I have to buy a new car because I need a car with airbags I think.
[Laughs]. And I guess the question is, how much is enough? I don’t think we ask ourselves that enough.
I keep wondering if I’m going to meet somebody at some point who’ll say, “Take my pot of money and do something good with it!” And I’ll say, “Yes!” If I were Bill Gates, would I be doing what he’s doing? Totally. And bloody good on him that he’s doing it. I think we are simply custodians of the planet at every level, including custodians of wealth that comes our way. A lot of people suspect that I must be secretly very rich, which I find incredibly funny because I am secretly very rich, but I’m not rich in material wealth—I’m rich in every other thing that matters to me in my life. People find it hard to imagine that you could give away a lot of money and not have a whole lot yourself. People see it as a sacrifice. You know, I’m not dismissing the incredible drive for people to secure themselves and their families financially. That really matters. Not being able to pay your electricity bill, it matters. Being a mum who’s escaping a domestic abuse situation with kids and wondering how she’s going to put food on the table—that matters. What I’m saying is in my life and with the levels of money that I’m around, it’s seashells. And do I think there’s ever going to be a day in my life when I can’t afford to eat what I want? Probably not.
What’s your vision for the Adara Group?
The vision is to get us to 20 years, to show that this is a sustainable model. And to have a panel of some of the most senior investment bankers in this country standing beside me doing deals to generate money for marginalised people. Then we will have not only created a structure that will long outlast me when I get hit by the yak that falls off the cliff, but that will be a model for every bank in the world. We will have given every financial services institution in the world a construct and said to them, “This is how you do it. This is how you take a skill of knowing how to do a merger and acquisition, or how the derivatives market trades. This is how you use those skills directly for purpose.” So that’s the vision. And if I get there then I’m going to have a big bloody lie-down [laughs].
[Laughs]. I suppose there’s been such a journey for you personally and for the business that the next step is about allowing other people to own it.
Yes, and we have just gone through this name change—because what a thing to find that your name’s been taken over by an extremist group. But ISIS was very defined by me. I sat at the centre and have been the face of it even though there’s been so many other people. I’m not taking credit for it all, but it had an Audette shape. Adara is actually being shaped by a much wider group.
The development team—they’re unbelievable, and they know more about development work than I ever would. And the business is now a whole lot of great minds coming together. It’s the first time really in my life when I’ve laid it down in front of people and said, “This is what I’m thinking, what do you think? Can you help me?”
I saw the great Gloria Steinem speak and she said, “Somebody said to me, ‘Will you hand over your torch?’ And I said to them, ‘No, you can light your own torch, I’m going to continue to stand here with mine’.” Which I thought was wonderful! So it’s not quite that I’m handing my torch over. I’m not. But there’s going to be a whole lot more torches shining.
I feel really uplifted speaking to you—hearing this wonderful outlook you have. I want to ask, just because I’m curious, about sadness.
Well, I’ve had my share of grief. I lost my beloved father in a second in an accident. I have been through the sadness of a divorce. I struggled with my health and looked down that big tunnel of, Where is this all going to lead and will I be dead by my brother’s wedding? And every day I’m connected to sadness. But the thing that has always helped me is believing there’s a crack with a sliver of light. When I’m out working with HIV clients in the community, and people are talking about someone who’s just passed away and left their kids, there’s somebody else there who’s taken those kids in. When we went through the terrible time with Dad’s death, people came out of nowhere and wrapped their arms around us and held us up as a family. And as I went through the sadness of saying goodbye to my marriage, friends stood by me quietly. So, you know, against darkness, I see light.