BEFORE his nationally syndicated column, before his TV show, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt was rejected for a cadetship at The Murray Valley Standard.
He had spent his formative years in rural South Australia, following his father’s work as a schoolteacher to Elizabeth, Tarcoola, the Eyre Peninsula and, finally, Tailem Bend.
He rode the bus to Murray Bridge High School as a shy, bushy-haired teenager in the 1970s; studied economics, history, maths and English; and wrote poetry, some of which was published in a Youth Writes anthology.
It was then he approached The Standard’s editor, Mike Hambidge, to ask for a job.
“I wanted to get into journalism, but all my initial attempts failed,” he said.
“I’m sure the (Standard's) office was a long way from the river, but I’ve got a stupid view of me overlooking the river and getting some advice (from the editor).
“If I heeded it, it must have worked out for me.”
Instead, a young Mr Bolt earned his pocket money at a service station and in a shearing shed, and he played basketball for the Rebels in the stadium at the Murray Bridge Showground during his spare time.
Politics was not a force that intruded into his early life, though he said he was a voracious reader of newspapers: “like a train, if trains could read”.
But his most vivid memories of his three years in the Murraylands were of nights spent behind a drum kit in a band, learning numbers from a transsexual woman and performing them in memorial halls.
“It’s where I started my musical career and where it ended,” he said with a chuckle.
“I wanted to be a drummer in a rock band, but I didn’t have the talent.
“To me this was a way of earning the money to go to Europe: pumping petrol, making hamburgers and playing in the band, including with a couple of drums I made for myself in woodwork.”
Everyone would get together for dances, bringing plates of food to leave on the sideboards; a girl with Down syndrome would get as many dances as any of the others.
“There’s this negative impression of country towns being hotbeds of prejudice and intolerance, but I didn’t find that at all,” he said.
“The rural Australia I knew was a Colin Thiele, Sun on the Stubble kind of place.”
In Andrew Bolt’s Australia, individual people were taken on their face value, free of labels, and outsiders - including his Dutch migrant parents - were seamlessly integrated into the community.
“I loved what I learned: you can rely on the fundamental decency of people, if you have time for it,” he said.
After he finished high school he travelled Europe, went to university and secured a cadetship at The Age, in Melbourne, beginning a career that has taken him to national prominence.
His columns appear in newspapers in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin; he has a television show on Network Ten; and his political blog is Australia’s most widely read.
In an age of focus groups and demographics, his opinions have made him a frequent target for criticism; but he remained confident that the ordinary folk he grew up with, the ones living outside the big cities and 24-hour news cycles, were on his side.
“You carry it with you, a sense of community, when you’ve been living in country towns, which I had for my childhood and youth,” he said.
“You’re writing for identifiable people, not a mass; it reminds you not to get too precious or high-headed.
“When I think of places like Murray Bridge, I get a lot of reassurance that - though in the mainstream media you’d think my views were strident and way out there - if you walked down the street, people would agree with me.”