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Keogh Newsletter

- 26 May 2015
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During the recent school holidays my 9-year-old son was bursting with excitement as we left the cinema. “Wow Mum, that’s the BEST movie I’ve EVER SEEN”, he enthused.

It was The Book of Life, a children’s fable.

“What was so wonderful about it?” I asked.

He pondered. “Well, it was sort of … all about life really … like, you’ve got to be in your heart to be powerful.”

I almost fell over. That was indeed my take on the animated movie’s essential message as well. 

It’s a delightful tale, helped along by the gloriously colourful visuals with their distinctive Mexican folk-art and Cubist aesthetic.  The plot is enthralling, more complex and unpredictable than what you might expect of a children’s movie, with many layers of meaning and insight.

Two young boys, Manolo and Joaquin, become young men, both vying for the heart of the beautiful, free-spirited Maria.  But, as always, the path of true love does not unfold smoothly, and both men have fundamental questions about self that each will need to address. 

Joaquin would appear to have the inside running because he comes from a long line of heralded, military greats and fulfils all stereotypical expectations of the handsome, strong, macho leader. Manolo, on the other hand, presents as the inimical lost soul, a gentle-natured, frustrated musician who is pressured by his family to shed his dreams and instead uphold their proud heritage of bull-fighting.

When Maria is sent away to a boarding school, she gives Manolo a guitar engraved with the words “always play from the heart” – and so the trajectory of his real life battle is revealed.

As for Joaquin, there’s no such conflict of identity as he becomes the revered town hero by unfair means.  He is bestowed the Medal of Everlasting Life which allows him to perform extraordinary feats of courage without fear of demise, a life-time guarantee against failure that all of us would find handy as leaders.  Both men continue to vie for Maria’s hand.

However Maria, who has more emotional intelligence than what you initially might think, is drawn to the gentler Manolo. As he expresses his undying love for her, she is bitten by a snake and dies. Manolo is offered the option of also being bitten in order to join her. His love is such that he accepts this ultimate act of self-sacrifice and dies.

This is where it gets really interesting. He travels into the underworld, the Land of the Remembered, only to discover that he’s been tricked and Maria isn’t dead at all. He is outraged to say the least! Maria, in the meantime, recovers from her coma and solemnly accepts Joaquin’s proposal. 

Poor Manolo, he’s been stitched up on all counts; a lesser person might well have given up at that point and lived out a shadow of a life in the underworld, despairing and bitter. Not Manolo!  He negotiates with the Candle Maker, an entity who oversees the lives of all in the living world, and is awarded the option of re-writing his life through his own actions.  But to do so, he must travel to the Land of the Forgotten, a most forlorn and lonely place. 

What courage to go there.  Here he learns that his life will be returned if he successfully confronts his greatest challenge. 

Suddenly before him appears the biggest, ugliest and angriest of bulls, the archetypal representative of all bulls who have been fought and killed by Manolo’s family. Of course, Manolo (and the audience) assumes his challenge is to fight and triumph over this fearsome, avenging beast, and so the bloody, pointless battle begins. Force and power are evenly matched, although you get the sense that ultimately Manolo will tire.  

But then suddenly, he stops. It’s apparent he’s struck by a deepening inner realisation. Slowly he picks up his guitar and begins to sing a plaintive, heart-felt song of regret and apology to the grudge-filled beast, a song beseeching forgiveness for his families long history of transgressions. The effect is mesmerising – the beast is slowly appeased and peacefully dissolves away.  The narrator comments: “So Monolo had confronted his greatest challenge – his fear of being himself.” This is the climax. He comes back to life.

The rest of the movie ties up the loose ends.  Joaquin comes good by realising that being a hero is not about being the biggest, strongest and most skilled, but about offering himself in selfless service for the greater good. He gives his Medal of Everlasting Life to Manolo at the last minute, as Manolo confronts a common enemy intent on blowing them all up. Joaquin resolves to be a hero of his own accord, not a replica of his father’s might.  Manolo and Maria wed, and the great spirits guiding and directing life reconcile.

What wonderful insights this movie offers about the core elements of truly empowered living and leadership.   – Brenda Turnbull

It’s not an animated musical but Keogh Consulting’s program on empowered leadership contains similar insights. Check out Leadership Edge. 


Kendall Hogg is our juggler. Her official title at Keogh is facility and practice coordinator, which really means she is a multi-skilled multi-tasker.

She manages all property and assets, she’s in charge of training, she administers policy and procedures, she’s an events organiser, and she’s an early adapter to innovations so she tends to be a go-to person in the digital world too. And before she reinvented herself, she was a qualified chef, a teacher of the culinary arts and hospitality, and a businesswoman; she ran her own catering business.

Away from work, she is just as multi-faceted: she is a wife, a mother of three, an excellent cook, a dedicated foodie, a skilled barista, an occasional artist and a movie buff. She’s also known for a raucous laugh and a rascally sense of humour.

Kendall was born and educated in Adelaide but then spent the next two decades living in the southern vales beyond the city. She was attracted by the hills, the vineyards and a man named Peter, who’s now her husband. The family has just gone through the wrench of relocating to Noosa in Queensland and are starting to love it – they are chasing sun, sea and opportunity.

Much to her own surprise, Kendall has become a serious scrapbooker. The 20 albums compiled so far – about family, kids and holidays – are more than just a record, they have turned into an absorbing artistic outlet.


Woody Guthrie sang about the killer duststorms, John Steinbeck wrote about the Okies forced to abandon their farmsteads, and Alexandre Hogue portrayed the destruction of the land in his vibrant series of paintings.

Now Timothy Egan has added to the story of the American dustbowl with his award-winning book The Worst Hard Times. He draws upon personal memoirs and diaries to bring to life the harrowing tales of survival when farms on the grassland plains of the Southwest were destroyed by the great duststorms of the 1930s.

The dustbowl was a man-made disaster. It was exposed by an extended period of drought, but the underlying cause was over-cropping of the lands (mainly wheat) and the use of inappropriate ploughing techniques. When the prevailing winds picked up, it turned the topsoil into dense duststorms that blotted out the sun for days and buried the farm houses and lands downwind beneath mountains of dust. Some of the topsoil ended up covering cities as far away as New York and even ships out in the Atlantic. Throughout the 1930s the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles were wracked by drought and blown to kingdom come.

The personal stories of hardship, survival, abandonment and frequent death are gut wrenching. Woody Guthrie sang about the slow death caused by dust pneumonia in his song So Long It’s Been Good To Know You.

Federal buy-back programs combined with the replanting of drought tolerant grasses and the teaching of better ploughing methods helped mitigate some of the destruction. But the sad epilogue is that, apart from the reacquired and replanted reserves, the land remains of little value to this day.

The book is a brilliant exposition and, let’s hope, a salutary tale for modern times. Right now, California, one of the foodbowls of the US, is running out of water.  – GP



Difficulty is what wakes up the genius   Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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