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How did a Year 10 school dropout end up being named an unsung business hero?


With HSC students across the country either delighting in their success or wallowing in disappointment, one inspirational Parramatta women, is proof that failure or even skipping the HSC, does not have to be the end of your career hopes and a life destined for the dole queue.

Catherine McMurtrie was a school dropout at 16. Although loving learning, Catherine struggled at the hands of bullies, forcing a change of school in Year 9.

Although this did not deter her from attending school and succeeding in gaining her Year 10 School certificate, the experience had succeeded in damaging her motivation to continue studying, and Catherine left education immediately after sitting the Year 10 exam.

The phoenix rises out of the ashes

With no clear idea or direction she wished to take her life, Catherine drew strength from the encouragement of her parents to get out into the workforce and learn about real life for herself and began hunting for a job.

“I remember going through the careers book and thinking to myself, ‘I just don’t want to do any of these subjects, at all’. So I answered an advertisement in the local paper for a receptionist in an accounting firm and they said no experience necessary, we’ll train on the job, so I applied and to cut a long story short, I got the position,” Catherine says.

A helping hand appears

Catherine was fortunate to work for a business owner, Matt Thompson, who took her under his wing and nurtured her enthusiasm for numbers and hard work.

He offered to pay for her to study accounting at TAFE, which then became the catalyst for her progression to University, something she never thought possible without her HSC.

“I just excelled at it and loved it. I got straight A’s, so Matt said ‘you seem to have a bit of a knack for this. You should go get your degree’. But I didn’t have my HSC and could not see how this would be possible.”

But through hard work and determination, calling every University she could find, it was her grades from TAFE along with her work experience, which landed her an offer from the University of Newcastle to undertake a Bachelor of Commerce.

For a student to attend University without an HSC was unheard of in Australia at that time and more notably, when her peers were only beginning their Year 12.

The happy ending

Catherine’s story does not end there and she now runs an extremely successful accountancy practice in Parramatta and it is because of the amazing way her story unfolded from this point, that she has now been featured as one of only 10 female business owners, in the newly published book ’50 Unsung Business Heroes’.

Catherine is proud to say that 2016 is her 10th year in business and with lots of businesses failing before the five-year mark, Catherine has no doubt that it has been persistence and determination that has allowed her to buck the system and succeed in ways which many would only see failure as the outcome.