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OUR PEOPLE: How Wallan’s Keith Kelly learnt to ‘travel easy’

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Grace Frost
Grace Frost
Hi, I'm Grace Frost. I was honoured to report for the Review as their Digital Journalist from mid-2022 to the beginning of 2024. Ive since made a move to the Herald Sun.

This story is part of an ongoing series in the North Central Review aimed at showcasing and celebrating the people of our region. To nominate a worthy contributor to our region, email news@ncreview.com.au or send a message to our Facebook page.

By Grace Frost

Wallan’s Keith Kelly has made a name for himself among residents as one of the town’s brightest characters.

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Retired and in his mid-70s, Mr Kelly regularly walks from his home to Wellington Square, always on the ready to share a riddle or rhyme.

A listening ear, Mr Kelly has befriended and supported many people in their endeavours, providing advice and encouragement over countless cups of coffee.

He was a source of light and positivity for many during the pandemic, greeting regulars at his go-to cafe as close friends, laughing at the worst of jokes and bestowing encouragement on those struggling amid lockdowns. 

Mr Kelly’s spontaneous harmonica solos, which he likes to perform while ordering his lattes, come at the shock and surprise of many people, while his hat and jacket embroidered with his mantra, ‘Travel Easy Through Life’ are ‘Keith Kelly’ staples.

Though Mr Kelly is known as so outwardly-positive, it could surprise many who know him to learn he had not always been so carefree.

Mr Kelly said he had only learnt to ‘travel easy’ after a 15-year-long battle with depression, which stemmed from a lack of self-confidence.

Remaining at a job he didn’t enjoy and later leaving one he wished he had remained at, Mr Kelly said fear made it hard for him to get back on his feet.

“When you’ve got the confidence, you can say, ‘okay, I’ve made that decision,’ but when you don’t, you start punishing yourself,” Mr Kelly said.

“I was scared – what am I going to do? It’s very hard to control when you get fear into you.”

After years of being shrouded by self-doubt, Mr Kelly decided it was time for a change.

He said by keeping his brain occupied, he had been able to drown out the noise of gloom-ridden thoughts and instead inspire optimism.

“You can’t completely push [negativity] out, but you got to look at it and say, ‘I can control it’,” he said.

Mr Kelly found the tool best suited for ‘shutting the door’ on negativity was country music.

“With my music, it cuts out any negative thoughts coming into your head,” Mr Kelly said.

“The song and the words combine, and to me, it makes my whole body just relax.

“You got to really listen to the words and relate to the words to get music, and get the fun out of it, and that’s what I do.”

Mr Kelly said he wished others could alleviate stress and focus on the bigger picture, and worried they would otherwise waste their lives.

“I look at other people walking around with long faces. They don’t get that simple things in life can make you happy,” he said.

“But people look for more than simple things to make them happy – it doesn’t work that way.

“Life now is like running after your tail … if you don’t stop to say ‘I’m not doing this anymore’, you’ll catch it one day, but too late, you’re in the grave.”

Mr Kelly said the simple things were often the greatest source of joy.

“I used to blame life, but if that’s the case, everyone would be miserable – they’re not. We’re the ones that make life what it is,” he said.

Writer’s footnote:

Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Mr Kelly while working at a café in Wallan – he was a favourite customer of mine and truly the highlight of many long shifts. His presence in Wallan as a driving force of positivity and ‘travelling easy’ cannot be understated, and I am lucky to call him a friend. Hopefully, his story of a 180-degree shift toward positivity inspires courage among those finding life tough.

Keith’s playlist:

Picture In A Frame – Moe Bandy

Life’s Like A River – Derek Ryan

I Believe – Jimmy Fortune

If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven – Owen Mac

Rio Bravo – Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan

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