Pat Farmer on marathons, motoring and giving away his money


Pat Farmer was inspired to start running by 61-year-old farmer Cliff Young, who won the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon.

At 18, Farmer was the youngest competitor in the race.

Not able to make money from running, he won endorsements from banks and insurance and communications companies, and has since raised millions of dollars for charity. Entering politics, he held the federal parliament seat of Macarthur from 2001 until 2010, when he left to run from the North Pole to the South Pole.

pat farmer marathon runner

What was your first job?

I was a motor mechanic at Cumberland Cabs in Granville, Sydney, in the late 1970s. I remember going from place to place looking for an apprenticeship and the line-up was blocks long because it was a guaranteed four years of security and you're learning a skill to set you up for the rest of your life. My father talked me into that. In fact, I bought my first home by buying old cars and doing them up and selling them, and I made more money doing that than in my actual job.

What's the best money advice you've received?

I remember when I was an apprentice someone said to me, "The first $10 you earn will be the hardest you ever earn in your life." I was on $52 a week and he was absolutely right. I never thought I'd save $10,000. My commerce teacher told me if you look after your cents, your dollars will take care of themselves. It's putting one step in front of the other at all times that creates an enormous journey.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

Buying my first home without a doubt. I was 17 when I started saving. My parents grew up in housing commission and I was one of seven kids. My dad said if you ever save for anything, save for your own home and no one can ever turn you out of it. I was 19 when I bought my house.
I bought a block of land first, for $17,000, and the rest is history.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

I got a Torana and tried to turn it into a Porsche. My boss's wife said to me, "You're not paying another cent of your wages on that car", and she pushed me to get the loan for the block of land.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

I do love anything to do with cars, so every now and then I'll pay to hire a really nice car to drive around or take to a race track. I went out to the desert in Las Vegas and took a McLaren out.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

It would be something to do with health these days. The two things of the future are we're all getting older and everyone is looking at ways to protect themselves from ageing, and that's one of the reasons I'm in the health and fitness industry.

What would you do if you had only $50 left in the bank?

I'd divide it into increments of $10 a day and I'd try to do something with the $10 to increase the value of it each day. Buy something and sell it and each day I could see my progress.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

No, what I want to do is give everything away before I die and then I know exactly where it's going. I've seen too many families broken apart by arguments over inheritances. I have bought special things that remind me of my children or certain places I've been or things we've done together that were amazing, and I think the kids will get more out of that than any cash that I can leave them. Cash comes and goes. For me this life is all about experiences, but we need money for that.

How did your travels around the world affect your views on money?

Enormously. I did a run in Uganda last year and my goal was to raise $100,000 for Cents for Seeds, for the Love Mercy Foundation, where $30 buys 30kg of seeds, and that's like someone over here winning the lottery. They plant the seeds, use the seeds to barter for other goods they need and they repay the loan and still have seeds for the next year. We don't realise how very, very fortunate we are in this country. Most people complain that schools don't have the latest computers or science labs, but in Colombia in South America most houses don't even have electricity.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...

... money, that's obvious. If you've got it, you can use it to make more money. It's like smiles - if you smile you can produce a smile from others.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.