John Alexander is a man with a few foibles, but an over-inflated ego is clearly not one of them. A former professional tennis player best known for reaching a career-high world singles rank of No. 8, Alexander endeared himself to the Australian public when in 1968, he became Australia’s youngest ever Davis Cup representative.
Stints as the Federation Cup captain and coach and a second career designing and building several high-profile sport and fitness clubs followed, while national honours in the form of the Medal of the Order of Australia (1992) and the Australian Sports Medal (2000), combined with a 20-year career as a television sports commentator further cemented his popularity.
But at age 59, Alexander, known as JA, risked it all to enter the world of politics.
In developing a particular interest in the areas of preventative health, infrastructure, transport and sustainable growth, Alexander has now managed to hold onto his Bennelong seat for over a decade. Having been successful in his attempts to establish a range of local programs – including Bennelong Gardens, which provides work opportunities for people living with disabilities in specially designed market gardens – he concedes the weight of public expectation rests much easier now than in the past.
“Every time you win an election it’s an incredible high which is hard to describe. But the most honest words I could have said on winning the first time was that it was just like being selected to play Davis Cup – it was one moment of elation of getting the selection or winning and then there is that realisation that people are then counting on you to do the job.”
The ageing process
Now 69 and four years past Australia’s official age of retirement, Alexander says he has begun noticing subtle differences after transitioning into an older age bracket.
Some people when they are 75 are at full strength and some people at 75 need to take a break. And some people at 55 will never be any good and weren’t any good in the past.
“There should not be that form of discrimination – whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual preference or age we want to eliminate discrimination by making it a meritocracy. When there are people who are wanting to work, we need to find a way to include them in the workplace.”
Preventative health is a hot button topic for Alexander, who firmly believes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. He says one of the biggest costs in delivering healthcare in Australia is treating lifestyle illnesses that comes from not doing enough exercise, poor diet, too much alcohol, and too many cigarettes or illicit drugs.
“Preventative medicine means you have a balance of exercise, good diet, moderate alcohol. When you do it with friends you’re covering the three foundations of good health – exercise for your physical health, exercise for your mental health and your social health which is also very, very important.” Personally, he concedes, that his belief in the importance of remaining physically active is both a blessing and a curse.
With two marriages behind him as well as being briefly forced to resign from parliament after his English heritage saw him become entangled in the 2017 Australian parliamentary eligibility crisis, the father-of-three concedes that from a personal as well as a professional perspective he doesn’t always get it right.
However, it seems that if he has learnt anything as a sportsman, a public representative and a family man, it is the importance of failure. “Sometimes in this business you are essentially battering your head against a brick wall and it’s hard to make progress, but I think you’ve got to be able to look at yourself and say ‘Yep, well I did my best and the work that I did was good.”
The importance of being humble was a lesson Alexander learnt early in his career when he was shown the importance of evolving through every loss to be the best player he could be.
“The difference between a winner and a loser is that a loser will say, ‘I’m no good, I lost.’ The person who will do the best will say, ‘Gee I really messed up there, I won’t make that mistake again.’ And even when you do make it again, you swear, and make an even bigger commitment not to make it a third time. I think they’re life lessons that stand the test of time.”