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This is the story of me, Fred Appleton, a Chartered Accountant, going into bankruptcy back in the 1990’s and then how I got back on my feet and on with my life.

The ‘getting back on your feet and on with your life‘ is the most important bit of the story because I want you to see that you can too.

There’s two stories here, both are true, but one name has been changed.

Julie (name changed) made contact in early December 2014.

Up until recently she had been very successful.  I typed her name into Google and read about her.  I told her that I thought that she can be successful again.

Julie told me that she had significant debt, it hadn’t all happened at once, but no matter what she did and how hard she tried to repay it, the debt just kept building up and up and up.

She wrote that she had not slept properly for a year……the email also said…..’I feel like I am worth more dead than alive‘.

Julie said that she had $250K in her super and asked if there is anything that she and her husband could do with this?  I said that at her age I didn’t think so, nor did I think that it was a good idea anyway.  What’s more, it wouldn’t have paid off her debt.  All that would have achieved is less debt, so she’d still go into bankruptcy at some point, and have no superannuation to fall back on.  My feeling was to leave the super alone and use it for what it was intended down the track.  She had plenty of time to recover.

I’ve come across quite a few people who made the mistake of taking out their super and so were able to pay off some of their debt, the end result being they face retirement with little or nothing but the state pension to look forward to.

I think that it was the fear of the so called ‘stigma‘ of bankruptcy that might make people do that.

Julie is the higher income earner of the two, and she has the highest debt, including a crippling tax debt.  I explained that bankruptcy would cancel the tax and credit card and other debts immediately as far as she was concerned.

After this her mood changed.

Her next email spoke about seeing a ‘light at the end of the tunnel‘.

I responded that even though it is many years since I went into bankrupt, that even today when I talk to people like her it’s all still the same, as if it were yesterday.

Like me, they wonder what was going to happen to them because the debt collectors’ phone calls today seem to be just as nasty, bullying and as invasive as they were in my day.

So that she could see that there really was light at the end of the tunnel, I started to tell her some of my story, and of how, over the years, I had recovered.

Before I went into bankruptcy I was actually locked out of my Chartered Accountant’s office when the landlord changed the locks because I was behind in paying my office rent.  That was tough.

I had earlier suggested to the landlord (who were a husband and wife) that I move out so that they had a vacant office to rent again.  He, the husband, said that he was going to come back and see me when he returned from holidays. He never did.

Their solicitor decided otherwise so the landlords (the husband and wife) ended up losing my rent and getting a solicitor’s bill to boot.

The wife turned up at my front door to serve me with a summons.

Had they not done this I don’t think that I would have needed to go into bankruptcy and I would have paid them.

You see, I had become involved with another business and some money that I was owed and had expected to receive from it still hadn’t come in.   I never did get it.

Once my bankruptcy was accepted then I had to close down my accountancy practice  because a bankrupt can’t be a tax agent.  Tax was my specialty.  Over the years I reckon that I had prepared more tax returns than I had had breakfasts.

I continued to try making the repayments on my (upmarket for those days) Land Rover Discovery, as I’d learned that my bankruptcy trustee wouldn’t take the car off me.   That was because at wholesale prices, and with what I owed on the vehicle it meant that I had no equity in it.

After a few months though keeping up the repayments was just too hard so I rang the bank and asked them to take it back.  To my surprise they said that they couldn’t as I was up to date with my repayments so they couldn’t repossesses it for two more months.

I made sure that I heard them right, then I drove it for two more months.

The thing that did surprise me however was that I found it very hard to get employment again, even though I would have been able to pay my own way with my own clients.

Being past my mid 50’s probably didn’t help.

Would you believe that I was often told by the people advertising for an accountant that I was too good for them?

One accountant even said that they were afraid that once my bankruptcy was over that I would start another accountancy practice, and so take some of his clients with me.  I thought ‘I’ll be in my 60s by then, you’ve got to be kidding’.

Anyway, that’s what happened and it was tough, no job, no income.

Every day after I waved my wife off to work I would take myself to walk the long, lonely beaches nearby and I would walk and walk and then do a bit more walking.

If there was some soul searching and tears then I did that bit whilst doing the walking thinking that the system was crazy.

I lost my accountancy practice and I was unable to earn an income.  Nobody could be repaid.  We all lost our money.

Once I got over the initial knock of needing to go into bankruptcy, which took a little while particularly as I hadn’t seen it coming, I started to get back on my feet on and with my life.

You see, I had read somewhere that if you’ve been knocked flat, really flat, then in your own time get up, dust yourself off, and start again.  It said that if you were good at one thing then you can become good at something else.  It went on to say to not try and recreate again what you had just lost, because if you do, you’ll also pick up a lot of the same old problems.

So, staring at 60 in a year or so, and still in bankruptcy, I started again.

First of all I decided to find out what, as a Chartered Accountant, I should have known about bankruptcy so as to have been able to help myself more.  It was 30 years or so since I had studied Bankruptcy Law in my Chartered Accountancy exam days, so perhaps with more knowledge I could now start to help others who found themselves own a similar situation to me.   Also I reasoned, as it had knocked me back a bit, I knew that others must be doing it tough as well.

I soon discovered that there was really nothing out there for people in our situation, everybody seemed to want to get stuck into us if we owed them any money. I couldn’t find anybody who seemed to know how to talk to us to help us.  So I bought a copy of the Bankruptcy Act, it wasn’t on the internet then, and again started reading.  I knew how to read Tax Law, so I soon got the hang of Bankruptcy Law again.

Surprisingly though, the first enquiry I had about bankruptcy was from a lady who just rode up on her motorbike.  I didn’t know her but she said that her mother said to go and see Fred Appleton because he will know.   I didn’t know that I had this sort of reputation out there in the wider community.

This lady was surprised to find out that I had gone into bankruptcy.  Her mother, who I also didn’t know, was even more surprised.

I decided to advertise in the local newspaper.  One or two enquiries came in, So with a single whiteboard, I started to visit people in their homes.

I showed the people who I went to see what bankruptcy was really all about ‘from our point of view’.  One of the best kept secrets at the time was what a bankrupt person could earn and always keep.  They kept asking me if they had heard me right.  At the moment this amount is well over a $1,000 per week (net).

What I found was that people were relieved to learn that they were unlikely to lose their car, their furniture was safe, and that they were also extremely unlikely to get a visit from their bankruptcy trustee to see what they had.  Sometimes people asked me if they’d be able to keep their knives and forks, and if the kids’ toys were safe. I’m not joking!

They didn’t know for how long they’d be bankrupt for, they didn’t know about their credit rating and how long it would be effected.

They didn’t know that they could still go overseas if they were bankrupt and so I explained the bit filling in a form to obtain approval from their bankruptcy trustee, things like that.

I tried to counter the scary bits that their mates, grandma types and the debt collectors’, who don’t know anyway, had told them.

Through the website www.fredappleton.com.au I’m still trying to do the same today.

At this stage myself I didn’t know that the so called ‘stigma‘ of Bankruptcy was really just a myth, or at worst out of date propaganda. I would find out the truth in time.

Anyway, enough of this enquiry resulted in people asking me to prepare their bankruptcy paperwork for them, so I no longer had to rely on my wife for the basics.   In those days her job was part time, so the pay wasn’t flash.

Soon I was able to contribute to the housekeeping again.  Also, if I met a friend and he asked me to go and have a beer, I could pay my way.

From their feedback these people also helped me to learn a lot more about bankruptcy ‘from our point of view’.

Most of it was also my own experience, now just being told to me by somebody else.  If I didn’t know the answers to the questions that I was asked I made it my business to find out.  At times I must have driven my own bankruptcy trustee mad.

At the start I did everything myself, but I was getting back on my feet.

A husband and wife who had been my partners in the firm Appleton Millward & Co, Chartered Accountants, made contact.

They’d left Coffs Harbour for new challenges some years back and were now on the Gold Coast.  They hadn’t seen or heard from me for some time, they didn’t know that I was bankrupt.

Tim Millward rode in on his motorbike.  That’s how Helen Millward started to look after the forms and bankruptcy paperwork for our clients.

After a few years I think that I became their biggest client.

An email came in recently, quite unsolicited saying, ‘Just dropping you a line to say all is well and smooth as a baby’s bottom.  What a relief to be able to sleep at night again and to feel the stress come off me, thanks to you and Helen for making this possible and saving my sanity.  Cheers and a long life to you both.’

Alan Nicholls made contact.  In my early days as a Chartered Accountant in Coffs Harbour Alan made a cold canvas contact.  For advertising he used to send accountants and solicitors coffee mugs with the Nicholls & Co logo and phone on them.  If you wanted to ring him you just ducked out to the kitchen and checked on your coffee cup for his telephone number.  I’ve still got one.

He hadn’t been a bankruptcy trustee in his own right for too long, so when the odd job in bankruptcy or a company liquidation came along, I was able to call his office and ask if he could give my client some help and advice.

Steve and I still do, and once or twice a year Steve and Alan meet up.  Alan’s website is www.nichollsco.com.au and it has a lot of good information on it.

Another phone call came out of the blue from Nic Crouch.  I had never heard of him, but as he too was just starting out as a bankruptcy trustee, he called to introduce himself.  We still deal with Nic and his business partner Shabnam Amirbeaggi and the Crouch website is www.crouch.com.au.  Steve catches up with Nic and Shabnam once or twice a year.

Steve and I have found all three to be very decent people, professional and ethical and we’re comfortable to deal with them.  We usually get good reports back.

Eventually I was introduced to the internet and to Google and after a few years I found Brett Davies from Byte Back.  Brett deserves a lot of credit for the way my internet presence took off after that.

I understand that he also looks after the computing needs one of the best known families in Australia, and also a media personality that we would all know, so I’m pleased to say that he still regards me as a close friend and client.  As he said to me a few days ago….’Fred, we go back a long way’.   We do.

fred1Brett takes us flying

I wrote the original website many years ago and although I regularly update it. It has been listed on Google since September 2002.  The old website  had over one million hits by the time we transitioned to the new website that you are reading now.

Sometimes, if I’m reading another bankruptcy website that has been up about a month or so and they’ve got a large number of hits, and I read their testimonials, which sound to me a bit corny and made up, I just type into Google the names of the people saying that they know so much and see what comes up.

But back to the real story.  After a while my wife and I began to think about taking a break.

First up, while I was still bankrupt, we bought a tent and when we could we would go away for a weekend, or a few days here and a few days there.  It was such a big tent, bigger than anything that we’d had before, that we called it the tent Hilton.

Before bankruptcy we had a caravan, but one day, going downhill, it blew a tyre and tipped over.  That was the end of the caravan.

In 2004 my wife retired.  By then it was 9 years since I went into bankruptcy, I was 66, and well and truly back on my feet.  We started going on trips in the camper trailer that we had bought a year or so earlier. We went wherever a our Toyota Camry could go.

I used to conduct my business, that is helping people with their bankruptcy questions, by laptop, mobile and even the public telephone from all sorts of places. I’d talk to people, Helen Millward would look after the bankruptcy paperwork.

Over the next few years we explored outback Queensland.  We’d already done the coast with the family as they were growing up so we now just wandered around.  When we came to a town we’d go into Tourist Information Centres, and then explore the local areas and attractions.

I didn’t know what a corduroy was until we went looking for and found a remake of a remake of a remake etc. of what was left of a Cobb and Co one that the Tourist Info office told us about.

I think that these two photographs are of my ‘office’ at Barcaldine and probably Emerald, both in Central Queensland

As we went along we really felt adventurous and away from it all, stopping for fuel or a coffee, often just from our thermos, at places we’d never heard of like Belyando Crossing, Comet, Aramac and even further out, Muttaburra.

By now we had a saying ‘who’d have thought ? ‘.

We’d say it as we watched the Brolgas dancing near Renner Springs in the Northern Territory, and the emus running near Darlington Park on the Murrumbidgee.

In 2004 we found ourselves at Lark Quarry, near Winton, and marvelled at the dinosaur footprints.  That’s where I found some opal chips in the car park gravel.

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On the way back from Lark Quarry the driver pointed out a Coolabah Tree.  We sing about one in Waltzing Matilda.

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Down a dirt road off a tarred road we stumbled across the lava tubes at Undarra near Mount Surprise.  We were just wandering across the bottom of Cape York from Cairns to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria.  We didn’t set out to do that but we stayed a few days.

I talked to people who were contacting me about bankruptcy every day on the phone, if I could.  Quite often there was just no reception.

At the end of the day, with a glass of wine and some Smiths Chips, we would reflect back and again quietly say ‘who’d have thought ?‘.

I don’t think that we could have done it if we’d used our super to try and pay my debts, and then have me end up needing to go into bankrupt anyway.

Our super, and a bit of private money was now available to us and I was earning a few dollars and not needing to or able to claim the pension.  We appreciated what we had, and so considered ourselves very lucky.

I know that when my world crashed down around me neither of us could possibly have envisaged what we were doing now.

Incidentally, since then, I’ve also done my best to pay most people back.

As we got older and wanted to go to places that our Camry couldn’t reach, we let other people take us.

In 2005, 10 years after bankruptcy, we sang in a choir on Anzac Day at Gallipoli.  My father had landed there 90 years ago to the day beforehand.  In 2015 we visited the WW1 battlefields in France.  Dad was there too.

From Turkey we went on to London, then down to Botswana where we witnessed a lion kill.

We’ve been able to do a day or two hiking in the Alps in France, and in the Dolomites in Italy.  We’ve relaxed on a Gondola in Venice while the bloke standing behind us, doing the paddling, sang.

One night in London we took ourselves to the West End to the see the musical Oliver, staring Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean).   That’s when I decided that I’d made it back, that bankruptcy is not the end of the world.

In 2008, 13 years after going into bankruptcy, we stood on the tip of Cape York.

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A bloke came along with a golf club in his hand.  I asked him why and he said that he was going to try and hit his drive over to that island that you can see behind us.

In 2009, 14 years after going into bankruptcy, we camped at Rabbit Flat, that’s in the middle of the Tanami Desert.  We were with a commercial tour that began in Alice Springs and went up the Stuart Highway for a bit, then across to the Gibb River Road, through the Kimberley, down to Broome, then back to Alice Springs.

When we were there Rabbit Flat had a permanent population of 2.  I think that it might now have dropped to nil.

These are some of our weary fellow travellers at the shop at Rabbit Flat halfway along the Tanami Track.  In the other photo, next morning, whilst most people were still taking down their tents and rolling up their sleeping bags, the bloke on the left is going to cook breakfast for us.

In 2010, now 15 years after going into bankruptcy, as paying passengers, we went to the Bourke and Wills Dig Tree near Innamincka and to another of their camps in the scrub just near the racecourse at Birdsville.  On another trip we had morning tea at the site of their last camp (near Burketown) before their dash to the Gulf.

On the left is Burke & Wills last camp, note the blaze in the tree, before they reached the Gulf, and on the right we’re sitting under the Cooper Creek Dig Tree (the blaze carved into the  tree is just behind my right ear) with our driver John who led the 4wheel drive tag a-long tour out of Broken Hill.  What a great trip.

It would have been too rough for the Camry so we went along as fare paying passengers in the tour company’s lead Nissan Patrol.

In 2013 we saw the Burke and Wills grand big statue in Melbourne, it looked quite out of place.

Near Milparinka (same trip) we’ve been to the site of Sturt’s camp at Depot Glen where, by a shrinking waterhole, between January and July 1845, he was forced to sit out the drought.  His second in command, Poole, died and is buried there.

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Milparinka (population is now about 50) is in NSW approximately 250kms north of Broken Hill in what is known as Corner Country.

At the Dog Fence near Cameron Corner we met the lady who, a year or two earlier, had closed down the pub at Milparinka when the drinkers dried up.  She knew our driver John and our paths just happened to cross.

On this trip we also went to Birdsville.   On the way we passed through Cordillo Downs Station and there inspected the remains of the world’s biggest shearing shed, the walls being completely made of rocks and stones from the surrounding gibber plains.  Dingoes wiped out 1 entire years lambing, so the station then switched to cattle.

At Birdsville we were surprised to find a Licenced Bakery, and it was open for breakfast.  My wife and I opted for coffee at that hour.

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And in the Kimberley we came across this bloke, I think that his car had broken down because it looked as if his engine had fallen off.

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This is the dog fence near Cameron Corner.  It goes on forever.

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Who’d have thought ?

Nearly 20 years ago, not me.  I had no idea whether or not I would or could recover from bankruptcy.   I just took it one day at a time.

A month or two back we also took a cruise up the coast of Norway, and on the way home we cruised up the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia.

Like Winston Churchill once said, never give up.

But back to Julie.  I told her not to feel like giving up, but to pick herself up and just charge ahead, and that she’d come out the other side better and stronger from this experience.   I felt that and it’s been said to me often.

I said that skills wise she’s just as good today as she was before she got a bit of paper saying that she was now bankrupt, just like I knew that I was as an accountant, the day before I was officially declared bankrupt and so then got a piece of paper telling me that I was no longer able to give tax advice.

From one of her last emails I’m sure that Julie now feels a great sense of relief, liberated even, and she now knows that bankruptcy is not the much talked about ‘last resort‘.

She emailed ….’ Thank you, I finally feel some sense of control.  I know we still have a long way to go and working hard is something I have always done but the stress is no longer so heavy on my shoulders.’

I’m often told that people are going to use the three years of their bankruptcy to study, to go to TAFE, or finish their degree and things like that.  One guy told me that he’d always wanted to be a bus driver so now was the chance for a career change.

I told Julie to just try and become better at what you do, to go the extra mile, and see what happens.

Having read my story, Julie said that she could see that there can be life again now that she’s bankrupt and out of debt and so can get back on her feet and on with her life.

Whilst an earlier email had said…. ‘I think I owe you my life” a later one said ….’I must admit that there were many times I thought that suicide was my only option……….until I came in contact with you, and your quiet voice and reason saved me, and I feel more confident now than I have for a long time, and I know I am going to be better, happier and more successful than I have ever been’.

I responded ……Thanks Julie, I do get emails as frank as this from time to time.

It’s not unusual to find somebody writing or telling me and Steve that their thoughts have led them to a very dark places. After reading my website they often say thank you, now they can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

On another occasion, in the early whiteboard days, I had just shown a lady how bankruptcy would cancel her debt as far as she was concerned, that the never ending debt collectors’ assaults by phone would stop, that her car and furniture were safe, that her part time job income and other benefits were going to stay hers, in full, and so on.

As I was packing up she started to charge towards me.  Now she was a big lady so, a bit surprised, I said ‘what’s wrong?’  She replied ‘nothing, I just wanted to give you hug you because you have just saved my life’.

Although one of my Google ad says Bankruptcy Saves Lives, another chap put an interesting slant on it.  He said…. ‘Fred, I was never going to jump under a bus but what I saw after reading your ad about bankruptcy is that you have saved my financial life.  Before this I thought that my financial life was finished, but I now realise that that’s not true.  You’ve saved my life’.

In all of the worry about going bankrupt and what’s going to happen, don’t overlook that luck can step in at some point in the years ahead.  From my observation of life, it  often does.

Luck can be from meeting somebody that you don’t know right now.  I think that after I went bankrupt I had some of this sort of luck, and some of it was when I received a telephone call out of the blue from Alan Nicholls, then Nic Crouch, and then Brett Davies, and when Tim Millward rode up and when I started working again with Helen Millward.

Luck can also be from meeting somebody who inspires you, who without them necessarily knowing it they lift you up and take you to another level.

But what I believe most is that you can also make your own luck.  There’s a saying, ‘Go the extra mile’.  Well, do it and see what it brings, see how long it takes you to get lucky.

I think that in one way or another I can say that all of the above has happened to me since I went into bankruptcy, and I’ve also learnt something else, and it’s that going into bankruptcy will probably save your sanity, trying to keep going with unmanageable debt won’t.

 

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Life goes on and life continues to be great.

I’m happy and doing my best to stay healthy.

Here I am (on the left in the pink shirt) with a mate and old business partner from the Appleton Rhodes & Co days in Sydney.

We had only seen each other about once in the last 10 years or so, so as I was up on the Gold Coast seeing family he invited me to go to the races with him.

Thanks for reading this far and I hope it has been interesting and ultimately has been helpful.

All the best,

fred

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