This is no dream, it’s really wonderland

By Andrew Johnston

Everyone talks about living the dream but ANDREW JOHNSTON caught up with a Disney devotee from downtown Echuca who has discovered Wonderland really exists — and she is part of it.

WALT DISNEY WAS obsessed with dreams.

With good reason, as he would tell people — his incredible empire started with a mouse.

Walt didn’t dream of domination, he dreamt of entertaining people and he wanted to inspire the world.

As Walt would say, “all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”.

Echuca’s Ashlee Shead knows the power of Disney as well as anyone.

She knows everything there is to know about the world of the mouse.

Like many, her fascination began with a videotape of a Disney/Pixar classic.

“The first movie I ever had was Toy Story,” she said.

“I could never stop watching it. I ended up melting the tape and the one we got to replace it. I think we had three copies of the film in the end because I just couldn’t stop watching it.

“The next film I was obsessed with was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was the first full length colour animation film ever made, so it holds a very special place in history.

“With Toy Story being the first fully computer animated future length film, you have two really important pieces of art. Disney played a really important role in taking animation from a niche to being one of the most prominent parts of cinema.”

The 24-year-old could tell you any piece of Disney trivia, quote pretty much any film and knows the parks like the back of her hand — despite having not been to one until the middle of April this year.

But who cares, no big deal — Ashlee wanted more.

She wanted to be where the magic happens.

And almost by accident, Ashlee now finds herself working for Disney as a lifeguard on a cruise ship.

“I had my bronze medallion and had worked as a lifeguard for Wet and Wild while I was living on the Gold Coast,” she said.

“I was applying for jobs recently as Wet and Wild was only a summer job and I saw the opportunity with Disney and thought there was no harm in applying for it.

“I didn’t think too much of it, but then I got an email asking if I could do an online interview. I went through the process and we discovered early on I had applied for the wrong role. I’d applied for a job at Castaway Cay, which is an island. I didn’t have my open water qualification, only my pool one.

“But the company was great; they changed the details and said they would call if they had an opportunity for any of the pool based roles.”

It took a few weeks, but eventually the call came — Ashlee was offered a three month trial contract on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship.

It involved being flown to Disney World in Florida to undertake a week of training, before being moved to the cruise ship to begin work.

After three months, Disney would send her back home, before making a call as to whether they would offer her extended employment.

“I was in shock,” she said.

“I couldn’t believe I was actually going to do this and get to work for Disney.

“Getting to be a part of the Disney magic, it showed me that I could actually achieve things that I wanted to do.”

Ashlee hadn’t had the easiest road — she was diagnosed with dyslexia and having elements of Asperger’s.

“It’s slowed me down at times, particularly in school, but it has never stopped me.

“I’d had my struggles — my careers teacher told me I wasn’t going to make it through Year 12 and family who didn’t think I’d make it through uni, so being able to continue to achieve goals is something I’m really proud of.”

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but Ashlee won’t be dwelling on that.

“The motto of one of the main characters in one of my favourite films, Meet the Robinsons is ‘keep moving forward,’” she said.

It was Walt’s motto in life. “We shouldn’t look back at what has happened; we should always be looking for what we can do next and what step we can take next.”

And Ashlee continues to look forward at her ultimate goal — becoming a Disney imagineer.

“Disney always has an eye out for new imagineers and designers,” she said.

“I read a story about a guy who worked in retail at one of the parks, until someone found his sketch book. He’s now the head Halloween designer for the parks.

“Disney is the kind of company where once you have your foot in the door, you could go anywhere.

“I want to work with props and sets and designing what you see in the films. I’ve done prop work with the Echuca Moama Theatre Company since I was six and have learnt a lot about how to design. I would love the opportunity to put those skills into action for Disney.”

The desire to dream will never change for Ashlee.

As Walt himself would say, “laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever”.

And she will continue to chase her dreams as long as she has the chance.

Certain as the sun rising in the east.