We met Gary Higgins at his Manley flat (what they call a condominium here) got Zippy put away with his two recumbent, mountain bike, two kayaks, and his Harley Davidson. His garage is a toy box.
We met Gary in Cloncurry in Queensland and rode with him to Mount Isa where we spent a couple of days getting to know him while we all prepared for the more difficult, remote sections of travel ahead. Gary was going to Darwin via Three Points, and we were hoping to to go Alice Springs via the dirt tracks through Urindangi, and the Plenty Highway. We saw him again in Darwin, and kept somewhat in touch as we continued. He met us in Canberra on his Harley and we knew he had lots planned for us when we arrived in Sydney.
The past week is something of a blur. Gary is a very busy guy with lots of must dos for us, and he makes it easy to get out and about to do them all. We had dinner with a friend, Evelyn at her club on Friday, were up early Thursday to take Maggie, Gary’s Dalmatian, for a run on the beach and then went to Manley beach to watch the Double Grand Prix Sprint Triathlon series. The distances are very short and the format is definitely made-for-television. We had expected an iron-man, or at least an Olympic or short course tri, but this was fascinating for the brutal surf they had to swim through. We would have drown! On Sunday we rode to meet a cycling group for coffee on the beach, and Gary’s sister Maree came along. We stopped on the way back to Manly for a swim in the surf. At first the crowds put me off, but I got accustomed to it and just enjoyed diving into each breaking wave, and getting cool for the first time all day. We noticed that Australians, women in particular, are not particularly modest in public, bare breasts are fairly common on the beach. That is easy to get used to, but the fact that so many of them still tan themselves dark chocolate brown was a shocker. I thought people new better. Some of the older people here are so scarred from removal of skin cancers, that I would think everyone would be careful. They are young and immortal I reckon.
On Monday, Claire and I took a ferry to downtown, past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, to visit the Thailand and Malaysian consulates and to book reservations and accommodation with Malaysia Airlines for our return stopover there. We will have from May 2 to May 19 there. We will store Zippy at a hotel and travel by air, bus and train. We have only a few days booked, and will travel independently most of the time. I want to see the Buddhist temples and eat the food. It rained hard downtown and we had to run from awning to awning to Circular Quay.
Tuesday, Gary drove us to the Hunter Valley wine region where we tasted wine and dodged rain. We were going to cycle there, but Gary wanted to ride a couple of days out of town with us, to get accustomed to touring again before his federation ride from Perth to Sydney this fall, and he wanted to hug the coast. It made it easier for us, and less hilly too. Some good wines, but the reds were not as good as those in South Australia, and the area was a bit touristy forour taste.
On Thursday we were invited to sail on Pittwater Bay by Jim Aston, a close mate of Gary’s. It was sunny and hot with a stiff nor-easter to move Jim’s 32 footer along smartly. He let me take the helm for a while and I loved it. I had a hundred questions about handling the sails in different situations, and he answered them all. We got outside the heads for a bit, and the moderate swell made for some fun and showed a good sailboat’s ability to smooth out a rough ride. A lunch of barbeque chicken and salad with a fine chardonnay, then a swim in the buoyant salt water made for a perfect day, something people here in Sydney take for gradated.
About Gary. We enjoyed his company in Queensland, and learned a lot about his life. But, since being on his home turf here in Sydney, we have learned a lot more. Things are on more of a classsystem here than we are accustomed to in America. For example, Gary is a Magpie, meaning he will always barrack for the Magpies, a Rugby League team based on the west side. The meaning goes much deeper though. To be a Magpie also means to be of the working class, or of working class background. “It’s my roots.” He says. His father worked in the abattoir (slaughterhouse) on the west side and was a union man who never trusted the professional people and the rich people, known as silvertails (born with a silver spoon it their mouths). Gary’s brother still lives in the family home, in the shadow of Olympic Village at Homebush. Gary, 55, remembers that they had an icebox instead of refrigerator, and the ice wagon came by weekly, the milk wagon called and you went out with your container to buy milk, and the same with the baker. In those days he had miles and miles of bush around him, now dense city, to play in and escape a discordant household. He quit school at age 14 to work, went on to marry a silvertail, start his own business, first building bottling machines, and now hiring them out. His son runs the business for him now so he can play. The silvertail left him and took two-thirds a few years ago, but he is comfortable, and happy, always looking ahead to the next adventure. His friends are just likely to be a solicitor (lawyer) or an architect as working men; he is open to all kinds of people and moves freely between the classes. His flat in Manly is close to shopping and ferries and overlooks the harbour and a small beach. One of the yacht clubs is half a block away. Not a bad life. All it lacks right now is someone compatible to share it with. Soon maybe.
We hope to see Gary in the States this summer. He might be touring for three months on his Harley, or maybe his recumbent. Future Note: He did and we got together in Montana. Gary will leave with us on Monday as we head up the coast toward Cairns, around 3,000 kilometers north. We will continue to go slow, with better than two months we have lots of time to bludge.