Location: New South Wales, Australia
Posted December 2010
I meant to mention in the last chapter that my dog Kelly died Monday,
July 23, 1990. I wrote in my diary at the time: Kelly died today. It
wouldn't have mattered how long she lived, it would never have been long
enough. Kelly, it was fantastic to know you. You were and always will be
my best friend. Love, Gary. PS: I'll miss you like hell.
The following year, after I'd sold the house and moved to Greenwich,
my mother died. She was 84. My father had died back in '79 aged 76, shortly
after I'd moved to 2UE.
In 1995, production of Blue Water Dreaming ceased. Broke and disillusioned,
I moved in with friends for a while but that severely strained the friendship.
Some people don't understand writers. Writers appear to sit for hours at
their keyboard and do nothing. So I was politely asked to vacate. However,
one of my jobs there (as well as back in Canberra) was splitting logs for
firewood. I really enjoyed that job, and learned that the splitter does
most of the work once you master the technique. Maybe there's something
masochistic about splitting logs. Or maybe there's a sense of power and
strength at seeing a solid block of wood succumb to your will. Maybe that
was the kind of satisfaction that Atkinson derived from destroying me.
I'd managed to earn a few freelance dollars and moved into a cheap flat
in Petersham. It was right next door to a large boarding house whose residents
were psychiatric out-patients. They weren't in media or showbiz but they
could have easily fitted in quite nicely. One night, I was woken by screams.
When I went downstairs to investigate, I discovered that two people had
set each other on fire, probably to relieve the boredom.
Meanwhile, I needed bucks so I sold the Kombi for $3000.
My move to Petersham was prompted by a video production studio there,
operated by Richard Swansborough who had done some work for Blue Water
Dreaming. Richard was a professional cameraman and SCUBA diver who specialized
in underwater footage, including wreck diving. He also manufactured underwater
housings for cameras. He used me for voice overs and scripts. The money
was welcome but it was barely enough to keep me going.
My fellow tenants and I received notice that the block of flats had
been sold and was about to be renovated. We were given 30 days to move
out. I had nowhere to go, and a pile of unopened bills on the floor. At
the 11th hour, my neighbor Lindsay, who worked at the boarding house, told
me that he had found a nearby house and invited me to share it with him
and his wife, Sue. No doubt, the fact that I had furniture and appliances
and they didn't, influenced their decision to choose me. The bond and lease
would be taken care of by the boarding house manager, so that suited me
fine. I would pay him my share of the rent. He even organized the hire
of a large truck for the move.
18 months later, we had to move again. The owner of the house wanted
to sell it. I found another flat and we all moved in there. It wasn't easy...
there was a 2% vacancy rate at the time and decent cheap accommodation
was very difficult to find. Nancy was our next door neighbor, a large eccentric
lady with a penchant for huge ostentatious hats. She was known locally
as "the hat lady". She also loved a chat. It got to the stage where I would
listen to her ramblings for maybe 2 minutes and then check my watch. "That's
it! Time's up! That's your quota for today, Nancy." She used to get so
furious she'd go back inside her flat and scream. Actually, it was a sort
of growl-scream combination.
Work was practically non-existent. Almost all my previous colleagues
had vanished. Occasionally, I phoned someone only to get the brush-off.
I learned quickly that once you're branded as a loser, it's a label that
sticks like shit to a blanket. I went on the dole, something I had previously
shunned as the last possible straw, the final nail in the coffin. And it
was. One of the young girls at Centerlink advised me to accept any job
I could get "even cleaning toilets". She had no idea how utterly hurtful
that was, and I'll never forget it.
It was during that time that I met a young bloke online. For the next
4 and a half years we would communicate via email. He was a godsend. His
life became my focus... his trials and triumphs, his relationships with
his friends, his activities such as hiking, swimming and surfing. It all
helped to take my mind off my own problems. To use his own expression,
we became "soul buddies"... the Captain and the Fossil.
Meanwhile, the boarding house was closed down by the authorities. The
boss had been Lindsay and Sue's carer (which I unaware of) so Centerlink
advised me to step into the carer's role and get off the dole. No worries.
I became a legitimate pensioner with a carer's bonus. The pay was pretty
ordinary but it was enough to get by.
In September 2001, we were given 30 days notice to move out. The building
had been sold. The options in Sydney were depressing... another dismal
flat somewhere. So I thought who needs to stay in Sydney? I searched the
web for rental properties in country towns and settled on Taree. It had
a major hospital, airport, railway, good shopping and a pleasant climate.
Nine years later, the rent for this 8-room house with two garages and reverse
cycle a/c is still cheaper than the rent we were paying for a 2-bedroom
dump in Petersham. You see the island in the Manning River on the upper
right? Just above the island you can barely make out Martin Bridge. We
live one block to the left. The little township at the bottom is Tinonee.
Lindsay and Sue had no idea where they were going. I had enough credit
on my Mastercard to organize a removalist and hire a car, a Mitsubishi
Mirage. Sue spent most of the 4-hour trip asleep in the back seat but woke
occasionally to see open fields with cattle and horses. Hehe. But when
we arrived in town, and they saw the house, they were thilled.
By the way, just before we drove away from the flat in Petersham, Nancy
gave me a hug. It was like hugging about 3 people all at once. "You'll
never forget me," she said. And she was right.
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