Location: New South Wales, Australia
Date: 1995-2001

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.


Scrapbook Part 15
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