Robert Warring was born in 1953 in
Auckland New Zealand. He grew up in a yachting family where his love of the sea
began and from where he acquired his sense of adventure, being encouraged by the
exploits and blue water sailing experiences of his equally adventurous parents.
completed a boat‑building apprenticeship and then found himself as a prawn
fisherman in Northern Australia, the beginning of his life of incidents and
observations culminating in an enlightening involvement with a world-renowned
marine environmental operation. This is his first book.
He lives near the rainforest village of Kuranda in far North Queensland Australia.
This book is inspired by, and dedicated to the memory of Sir Peter Blake, K.B.E whose loving energy continues to work its magic for those of us who were lucky enough to spend time in his company.
Almost every one of us has a story, which goes something like this:
“Where we lived there was a creek that ran through a large vacant area of raupo and flax swamp, backing on to the garden of our family home. The semi-dry swamp was home to the local native birds, insects and plants, and although we, as kids didn’t realise it at the time, the whole system was just quietly getting on with the job of keeping the surrounding environment healthy: filtering the water, sheltering the birds and insects and generally keeping the place smelling sweetly. The creek carried on to the mangrove mud flats, which in their turn, played host as nursery to the myriad juvenile saltwater creatures while they developed, matured and then headed out to sea.
warm summer months we, the neighbourhood kids, used to roam this little
wilderness, swim in the creek and explore its length in our homemade tin canoes.
A few of the local residents would set their crab pots among the mangroves, and
my father would leave from the creek mouth in his dinghy and ‘seagull’
outboard with us kids in our life jackets, motor out to his ‘secret pozzie’
and catch a couple of pan sized snappers for Mum to gut, gill, fillet and cook
when we got home.
“Twenty years later I went back, as we sometimes do, to revisit old child-hood haunts, take a walk through the long grass and bring back pleasant summertime memories of buzzing insects, warm late afternoons and cross mothers waiting on the back stairs with the wooden spoon ‘cause we were late coming home.
“Now, where there had been native wilderness and open space, it was all urban development. The creek had become a concrete-lined drain, which took away the run-off from the industrial estate further upstream. The water in the drain was foamy, glutinous and ‘all the colours of the rainbow’, and it ended it’s sluggish journey dirtying up the waterlines of the boats sitting in the recently developed marina that used to be the mangrove mud flats.
“The place where my friends and I were raised was gone. Populated, polluted, defiled and unrecognisable. Nothing left now except for a tiny area of turf with a ‘council approved’, and unused, set of swings and slides for the next generation of local kids.
“I was overwhelmed by a feeling of loss and sadness, and imagined the cynical comments of justification from the people responsible for this … change. It would be, and always is, ‘Ah well, that’s progress …’”
In the dealings I’ve had with the many people that have come and gone in my life I’ve heard this story or variations of it so many times, volumes could be written. It’s indicative of the creeping, often invisible damage being done to the planet by an exploding population, and faceless global corporations who seem to have the smarts to be able to take advantage of, and perpetuate an insidious mentality of denial, which in turn fuels the myth of endless growth and the capitalist war cry, “Consume at all costs”.
This is my attempt at sharing some of my experiences and gathered wisdoms, and have a bit of fun at the same time as I’ve navigated my way through this material and moral minefield called ‘life’. Let’s see where it leads.
I left the family home at a fairly young age. It was the time of the hippie movement, and a generation of kids influenced by the Woodstock rock festival, the Easy Riders movie and a book by James Mitchener called ‘The Drifters’. This new ‘culture’ spelled freedom from stifling convention for the youth of the day, and anger, anguish and grief for confused parents.
So kids escaped the family home in droves to have their experiences with free love and rock ’n roll music, and to experiment with the new generation of stimulants other than booze.
I was no different from others of the time, and managed to cause my share of dramas in the family before I bolted and made my way, as we all did, through this minefield of youthful self-discovery. Great times they were, with grand hopes of world peace, global sharing of resources and an evolving international youth movement that naively thought it could make a difference and bring about positive change.
The musicians of the time, like Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, John Lennon and Joan Baez wrote and sang of world peace, and the importance of living in harmony with the environment. It was a time of great hope for the young people, many of whom left their fears behind and set off to see the world, broaden their life’s experience, make new friends, learn from the many diverse cultures and see what they had to offer.
But it was the free love, drugs, and that youthful naivety that proved the movement’s undoing. It was subtly and cunningly undermined by those bureaucrats in an entrenched and unchanging government system, who had years of training in the kind of subterfuge they’re still practising on each other. They managed to convince a fearful public that the young people of the day were irresponsible, evil and, well, downright silly with their immoral and disrespectful attitude to convention and their elders. They weren’t to be trusted.
To this day, I swear it was jealousy on their part. We were getting plenty and they weren’t, and we really did have a feeling of freedom and a cause for which to rally.
Sadly, it became a question of, ‘If you can’t beat them, I suppose we’ll have to join them’ and by the eighties, the dreams and youthful exuberance had been effectively squashed and buried by the false promise of material wealth, ‘greed is good and I gotta have a BMW’; the sweet lie of modern capitalism.
This was the beginning of the Yuppie, ‘consume at all costs’, era which has persisted in one form or another right up to the present time.
I was so convinced of the importance of many of the global, human and environmental issues that became important in the time of the sixties and seventies, that I made a conscious decision early in my life to live as close to those ideals as I could. It has resulted in a life I wouldn’t have missed for quids. And shock, horror, the issues that were raised then are just as important and urgent, if not more so, as they were when we were trying to bring them to the attention of an apathetic, comfortable, fearful public which is still in denial after all these years.
And I’m happy to say there are many others who brought those gems with them and have been just quietly living their lives as examples, and passing their wisdom on to their kids. There’s now no denying that things have to be done. Major social and environmental issues on a global scale have to be addressed if we are to survive with any quality of life for everyone on this planet. I believe that embracing the ideal of plain human decency can heal a lot of these issues. As Morgan Freeman once said in one of his movies, ‘Be decent, just… be… decent.’
So I left home, lived semi-communally as young people still do today, and indulged in all the recreational pursuits of the day. I even managed to muddle through most of a boat building apprenticeship and kept my interest in the local yachting scene, owning my own boat and crewing on some of the prestigious ocean racing yachts of the time.
But in the end, it all became too much. My friends were out making big money, working labouring jobs, generally having a good time, and I was stuck in a low paid apprenticeship commitment. I yearned for something different. It was the ‘freedom thing’ that many of the rock bands were singing about at the time. As Christmas approached, I planned my escape. I had a friend in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, and organised to stay with him if I could organise a flight over from Auckland. I sneaked all my tools out of the work shop, left them with a friend, bought a one way ticket to Sydney, Australia for $99.10, and left four days before Christmas, telling no-one, not even my parents, that I’d flown the coop.
Rushcutters Bay in Sydney was close to the Sydney to Hobart yacht racing action, and of course I had to go down and have a look at the boats, many of which were from New Zealand and crewed by guys I knew.
It was inevitable really, that, as soon as my friends saw me on the jetty, the word went out that I was around, and before I knew it, I was on a one tonner called ‘Runaway’ as for’ard hand, on my way to Hobart.
It was a great race to Hobart and an even greater party time when we arrived. My friends asked me when I was going home, and when I said I wasn’t, they went into a spin.
“What about your apprenticeship?” they said.
“What about your future and your responsibilities?” they asked.
Some were incredulous and disappointed, tut tutting at me, and trying to shame me into ‘doing the right thing’, but I’d caught the freedom bug and no one was going to talk me out of my big adventure. I didn’t ring my parents, my boss, anyone.
I thought, ‘I’ll just let my friends get the
word back that Rob’s done a runner, and God knows what he’s doing or where
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