Day Fifty Four (17 February)

Day 54 began with a grumpy pre-dawn waking thanks to the bloody rooster relentlessly announcing the coming of dawn.

Regrettably, it was so excited by the idea that it started it’s noisy alert about an hour before the sun first peaked over the horizon.

Giving up on sleep, I stumbled out of my hammock/tarp to the GLORY that is (and may it always be) MAN LAND.

Don’t let my joshing tone make you think I’m taking the piss, it really is like a loud & proud shrine to Aussie bloke-hood, and because of that, I’d enjoyed an evening of mateship, honesty, sharing (and a beer or two).

Old boofhead though, I kept getting their names wrong, for some reason calling this bloke David by the name “Ben” and the other lovely guy (I think?) was Clive, but I might have kept jumping around from Craig and Chris.

Jessie (the young strapper) I remember clearly though, we had a good talk before he headed off for school.

Testosterone levels up.

Manly sharing done.

After a moment of solemn prayer to the El Macho, the God of Manliness, I waved farewell to Manland and hit the frog & toad (road).

The goal was to get to Narooma around midday and see what there was to see, adapt my plan from there.

(As it turns out Narooma was an absolute surreal high point, so glad things happened as they did)

But the morning really was just more miles. Long, drizzly, sometimes hilly miles.

(And maybe one or two friendly smiles)

Thanks to the bit of tellie coverage back before Wollongong, and all the local radio coverage, the South Coast knew I was coming and had embraced me.

It really was such a joy to have people pull up, grin and cheer, come in for a hug, often pressing me with gifts of water or snacks.

After some beautiful country (and slightly sketchy roads), I made it to Narooma.

By this time, I was hustling, because the administration at the local school had written inviting me to come and say G’day to the schoolkids.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was very excited, and as I passed into Narooma, I found myself rushing a little.

Still made time for some hellos, though.

Like this lovely lady, I’m guessing spelled “Laschelle” (I kept joking with her that her name was french for ‘the shell’ because it’s pronounced Le Shell)

A bright ray of sunshine, but as with so many encounters in the walk, I didn’t share as much as I could or should in my haste to move forward, to get where I was going.

I was hurrying through the bayside park when I bumped into her daughter and a friend, as well as some local school teachers, pausing for a quick g’day and some selfies.

I’d also been invited to come to the Harrington Motel, where they were offering to put me up for the night.

Another lovely gesture of kindness and hospitality.

But first, the school !

I did get some video of the school visit, but I wound up having to delete it (privacy/ parental consent issues)

But what an island of joy – not just in the BIG WALK, but in my entire life.

It was so surreal.

The staff lead me into this big hall, and row after row after row of kids start lining up, chatting, laughing, excited pointing.

I’d hear these little murmers amid that kid-babble, stuff like “Look ! It’s Captain AUSTRALIA!”, and I remember one little girl murmuring to her friend “He is so much OLDER than Captain America !” (haha, as if they’d been ripped off somehow)

I spoke earnestly and sincerely, I answered their questions as respectfully as I could .. but I also injected as much humour as possible into the whole thing.

I even seem to remember beat-boxing and rapping a little bit, all the younger kids in the front rows giggling hysterically.

(Captain Australia / Never gonna fail ya / here at Narooma / once I had a tumour / but life is getting better / my favourite cheese is cheddar)

(something like that)

I also deliberately mis-answered questions for comedy, totally random and on-the-spot.

Example, young lady up the back might ask “do you ever feel so tired you just can’t continue ?”

But I answer “Well, if you really made me choose, I reckon Ernie is better than Bert. Ernie is just nicer and kinder, while Bert is a bit grumpy. It’s OK to be grumpy, I love everybody on Sesame Street, but honestly Ernie is my favourite”

That got them giggling too 🙂

But what I loved most was the sincere, eager questions, especially from the little preppies, they were just amazing.

“Captain Australia, where do you POO ?”

“Captain Australia, why is your tummy hanging out ?”

“Captain Austrlaia, my dad knows all about snakes !”

It was just gorgeous and a high point I will always be able to look back on and smile.

And there was this lovely moment when the school captains came forward and presented me with this wonderful cheque they’d designed, for the $350 they’d raised in a gold-coin-donation for The Kids’ Cancer Project.

It’s all smiles in the pictures, and in the joking talk I gave, but there was also an underlying solemnity (for me), a sense of gravity. Even for just that half hour, I had the power to inject something inspiring and bright into a young life.

I could make a child smile.

After a time of horrible suffering and sorrow, of disconnectedness and hopelessness, that was a wonderful gift.

To see that value in the world, in those children, in myself.

It felt like a redemption, like growing a flower from a pile of stinky manure – I know I’m not explaining it very well – but those people were teaching me that an ethical life, a hopeful and positive life was worthwhile – even with cancer, even if I died tomorrow – tremendously worthwhile.

After the school, I wandered through that lovely beach-side town and found the Harrington Motel (and again was met with such waves of warmth and kindness that it was almost overwhelming)

This big burly hunk of man is Adamo, and his mum (Lina, who runs the motel with the rest of her family) raised him right.

The entire family who own/operate the motel are just gorgeous, and the facility itself is great — really fancy !

I had a washer/dryer in the room, and was able to catch up on laundry, and soon learned that Lovely Lina had plans for me – she was going to drive me down to the circus ! (Hudsons)

The circus was phenomenal. I felt like a child again, watching the performers do their magic. I had this family sitting next to me who knew all about Captain Australia, and this little girl who’d grab my arm and tell me all about the exciting bits as they were happening.

It was so much fun, such a joy, and the performers were flat-strap amazing. Loved every minute of it.

Before the show, I had the privilege to meet two amazing people.

The first was Uncle Phil. I couldn’t film it, out of respect, but he had come down to meet me (again) and give me the Ceremonial Welcome to the land of his mob (and others), the Yuin Nation.

He sang to me blessings in the language of his people, and told me about the spirits of his ancestors, in the sea eagle and koori bird that would watch over me.

I want you to understand something that is very important to me – I’m not pandering or talking shit when I say that was a deeply spiritual and moving moment for me.

The absolute mutual respect of it had this tremendous warmth and gravity. The sharing and respecting of culture. I loved it. Adored it.

And I felt safer and welcomed in the long days walking that followed.

Thank you, Uncle Phil.

The second is this delightful dude, Valentino Guseli. A returning Olympiad (snowboarder), he’s a champion in his own right – but he just carries himself with such light and dignity, he was a delight to meet and talk to.

A soft spoken, courteous young man, big hearted and kind.

Thank you, Valentino, it was an honour meeting you, mate, and I’ll be cheering for you when you bring home Gold for Australia in the future.

The circus was great, after that, deep, satisfied sleep.