Sydney: Confronting Fears


Ok.  Finally got time and space conducive to writing again, so here goes.  I’ve got heaps to catch you up on.

I was up to the end of January, near Australia Day.  The Friday before I’d decided to catch up with some new friends at the beach, as I’d not done much in the way of socialising because I didn’t seem to have any free time.  I was meant to work but had called in ‘sick’ because I was having too much fun and didn’t feel like interrupting that to go to work.  It was the first sick day I’d had, and I figured I was entitled.  I’ve always thought that work is work and you have to have a life and fun, so I didn’t feel bad about it at all.  We’d decided to go to the local pub for dinner, though when they were discussing it they said “Let’s go to the Hilton”.  I looked at my thongs and shorts and said “I’m not going to get in in these clothes..”  They all laughed and explained that the “Hilton” was the local pub and yes, I’d get in without a doubt!

I was hanging out with our trainer Dan, and a few of his friends.  They were the sort of guys who you felt instantly comfortable with.  They lived in an apartment block that reminded me of Melrose Place, where everyone knew everyone, they all left their doors open, and if you went to visit one and he wasn’t home, you’d simply go next door and you were bound to find him hanging out with the others.  I’d lacked any sort of social connection to a group of people since arriving in NSW, so I planned to hang onto this one, a decision made easier by the fact that I was invited to come over any time and just hang out!  I was having an awesome day and was starting to relax and really feel happy – the first time I’d felt so relaxed since leaving Vic Pol.

However, my relaxed state may have been too great, for as we headed off to the pub I was chatting away and wasn’t watching where I was walking and I tripped down a step and twisted my ankle.  Damn it!  I had three climbs on the next day, and I desperately needed the work – and with Australia Day on the Monday it meant double time and I certainly wasn’t going to miss that!   Adam carried me all the way to the pub and I propped my ankle up on a chair with some ice that was kindly donated by the bar manager – he was very receptive when I informed him that I twisted my ankle before arriving at the pub!  We had a good night, and I was kindly piggy-backed all the way back to Adam’s house that night.  I got a lift into work in the morning, with all intentions of pushing through the three climbs, even though my ankle had swollen to a cankle (for those of you who haven’t heard the term cankle before, it’s huge, when there is no distinguishable ankle left!)  I arrived at work, hobbled up to the ops desk and the senior on duty, Norm, took one look at me and said “You’re not climbing”.  What??  I’d planned to use the handrails along the bridge to support my weight, and just get through it.  Admittedly I was in a lot of pain, but I didn’t want to take pain killers for fear of doing more damage to my foot by not feeling where it was sore.  I had to work!  But Norm was adamant I wasn’t climbing.  He offered me three hours of desk work, and then sent me home.  I had a day off on the Sunday, and I figured I’d be right to climb again on the Monday – Australia Day.

My plans were soon thwarted when I was informed that I’d need a doctor’s certificate to allow me to work again – what?  I’d never heard of such a thing!  I’d always used doctors to get out of work, not as a tool for going to work!  And being a public holiday there was no way I was going to get into see a doctor without paying a fortune.  Besides, as I found out on the Monday, I still wasn’t walking properly so no doctor would have cleared me for work.  I was really starting to worry because I’d forgotten that I was part time and had sick leave I could take!  Ah, what a relief when Dan suggested I claim it.  I put in for all my sick leave (why not, when else am I actually going to get to use it?), and I got paid double time for Australia Day!!  I thought they’d stuffed up, but I found out that in the work agreement there is some rule that if you’ve worked three of the previous four same days before a public holiday (ie, three of the previous four Mondays for Australia Day) and you don’t work the public holiday, you get paid seven hours anyway!  Or if you work one climb on the public holiday (3.5 hours) you get paid for nine hours, and if you work two climbs (7 hours) you get paid for 14!  Sweet!

It was at the end of January that I had a visit from a few friends.  Linda flew down from Queensland to climb with her friend in Sydney.  I’d already taken a young English couple up on the bridge who I met at the pub the night I did my ankle – we’d gotten talking about the bridge and I gave them my number and told them to call me for a discount if they wanted to climb – and they did!  I love random meetings like that.  They bought me dinner at the pub afterwards as a thank you!  So by the time Linda climbed I wasn’t so nervous about having someone up there that I knew, and I had fun.  It was a miserable day weather wise on the day the girls climbed, but turned out to be nice by the time they were up there which was a bonus!  The problem with booking in advance is that you don’t know what the weather will be like, so you’ve gotta cross your fingers and just hope for the best!  Since then I’ve met an Irish couple on the bus one night who later climbed with me for their 20th wedding anniversary, and I’ve got a few more friends coming up to climb at the end of May! Awesome!  I figure I’ll stay employed on the bridge as long as I can, just doing a few climbs a fortnight to give people the opportunity of the discount if they want to climb.  Once I’m gone, I’m gone and won’t be back to work on the bridge, so take up the offer now!

I’ve met a few people on the bridge who you go out for a drink or dinner with afterwards, and the day the girls climbed there were two American guys on the climb with them.  They all started talking, and the guys were at the pub later when I went up to meet them.  We all got along really well, so decided to meet up the next night and go out for dinner.  We had fun and since the guys wouldn’t let us pay for anything it was a very cheap night!  They were amused by the names of some of the alcoholic shots we have here, and we got to try a few different ones because they were keen to order them at the bar and amazed at the emotionless reaction from the bar staff.  They said that if they ordered shots with those names back home they’d have been guaranteed to get a slap in the face!  Funny times.

I was feeling more free than I had in a while, and I realised it was three months since I’d left the police.  I think it took me three months to really get out of the negative mindset and to just relax and have fun.  I was getting back to my old self.  I was really enjoying my time on the bridge, and had relaxed so much when I climbed that I felt quite theatrical at times!  What a change for the better.

Now on the bridge you often get people who are scared, and every day there are a few people who just can’t complete the climb because they are too afraid.  I’ve never had someone leave my climb, which is a fact I’m quite proud of, although some come close.  It’s quite usual for someone to arrive at the top of the ladders crying their eyes out because they are so scared, or because they’ve worked themselves up into so much of a state they are near hysterics.  Luckily at the top of the ladders is the eight foot wide solid steel arch and it often makes people feel better just seeing it.  I simply don’t give my climbers the option of going back.  Not that I’d deny them if they wanted to, but I just say to them “You’ll be right, head over there with the others” and when you next speak to them they are fine.  Why leave the climb before the end when you’re going to lose your money and you’ve gotta walk back along the same way you’ve just been anyway??  You might as well finish it with everyone you came with.

One day I had a family up from Tassie, seven of them in total.  Mum, Dad, three kids and two grandparents.  Now I ask a few times when we’re getting everyone ready if they are scared, and to let me know so I can keep an eye on them.  Most people say something, and you can just tell most times anyway, but this lady didn’t say anything.  She was quiet which is not unusual, but she didn’t appear to be particularly worried.  As I put climbers on the line in the tunnel, I ask again for anyone who is nervous to come up the front, but she remained silent.  Their family got on last, which means I had seven other climbers ahead of them.  We started walking and it quickly became obvious she was nervous – so scared in fact that she was nearly walking along with her eyes closed.  My group was coming up the ladders and when she arrived at the top she had tears streaming down her face.  I do feel a little sorry for those people who are so scared, but I was also a little annoyed, as she hadn’t said anything and therefore she’d put herself in the worst position possible by being at the back of the group.  She continued the climb and finished it and was quite proud of herself.

When we got back into the building she turned to me and said “Thank you, I wouldn’t have made it without you!” and gave me a huge hug.  Well my instant reaction was to hug her back, and I kissed her on the neck.  OH NO.  I just kissed a climber, and it was purely accidental!  I straightened up and waited for the abuse, however she was just smiling and didn’t appear to have noticed.  I went downstairs to return my equipment, and told everyone at ops that I’d just accidentally kissed a climber.  “How do you accidentally kiss someone?” was the reply I got, so I demonstrated it.  Think about the number of times you’ve shaken hands with someone even though you didn’t want to, they stick their hand out and yours goes out in an automatic response.  Or when someone says “Nice to have met you” and you reply “You too” even though you might never want to see them again.  It’s conditioned to reply in certain ways.  Well I haven’t been conditioned to kiss people, however I do it with a lot of my friends and it was just an automatic response!  Luckily she didn’t seem to notice, or if she did she didn’t care, so I was off the hook.  Phew, what a close call!

Now in amongst the rain that seemed to classify this summer, we had a few nice days, and Dan and I went snorkeling at Clovelly.  It’s a beautiful little spot, with some marine life protected from the ocean by a narrow inlet.  I’ve not been snorkeling since living on Hayman Island five years ago, and I know that I’m not particularly good at it.  However, never one to be shown up, I agreed to go and told myself that I’d enjoy it.  Well, that may have been a little bit of an overestimation.  I went, and was keen not to show Dan how worried I was, but it was plainly evident.   I wasn’t crying underwater, but the number of minutes that my head was underwater in one stint could have been timed with an egg timer.  Not long.  I wasn’t worried about water coming in the snorkel as there were very few waves, but I couldn’t seem to master the breathing through your mouth only.  I kept trying to breathe through my nose, which, when covered by the goggles/ mask thing, just wouldn’t happen.  I kept trying to suck in air through my nostrils and only got plastic stuck to my nose.

Luckily the water was quite shallow in places, so that after a few minutes of trying to breathe through the tube I could quickly stand up and whip off the goggles, spit out the snorkel and take a gasp of readily available air.  Ahh the luxury of air that you don’t have to fight to get into your lungs!!!  Dan thought this was hilarious, though he was kind enough not to make me feel bad about it.  I was determined to master it though, and not to impinge on his fun.  I tried time and again, and discovered that if I held my nose with one hand it forced me to breathe through my mouth only.  This apparently was even funnier, as I had a hard time not swimming in circles with only one hand to paddle me around.  I was able to keep my head in the water longer this way, but it was still not an effortless task.  I tried to regulate my breathing so as not to panic, but I wasn’t seeing much of the fish around me.  I was exhausted so we got out to dry off in the sun, and I vowed to try again.  The next time we went in was a repeat of the first time, until it just clicked.  I just got it, it all came together and I found I was actually enjoying myself!  I was so excited that I tried to shout to him underwater, forgetting for an instant that I was underwater, which resulted in me getting a mouthful of water and choking!  Geez, I was going well.  I was glad Dan was having some fun, even if it was at my expense!  I set a goal of swimming across to the other side of the area, snorkeling the whole way.  I was half way across and quite proud of myself, when he grabbed my hand and pointed down – there was a blue groper!  Wow, what a cool fish.  It was huge, about the size of my torso, and bright blue with huge lips.  I was so excited you’d have thought I’d won the lottery!

These blue gropers have been protected since 1969, and they grow up to one meter long and can weigh up to 8.5 kgs!  Apparently they also change sex.  They start out as females and change into males later in life.  So a particular blue groper could breed as a female one year and then the next year turn into a male! ‘It is believed that they appear to change sex when they reach a certain size and age, or if the local male is removed from the reef the next biggest female will change to a male. It is also believed that if there is an increase in the female population a female may turn into a male if the threshold between the number of males and females is exceeded’. (Courtesy of  How strange but cool is that?

Well on that interesting fact I’ll send you this email, and start the next one!

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