Four years ago, sixty-six-year-old Sunshine Coast man and recovering alcoholic, Richard West, bought an old motorcycle and a single tent. Ten days later he began a solo 16,000-kilometre circumnavigation of Australia. He never explained the real reason why. Not even to Maureen, his second wife.
Richard completed his journey in 46 days. Sure, he wanted an adventure; sure, he raised $6,000 for Beyond Blue. But Richard held the real secret close to his chest. Maureen, called him crazy. He didn’t disagree. But Richard never told his wife about the bottle of Johnnie Walker hidden in his saddlebags – until he wrote IF, his memoir.
‘I had to do it.’ Richard said. ‘I needed to prove I could. And I needed time to reflect.’
Richard’s son and ex-wife were killed in a car crash in 2003. Gabby, his ten-year-old daughter, was trapped in the car. She survived unhurt. Jamie, his eldest son was not in the car. Neither was Richard. ‘I never got over it,’ he said. ‘Seventeen years, and it still feels like yesterday.’ Richard praises his children’s strength. ‘I’m proud of them both. They’ve been through a lot.’
Alcoholism and depression plagued Richard for most of his life but he still carved out a successful job with an American bank. His career took him to overseas postings in Italy, Saudi Arabia and Greece, and business commitments often saw him travel for long periods to America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Alcohol followed in his suitcase.
Richard lived in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War and was later posted to Greece. He survived Saddam Hussein’s scud missile attacks and thought would be safe, until a terrorist rocket destroyed a politician’s car in Syntagma Square – one floor beneath his office.
‘It’s been a crazy life,’ Richard says, ‘I’m lucky to be here. But as an alcoholic, I’ve hurt many people. My regret is significant, but despite the guilt, I now realise I can’t undo what’s done. Maureen blessed my Australian adventure and I just hoped I wouldn’t turn it into a curse.’ Looking back at his epic ride, Richard says his trip was life changing. ‘I discovered it’s the happiness you have today that counts. I learnt to live in the moment. The present tense became my friend, but for years I thought it was my enemy.’
Richard lived life in the fast lane, mostly without brakes, and realises as a functioning alcoholic he was fortunate to have held down his job for as long as he did. ‘I flew Concorde on its supersonic Atlantic crossing twice,’ he says, ‘and the experience was amazing. It’s just a pity I was too drunk to remember the landings.’
Richard wasn’t sure when he knew he wanted to write, but he sealed his fate in a Masters degree of Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. ‘I thought that’s all I needed to do,’ he says, ’but realised after graduation the real work had only just begun.’
‘Writing the memoir was cathartic,’ he says. ‘My manuscript got dumped in the trash many times, only to be resurrected and dusted off months later. It was an emotional roller-coaster. I’m glad it’s finished. Persistence is key, but I couldn’t have done it without Maureen.’ Richard admits this is a clichéd author statement, but he says his wife, a registered nurse, literally and metaphorically saved his life – several times. ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Maureen.’
Richard says he’s thankful to everyone who helped along his writing journey, but now he says he’s full of trepidation. ‘I guess admitting your many failures is hard, and saying the words: “Hi, I’m Richard, and I’m an alcoholic” in an AA meeting is one thing, but telling the world is entirely another.’
Richard will launch If at the Coolum RSL on September 30, 2020 at 6.00 pm (Coolum-Peregian Sub Branch, 1906 David Low Way, Coolum Beach, 4573). A bar service will be available to purchase drinks until 6.30pm and then again at 8pm.
‘IF… a Memoir’ will be published on 10 September 2020 (paperback and eBook) available for order from your local bookstore or directly from Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo or via Richard’s website: www.richardwest.com.au. Take a look at Richard’s gallery – it follows a pictorial timeline similar to his memoir’s narrative. But beware, it contains some disturbing imagery.