I GOT my first glimpse of Brad Pickering when walking dogs in the Gurdies Nature Reserve early one morning. He appeared around a curve in the track on this cold late autumn morn, lightly clad, sandals on bare feet, three dogs by his side. A solidly built man with an honest smile.
It was clear that my walking partners and their dogs had met n previous excursions. Bright greetings between the group and a lot of tail-wagging dogs. “Hi, nice to see you again,” everyone seemed to be saying. I was an outsider standing on the fringe of this weekly morning ritual having finally been seduced to leave the comfort of a warm bed.
Now and then when I walk these morning paths I meet up with Brad and his pack of happy dogs. Then I heard a story about this man that made me want to know more.
Brad is a keen wind surfer who came to the sport later in life than most. With some 15 years of surfing behind him he says he is still a beginner. Whenever there is a suitable wind he's off onto the waters of Western Port.
He is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill wind surfer who dips and dives 100 metres or so off the coast line. Brad heads for horizons. Several weeks ago, with a good breeze blowing, he set out from Reef Island, a favourite launching spot.
At a point somewhere between the islands of French and Phillip, the sail mast and board parted company. The currents carried the 3.8 metre board away and Brad was left mid-afternoon a long way from shore with a sail, a life jacket and no wet suit.
"I had a fifty-fifty choice,” Brad said. "I figured I was half way between French and Phillip so I decided to head back to where I had left the car. It was starting to get dark and my only real worry was hypothermia. Normally I wear a wetsuit."
He recalls seeing a man, presumably a farmer, standing alongside a white ute viewing his predicament for at least an hour from a distant hillside. Yet to Brad's knowledge no alarm was raised. I got the impression Brad did not think this was strange or necessary.
"It was dark by the time I got back to land. I figured I was in the water for a good four and a half hours. Then I had to walk back some distance to my car."
I suggested that struggling with the mast and sail must have added to his plight. "It was my best sail,” he said. “I couldn't leave it behind."
He placed a notice in the store at Coronet Bay searching for the missing board and within a month it was recovered and returned after being washed up at Corinella.
Brad is a believer in the “small home, big shed” theory. When I visited him at his Woodleigh house he was busy in one of his sheds working on his latest venture: anodising aluminium to make jewellery. He sells much of his work at local markets.
The Ned Kelly chair combines Brad's woodworking and welding skills.
“Designed and made furniture for about 10 years. I was living at Tambo Upper and sourced red gum and box from the flats around Meerlieu. Had a mate with a Lucas saw who did the milling. I built a kiln to season the timber. Sold the furniture through Melbourne retailers on commission. Before that I did a course in welding and travelled all over the state building yards at abattoirs."
There are impressive displays of his combined wood and welding skills around the house, a two-storey kit home alive with character that was in its framing stage when he and his wife, Jenny, bought the property.
Everywhere you look, inside and out, there is evidence of his artistry and originality. Brad is a man who goes his own way, on sea and land.
Jenny tells me she isn't into water very much which is probably just as well. Someone around here needs to keep their feet dry.
"Behind that door over there," he said with a wave of his hand, “is where I made soap," something he has now left behind to explore other fields. He has also moved on from producing muesli bars and his welding and wood work.
"Never really stayed long on one thing,” he said. “No, that's not quite right. I did a two-year full-time course in wood design at Bairnsdale TAFE, supported myself by driving chook trucks two nights a week. It was a terrific course.