EVERYONE remembers the smile and the bear hug. Artist, sand sculptor, writer, photographer Ricardo Alves-Ferreira left his mark on Bass Coast in many ways but most of all with his exuberance and warmth.
Ricardo died on January 13 at the age of 59. Guests at his funeral, held at the Penguin Parade on Friday, were invited to wear colourful clothes in memory of a citizen who brightened the lives of many, including some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
Ricardo had his first heart attack at 37. It did nothing to stop his headlong pursuit of everything life had to offer. His friends and colleagues recall an original who inspired others to be true to themselves.
For 15 years he was a member of the a contemporary dance company, the Pirra Dance Ensemble, before finding his way to Bass Coast in 1998 and a job at the council as customer services manager. At first he worked on the front desk but perhaps his brightly coloured waistcoat was a little too exuberant for the more cautious locals and he eventually disappeared to the back rooms.
After a heart attack, aged 37, Ricardo retrained as a diversional therapist and worked for 13 years at Wonthaggi Hospital’s Garnham House, running a day care program for seniors and people with acquired brain injury.
His colleagues recall a man who spread his love of life and exuberance. He organised expeditions to the opera in Melbourne, to ten pin bowling alleys, to dances, to the beach, to dinner. Or they’d stay home and fold paper planes or learn the tango. Where Ricardo was, there was always laughter and exuberance.
Long-time friend Richard Kentwell first met him in the late 1990s when Richard ran a dance/movement workshop at the local education centre. Ricardo was the only one who turned up but they went ahead with the class anyway.
“I was interested in the interaction of bodies. Somehow we ended up semi-naked, entwined and rolling around the floor together. He wasn’t sure if I was gay, but because he had that sort of Latin love of everyone, it wouldn’t have mattered if I was.”
From that time on, they were friends, even if they didn’t see each other for years at a time. “He was very physical. Whenever I met him, he’d say ‘Ricardo!’ and open his arms and give me a hug. He was someone you could love, that a man could love.”
He recalls a man who didn’t care so much about the rules. ”He would push the boundaries to achieve what he wanted for ‘his oldies’. He had so much chutzpah, he could carry it off. He had an incredible self- belief, which can be irritating, of course, but also he had that mischievous twinkle in his eye that said I’m aware of it.”
In an interview with Gill Heal in 2013, he described himself as “a third-culture kid”. There was his Latin personality – outgoing, tactile, flamboyant – his European reserve and a third element that was fulfilled by his new life as an internationally acclaimed sand sculptor, travelling the world and creating temporary masterpieces.
He told Gill: “Even though I travel every year for at least two months of the year and visit about six countries, I always feel I’m coming home when I return to Australia ... to the luxury of the space we have. It’s our greatest treasure. The sky is so big here.”
At his funeral, people of all ages, from people in their 80s to kids, recalled his love of life and his irreverence. Of course there was sadness that he had died too young but also a sense that he was a free spirit who had already packed so much into his life.
He lived in a sort of creative fever. He painted, he sculpted, he danced, he wrote and self-published eight books. But unlike many creative people, he exuded warmth and love.
Kara Landells knew Ricardo since she was a small girl. “I really felt this amazing positive aura whenever I was within 50 metres of him. If I saw him on the beach there was always the big hug, the embrace and the big smile and you just felt amazing. He gave off some really good energy.”
For the past five or six years, Ricardo worked as a ranger at the penguin parade. It’s not a culture that encourages individualism but even there he managed to inject his own brand of humour.
“You know why the penguins walk that way?” he would ask visitors, demonstrating the distinctive penguin shuffle. “It’s because I taught them the salsa.”
Gill Heal: The Charm of the Temporary Masterpiece, February 2, 2013