Published by Pan Macmillan (AUS), 1995.
The good and the great came out alongside the grotty and the grimy for Ian Kiernan’s state memorial service at the Sydney Opera House in November 2018, because “Bicky” mixed with them all. He was a scallywag, no two ways about it, and that’s why so many of us fell under his spell.
I met the great environmental crusader and yachtsman at Sydney’s Cruising Yacht Club in 1986 when 2MMM owner Rod Muir was launching a multi-million dollar assault on world ocean yacht racing with his Spirit of Sydney. Spirit’s first test was to be the singlehanded round-world BOC Challenge, with Sydney-to-Hobart veteran and trans-Pacific sailor Kiernan, known to his mates as “Bicky”, at the helm.
Bicky and I hit it off immediately and became firm friends as I documented his preparation for the race, and a year or so later, after he had finished in sixth place, his assistant Kim McKay phoned me and said that Kiernan was trying to write a book. “He’s no Hemingway,” she said. “We need you to help.”
I jumped at the chance because Bicky wasn’t just a rascally yachtie, he’d made his money as a slum landlord and developer in the middle of Sydney’s vice wars in the ‘70s, gone bust in the credit squeeze, then reinvented himself as a heritage restoration builder. All of this with the rich culture of Sydney sailing as a backdrop. But then the project was stalled because Kiernan had developed a new passion – he was a man of many passions. As he sailed the final leg to Newport, Rhode Island, he’d been shocked at how much rubbish he saw in the ocean. He resolved to clean it up, starting with Sydney Harbour.
Clean Up Sydney Harbour became such a huge community event it begat Clean Up Australia, which in turn begat Clean Up The World. Bicky became an environmental superstar, and in 1994 was named Australian of the Year. Shortly after he had received his award from Prime Minister Paul Keating, HRH Prince Charles was at the podium when a man lunged towards the stage and a shot rang out. Bicky leapt out of his seat and into a full-length dive, rugby-tackling the assailant and pinning him to the ground.
Later that year we finally got around to the book, but the story was so much better! My last taping sessions with Bicky were done as we sailed his yacht, the Maris, back from Tassie after another successful Sydney-to-Hobart race, with a galley full of eggs, bread and copious quantities of Cascade beer. We started in a storm and finished in the doldrums, and we never went thirsty.
Like its subject, Coming Clean is a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a great yarn, and we both put our hearts and souls into it. At Bicky’s wake, I was moved to tears when his daughter Pip told me she read from it at his bedside during her dad’s last days, and the adventure of his life never failed to delight and amuse him.