the meaning of cars

rainbow beach sunset

Pat, our 1989 Nissan Patrol is a wonderful car. Like so many objects, it means more to us than its commercial value (not much!) because of the memories and associations. Over this weekend, Pat took us north across lush green countryside and through the Great Sandy National Park towards Fraser Island. Our stop this weekend was Rainbow Beach.

The clear blue skies against the vivid greens and the coloured sands on the cliffs in Rainbow Bay and also as the back drop to soothing sunsets on the beach, were strangely comforting. Perhaps because there have been so many grey skies this year on the Sunshine Coast. The windows-down driving through curvy national park roads, the familiar sound of the ‘old’ car doors slamming behind beach weary bodies, the untidy piles of bags, and weekend away stuff in the back … all better than the descriptions could possibly convey. We love you Pat.

For us, the weekend was amazing. To be able to decide on the spur of the moment to go away for a perfect-ish weekend to such an awesome spot (at its best with cloudless days and slight offshore breezes rendering the expansive bay as a shimmering millpond all weekend) is fantasy living really.

But things don’t always go well and they didn’t for some blokes we met while there. If you’d followed our social media updates you will have seen the heartbreaking images of two 4WDs getting stuck in soft sand and then slowly and painfully getting swallowed by the incoming tide. I have no reason to believe these two vehicles meant any less to the two owners, than Pat means to us. Added to that, the near new Hilux could have bought a couple of truck loads of Pats.

A simple fateful decision can lead to heart shattering consequences. I’m sure both men wish they could rewind to that pivotal moment when they pulled their vehicles beside each other on the beach and discussed whether to try to get around the rocks. It reminded me that a regretful decision is always only a moment away. Life is vulnerable.

So, what does this mean? As I reflect on the fabulous weekend we’ve just enjoyed, it again reminded me to make the most of every day. The privileges of life that offer freedom and choice can never be taken for granted. As we wondered on Thursday, whether to do the ‘easy’ thing and have a weekend at home (nothing wrong with that) or put in a bit of effort and spend a few extra dollars to see a different corner of this beautiful land, we again ended up at ‘why not?’. Not an ounce of regret. While Pat is still with us, we’ll stack the memories as high as we can.

Interestingly though, and importantly really, the pleasure of the weekend does not come purely from the weekend. Tomorrow morning I embark on a month of work effort that, if I achieve what I hope to in collaboration with others, will make a significant difference to tens of thousands of people who currently live with completely unacceptable levels of poverty. Today was rich because of tomorrow. Or maybe, today without tomorrow would be hollow. Or something like that …

Satisfaction in life does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, but from harmonising a meaningful positive contribution to the lives of others, and our own enjoyment of this extraordinarily beautiful world.

‘Why not?’ lifestyle


There is so much beauty and goodness in the world to be experienced. But our choices and attitudes rob us of opportunities to participate fully in life; we get stuck in ruts of our own making.

It’s one thing to live with carefree abandon and adventure when you are single and young. But we have four kids, a mortgage and a picket fence. So how did we break out of the urban professional rut without opting out completely? Everyone has heard the proverbial wisdom about people on their deathbeds not wishing they’d spent more time at work. But not everyone makes decisions to ensure they get to the end with no regrets. We’re giving it a go.

For us, living well and fully is not about hedonism or an addiction to experience. We have found that deep satisfaction comes from harmonising, and integrating into normal living, three things: pleasure, goodness and meaning. Pleasure celebrates the beauty of the physical world, what we see, hear, touch, feel and smell. Goodness has two parts; commitments firstly to wholesome and ethical living and secondly to lifelong learning, becoming a better person.

However, the deepest satisfaction comes when we give and make meaningful contributions to the welfare of others. Pleasure and goodness alone are insufficient for the highest, most exhilarating form of living … meaning generated through service is fundamental. Most socially intelligent people realize this eventually, but many people pursue pleasure and goodness for decades before stumbling on the paradox that ‘giving back’ rarely happens if we wait until we think we can afford it.

Our human inclinations toward pleasure, goodness and meaning are strong, but the often self-imposed obstacles can be substantial. Welcome to a journey, where our response to these inclinations is a simple question, ‘why not’?

Some background

  • Maria’s same-age cousin Darryn was the archetypal Aussie male; friendly, adventurous and a bit maverick.  At age 40 he got motor neuron disease. We attended his funeral in June 2010 after a tragic and heart wrenching physical decline. Maria knew it could just as easily have been her.
  • Our daughter Heidi, and her long time friend Glenn were destined to be together. Heidi was deeply happy as they set themselves toward a long relationship. Then on a fateful day in September 2010, Heidi received the call that changed our family forever. The skydiving plane carrying Glenn and 8 others crashed soon after take-off on New Zealand’s Fox Glacier. There were no survivors. For the first time we knew in our bones that sometimes things don’t work out OK.
  • My parents did their best to protect my fair skin from the sun during my childhood. But in Australia in the 70’s sunburn was part of every summer. Three cancers including two malignant melanomas later, I have a constant sense of this dark, secretive poison playing hide and seek in my body. Not to find it will be fatal.

Live with no regrets. Live every month as if it was our last in this season. Savour the moment.

  • It has helped us that we lived for many years on a very low and variable income. My job in the NFP sector and our decision that Maria remain at home when the children were young meant we raised our family hand to mouth. But we were happy and lacked nothing that mattered. That experience means that we have never taken money for granted. We have enjoyed a more conventional income in recent years but know we could forfeit it and live on much less if we chose to or had to. We gratefully take nothing for granted.

It’s not about money. Practise contentment not envy. Pursue dreams and passions

  • Like hundreds of thousands of others, we fantasised about travelling around Australia in a caravan. But that wasn’t enough. Because if you press pause on ‘real life’, even for twelve months, you still have to go back. So we thought about how to integrate what we wanted to experience into our regular living. We did buy a caravan, but instead of disappearing for one year, we’ve lived in it for three months every year, usually in three-five week blocks. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made.
  • Instead of waiting to retire near the coast, we left our home of 20 years in inner city Melbourne and moved to our fantasy location on the Sunshine Coast. This meant leaving our three adult children in Melbourne and relocating our 14 year old daughter into a brand new life. It means an insane travel schedule for me, working either in Port Moresby or Melbourne during the week, and home for three or four day weekends. I have a car in Andrew’s Airport Parking every day; either in Brisbane or Melbourne. Insane, costly and fabulous.

There are always options, we are not stuck. Choices have associated consequences, so either embrace the consequences and get on with it, or be content with the status quo.

(Have also added this as a static page.)