March 16th 2007
Alan "Magoo" Priddle
While we are in recess we continue our series of special articles published in print before we went online to become magnetictimes.com. This one from 1998 is about another unusual Island character.
You might have seen Alan "Magoo" Priddle puttering about the island in an elderly Datsun 1000. He makes a curious, lepricornish sight. Getting on in years, he's a stalwart of the Picnic Bay Pub and stands out with his long flowing silver beard reminiscent of Father Time himself.
Many Islanders know Magoo - whose short sightedness and amusing mumbling, chuckling, voice make him a dead ringer for the cartoon character - as a pianist, house painter, artist-cum-signwriter, nudist and sailor. Well, at least one of the above! But who is this fellow who could be a walk-on hermit for Monty Python, or the character who is stranded in all those desert island cartoons?
Alan Priddle was born in 1938 in Melbourne. Alan's mum died when he was only twelve months old so he was raised as an only child mostly by step mothers and housekeepers. Alan's dad, also an Alan, was mostly away, painting branches of the National Bank across Victoria.
Alan was always late for school. Having ridden his bike 15 miles to choir practice each morning, he would miss maths - which remains still largely a mystery to him. Choir practice as a boy soprano at St Paul's Cathederal led to piano lessons under the choir and organ master Lance Hardy. He attended Caufield Grammar School until he was thirteen at which time he was able to switch to attend Melbourne Tech and study commercial art, learning lettering and other skills.
Unlike most knock-about teenagers of his day Alan was a passionate devotee of Chopin and Franz Liszt, having maintained his piano lessons at the conservatorium for many years.
In 1959 Alan's father died and left him some money. Alan's itchy feet needed little encouragement and he was soon on his way to Cairo then on the England where, like many talented Australians, including Rolf Harris, who Alan met at the time, he foundsome digs in Earl's Court. He picked up jobs which at one stage included packing bibles for the Methodist Mission.
In an attempt to return to Australia Alan set out overland through many countries, which are today, just a tad too scary but, in the 1960s were still relatively accessible. Alan travelled over the Kyber Pass in Afganistan and eventually rolled into Singapore, penniless, on the back of a cordial truck. Fortunately he had an old pal who put him up until he was repatriated back to Darwin.
Alan soon found work at the Rum Jungle, uranium mine, where he worked to pay off his repatriation fare. He then took a big liking to Darwin and Northern Australia where he painted houses and murals.
Later, on a trip south, Alan stopped at Townsville and visited Magnetic Island to make a memorable contribution to the Island's waggish laid-back charater and identity. This was by painting first polka dot bikini onto the original bikini tree at the Arcadia Pub (now Magnums) . His murals are found across the Island including at the Picnic Bay Pub.
In 1974, however, Alan moved to Mt Tom Price in Western Australia where he worked as a maintenance painter and window glazer. Somehow he lasted ten years in that environment - where the daily temperature hung around 40 degrees C. The well-paid work enabled Alan to travel extensively. One destination being the US where he, "showed the patrons of the Lexington Hotel how Waltzing Matilda was really played." Beside his piano at his home in Picnic Bay, he lauches into a few vigorous bars of the famous song to make his point.
By 1983 Alan had returned to Maggie to sell some paintings and play piano at the Picnic Bay and Arcadia pubs. Picking up work where he could, he painted everything from roofs to coconuts, murals and canvases: all with a maritime theme.
Alan loves boats but it is doubtful if boats love Alan. He has sunk three since being on Magnetic.. One such episode saw Alan written up in the Picture Magazine with a headline which ran, "Hero Grundies save sailor's arse". You see Alan's other love is the all-over tan. An enthusiastic nudist, Alan loves nothing more than a bit of a nude sail with his paint, brushes and canvas plus a couple of snifters. On one such occasion he was well on his way to Cape Cleveland (About 16 Kms from Magnetic) when a 40 knot wind came out of nowhere and promptly sunk the boat. All he could salvage were his undieswhich happened to float by. The afternoon was already advanced and Alan, then aged 54, began a five two hour five mile swim. His only hope was to reach the shipping lane marker pylon. This he managed, but it was getting dark and Alan was by now half frozen in the July waters. By sheer good fortune the Arcadia barge was making a totally unscheduled trip and, in the fading light, Alan began to wave his undies frantically for help. The view from on board the barge must have been curious, a naked man clinging to an oyster encrusted shipping pylon, swinging everything he had to atract attention. We understand that it was Alan's jocks which caught the eye of his recuers who then came promptly to his aid.
Magoo, dressed for the occasion, reflects on his lucky rescue from the waters of Cleveland Bay (behind).
Alan certainly hasn't given up on sailing nor, it seems, nudity. He recounts another tale where some friends left him behind swimming at Rocky Bay. Inadvertently they took his clothes with them and when Alan emerged he had to find his way over the hill, crouching behind boulders as cars approached - his only garment now being a piece of low slung seaweed.
Life on the Island seems fairly idyllic for Magoo. He has his many mates, the piano is downstairs, the pub just down the road, the sun shines mostly and there is always the option of a quiet nude sail on the bay.
Story and photos: George Hirst
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