Vicarious vacations 08: Australian outback, 1986

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THEN: Bruce Greeley stands in 1986 beside a kangaroo-crossing road sign ubiquitous in Australia. This photo was taken just after or before his climb to the top of Ululu/Ayers Rock. (Courtesy Bruce Greeley)
NOW: Bruce and Karen’s son, 21-year-old Duncan Greeley, spent a semester in Australia and repeated his father’s photo in 2017 alongside a kangaroo sign. This version, however, was snapped more than 1,800 miles away, near Brisbane. (Courtesy Bruce Greeley)
Australian outback, 1986
‘I was pinching myself, thinking: ‘Wow, this is epic!’ ’
Bruce Greeley
By Jean Sherrard

Now a King County librarian, Bruce Greeley had joined the merchant marine in his early 20s, lured from Seattle by the ocean’s call.

“It was the perfect young person’s gig,” he says. “I had no possessions, no roots, nothing tying me down.” Shipboard jobs might last half a year, followed by months of leave.

Unlike most of his shipmates, Bruce spent free time traveling the world. In 1982, at an exhibit at London’s Marlborough House, he saw a photo that redirected his life.

It portrayed the “mud men” of Papua, New Guinea’s Asaro tribe, whose clay masks, he says, “seemed so alien, like they were extraterrestrial beings. All I could think was: I’ve got to go there.”

After working on American “love boats” cruising the Hawaiian Islands, Bruce headed in 1986 for the “most exotic place in the world.” First came many stops: Fiji, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, then Australia, where his vacation photo was snapped.

For days, he’d hitchhiked across the country in 100-degree heat, bound for Ululu/Ayers Rock, a red sandstone mountain sacred to Australia’s Aborigines.

“I was pinching myself, thinking: wow, this is epic!” he says. “But like all of life’s events, you see it, and it’s gone, and you have to move on.”

His journey wasn’t over. He visited Papua’s “mud men” and met his future wife, Karen. While crossing southeast Asia, he learned he was accepted at the University of Washington to finish his undergraduate degree. Almost 30, he headed home to sink some roots.


Here is a video interview of Bruce Greeley.

VIDEO (13:34):Click the photo to see Bruce Greeley talk of his 1986 trip to the Australian Outback. (Jean Sherrard)

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