Wayne John Mclennan

“I have never settled down and as such I’m happy”

I was born into a coalmining town that few left, held by the deeply clannish bonds of a dangerous and glorious industry. They were rewarded with a life of comfort, family, security. I chose to dance to the rhythms of an erratic piper, rarely settling. I have no regrets.


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Rowing to Alaska and Other True Stories

Tent Boxing

Zuivere Zijde

Een Nacht bij de Rivier

Why I started writing

“I have never settled down and as such I’m happy”


It was a hard winter in Estonia in 1998. Snow lay feet thick on the ground for months, trees bent double with its weight. When they cleaned the roads only ice tracks were left. I moved to Estonia with my Dutch wife so that she could write a book. We bought a large wooden house that stood in a bare field and was surrounded by grey, naked pine trees. The house, which had previously been the village school, was badly insulated, letting the icy north winds weave through its cracks as easily as water saturates paper. We drank abundant amounts of Moldavian brandy and Estonia Vodka, lived on fatty sausage, pork, potatoes and cabbage, and I ate blocks and blocks of chocolate, which I have since read is craved by depressed people. Each morning, I crawled from under a great mound of coverings, threw on a heavy full-length coat over my long underwear, pulled on knee-length leather boots, and settled a Russian military fur cap over my head, pulling the flaps down tightly over my ears, and – complaining – ploughed through the snow to the barn at the back of the house to collect firewood for our two massive brick-lined, cast-iron stoves. I then spent the next three hours lighting, banking and nurturing the fires, until the flames had turned to bright glowing embers. Only then could I close off the air vents, confident it would not smoke, and there was enough heat to keep the stovebricks furnace-hot, and so the house warm. In the afternoons, I would split firewood, and then there was always the drinking. When I complained about boredom, my wife told me to write something. ‘You’re always telling stories, write them down,’ she said.

‘But I can’t spell,’ I told her, ‘and besides, I’ve never written anything before.’ ‘Try,’ she said.

And then she reminded me that I had written her six letters, and then I remembered the four I had written my mother. And so I wrote my first story and re-wrote it and then re-wrote it again, and continued. Estonia was the last stop in many years of moving about. I left my homeland Australia for London with a mate when I was twenty-three years old. In Australia, I had worked for three and a half tedious years as a bank teller, I had been a bread carter, a barman, store man, vineyard labourer, and a pro boxer, but not a good one. I hoped the trip would lead to something, although my notion of what that might be was vague. I knew the alternative would be to settle down, but with less than impressive school results, to what? My family had all been coal miners, but the mines were closing down, and mining had never been in my plans. In London, we bought a van and toured Europe, following in the tyre tracks of countless other colonials on their indeterminate romp through the Old World. Our idea had been to return home after six months, but I couldn’t go. I lingered after my mate left, giving myself up to any impulse that would delay my return to Australia. After two and a half years of working on the building sites and in the pubs of London, I moved to Seattle in the States, worked as a tree planter and dishwasher. I cleaned office buildings. I had a boat built, and along with a friend, I rowed it to Alaska. In Alaska I found work on a salmon fishing boat, returned to Australia at the end of the season, but never meant to stay. I was still searching, and besides, something had happened to me, and I could no longer stay happily in one place for any length of time. When I returned to Alaska, I was offered work on a boat fishing king crab in the Aleutians. Rough-weather work, cold and icy, but you could earn thirty-five thousand dollars in a season as a deckhand. Exactly what I needed. My boat ran aground on the way to its northern port of Dutch Harbour, where I was to meet it, and missed the season. I found work in the building trade until the snows and cold closed us down in January, and I headed to Costa Rica.

It had been a National Geographic magazine article that had tempted me south.

I read that it was a democracy, that it had no army, that the girls were beautiful. There were pictures. Nicaragua and El Salvador were at war at the time, Honduras was a military dictatorship. Costa Rica was paradise. There was a gold rush going on, and like a lot of other people, I got caught up in it. I worked in the rivers for more than two years. At times I bought and sold gold, keeping my head at all times, just above water. It was in Costa Rica that I met my Dutch wife, and it was because of her that I moved to Holland with my last $800. But labouring work was plentiful in Amsterdam in those days. We made a trip to Australia later that same year and worked our way slowly around that continent. While my wife wrote, I found good employment in the meat works in Broome in Western Australia’s far north, and was tempted to stay, but it was only the temptation that comes from familiarity, and that wasn’t strong enough to keep me. On our return trip to Amsterdam, I bought samples of silk in China, and found that I had stumbled upon an opportunity. I opened a successful shop, McLennan’s Pure Silk, travelling twice a year to China and Thailand to buy new stock. But then I sold the business because of a panic that comes to most men at a certain time in life, and set off again. I headed back to Costa Rica, but it had changed too much as things always do when looked at through older eyes, and I ended up in Nicaragua. The war had finished, it was a democracy of sorts, I had a boat built, went fishing for a couple of years, got involved with the local boxing, and then it was time for Estonia.

My stories are true. Most of the people mentioned are still mates, and I still see them on a regular basis