The widower who walked his way into Sydney hearts and history
ALAN WADDELL nominated Lethbridge Park, Glendenning and Oakhurst as Sydney’s friendliest suburbs – at least, the friendliest of the 284 suburbs in which he walked every street and lane during the last six years of his long life. People in those suburbs most wanted to meet and greet him and invite him into their homes for a drink.
And the most dangerous place? Well, it was hard for Waddell to judge because in the 5000 kilometres he walked, from Dangar Island in the north to Maianbar in the south and Regentville on the Nepean River in the west, he never felt in danger. Dangar Island was his favourite and Newington the cleanest.
Alan Waddell, who has died at 94, was born at Hurstville, the only child of Mossman and Tirzah Waddell. His grandfather was a Methodist minister and his parents were strict Methodists. Alan’s Sundays consisted of Sunday school and church in the morning, visiting his grandparents’ graves at Woronora Cemetery in the afternoon and church again at night.
Theatre, dancing, gambling, alcohol and card-playing were banned all week, although Waddell confessed later that he had played cards with young friends while his mother and father were away. The family did not have a car until he was 18 so he walked a lot to visit friends, often four or five kilometres away.
After graduating from Sydney Boys High during the Great Depression, he became an office boy in an accounting firm. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1939, topping the state in the final exams, and later as a chartered secretary.
Rejected for overseas army service because of flat feet, Waddell served in World War II as an ordnance sergeant in Sydney. When he married Marjorie Hume in 1942, his major granted him three nights’ leave for their honeymoon.
Marjorie Waddell is descended from Hamilton Hume, the explorer who discovered the Murray River with William Hovell. Her father was R. T. Ball, a NSW minister for public works who turned the first sod in preparation for the building of the Harbour Bridge.
On their first night back in Sydney, Japanese midget submarines entered the harbour and the newlyweds had to take shelter under a staircase when shells were fired over Rose Bay.
The Waddells had three sons born in the 1940s and lived all 60 years of their marriage in Lane Cove and Longueville. Alan served many local school and community organisations as treasurer, including Longueville Tennis Club, where he played and became a life member. He was awarded Lane Cove’s millennium award for seniors.
After their sons finished school, the Waddells visited more than 80 countries, walking a good deal.
After Majorie’s death in 2002, when Alan was 88, he began walking up to two hours every day. Doctors had advised him that, with aneurisms in both legs, he faced amputation if he did not exercise.
He did not set out to walk every street in every suburb, but the more he walked, the more strange streets he sought.
A relative would drive him to his starting point and pick him up afterwards. He would cross every street name off a list as he went.
If the walking became obsessive, it was a magnificent obsession. He did it because of his health and because he so enjoyed meeting people.
As news of his endeavours spread, he set up a website, www.walksydneystreets.net, and received thousands of emails, including many from people saying he had inspired them to take up walking.
He overcame his fear of public speaking to appear on TV, radio and in schools, and helped launch the Heart Foundation’s Walk for Life campaign.
He wrote to the Herald: “I would like to encourage others who have been in the senior category for many years to consider a Vietnam holiday. Anyone who can still walk around the block and attempt the Herald’s crossword should feel confident of coping easily.”
His left hip was replaced 16 years ago. After his right hip wore out, he had that replaced only two months ago, and resumed walking. Even a week before he died he was struggling to get out of his bed to walk.
Alan and Marjorie Waddell are survived by their sons, John, Graham and David; grandchildren, Lisa and Justin, and great-grandson, Liam.
Source: Ian Pollard and Tony Stephens, ‘The widower who walked his way into Sydney hearts and history’, The Sydney Morning Herald, September 12, 2008. Photography from Walk Sydney Streets website, ‘www.walksydneystreets.net‘.