Sean Doherty on the Lost Diaries of Peter Troy
Sean Doherty, one-time editor of Tracks, is now a part of Flying Pineapple Media, a collective of authors and photographers based in Torquay. Their latest project is To the Four Corners of the World, the lost journals of Peter Troy OAM. I recently spoke to Sean about the legendary surf explorer and how the book came to fruition...
Swellnet: First up Sean, I've got to question your timing: you've just released a book but Christmas was last month. Sean Doherty: Ha ha...that was amateur hour on our behalf. We fell prey to the vagaries of international freightage. But on the bright side we've got January all to ourselves.
Well I hope it stays on the bestsellers list till December. Yeah, I don't think many books get sold between January and November, so we'll wait and see on that.
To the Four Corners of the World is a lovely book – beautifully presented and printed: How did it come about? It was kind of interesting. I knew Pete for ten years before he passed away. He was an historian with Surfing Australia and I did a bit of work with him there. He was pretty heavily involved in the Hall of Fame awards and I got drafted on as the token grommet to that panel. But I was already well versed in the 'legend of Troy'.
It was funny though 'cause whenever I'd meet him I'd try to pick his brain and eke a story out of him. But he was pretty stodgy, he wouldn't part with many. He'd give you these knowing little looks - knowing that there was a story there to tell but he wouldn't tell it. I found it strange cause the guy had spent so much time embellishing other peoples legacies with Surfworld Museum in Torquay, but he never put any energy into his own story. I kind of wondered why the guy had never put a book together and then when he passed away Libby, his wife, called and said why don't you come up and have a look at some of Petes stuff.
So we went up to her place at Mudjimba and she brought out this clear plastic fish tub, ripped the lid off and it was like Aladdin's cave. The thing just exploded with all these original letters, all these travel journals, these maps that he'd filled in with notes. It was just an incredible treasure trove of original documents, and amongst it all we found this one letter from when he first hit the road in '63 and it was outlining his book. What he was gonna call it, how it was gonna play out, the whole thing. The cunning bastard, it was like he'd already written one. It was all there in that plastic tub. He'd just never got around to publishing it.
It sounds like Peter's book was premeditated, it wasn't something that Brendan (McAloon – editor of To The Four Corners) and yourself had to manufacture, you just had to compile and publish it. Is that correct? Oh yeah, that's all it was. We deliberately tried to keep ourselves out of it as much as possible because there is an authentic, genuine, real story just sitting right there. You read through all the entries and he's written them with the purpose of finding their way into print at some stage. We were just competely blown away that that stuff had just sat in a plastic tub for thirty years.
Surfers are usually so willing to tell their stories and often can't wait to tell people of their good fortune, yet Peter held his tongue. It's pretty impressive, isn't it? Oh, it's unbelievable! We couldn't work it out. We couldn't work out how that stuff had never found its way into print given the propensity of surfers to bullshit and embellish and blow their own trumpet and rewrite their own history. And that was the beautiful thing about finding this little treasure trove. It is surf history. You know, the detail is all there. Because he was an accountant the detail in there is just frightening.
Did you think of him differently once you found this all out? Obviously the respect was always there but did that change in any way when you realised this was all pre-arranged? It added a strange twist to it. Because we were kind of wondering what his motivations were all along. He downplayed his legacy a lot...but, there it all was. Maybe it was part of the masterplan, who knows? But yeah, we were both completely blown away that day. We were just kids in a candy store. Just sitting on Libby's loungeroom floor with these letters from Peter Troy spread out all around us.
As I said, I was reasonably well versed in his story and it was the Nias one that intrigued me because I've been up there a few times. So instantly I've just started digging through looking for the '75 letter where he finds Nias. Over the years that has been turned into the great romantic surf discovery. And I found the letter and it was half a page! It was like 'we rode in on the bikes, found this fun little right'. And that was it! Half a page. The huge romantic story that's rolled out since just wasn't there. Just a tiny matter-of-fact paragraph. It was crazy.
It wasn't such a big deal to him then? At least not in the scheme of his travels. No, I guess he didn't think discovering Nias was such a big deal. Yet it's gone on to be aggrandised as one of the great surf travel discoveries of our time.
And he just went on to his next discovery I imagine. Yeah, he'd probably seen quite a few of them by that stage. Thought this one was pretty good but worth no more than half a page.
I'm going to put you on the spot now Sean and ask you about your favourite Peter Troy story. Oh gee...there's one where he sees the Beatles, in 1963 I think. It's like a Forrest Gump kind of story where he lands in a certain spot during a seminal moment in history and he just embeds himself in the story. And he saw the Beatles before they'd broken.
It's hard to lock one story down though. Rather than any particular story the thing that sits with me is that he's got a travellers heart. You can see he writes with this romantic flourish all the way through it, you know it might be sleeping on the floor with these Bolivian indians and he goes into great depth about their lives. But then on the next page will be this spreasheet with all his train trips through Bolovia: the miles covered, the cost per mile. Because he was an accountant and he keeps check of every cent. And so you've got these two guys trapped in the one body – the traveller and the accountant – and they're fighting for control the whole way. You end up with a story that has the best of both worlds; you get the factual representation of what is actually going on but there's also an interpretation from this guy whos heart is on the road.
To The Four Corners Of The World is written by Peter Troy and edited by Brendan McAloon. It is published by Flying Pineapple Media and available for $49.95 through Woodslane. Keep an eye out for a review on Swellnet.