John Guest sits outside a Rockhampton business with his meat pie and bottle of milk.
John Guest sits outside a Rockhampton business with his meat pie and bottle of milk. Megan Lewis

Rocky's skirted sailor santa

SWALLOWING a mouthful of meat pie and after a sip of milk, John Edward Guest looks up and softly says: “Well, it's like this.”

I'm sweating under the balmy Rockhampton afternoon sun but John doesn't seem too bothered.

Lifting his sailor hat that shades his spotted face, he explains he's not wearing a kilt but rather a madras checked skirt.

It's much more conventional to wear a skirt, he explains to me about keeping comfortable with a hernia on his side.

Crumbs from the invalid pensioner's meat pie fall onto his long, white beard, which took him three years to grow, 45 years ago.

Many must have pondered John's story as he trundled his makeshift wheelbarrow around Rocky's CBD - so very far removed from his past working at a Typhoon fighter plane factory in England.

When he has his birthday in December, John will have lived close to 30 years in Rockhampton.

Living as a caretaker on a pineapple farm near Yeppoon is a long way from Worcestershire in England where John grew up.

He was called up to war at 18 as a Royal Engineer and finished years later in hospital. “I was not a success as a soldier,” he says.

John is now a rosary maker but is more recognisable as a stand-in Santa Clause.

He's played the part half a dozen times in shopping centres since '75 but it never worked out. John never had a real reason to act as Mr Clause, he just had the credentials.

As we're talking a man walks past with his young son in a stroller, who excitedly yells and waves to John: “Hello Santa!”

But the beard is a practical fixture, not a statement.

“It is like this,” he starts, explaining salty perspiration would make his chin uncomfortable if he shaved.

“There is no fashion for hair under the chin except as a full beard.”

There's no fashion in John's preferred transport, either.

“I'm a walker,” he says. On this particular day he was dropped into town at the Fitzroy River Bridge, walked into East Street, up to Allenstown and to outside an antique shop on Derby Street.

From out of his wheelbarrow he took a stool to sit on while he ate his pie and drank his milk - a perfect combination he tells me. He takes his time, waiting for the afternoon school bus to drive him back to the pineapple farm where he lives a quiet life.

“Actors, and people like that,” he softly tells me, “they call it resting.”



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