Road to recovery

Lessons learned from a cup of coffee. 244154_01

Erle Levey

“The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.”

It’s a quote inside a coffee cup former radio announcer and television presenter Mike Higgins saw while on a road trip.

He was on the journey of his life and it hit a real resonance with him.

It’s something he shared with me over a coffee in Eumundi on a Thursday morning.

Sitting in the sunshine in front of the bookshop – there were people about but not as many as on a market day.

There we were, discussing lessons learned in life and how they provide a link to the future.

Mike is building a small home after his road trip through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria to promote his book Trouserless Under The News Desk.

It came after an eight-year battle with cancer and the book is as much about that harrowing episode as it is with confronting his life up until then.

In 2008 he was diagnosed with cutaneous T-Cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

But his battle led him to become such a better person because of it.

“Having a cancer diagnosis really made me think about all the patterns of my life.

“I was an absent husband and father.

“For a long time I was work obsessed.

“Luckily I’ve been able to rebuild relationships with old friends, my two former wives, and three boys – Jason, Nat and Josh.

“I’m filled with gratitude for that alone.”

Mike grew up in Sydney and received permission to leave school at 14 to work, due to family hardships when his father died in a motorcycle accident.

After about a dozen jobs in two years, he eventually went into radio at 2NZ Inverell.

Then he fluked a newsreader job at ATN7 Sydney in 1966, reading prime-time 6pm weekday news at age 21.

Mike came to Queensland in 1967 and did two years at radio 4GG Gold Coast, then moved to BTQ 7 Brisbane.

He was the golden boy of Brisbane television in the ’80s, as the on-air 6pm anchor man at Seven, on radio and presenter at charity events.

Mike was winner of a 1983 United Nations Media Peace Prize for a documentary production.

The Living Will Envy The Dead centred on nuclear proliferation and disarmament. The result was the US government had secretly gathered intelligence on many of the Australian peace and nuclear disarmament groups.

The US interest was primarily Nurrungur, near Woomera in South Australia, where the most important part of the us early-warning system was located.

More recently, it played out in the television series of Pine Gap.

In 1991, after nearly 30 years in radio and television, he chose a low-profile life at Eumundi, developing a property as a healing retreat known as Harmony Hill, complete with train carriages as living spaces.

When diagnosed with cancer, his oncologist was very upfront – it wasn’t a good one to have.

In fact only 100 people world-wide had survived it.

Following his diagnosis, Mike endured four years of various chemotherapy treatments, radiation and, finally, a bone marrow transplant, with all the difficult side effects that accompany them.

“The cancer diagnosis was as if you get a wake-up call from the universe,” he said.

“You can live better, you change your priorities when you are predicted to die.

“You can look at past behaviours, and make changes.

“I’m glad I did, as it gave me the opportunity to be the person I was meant to be… a blessing in disguise.

“And now I’m able to help other cancer patients wherever I can.’’

While in hospital he used to meditate a lot, exercise in the ward by pushing his chemo trolley every day, no matter how crook he got.

He started writing about his life and his health battles, most of it on scraps of paper.

The writing has been beneficial in Mike’s recuperation.

He gained great inspiration from Australian writer David Malouf ’s book An Imaginary Life, about how overcoming adversity can lead you to the person you

were meant to be.

By writing his memoirs Mike is hoping they give others inspiration.

And while on his road trip he has finished two more books.

When Mike quit television he gave away all of his suits, complete with shirts and ties.

Since then he loves wearing jeans and shorts, a few t shirts, some sandals and a pair of running shoes.

After his booklaunch of Trouserless in Eumundi, Mike drove his campervan to Charters Towers, Hughenden, and all the little towns along the Flinders highway til he got to Julia Creek.

“The skies out west are amazing … enormous blue skies from horizon to horizon with the most amazing cloud shapes.

“And the air is so clear. You don’t realise how polluted cities are until you come out west.”

It was out here that Mike stumbled on a remarkable site.

He was camped in his Kombivan by the side of the road, not far from Julia Creek, and was woken by a loud roaring sound overhead.

He thought it was a UFO.

Yet it turned out to be a giant hot-air balloon hovering almost on top of the van.

He then zig-zagged up to the Daintree River, meeting people all the way with talks at libraries, and media interviews in every city and town.

He managed some time with his son Nat and his family on their organic fruit farm near Mission Beach.

At the Daintree he did get a face-to-face meeting with a four-metre crocodile, then visited Mareeba after Cairns and Kuranda.

Northern Queensland was great in being able to revisit places he’d been while working undercover to hide from criminals he innocently stumbled on in the early 1970s.

After returning to the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane he struck inland through northern New South Wales, then to coast south of Sydney.

As well as the Bega region, he went to Cooma and took the chairlift to the top of Mt Kosciusko as well as doing the big walk.

He describes the western side of the ranges as “an astonishing landscape … almost like landing on another planet.”

In Melbourne, he got stuck in traffic and it took three hours to get through CBD.

“Looking at the city skyline, the pollution was so heavy it reminded me of a scene from Blade Runner. It was like a nightmare.

“The traffic chaos combined with the environmental horror.”

Just south of Sydney he went to Stanwell Park, re-visiting childhood holidays.

“My uncle had a squatters hut along the creek. I even found the path along the creek where my 70-year-old feet were treading where my 10-year-old feet had been.

“It was so evocative of my happy childhood holidays.”

On his road trip Mike finished two novels … the first is a black comedy based on a puritanical religious sect in the depression era of Australia.

It culminates in a confrontation on the day the Sydney Harbour Bridge was on opened in 1932.

The other is Juliette: A Love Story, the gripping story of an innocent young French girl facing the noose on death row in a Malaysian prison.

Both have been prepared for submission to publishers.

Mike is so glad to be back in the peace and tranquillity of the Noosa hinterland and continues to be optimistic with his health.

“I’ve been really inspired lately by a little book of the Dalai Lama’s sayings.

“He said that whatever happens, never lose heart.

“The brain and the body connection is a medical proven that above all, never give up – stay positive.

“Stress is a handicap you carry. It can be a killer.

“It’s very important to dispute every negative thought.

“Whatever might happen in life, it’s always possible to reframe it … to see it in another light.

“It’s always possible to find the good in these circumstances.

“It’s constant. Something you have to do every day, like breathing.”

A few months ago Mike dusted off the yoga mat and that has proven to be such a help.

The travel was exciting. He had a lovely campervan that was all kitted out.

“I met wonderful people wherever I went, and saw some wonderful places.

“It reminded me of how beautiful Queensland can be.

“The big, vast arid outback. Genuine people, wonderful old pubs.

“The other beautiful part was New South Wales, near Gloucester.

“There were lovely places everywhere but my real attachment is to the community in this part of the Sunshine Coast.

“Now, setting up home again, I’m looking forward to a tiny yoga space. There’s so much nature around us.”

Lessons learned along the road included meeting lovely people everywhere.

“I cannot remember meeting one that wasn’t.

“It goes back to appreciation and gratitude of nature.

“I have no need to live in a city again.

“Being in nature is healing.”

What he found was all the caravan parks were chock-a-block full.

Byron Bay at Christmas meant the price for an unpowered site was $65 for one night $65.

Yet pre-Covid the inland van parks were beautiful places to stop, with plenty of space.

“Two of most positive people I met were indigenous. One was indigenous pastor I met at a cafe.

“He was working for his community and had a heart of gold.

“The other was a youth worker at a beach community, and had a group of kids he was looking after.

“They were inspirational, and I had lovely conversations with them.

“It was so emotional. When I met the pastor I was upset by the illness a friend was going through.

“He took my hand and we prayed.

“It was really moving, a touching moment.

“The youth worker was treating the kids like they were his own children … a wonderful, caring guy.”

“It was really lovely to meet those two.”

Mike’s traditional sign-off from television news was “Goodnight and god bless.”

On this day it’s a hug and “God bless.”

Other News

On the trail of wine and food

The Granite Belt is Australia's highest wine country region, sitting 900 metres above sea level, with a vast countryside, working farms and quintessential towns...

U3A Expo of Activities wins over new members

An Expo of the activities offered by U3A Rockhampton and District was held at Frenchville Sports Club on 6 February. An open invitation to...

New Noosa group brings scrabblers out of the woodwork

It’s no exaggeration to say that Noosa woman Megan Marks loves Scrabble. The woman known as ‘Mad Scrabbler Meg’ loves it so much she’s...

Robyn enjoys the sweet life

Sunshine Coast cake artist Robyn Brown may have retired from the public services a couple of years ago, but she is busier than ever...

Double delight when ABBA meets Queen

It promises to be double the delight when the Sunshine Coast’s premiere vocal group, Oriana Choir, presents the music of ABBA and Queen on...