I never planned to write a book – it was more a case of a great story finding me, but more about that later. I’m a native of Adelaide, South Australia, coincidentally the hometown of the fugitive extraordinaire at the centre of my bizarre but true tale.
Just a bit about me, because lets face it, if author’s lives were that interesting we’d all be writing autobiographies. My early schooling was refreshingly unorthodox. My mother was the governess on an outback sheep station in New South Wales. I’d sit beside her in an old barn and listen in to the lessons she broadcast through a primitive wireless to hundreds of other kids on the outlying properties. After that it took me a while to get used to the more formal education of English boarding schools. Later I spent a couple of years with my family in Singapore before going to art school in London, where I explored my love of painting. It’s not easy earning a living as an artist, so I worked as a freelance illustrator around Fleet Street. A few years later I trained as an art teacher at the University of London and taught art in several schools before I returned to Australia with my English husband.
We lived in beautiful Queensland, a sub-tropical northern state on the east coast of Australia. By now I was well qualified in art education, lectured on university art programs, and illustrated a children’s book for Angus & Robertson publishers. Then the good stuff that led to writing a book happened …
Firstly, I need to explain that my partner, John McSorley, had a successful athletics career as a young man when he broke the Commonwealth record in the javelin event. This might sound like a useless bit of information, but bear with me and you’ll see its relevance. John had some great stories from his misspent youth, but nothing topped his ‘box story’. He’d met an Aussie javelin thrower called Reg Spiers at the Commonwealth Games in Perth. Some time later Reg had arrived unannounced on John’s doorstep in London, hoping to qualify for the Olympics. He didn’t make it, and then his wallet stolen, along with every last penny he’d saved from his job at the airport. Not one to let a small detail like having no money get in his way, Reg was determined to get back to his partner in Oz.
It was then that the young Aussie hatched a most outrageous plan. John would build a coffin-shaped box, to be sent as cash-on-delivery from Heathrow to Perth Airport, designated for collection by a fictitious Mr Graham. It would be no ordinary consignment; Reg would be inside, posted as airfreight to the other side of the world.
The story of Reg in the box and how he survived sixty-three hours of forklift trucks and near-dehydration on the tarmac of Bombay Airport was the subject of regular mealtime banter in the McSorley household. As time passed updated stories arrived via letters and phone calls. Newspaper clippings told of Reg’s latest escapade; an international fugitive on the run from Interpol with the love of his life. Then the worst; ‘Aussie Javelin Thrower Sentenced to Death.’
So the story really did find us. Some years later we visited Reg in an Adelaide jail, and when my son Marcus and I met him for the first time, and relived the story with him on subsequent occasions, it sparked our imaginations. By the time Marcus moved to London to pursue his acting career and John and I settled in Spain, we had Reg’s endorsement to tell his story.
Then the hard work began. We decided from the outset that we didn’t want to write a straight factual biography. In the preface to the book we explain that: ‘A definitive biography of Reg’s life would fill several volumes, each the size of War and Peace. And a chronology of facts could never convey the drama, pathos, and love story that define his nomadic years. For these reasons, we have created a narrative to tell the story that Reg told us over many hours of conversation when he stayed at our homes in Queensland and southern Spain, and during a late night drinking session at a hotel in London.’ Reg has remained a close friend of our family, and we hope we have done justice to his incredible story.
Out Of The Box: The Highs and Lows Of A Champion Smuggler. Julie McSorley and Marcus McSorley. Published by Roaring Forties Press, Berkley, California.