“Best of…”1996-e

From: Jeff Pages

Subject: Re: Barefoot beginnings

Date: Dec 96

Living in Australia there is not the same degree of resistance to bare feet that seems to occur elsewhere but none-the-less my barefoot beginnings weren’t all plain sailing.

My earliest recollection of bare feet is from infants school. There was another kid who came to school in bare feet on rainy days and I thought it must be wonderful to be able to do that. Alas I had parents who were rather anti-barefoot – my mother was terrified of broken glass and also being of the “depression generation” I think they probably linked bare feet with poverty. I also have a snobbish aunt who thinks that anyone who goes about barefoot is a scoundrel and should be locked away.

Throughout my childhood I really only wore proper shoes when going to school and at other times I wore thongs outdoors. I didn’t really get into barefooting though until I started university. It was the sight of other students attending class unshod that rekindled the desire. There was one student in particular I recall who never wore shoes – in summer all he ever wore was a pair of board shorts and in winter he usually wore a tee shirt as well but not always (winters in Sydney aren’t all that cold by world standards).

By the time I graduated I was barefooting it at university quite regularly, although I still put my thongs on when I was coming or going from home. I worked for a year as a grade 1 engineer with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission where I had to wear shoes and a tie. On the way home from work as the train was passing through the station near the university I’d often see several barefoot students on the platform and I guess this (amongst other things) encouraged me to quit my job and return to university as a postgrad student.

My five years of postgrad were spent almost entirely barefoot. At that time barefooting was becoming quite popular amongst the student population and it wasn’t uncommon on warm days to see 40 or 50 other barefooters during the day. I received a bit of hassle from some of the lecturers so I tended to put shoes on when I was tutoring, but at other times I went happily unshod.  By this time I was old enough for my parents to quietly accept my bare feet, although one of my cousins later told me that they had said “Jeff has become a real hippy with long hair and bare feet” (this was in the late 70’s when even the politicians had long hair). A few of my friends also went barefoot quite regularly and I found this encouraging.

Around the mid-eighties I would often go to Manly beach in summer, travelling by train to the city and then catching the ferry across the harbour to Manly. I always did this trip in bare feet and on a few occasions did it shirtless as well. On the return trip particularly there would always be quite a few other barefoot passengers (and some shirtless ones). I also noticed that in Manly hardly anyone wore shoes around the streets and shopping centre. I later discovered that this was true in most coastal suburbs which is why I now live in a coastal town just north of Sydney.

In 1989 I moved to Tamworth, which is an inland city about 400km north of Sydney. Here bare feet were much less common than in Sydney and I copped a bit of flack from some of the people at work who’d seen me wandering around the shopping centre in bare feet. Tamworth also has some species of plant that make barefooting a little unpleasant – from about February to May there is a weed called khaki burr that grows just about everywhere and is very painful to step on, and things we called cats-eyes that are a hard ball with four sharp spines sticking out that are quite capable of piercing the tyre on a mountain bike. There is also tiger pear in the surrounding forests which hides in rock crevaces and has long needle-sharp spines all over it (the first one I ever saw was the one I stepped on).

Last year I changed jobs and moved to Umina Beach. I now do just about everything in bare feet (I can even work in bare feet now). It’s great to go about everywhere barefoot in a place where bare feet are so commonplace that nobody gives it a second thought. About the only time I wear shoes now is when I’m dining out – I haven’t been game to try any of the “classier” restaurants in bare feet, but pizza and hamburger shops, shopping mall eateries and roadhouses are rarely a problem.