For some, retirement is a time to hitch up the caravan and take a well-earned break. Not for Garry White, 70, who retired from his desk job 20 years ago and retrained for his current role as a boating barista. Now Garry cruises Sydney’s Middle Harbour on his boat, pulling into coves and alongside cruisers to help Sydney’s boaties and beachgoers get their daily caffeine kick. Unsurprisingly, he’s often told he has Sydney’s best job.
"A lot of people say that to me," Garry says. "My usual reply is you would make far more money in your day job - because they're sitting on a $500,000 boat or something."
Around 7.30am on weekends, public holidays and throughout summer, Garry loads up his small boat with supplies and launches from Forestville’s Davidson Park, making his way down the harbour.
Garry has come to know his clientele and their coffee preferences well. With his espresso machine taking pride of place, Garry froths milk for cappuccinos, brews macchiatos and piccolos in places that, while scenic, don’t offer the convenience of a corner café.
In fact, some of the most remote areas are Garry’s most lucrative. Take Cobblers Beach, for instance. A little cove in Middle Head near Balmoral, it’s a spot favoured by nude bathers who appreciate Garry’s visits. While offering no judgement, Garry prefers to keep his kit on, citing safety as one important reason. "I always remain fully clothed - and that's mainly for occupational health and safety," Garry says. "I've got a coffee machine and I’m dealing with steam."
While Garry’s business may sound cruisy, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Over the 20-odd years Garry’s been in business, he’s outlasted several competitors and survived the accidental sinking of his boat by a customer. It’s a far cry from his previous job as an agricultural economist and political consultant even though, coincidentally, former prime minister Paul Keating is now a customer.
"I was able to tell him he was technically my boss for a little while," he says. "It was good to talk about how Canberra had gone to the dogs after each of us left."
Like many small businesses in Sydney, the past year has been a tough one. The northern beaches COVID-19 outbreak in late 2020 and inclement weather from the La Nina system in early 2021 dramatically cut Garry’s revenue at a time that would normally have been his busiest period of the year. Winter is always slower with decreased harbour traffic and fewer people at the beach, but this year has been quieter still, with strict lockdowns in place for Sydney over most of winter.
Despite this, Garry’s hopeful things will pick up. "In previous years, we'd have multiple families on the same large boats," he said. "People seem to be regarding boats as a way of keeping isolated."
Even in uncertain times, Sydneysiders’ love for their beaches and boats is enduring. So, as summer approaches and restrictions lift, many will be lucky enough to catch Garry on his rounds and enjoy a brew with a view of beautiful Sydney Harbour.