Eight bells – Ian Kiernan

One of Australia’s best-known yachting identities and passionate environmentalist Ian Kiernan has passed away, leaving an inspirational legacy of ocean conservation.

Written by Di Pearson

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 Following a three-month battle with cancer, sailor, single-handed round the world yachtsman and Clean Up Australia founder, Ian Kiernan, died at home in Kirribilli aged 78 early today.

Born October 4, 1940, Kiernan, variously known as ‘Bicky’ or ‘Bick’ – emanating from his name, Ian Bruce Carrick Kiernan; ‘Captain Yucky Poo’ (for Clean Up Australia), and ‘Captain Kevin’ (from the old TV series Captain Kevin and Space Cadets). Media identity, Phillip Adams, called him ‘The Greatest Garbo since Greta Garbo’ for his Clean Up campaigns.

Bicky was easily recognisable by the army slouch type hat that he wore everywhere. And while he is remembered with laughter by old sailing mates, when it came to Clean Up Australia he was taken very seriously.

Born and raised in Sydney, his Clean Up Australia campaign, started in January 1989 (later moved to March each year), came from his life-long love of sailing, particular when he did the single-handed BOC Around the World race.

 

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He hated seeing cigarette butts and plastic in particular, in our waterways.  He was especially revered, respected and loved by the younger generations, who were beginning to recognise the world-wide impact of rubbish in our oceans. He fired them up and remained Chairman of Clean Up Australia to his death. Daughter, Philippa, will now take over the mantle.

It was different for his old yachtie mates. Kiernan was the topic of conversation last night at dinner with old sailing friends, Syd Fischer, Tony ‘Ace’ Ellis and Bruce Gould, the latter two having visited Kiernan in the last few days. All were remembering the fun and irreverent side of their friend, amid much laughter.

“I’m glad I went round to see him the other day, he couldn’t talk, but he knew we were there and recognised us,” Ellis said.

“Like the rest of us in the good old sailing days, he gave the grog a bit of a nudge and he was a funny man. And for a bloke who founded Clean Up Australia, he was pretty messy himself, Ellis said laughing.

“And if you went cruising with him, he’d put Jamie Oliver to shame – he could really cook – he lived on Texas strawberries, cabbage and baked beans – with curry powder! I suffered a few of those on the boat.”

Ellis recalls the funniest Sydney Hobart with Kiernan on one of Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffins: “It was 1988 with a great bunch of people; Bruce Jackson, Hugh Treharne, Ian Kiernan, Dellis, ‘Tall Balls’, Sightie, Boy Messenger, Munno and David Giles amongst them – it was a laugh a minute!  Rod Muir (Windward Passage) called us the K-Mart special!”

Kiernan sailed with Fischer many times and was at all of his milestone birthdays. “He was a great bloke – a bit of a larrikin, but he did a lot of good (with Clean Up Australia),” Fischer was saying last night.

 

Until a few years back, Bicky owned a share in Maris, with Tiare Tomaszewski, granddaughter of marine artist and yachtsman, Jack Earl, the original owner of the yacht. Prior to that, he bought the boat on his own in 1971 and cruised her extensively in the South Pacific.

He raced 14 Sydney Hobarts, the last in 2008 on Maris. He also took the beautiful old timber boat in the Parade of Sail for the 70th Sydney Hobart in 2014.

Kiernan was a patron of Sailors With DisaBilities and was behind the group’s Around Australia Race and their subsequent new race record. He was there again 10 years later in 2013 at the CYCA to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

SWD founder, David Pescud remembers Kiernan with respect: “Ian was a great bloke. He was an innovator, a reformist – and he wasn’t afraid of a challenge. He told it like it was – and more strength to him. He changed Australia and the world with Clean Up Australia – it was hugely changing.

“His seamanship was incredible – he was a true mariner. He had life in perspective. We will all miss him.”

Bicky was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1991 in recognition of his Clean Up Australia commitments. He was named Australian of the Year in 1994 and made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1995.

In 1998 he was awarded the Sasakawa Environment prize by the United Nations Environment program for “mobilising tens of millions of people around the globe”.

As importantly, Kiernan loved life. He loved people and parties and was always good company.

Our deep sympathies go to Ian’s wife Judy, his daughters Philippa (Pip) and Sally and son Jack.

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