Peter Higgs 
Fri, October 14, 2011 at 17:42
Stephanie Hunt in Coffs Coast, Coffs Harbour, Interesting, Interesting Person, Jimmy Trifyllis, Person, Peter Higgs, Rochelle Martin

Jimmy Tryfillis says the most interesting person he knows in Coffs is Peter Higgs.  Jimmy admits that Peter is a good mate, but swears up and down that there is no one more interesting on the Coast.  “He’s travelled to Namibia cutting off rats toes, he’s discovered a rare bat in Queensland, he’s an acupuncturist, an archaeologist….” OK, this guy sounds unconventional.

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Coffs’ Renaissance Man 

 

Peter Higgs drives onto the Jetty in a beat up truck with something about fertilizer written on the side of the door.  In a striped t-shirt and jeans he approaches my table on the patio of Latitude 30.  He looks like a farmer I think to myself.  But once we’ve ordered a coffee and he starts to tell the story of his life I realise that he has far more in common with Leonardo da Vinci than Old Macdonald.  Peter Higgs turns out to be a 21st century Renaissance Man: like Leonardo he has followed a variety of interests to become what is now called a ‘jack of all trades’.

Born in 1452, Leonardo grew up in Tuscany, Italy to become the archetypal Renaissance Man.  His unquenchable curiosity led him to develop expertise as an artist, scientist, mathematician, cartographer and writer:  now that’s a jack of all trades!  Over 500 years later, Peter Higgs grew up in Coffs Harbour addicted to the freedom of the surf, seeking adventure and with the vague notion that he wanted to be different.  “I didn’t want to be a conventional person,” he explains.  “I don’t like the 9 to 5 world.”  Wanderlust and ambivalence led him to dabble in archeology, ancient history, astronomy and medicine, to gain degrees in biology, ecology and acupuncture and to purchase an organic fertilizer business. 

Peter didn’t set out to be a man of many talents; he just set out - with little idea where he was going.  “I just picked the most romantic thing out there,” is how Peter explains his decision to enrol in archaeology at Sydney University.  “I loved ancient history and I’d just watched Indiana Jones, so I thought that will do.”  Six months later Peter dropped out, worked to save some money and hit the road to Europe where he experimented with life as a hobo.  “Over nine months I spent about $1100,” he explains.  “I slept in parks.  I’d go to a café, order an orange juice and wait for people to leave so I could finish their food.”  He saw the pyramids, the oldest cities in Turkey and experienced a real archaeological dig in Israel.

Despite this brush with real life archaeology, it was sleeping under the stars that truly inspired him during his travels.  He resolved to become an astronomer on his return to Sydney – and enrolled in a general science degree at University of NSW.  After his first year, Peter rejected astronomy as too much about physics and math and too little about gazing at the stars, but he went on to complete a biology degree.  After another year of travel, and some volunteer work monitoring animals in Broken Hill, he completed his honours degree in ecology.  So began a 10 year adventure as a small mammal biologist.

“Trapping,” Peter explains what small mammal work involves.  “Basically I did a lot of trapping.  Tag them, let them go and go back to monitor those sites for years.”  Peter studied population dynamics, age structures and community ecology.  He travelled up and down the east coast of Australia, did specialist desert work in the Simpson Desert in Australia and the Namib and Kalahari deserts in Africa.  He developed such a deep knowledge that many suggested he write up his work to earn a PhD.  But here is where Peter differs from Leonardo.  Peter’s broad interests are centred on a love of doing, not a love of knowledge.  “I loved the work because it gave me a chance to camp and work with animals, but I had no attachment to the research.  It had no practical value in my eyes.”

Life at no fixed address, working with no sense of practical value finally got to him after 10 years. In a search for something more meaningful Peter turned his eyes to health.  Abandoning his biology work, he undertook a four year Bachelor of Health Sciences Acupuncture from UTS, which he funded by teaching biology at the universities in Sydney.  Another 10 year career began with the establishment of Peter’s acupuncture clinic in Armidale, followed by a move home to Coffs to establish another clinic.

It was all getting a bit too “9 to 5”, and three years ago Peter sold his clinic, which also happened to be his home.  He bought a big block of land in the bush, went to work at the spa in Jetty Village and a year later he bought a small organic fertiliser business called Seamagic.   “I was all set to become a partial hermit,” he explains his attempt to return to a less conventional life.  But then he met Faith.

Leonardo never married, which might account for his ability to experiment with so many fields of study.  Up until 18 months ago the same could be said for Peter.  But when he met Faith in the waiting room of the clinic where he was working he fell hard.  Within 5 months they were married, 6 months later Faith was pregnant and this year Jack Henry was born.  Life has changed completely; Peter’s ‘jack of all trades’ days may be over.  The house in the bush is being sold and the organic fertiliser business is likely to be on the block soon too.  Most tellingly Peter’s attitude to life has changed.   “In the past I never wanted to miss a thing,” he explains.  “Now if I miss something, who cares.  I’m not interested in anything except my family.”

He sounds calmer, settled, not someone who is going to take on yet another area of expertise.  Or does he?  The plan is to stay in the area, buy a house in town, sell the fertiliser business and go back to acupuncture.  But then he adds, “We’ve talked about going north, south, anywhere.  It’s all up in the air.  We could sell up everything and go back to archaeology.”  It’s hard to keep a Renaissance Man down.  

 

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Did Peter really cut off rats toes?  Click here to find out!

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The most interesting person Peter knows on the Coffs Coast is Rochelle Martin.  “I know a lot of interesting people,” he says.  “But she’s one that you’ll get a really great story from.”  She’s a writer and a journalist who has travelled the world.  Now I’m excited.  May I’ll get some tips on getting published.

Don’t miss Rochelle’s story.  Click here to SUBSCRIBE for FREE!

Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
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