Meet Haig


Self-Taught Photographer and Japanese Speaker who works on the Manly Ferry

Meet Haig Gilchrist

Self-Taught Photographer and Japanese Speaker who works on the Manly Ferry

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Starting out as a cashier, now working as a ‘Greaser’ on the Manly Freshwater vessel, Ian ‘Haig’ Gilchrist has worked with the ferries for nine and a half years. “I’ve always enjoyed the vessels. I’ve always lived near the harbour”. He also swims most days, even on the coldest days of winter.

It is safe to say Haig lives and breathes the ocean. What might surprise many people are his other loves – his incredible talent for photography, and the fact that he’s fluent in Japanese.

It was his love of the ocean that took him to Japan in the first place. “I was working as a lifesaver on one of the beaches here, North Steyne. I was assisting with the coaching of nippers and junior lifesavers and one of the guys I was coaching with did the Japan summer. He had been doing it for ten years and said, ‘Come over and help!’”.

For six summers Haig has gone to the beaches of Japan to teach lifeguarding. It seemed only inevitable that he would pick up and teach himself the Japanese language, and to the untrained ear, he sounds fluent. “It sounds fluent, but it’s still very slow. To have a conversation with someone that speaks only Japanese is very difficult. Most of my friends can already speak English. So I can cheat and mix it up, which they think is quite funny!”

Haig is very much a self-starter. It was his time in Japan that lead him back to the lens of a camera. For those of you that have seen his Instagram gallery, @ihaig72, you would think he’s been practicing the trade for years. “I stopped taking photos when I was about 18. I just couldn’t be bothered with it. You start to realise how much stuff you miss out on. Japanese people take photos of everything! I thought, ‘I wish I had photos of these places I went to.’ I just took it for granted. Then I got into keeping records through photography. It’s like evidence.”

Since this moment of realisation, he hasn’t stopped taking photos and learning via YouTube tutorials. Recently, Haig’s storm photos aboard the Manly Ferry went viral, getting picked up by local and international media. His secret for getting the best photos?  Haig snaps and snaps until he has the perfect shot. “I just try and do something good for the day. Cameras are so portable now. You don’t have to carry a big Canon around. From the very start of the day I’m just snapping away. Like last night, with the planets Venus and Jupiter. I could see that from my house. I just do a variety of different shots and choose one I like.”

He claims it’s worth getting up early for the perfect shot, even if you’re tired. “It’s just watching the whole day come to life in front of you. I’ve got some great weather shots out here. Think about Ayres Rock. You can take a photo of it once, then a few hours later it changes. Sunset, sunrise, weather, clouds.”

Along with the many photo opportunities that working on the ferries provides, some of Haig’s other favourite things have been New Year’s which he describes as “spectacular”, but he always enjoys seeing the joy of Japanese Visitors and surprising them by speaking their language. “I’ve shown some Japanese visitors the wheelhouse and how the boat works. Some of the visitors when they come up here they start crying. They start saying in Japanese ‘Ureshii! Ureshii! So happy! So happy!’ Tears run down their faces and they say, ‘Oh thank you, thank you. It’s amazing!’” “Japanese visitors think I’m famous. ‘You work for the Ferries. I’ve heard of you.’ ‘You speak Japanese, my friends told me about you’”.

Haig recommends:

For recommendations for those wanting to learn Japanese, Haig says:

“I use the iPad! There’s plenty of apps and programs. They teach you how to read and write. It’s like going back to your childhood. No one knows I use these programs! Also, watch the Japanese news.”

For travelling around Japan:

“I always highly recommend Hiroshima. You can get a rail pass in Australia through an agent. It means you travel on the Shinkansen for either 7, 14 or 21 days. Japan Rail is the main network and if you want to get around Japan, get the JR pass. It includes cities like Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto.”

For favourite Sydney beaches:

“For swimming, Balmoral. For surfing, anywhere between Manly and Long Reef.”

For swimming in the middle of winter:

“The secret is, don’t let your body continue to get cold. You’ve got to make sure you warm up afterwards.” “If you’re not a regular, it can be a big shock losing your breath when you get in, but you feel pretty good afterwards.”

For taking a good picture:

“All a picture is, is getting things in the frame.”

To view more of Haig’s images, head to his Instagram Page. 

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To view more of Haig’s images, head to his Instagram Page.
Words by Jayne Cheeseman

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