Where They Live: Nancy Washburn Wyles '61. Gymea Bay, Australia.
It's a languid summer morning in February, and Nancy Washburn Wyles '61 and her husband, Percy, are headed down to the Hacking River estuary to explore Australia's Royal National Park-the second oldest national park in the world. Southeastern Australia's sunny climate makes it ideal for outdoor recreation; that's one of the reasons Nancy enjoys living here in Gymea Bay, a suburb of Sydney. As they do most weekends, she and Percy load the surf-skis-a hybrid of a surfboard and a kayak propelled with a double-ended paddle-into the back of their van and head down to the river.
As the couple paddles through the park, sandstone bluffs descend to meet them at the water; the cliffs are dotted with sun-bleached eucalyptus and-in bright contrast-tall, red-flowered Gymea lilies, from which the town and bay take their name. Many of the place names here are Aboriginal, including that of the Wyles's street, Molong Road, which means "place of many rocks," referring to the cliffs upon which their home is perched. From their deck, they enjoy an expansive view of the bay, dotted with numerous boats and kayaks. At dawn and dusk, residents are greeted by the screeching of hundreds of sulphur-crested cockatoos flying between the park and the suburbs, the golden undersides of their snowy wings mimicking the brilliant yellow combs on their crowns.
The Hacking River is a reminder of the area's history. Henry Hacking, who discovered the river while hunting kangaroo, was a pilot of the First Fleet, which transported the first European settlers to Australia in the 18th Century. Most of the ship's passengers were convicts exiled from Britain to the newly formed penal colony at Botany Bay, south of Sydney. These British roots are still apparent in Australian English: people use "chemist" for "drug store," "lift" for "elevator," and "boot" for "trunk."
A New York City native, Wyles has lived in Australia since 1969, when she moved Down Under with her Australian first husband. Says Wyles, "I was not sad to leave the U.S. because the Vietnam War was going on, and I did not feel overly patriotic, although it was sad to leave family." Upon arriving in Australia, she discovered a country with a familiar culture but a more secular, politically involved populace. Voting here is compulsory, which, according to Wyles, means the interests of the working class and the poor are better represented in government. Having decided to stay in Australia permanently, she became a citizen in 1975 and completed a master's in urban planning in 1978. In 1982, she married Percy, a fellow urban planner. Wyles has three grown daughters; she loves exploring nearby Southeast Asia and visiting one daughter's family in Tokyo.
Since her retirement, Wyles has taught hatha yoga in nearby suburbs and in Sydney, where, like many residents, she frequently spends her free time walking along the nearly continuous path along the Sydney Harbour shore. In Australia, waterways are considered a public resource, so shoreline access is guaranteed. As they stroll, people watch ferries, sailboats, and tourist catamarans sailing past a working port, numerous small beaches, and, of course, the Sydney Opera House.
Although Wyles sometimes misses the buzz of New York City, Sydney provides ample culture. And of course, there's her teaching. Says Wyles, "I love yoga so much, I really should pay to teach my students rather than be paid." About her life in Australia she adds, "I am minutes away from surf-skiing on the estuary and bush-walking in the National Park but less than an hour away from all the goodies Sydney has to offer. I have the best of both worlds here."