Adventures of Nathaniel the Backpacking Bear
Written by Leanne Esposito
Never had I ever imagined an adult would attach to a soft toy or a teddy bear. The fact that I couldn’t, demonstrates how naïve I am. A study into our attachment with childhood toys conducted by Professor Bruce Hood from the University of Bristol discovered that one in three people still sleep with their teddies. Apparently 44% of adults held on to their childhood teddies and dolls, and at least 34% still sleep with a soft toy every night.
Never had I ever, also imagined, that here on the Fraser Coast I would meet a bear who is a celebrity in his own right. Nathaniel, the Backpacking Bear seems to be living a better life than most of us could ever hope to imagine. At last count he had over 150 Facebook followers and countless more online engagements and overseas connections.
This dapper little Scottish Lord of landed gentry has a wardrobe of tailored suits, ties, sporting apparel and accessories. It’s an impressive collection. I admit to being a little envious. Nathaniel has an outfit for every occasion. He carries a passport and liberally hands out business cards to his many admiring fans. As a member of the local Riverbend Medieval Society, he is in character and costumes well.
Overseas travels have taken him from Spain to Antarctica and many places in between. In Australia he prefers trains, but equally loves ‘roughing it’ in the camper hire van. More recent online posts declare him as a serious food critic. It seems that his palate has become somewhat sophisticated the more he dines out.
So how did his rise to fame eventuate? It is a Cinderella story. After spending many lonely years on the shelf of his mum Sue Crickitt’s cupboard, he received an invitation he couldn’t refuse. A plane flight to Perth. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Nathaniel, a new Settler Bear straight out of Melbourne, was a gift to Sue who was working as a paralegal and conveyancer.
“When I left work in Townsville, he was a farewell gift from my officer manager. That was 21 years ago,” Sue said.
During the intervening years Sue encountered many burdens as she nursed her late husband Brian through multiple cancer treatments. Nathaniel wasn’t forgotten, it’s just that he took a back seat to the many trials and tribulations Sue navigated, together with Brian’s health battles.
“It started with prostate cancer years ago and then he got a lump on the side of his face. He had radiation therapy, and his face did alter. I nursed him for some time until I couldn’t anymore. He ended up in Maryborough Hospital. That’s life. He opted for no chemo and died,” Sue said.
She tells me that it was a big readjustment to a life without Brian but that his life insurance policy afforded her the means to recommence travelling – something they loved to do together. The first step was the hardest.
“I wanted to visit my brother in Western Australia and got myself all organised. Checking in online the day before I left, I had a panic attack. I thought, ‘I’m doing this by myself.’ Brian had always taken over and even though I had everything organised I was worried. A little lightbulb went on. I went and got Nathaniel out of the cupboard and put him in my backpack,” Sue said.
That first trip was a great success. So much so they organised many more together. They’ve taken international flights to Europe, including Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Morocco on an art tour. Sue tells me the 12-hour scenic flight across Antarctica was thrilling. Then there was Norfolk Island and Tasmania where they enjoyed a slow drive around the island in a hired campervan enjoying sumptuous foods and sights along the way.
“I travel with a list. Before I go, I check out what I want to see. We worked our way around the list of places and stopped at the end of the day at caravan parks. Not knowing what to expect, it only took us a day and a half to get from our last destination to my girlfriend’s place at Pipers River. We enjoyed it thoroughly,” Sue said.
Sue tells me they haven’t been anywhere since Covid locked us all down but assures me that travel plans are simmering away. I note that the list is long.
“We want to cruise around the top of Australia from Perth to Cairns. When we get to Cairns we can come home on the train.
“I would love a ticket to the Ghan. I’ve always been a train person. I would love to do the Canadian railway with a cruise attached. I would like to do a riverboat cruise through Europe.
“I’m starting to get twitchy. I want to go to Eungella in North Queensland. I would like to stay at the chalet up there because it’s so high in the mountains in the rainforest of the National Park. I think Nathaniel would like it,” she said.
While Sue fills me in on their prospective travel trails Nathaniel sits patiently to one side observing our conversation. Today he’s decked out in a khaki loafer suit and sports a Loch Ness monster badge – as homage to his heritage.
Nathaniel’s eyes are that soft glassy teddy bear brown which appear so deep they are fathomless. His quiet gaze is intense. I wonder what he thinks of me until I catch this thought and place it in my pocket for another time. I check in with Sue and ask about his personality. After all he’s her travelling companion. She looks at me with a mischievous smile and winks while announcing.
“I’m 72 and I travel with my 21-year-old companion. Nathaniel has quite a personality. He is a celebrity in his own way. If somebody (who knows us) sees me without him they ask, ‘Where’s Nathaniel?’ He goes to Portside. Fran (the owner) and her daughter Nadia always greet him, and Fran gives him cuddles.
“When we go places, I pose him for (photographs) certain things.
“He likes food and is getting an alter ego as a gourmet food critic.
“It’s more fun to tell the story through his point of view,” she said.
Sue is a self-confessed eccentric. You only live once – right? Well then, she backs the sentiment up with.
“My children are cool (with it). I told them I was old enough to be as eccentric as I like and I’m going to live long enough to be a problem for them.
“My youngest grandchild is 16, then 18 and 21. They love Nathaniel. The major problem is who I can leave him to?”
We discuss the possibility of Nathaniel continuing his career and becoming a tourism ambassador. I’m finding it plausible. He does travel quite a lot!
I ask if I can take a photo. Sue tells me many people ask. She says that he is good natured and always obliges.
“People come up to me and ask if they can take a photo and I give them his card.
“On our way to Perth I was having a cup of coffee at the airport, as you do. There were kids everywhere running around and this lady came up behind me. ‘I wish my grandchildren were as well behaved as that bear.’ And I responded that he doesn’t give me any trouble at all,” Sue said.
We scroll through his Facebook page where Sue points out the stories she posts – always in Nathaniel’s voice. After all, it is his page. He is the celebrity. I note there are photos where Nathaniel is decked out in some very chic attire. Then Sue whips out his made to measure backpack which she slips neatly across his shoulders. She tells me she made it herself from upholstery fabric. It’s so finely sewn and detailed it looks like it was made for that movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids – a miniature version of a serious Kathmandu trekking backpack. I can see from a photo that he also has a personalised secure harness for the car seat. I mentally tick off the list of Sue’s many accomplishments before I ask about her creativity.
It seems that she was born with a creative gene. Dressmaking is a breeze. She’s been doing it, since forever.
“My niece Lilli was into Barbies. I made all the dresses. She still has them.
“Next, I’m going to make him (Nathaniel) a baby carrier so he can go on the front and he can see forward when we travel.
“Pinterest is wonderful and there are many bears clothing patterns available,” she said.
Sue shows me a photo of a t-shirt Nathaniel wore around Tasmania which sports the Tassie Isle logo.
“I asked for permission to use it and made an iron-on transfer and printed it myself,” she said.
Sue’s attention to detail is outstanding however when she shares photos of the many artworks she has completed I am left flabbergasted and in awe. This is where she becomes serious, and her true humility resides.
“I am at the privately owned Wide Bay Gallery in Maryborough on Thursday and Fridays. We have an art shop, supplies, gallery and online shop. I am teaching pastels, gouache and watercolour,” Sue said.
The portrait of Brian her late husband is sentimentally beautiful. I announce my admiration as Sue brushes me off and says she not that good. I disagree. Her other completed works are even more masterful. They should be hung in a gallery.
Sue segues back to travel, and I’m transported to an arrival point where she tells me the security team run a bomb detection wand across Nathaniel while they laugh declaring that there’s no need to do a cavity search on him.
Lucky for everyone all round because, despite the self-confessed eccentricities, they both look innocent enough for Nathaniel not to be declared a drug mule. Just a wicked thought! Well, he has travelled extensively and has the means but probably not the motive.
Sue Crickitt, the artist adventurer, is quite an irreverent and inspirational individual who colours our world with her own brand of broad, bold brushstrokes. Along with her multiple talents, she is most certainly, the woman who audaciously abetted a bear to do more than sit on a shelf.