By Madeleine Coorey
Sydney - Alan Waddell, a 91-year-old accountant and lifetime teetotaller, is an unlikely man to inspire Australia's largest and most glamorous city.
But his attempt to walk every street in the harbourside metropolis, despite multiple aneurysms and other health complaints, has won him fans here and abroad.
Last weekend Waddell, who walks with his son John, completed the 200th suburb on an epic journey which has seen him travel more than 3 000km in just over three years.
"We go out every day," Waddell said during a recent stroll in the eastern beachside suburb of Bronte. "I regularly see vascular and cardio specialists - about every six months - and they say I must continue walking because of my heart and these aneurysms," he said, touching his legs.
The aneurysms, one in each leg, are not life-threatening, but regular exercise is necessary to keep them benign.
They are not the only health concerns for Waddell, who is slightly deaf. An ulcer kept him off the streets for a week in 2005 while he has also had operations for cataracts, varicose veins and a hip replacement.
Waddell took on his unusual hobby after his wife of 60 years died from cancer in late 2002.
"My whole lifestyle changed," he said.
"I had been friendly with doctors all my life and they say we senior people should walk when we can, as much as we can.
"So we decided we would walk around our local suburb and do every street, every lane no matter how short it was, every park lane, and every path and every steps."
But he soon became bored with the familiarity of the streets of his home suburb of Longueville in northern Sydney and began to expand, first into the inner city and later to the north, south, east and west.
By early 2004 he had clocked up 100 suburbs after covering Manly Vale ("Which we thought should have been called Manly Heights.") and after several appearances in local newspapers and radio stations had become something of a Sydney personality.
When Waddell hosted a walk around the historic, harbourside suburb of Waverton recently, more than 160 people showed up to meet him while thousands visit his website www.walksydneystreets.net/index.htm each year.
"Four hundred to five hundred people have said how I've inspired them, a lot from America, New Zealand and the UK. It's some satisfaction to me that my walking apparently inspired so many people to take it up themselves," he said.
One message posted to his site, from a nine-year-old boy read: "I do not really like old people but dood (dude) you are fully sick."
Unfamiliar with Sydney schoolyard slang, Waddell had to be told by son John, also retired, that "sick" meant "cool" in this context.
But few things slip past Waddell, who still does the books for a couple of doctors he has worked for for half a century.
"Most people only drive through a suburb but we've seen how people really do live," he said.
He said he was amazed how some built-up, urban areas were still filled with hundreds of terrace houses from the 1800s and remnants from decades past. "Yesterday we saw a dunny (an outdoor toilet). A backyard dunny."
Another observation he has made is that every suburb has a blue house but "very few have two".
Waddell walks in about four or five suburbs at one time - from the richest enclaves to the poorest areas - often starting out before dawn but resting every few minutes on fences, bus stops and steps because of his aneurysms.
In hilly areas, his son will drive him to the top so he can walk down rather than up.
Although Waddell is fit enough walk to walk three to four kilometres each day, he is doubtful of completing his mission in ever-expanding Sydney.
"I think there are something like 500 (suburbs). I'm guessing, I don't really know. We'll never get there."
His many followers hope otherwise.