Ricky Megee is tough. But even tough guys get scared sometimes. Towards the end of 71 days lost without supplies in the Australian desert, feet ripped to shreds from wandering without shoes and 60kg lighter than when he started, Megee let himself consider that he just might be in trouble. ‘There was a stage where there was a pack of five or six dingoes hanging around,’ he tells Time Out in a brash Aussie bark. ‘I was getting thinner every day, I didn’t have a lot of energy, and I thought, “If they attack me, I’ve got no hope. I’m not strong enough to fight them off.” So yeah, I was getting a bit worried.’
That might sound like a bit of an understatement, but it’s characteristic of a straight-forward, resilient guy who, even when robbed and left for dead in the Outback, refused to feel sorry for himself and got on with the job of staying alive.
It was January 2006 when Megee stopped to pick up a stranger stranded by the roadside in Australia’s desolate Northern Territory. Hours later, he woke up in a shallow grave. ‘No shoes, no vehicle, no food, no water and no idea,’ reads the prologue to his memoir, Left For Dead In The Outback. It’s the beginning of an astonishing tale further enlivened by the no-nonsense voice of its author. Loaded with brutal honesty and colloquialisms, the effect is that you could just as well be down the pub with Megee, listening to him talk.
The book’s refusal to sugar coat Megee’s experiences can make for difficult reading. Anyone squeamish should avoid the passage where he rips a rotten tooth from his mouth with fencing wire. Similarly, Megee’s description of eating a cockroach – ‘With my hands firmly clasped around him, I hesitated over whether to eat the head or the bum first… the result was putrid enough to have me hurling uncontrollably’ – is not for the faint of heart.
But Megee is a likeable narrator, precisely because he is so down to earth. Today, he is good natured when faced with questions about his desert diet, even though he must have heard them a thousand times before. ‘Honey, if you’re hungry you will literally eat anything,’ he says. ‘I could happily leave most of the bugs I ate behind, but leeches didn’t taste that bad.’ He considers this for a moment. ‘They were a bit gristly.’
Megee admits he is the last person that anyone would expect to write a book. Following his eventual rescue by two station hands who were travelling through the area, the thought of telling people his story did not immediately appeal. ‘I just wanted to hide and forget about it all,’ he says. ‘It’s not like I set out to write a book.’
It took reporter Greg McLean, who broke the story of the station hands’ discovery on the front page of the Northern Territory News, to change his mind. Megee wasn’t keen on McLean at first – he took offence at the newspaper calling him a ‘mystery man’ and questioning the truth of his extraordinary tale. But McLean apologised, the pair bonded over a plate of chips, and Megee started to think it might be important to tell people about what happened to him.
‘Knowing the Joanna Lees story [the British woman who escaped after she and boyfriend Peter Falconio were abducted in the same area in 2001 – Falconio has never been found], and the more I found out about the amount of people that go missing in that part of Australia, the more I felt I had to let people know what happened,’ Megee explains. ‘Not just for a good read, but to let people know this stuff actually happens. And if you’re not careful it could happen to you. I shouldn’t have lived – I was just lucky.’
The police investigation into who abducted Megee is ongoing. But rather than concern himself with revenge, Megee has chosen to make a fresh start. He now manages a construction team in Dubai and hopes, eventually, to use his building expertise to do aid work in Africa.
‘Before I was a bit blasé about life, but now I cherish it every day,’ he says, demonstrating that he’s not too much of a tough guy to get sentimental. ‘I just think I didn’t die for a reason, and I’m able to help other people. That’s why I’m hoping the book does well, so I can go to Africa and put every cent to good use.’
Left For Dead In The Outback is on its third print run in Australia and is selling well internationally, so it might not be long before Megee realises his dream. One thing’s for sure, he’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a crisis.
Ricky Megee will be answering questions and signing copies of his book at Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall on Friday 23 Jan at 3pm. Left For Dead In The Outback is published by Nicholas Brealey and is available at Kinokuniya for Dhs69.