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HomeLifestyleA numbers guy: meet the mysterious man behind the chalk temps

A numbers guy: meet the mysterious man behind the chalk temps

Manly seafront at dawn is a surprising hive of activity, with kayakers, surfers and groups of ocean swimmers wading into the water, yoga practitioners stretching along the sand, and runners and walkers jogging or strolling along the promenade.

In their midst is Guy Dunstan, distinguishable by his wet feet and ankles, who has already been here for an hour or more.

Every morning at 4am, before the sun peeps over the horizon he steps into the sea. With a headlamp for illumination, he always enters the ocean at the same spot – below the boat ramp at the southern end of Manly Beach.

There, armed with a thermometer (a Weber BBQ meat probe, if you’re curious), he records the seawater temperature and then writes the figures on a concrete podium at the south end wall in coloured chalk (Crayola sidewalk chalk).

Many of the dawn chorus rely on this important ritual –– it’s very helpful if you’re about to immerse yourself in chilly water to brace yourself accordingly.

Guy, a former media consultant, has been providing this community service for two years, since 15 August 2021.

On 6 August 2023, he began posting short videos of the temperature graphics on his social media pages – Instagram and Facebook – accompanied by music. The profile has since attracted 1500 followers and on Saturday 26 August his 14thpost, which he titled ‘cut out’ (the numbers looked they were cut out of a yellow strip), received a solid 10,000 viewings.

This is because the tradition of drawings has become part of the Manly way, a consistency that brings comfort to locals.

Guy Dunstan measures the sea water temperature on Manly seafront before dawn every morning and writes the numbers in chalk on the southern wall above the beach. Photo: Alec Smart

We crouched down at the chalk line for a chat.

The lone arranger

So, what prompted him to take on this unusual but unpaid routine, which requires him to be on duty seven days a week at an ungodly hour, in all weather, when most people are enjoying sleep?

“At the time [I started], the temperature was being taken and recorded by members of the Bold and Beautiful ocean swimming group (who I swim with),” Guy told Manly Observer.

“Because of isolation rules during COVID, they were prevented from travelling into Manly for two weeks, so they asked me to take over until they could return.

“I couldn’t resist doing them earlier, bigger and brighter than they were being done. People seemed to like that and they let me continue doing it.”

Swimmers + kayakers entering the sea on South Steyne at dawn rely on the water temperature display. Photo: Alec Smart

Guy varies the chalk lettering for the numbers he sketches on the podium, employing different themes. On the day Manly Observer observed him, he drew them as lightning bolts – as a nod to champion sprinter Usain Bolt, whose birthday was a few days previous.

What inspires these creations?

“A number of things,” he considered. “Most of the ideas are inspired by things I see when walking down the street, reading a book or magazine, see in an art gallery or fonts I spot online.

“Sometimes they come from my imagination. In the end though, I think my ‘inner child’ is the main driver of the themes and designs. I try to have the design worked out in my head before I go to bed – otherwise sleep can be pretty restless.”

Inspiration can arrive late, however.

“Often though, I will wake up in the morning and have a total change of mind, depending on the ocean’s conditions and how I am feeling emotionally. Over time I have shifted from trying to create numbers that may ‘look good’, to numbers that make people feel something.

“With Instagram I can now add music and ‘captions’ to the numbers. This has given me the opportunity to try to express how I may be feeling in the morning, or how I think the ocean is feeling – or even how I think the people of Manly are feeling.”

Sea kayakers paddle into Cabbage Tree Bay as the sun rises on the horizon. Photo: Alec Smart


Are there significant differences in ocean temperature from one day to the next if a storm rolls in?

“There can be,” he revealed, “but the temperature is influenced by a range of factors on any one day. Most influential are the ocean currents and the wind direction, but other things can also impact it, including the temperature of the sand.

“It is rare for the temperature to move more than 1/2 a degree in one day, but it has been known to change by up to three degrees every now and then. The temperature over the past two years has ranged from a bottom of 14.2 to a top of 24.6. Changes in the water temperature lag behind seasonal changes in outside temperature (by up to two months). Hottest temps are usually in February, lowest in August (but September is still cold).”

And in case anyone numerically-inclined wonders, Guy has numbers he prefers.

“My favourite temperatures are all the 14’s,” he declared, “but we have only had five in the past two years. They always send the swimmers into conniptions! I treasure those days! I also love the triple numbers – only one so far: 22.2.”

“My favourite temperatures are all the 14’s,” he declares, “but we have only had five in the past two years. They always send the swimmers into conniptions! I treasure those days! I also love the triple numbers – only one so far: 22.2.”

Are there mornings when the sea is at high tide with waves splashing on the southern wall, that makes the task treacherous?

“Not really,” he replied. “The pillar is sufficiently elevated to protect me from most seas. Worst conditions are when there are stormy conditions during winter – high winds, torrential rain and big swells can be pretty unpleasant.

“I remember one day the rain was so heavy and the wind so strong, the umbrella I was using to protect the numbers blew away and the rain had obliterated the numbers before I reached the top of the boat ramp (about thirty seconds). When I turned to see if they were holding up in the rain, they had disappeared.

“At first I was upset, having spent so long drawing them, but I remembered that every set of numbers is only temporary – lasting a maximum of 24 hours. This set may only have lasted 30 seconds, but they had been recorded and they had existed, just like every other set of numbers. That made me smile and appreciate them all the more.”

Guy Dunstan measures the sea water temperature at Manly before dawn and the ocean swimmers arrive. Photo: Alec Smart

No man is an island

Guy has a philosophical approach to his task: he sees the sea as a living entity and himself as its conduit, the messenger delivering important information to those who immerse themselves in its waters.

“Bit by bit but I’ve got to know the ocean better,” he said, “and it’s gone from being a mass of water to a living, breathing thing…

“It wants me to tell everyone that it’s alive… but it wants us to take care of it. It’s a two-way relationship, it’s giving us comfort and safety, but it wants us to look after it in return…”

He described a few unusual occurrences that involved either strange coincidences or something deeply symbolic, which have given his morning scribing greater purpose.

Who is this Guy?

Guy is also an advocate for mental health awareness and advises senior management on the personal and corporate risks associated with mental health in the workplace.

“For many years I was at the top of the media and investment banking worlds. I ran companies in twenty countries, worked side by side with Rupert Murdoch, and regularly rubbed shoulders with media moguls, corporate titans and entertainment superstars,” he announced on his LinkedIn profile.

“This career came to an end when I suffered a serious episode of mental illness. The illness sent me into a downward spiral where, ultimately, I lost everything – my marriage, family, friends, wealth and reputation. I was left broke, homeless and alone.”

“This career came to an end when I suffered a serious episode of mental illness. The illness sent me into a downward spiral where, ultimately, I lost everything – my marriage, family, friends, wealth and reputation. I was left broke, homeless and alone.”

Guy credits two years’ work as a manual labourer on the night shift at the Sydney Fruit Market with helping him get back on his feet and reconnecting with the world.

Now he enjoys his morning temperature-taking ritual and has never missed a day through illness, although he deputises replacements if he’s spending time with family.

Guy’s kit. “My favourite colour is aqua, but I use yellows and oranges a lot as they tend to stand out more than the others.”

More unusual characters

Guy also enjoys chatting with some of the unique characters on the seafront while he’s writing his chalk characters.

He told Manly Observer some interesting anecdotes of people he’s met there, including Frank Sinatra’s touring percussionist; an eccentric tennis player; a 93-year-old former surf life saver; and two Swedish backpackers who claimed Guy had been “sent by God!”

Chief among them was Tom, a Chilean artist, who painted Guy for an entry in the 2022 Archibald Prize annual portrait competition.

“I asked him if he was going to sell it after the competition was over,” Guy recalled, “hoping I could make him an offer. I was disappointed when he said he would never sell it…”

Instead, Tom announced: “What I was hoping to do, if you liked it, was to give it to you as a gift…”

Guy completed the recollection: “The painting did not win the Archibald (I think it should have!) but it now proudly hangs on a wall in my apartment.”

Guy Dunstan on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/temperature_guy_manly/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/guy.dunstan.9

Screenshot of Guy Dunstan’s Instagram page.

Want to learn more? Watch this video. 

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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