Posted by: Nick Ward | 21 September, 2011


I first left our sunny shores back in 1987 with my first boyfriend, Colin. We did our ‘Big Trip’ around Europe, a massive 9 months of traveling across most countries in Europe. Awesome.

In the south of England we met a Frenchman, Yves, in a youth hostel. About our age, he was doing a bit of a working holiday away from his native northern France, and from his girlfriend. A student teacher, and folk dancer in his spare time, I guess we were at the time, in truth, a little surprised to learn that he was straight, but not so surprised we doubted it. What was unquestioned was that he was genuine and interesting, and we travelled together for several days, as you do with likeminded travellers from time to time when backpacking.

On our return to Australia we kept in contact, and Yves managed to get a posting for his compulsory civil service (in place of military service) to the French Trade Office in Perth. Colin and I had moved to Brisbane after returning to Oz, and Yves visited us there.

A hit with our friends, there were many brunches, dinners and nights out. In the course of one of the dinners, Yves was, embarrassingly, questioned about his sexuality by a good friend of ours in front of all the dinner guests. “So, are you gay, Yves?” I jumped in to reassure that he was very much straight. That might have reassured some of our friends, but not, as it so happened, Yves. “I’m not sure” was his answer, and so, with that, it came to pass that our French Friend Yves became our French Gay Friend Yves.

Over the 24 years since we met, Yves and I have caught up regularly. We’ve outlasted each other’s relationships, we’ve each formed new ones, and we’ve outlasted the lives of parents. I have fantastic memories of driving with Yves and his partner Jérôme through the sunflower covered fields of the Loire Valley, their back yard, in a convertible Renault, flitting from chateau to chateau, cave to cave.

Three years ago, Yves finally became a father, adopting gorgeous little Anna from an orphanage in Haiti. Never a more loving family have you seen, balanced and fertile for a smart little girl to grow up into the best young woman she can become.

Before Anna’s arrival, in mid-2008, Dermuid and I spent a few days with Yves and Jérôme at a swim meet in Paris. It was, as always, wonderful. A chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share good food and good wine, and an opportunity for me to sharpen my French and Yves to sharpen his English.

Yves was a little cranky at times on this trip. He had a shoulder strain that just wouldn’t go away.

A couple of months later, we learned that the shoulder strain wasn’t a shoulder strain. It was lung cancer.

The shock and denial (he had never smoked in his life) gave way to an overwhelming desire to do what I could to help, but there’s not a whole heap you can do from Australia.

I visited Yves and Jérôme with my friend Mark last year, and he was stoic, but also perhaps disarmingly practical. He was willing to discuss the possibility of his death, his hopes for Jérôme and Anna.

I wasn’t prepared to hear it, of course. I just wanted to talk about life, really.

A few months ago I received a fantastic email from Yves to let me know that, somewhat miraculously, pretty much the last-ditch treatment had actually worked, and the tumors were receding.

But it didn’t last.

On 24 August, my wonderful friend Yves died.

Over the months before he died, Yves wrote the text for his service. He wrote in it about our friendship, beautiful words which I hope he knew I would have written regarding him if the roles were reversed. I just wish I had had the chance to say my words to him in person.

I am in a plane now, traveling to Europe. It was my hope that on this trip I would see Yves and Jérôme and Anna. I won’t. But I will travel to Paris to spend time with Jérôme and Anna, and Yves’ sister Martine. The tears are dampening my eyes as I write this, but I am happy. I am happy that I have been so so lucky to have had this wonderful friend in my life. My French Friend Yves.

“Il y a aussi mon ami australien, Nick, grâce à qui j’ai pu entamer la deuxième partie de ma vie de manière sereine. Grand, blond, les yeux clairs et un physique de nageur, il a surtout le bon gout d’aimer la France, nos vins et nos petits plats ! En fait, c’est lui qui a su me montrer comment être moi-même sans crainte des autres et sans perdre mon « âme » non plus. Par delà les océans, « good bye mate !»
Yves Paliern, 2011


  1. What a lovely story Nicholas – yves would be very touched, as you wee by having him in your life

  2. Nick my name is AnnaKnightly and I shared a house with Yves in Perth Australia. I am not on facebook. I live in ireland now and was in touch with yVES shortly after he adopted anna.Would love to have a contact address for his sister or partner to write a little letter.i have such fun memories of my time with him and lee heaney who sadly also died.

    • Hi Anna, great to get your message! Yves spoke of you a lot 🙂 Drop me an email ( and let me copy you in on an email to Martine and Jerome 🙂 Nick

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