Posted by: Nick Ward | 9 January, 2011

Stepping into a brand new year

So, another year begins…

I’d be lying if I said 2010 was a good year. Certainly my new job and new company are brilliant, but the year started in stress overload trying to disentangle myself from my previous place of employ, henceforth known as the workplace from hell. Good news was, the disentanglement was successful, but at the cost of an interstate relocation, something I really didn’t want to do.

As is now clear, my mum’s frustration with her gammy emphysemic lungs was somewhat more than a passing irritation waiting to be fixed by the miracle of modern healthcare. With the benefit of hindsight, her body was finally packing it in and she was dying. I sometimes wonder whether she knew, and being so devoted to protecting us all from pain and suffering she hid her deeper understanding from us. Knowing her character, it’s entirely possible. I miss you, mum.

Being a single guy in Australia’s largest city has, well, it’s been crap. Sydney folk are friendly, but don’t expect a Melbourne-style dinner invitation, or to meet their friends. It’s not what happens in Sydney. People stick in their own small tribes and do their own thing. That tends to be more about going for a drink than a meal, which is a shame, as being a died-in-the-wool Melbournian foodie I reckon there’s much more entertainment in the latter.

To be fair, migrants to Melbourne often tell me that their first year or so in their new city was pretty tough too, so this might just be, at least in part, about relocation rather than about the city itself. Nevertheless, as a guy with an extroverted personality, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone. If you’re after a stunningly beautiful city with amazing beaches, Sydney is for you, but if you like to socialize, choose Melbourne.

So, let’s put 2010 in a box, close the lid and put it on a shelf. For that matter, you can happily throw 2007, 2008 and 2009 into that box as well, as they were pretty much rubbish too, albeit for different reasons. I’m sure the experiences from these last four years have made me stronger and wiser, but for the new year, I’d like a little less personal growth and a little more fun and happiness.

Here’s to 2011.

2011 holds promise to be a really good year.

My family and friends seem to be in pretty good health, touch wood, and in a pretty good place in general.

My job continues to get better and even more challenging as I continue learning the nuances of the travel technology industry. The results are starting to come in, a very satisfying indication that I’m doing something right in my role. As importantly, the company itself has a fantastic winning culture and great people, something not to be taken for granted.

My sporting activities, and achievements, are on track for a really good year, with the Outgames in Wellington in March a focal point. An 11th place in the Portsea Swim Classic last weekend was an important achievement in my preparation for the games. Bring it on. And in lifesaving I’m diving headlong into a brand new field which blends sport, leisure and volunteer work in the community.

In the lifesaving crew I find probably the greatest potential to build some of my first deep friendships since landing in this city. Hell, these guys even seem to reliably respond to voicemails and text messages. How non-Sydney is that. I share with many of my new friends a similar mindset and set of values. I love being around people who are chilled, not so uptight. Coincidentally, most of them are, like me, recent arrivals to Sydney.

I certainly haven’t given up on my new home, and will be throwing myself into the Mardi Gras Festival. Looking forward to it. I figure if Sydney is going to prove itself then this is it’s big chance. 2011 is a brand new year.

Which brings me to New Year’s Resolutions. OK, in honesty, I didn’t quite make any at the stroke of midnight on the 31st, but have arrived at a couple in the days since.

1. Tell the truth about my age on dates. I kinda figure it’s better to get a “Really? You look way younger than forty six!” than “Oh, OK, thirty seven, fair enough…” Besides, I’m a rotten liar and am just as likely to start blabbing about early memories of events prior to my fictitious birth. Untidy.

2. Watch more television. Pretty lame, I know, but the hard drive of my DVD recorder is chock-a-block and I need to turn it back into a functional device. Watch it or delete it. Since I’m a tragic hoarder, that would be watch it then delete it.

3. Travel overseas and do something crazy I can one day tell my kids about. Why? Because life is short, and who wants to look back in your twilight years and wonder “What if…?”

Bring on 2011. This is the year I’ve been waiting for.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 16 December, 2010

So, now you’re a lifesaver…

Traditions can sometimes be kinda cool.

Three weeks ago I graduated as a surf lifesaver, and after ten weeks of training with our caps turned inside out, our Bronze Medallion team was at last permitted to turn them the right side out, and proudly show off the distinctive red and yellow quartered design. This we all did together with a loud cheer. It was a good moment. We were lifesavers at last.

Now, I like to think that being on patrol with my Tamarama club mates in my red & yellow cap won’t see comparisons to Paul Hogan’s sidekick (and manager, as it so happened) Strop, who paraded the cap around throughout the 1970s acting like a complete tool.

With a bit of luck I will make a far bolder impression.

Lifesaving is pretty cool. Lots of paddling around and catching waves on Surf Rescue boards, full-on surf swimming, and helping save lives. I’d almost use the term butch, but, of course, machismo holds no attraction for me.

Let’s face it, if I’m honest, hooking up with a lifesaver was kinda hovering in the back of my mind when I signed up for this thing. Lifesavers are hot. And it was a ‘You’re-in-Sydney-now-so-act-like-it’ thing. But it’s become a lot more.

In these ten weeks I’ve learned how to save lives. Save drowning sods from a watering grave, for sure, but the skills I’ve learned can save someone in the office or home having a coronary or an asthma attack. Treating hard or soft tissue injuries, stings and bites from our wonderful but sometimes dangerous wildlife. Heat exhaustion or, on the other extreme, hypothermia.

Now that’s pretty cool.

Yep, my risk of shark attack, or, more likely, sunburn, is greater than that in my desk job. The risk, however, is nothing compared to that of a sedentary lifestyle, so I figure just go for it.

I’ve met brilliant people, who in a very non-Sydney way actually invite me to stuff. Hardly any of them are, in fact, from Sydney – how about that. My ‘Bronzie’ group have become the centre of my social circle in the harbour city.

First patrol is probably this weekend, and I can’t wait.

Postscript: Tamarama SLSC have a second Bronze Medallion course starting in January, and there’s an information session Sunday 19 December – an unashamed plug I know, but check out the Tama website if you’re interested.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 24 October, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing, if it weren’t for lifesaving

I haven’t written for a while, I know.

The reasons are plenty. I’ve been in a race with the 31 October date in my calendar to catch up on my finances over these last few weird months and get my tax in before the deadline. That’s pretty boring, nobody wants to hear about that.

I’ve been busy with work, but that’s no news.

I haven’t travelled anywhere new, well, not really. Work jaunt to Bangkok for 3 days, a day in Hobart, a day in Albury, and 3 days in Auckland last week and a day in Melbourne this weekend.

Not a lot of big news out of any of this, although I did get a gong at the VAC AGM for my ten years as their returning officer, blending my devotion to community, politics, and a geeky ability to apply my mathematics skills to the complex challenge that is proportional representation elections.

Really, not much to report at all.

I won the Joy 94.9 FM footy tipping competition, and ended up chatting about it on air at some ungodly hour from my Bangkok hotel room. To those who really know me, this IS news, as I’m not exactly a “So, How About Those Doggies” kinda guy. Let’s just say it was more due to mathematics and statistics skills than an intense love of football. Oh, and the fact that teams whose colours appeal to me fared well this season. If Hawthorn had performed well I would have been sunk.

I guess the other reason I haven’t been particularly chatty is that my internal dialogue has not been all that happy. Mum’s death has been tough for me, and it’s particularly tough dealing with it in Sydney rather than Melbourne. You know, this is stuff I don’t want to load down my friends with, and I’m not sure benefits anyone by writing about. Suffice to say I miss her every day, she was such a mate, and I have a hole in me the size of a house.

On to other things.

What has been interesting has been my foray into lifesaving.

Tamarama, my club, is pretty awesome. I have joined my friend Christian in a ten week Bronze Medallion course at the club, at the end of which we will be qualified lifesavers. We’re half way through, and it’s going well.

The beach is tough – a pile of my group had to themselves be rescued on the Saturday before last when the beach turned into a massive washing machine – but of course that makes me even happier that I picked the right club to join.

This Saturday just gone was the kind of day you dream about… sunny, no wind, high twenties, perfectly formed ‘spilling’ waves. My Run-Swim-Run was strong, my work on the surf rescue board the best it has been yet. Brunch afterwards was enjoyed greatly.
Exams are end of November, can’t wait. Then it’s on Patrol every 3 weeks, a great way to punctuate my summer in Sydney. Nice.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 11 September, 2010

Happy tales from the middle of the Pacific

There’s something fitting about the fact that the day after mum’s funeral I headed off to a country I’ve never visited before – Samoa.

Mum loved travel and seeing new places. She loved people who were happy spirited. She would have loved this.

It is a great thing about my job that I need to travel to meet with the travel industry. Often it is to cities I have spent a lot of time in already. Sometimes, it is to places new. This was one of those times.

Samoa is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the Date Line from Australia, New Zealand and a good number of our Pacific Island neighbors. What that means is that you arrive before you left home, and on the way home you lose a day you’ll never get back. In all likelihood, that day turns out to be a Saturday or Sunday, but I’m not complaining, it’s worth it to spend time with these happy Samoans.

Samoa used to be called Western Samoa, to distinguish it from the smaller American Samoa. Cheekily, they dropped the ‘Western’ a couple of years ago. The other Samoa was a bit miffed at this, but like many things in this part of the world, people soon moved on.

Made up of two large islands and a handful of smaller ones, I got the sense that Samoa is considered pretty much the epicenter of Polynesia. It has the largest island in Polynesia, is pretty much smack bang in the middle of the islands colonized eons ago by the Polynesians, and, well, the Samoans are basically pretty sure of themselves.

There are a number of claims to fame for this small nation.

They are the most recent country to make the eminently sensible decision to switch from driving on the right hand side of the road to the left, having made the move just last year. Don’t mistake this for any ideological statement, they did it because right hand drive cars are cheaper, Japan being such a big car producer. Can’t fault that logic. To manage the transition they gave everyone a three day holiday to get over it. Call it change management or call it bribery, this very Pacific Solution worked a treat and now everyone is once again happy in paradise.

The other thing that really struck me is that they have no laws against drink driving. This is not because drink driving isn’t a problem, it’s because it’s a custom. They are responsible about it of course… if they are completely legless then they drive really really really slowly. As a result if you go out after 10pm you will commonly see cars driving through red lights and on the wrong side of the road, really really really slowly.

The thing that I really came away with, however, was how warm the Samoans are. Be it Polynesian blood, or be it because they are a country of travellers living in a place you’d be happy to live in pretty much every day of the year, their happy friendliness and sense of humor is immediately engaging.

With stunning beaches & rainforests (which sadly this little worker bee didn’t get to see on this trip), they are ready made for an inbound tourist industry ten times the one they have. With a few changes to investment laws that they have just executed, this growth will happen pretty quickly I’d say. Watch this space.

Oh, the final thing I’d say about the Samoans is that they ain’t little fellas. They like their food, and in temperatures generally running at 25 to 30 degrees and 100% humidity they are not massive fans of exercise. I think it’s also part of the hospitality thing, it would be unthinkable to not properly feed your guests. As a result, Polynesian Blue don’t seem to fill every seat on their flights, and Samoa do extremely well in the Rugby World Cup.

So, that’s a few words on Samoa, but see it for yourself, it’s worth it.

Well, as is so often the case I’m writing this while looking down at an ocean from 36,000 feet, heading to Melbourne. It will be nice to spend a day with the family. It’s been a surreal couple of weeks.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 7 September, 2010

My Mum’s Story

My mum died last Thursday. Today was her funeral.

It’s been a hard day, but also bizarrely a wonderful one. Today I had a chance to talk to some 150 people about my mum, the best mum in the world, and it was nice. She was very very special.

This is what I told them…

Pamela Ethelwin Ward, my mum, was born in Wellington New Zealand in May 1929. Her lifelong partner, Ray, my dad, related their story and I would like to share some of it with you.

Pam was the second youngest in a family of six, two boys and four girls, to Cedric James Hackworth & Fay Eglantine Rayward. The children were June, Jim, Patty, David, Pam and Diana. While Jim died quite young, as was mum’s way, she would remain throughout her life incredibly close to all her remaining siblings.

Pam emigrated to Australia as a six year old when their father, who was a master mariner with the Union Steamship Company, joined the Port Phillip Sea Pilots as a Bay Pilot. While the family initially lived in Camberwell they were drawn back to the sea and ultimately settled in Williamstown in a big house at 38 The Strand.

Pam was educated through the state school system to high school, and while she was academically accomplished, she was also an outstanding sportswoman, representing Willy High in swimming, and also being a member of the Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club. Sport would always play a big part in her life.

She left school to start work in the legal profession as a Clerk & General Secretary, then moved into the fashion world with Rothchilds as a secretary and house model.

By this time all her brothers and sisters had married and left home, and being the late 1950s her mother, who had always wanted to travel, encouraged her to go on a solo overseas adventure, becoming an early backpacker to Europe. These were the days before widespread air travel, so Pam journeyed by ship to London. There she found an Aussie contingent and worked for Australia House for two years, promoting Australian exports, including a continuation of her modelling work selling Australian Wool to the world. After much travel and adventures in Western Europe she finally returned home by ship to be greeted by Captain Hackworth with the pilot as they passed through Port Phillip Bay heads.

Back into life at home, Pam then started work with the Ski Club of Victoria as secretary and booking clerk for their various lodges in the snowfields. There she became an accomplished skier, but more importantly for Richard and I, she met her future partner Ray who was on the board of the Ski Club. Their friendship blossomed and they finally married in January 1963 in Williamstown.

Cedric had by this stage split the big house on The Strand into two apartments, and now Pam and Ray took over the rear half of the house. They kept up all of their outdoor activities, camping, hiking, sailing and skiing, until Pam was pregnant with their first son, Nicholas Raymond, who was born in November 1964. Richard Andrew followed in February of 1967.

I can’t imagine mum without children, something so central to her life and her priorities. My childhood is a blur of fragmented memories, but what I remember clearest is the backdrop to everything we did in those years, and that was my mother’s unconditional love and support.

My earliest memories were birthdays. Mum would always cook us our favourite meal on the night of our birthday. Richard’s was roast chicken. Mine was Beef Wellington. If you’ve every cooked Beef Wellington you will be developing a picture of a child who was a lot of hard work. It was never hard work for mum though, or it probably was but if it was for us, it wasn’t.

You see, nothing was too much for my mum when it came to her children and her family. She was the dependable rock from which we could launch the adventures of our young lives.

And there were plenty of adventures.

The whole of Williamstown was our playground, and we were hard to contain. While Richard was the one who spent half his life in plaster casts from falling out of trees and the like, I was also wreaking havoc by setting fire to my clothes (luckily, while I wasn’t in them) after disobeying parental instructions to not light camp fires while off on adventures. Mum’s anxiety levels over her boys’ life expectancy were no doubt pushed through the roof. Ah, those were the days. Both of we boys went to Sea Scouts in Williamstown, more to put some order to our recklessness than to encourage it, where dad volunteered to help and eventually ended up group leader. Meanwhile, summer holidays were at Blairgowrie where our whole family cultivated a shared passion for all things water, be it swimming, body surfing, sailing or just having adventures at the beach.

Richard & I spent our early years at Willy North Primary and our first two years of high school at Willy High before heading to Melbourne High School where we, I know, made mum and dad very proud. I went on to Melbourne Uni and pursued an honours degree in Science while Rich went to Rusden for a degree in Physical Education, and mum couldn’t have been prouder of the two of us. The sporting achievements of her sons were equally things which brought great pride, with Richard constantly topping the team and me trying to keep up with him.

Family being so important to mum, we would travel to the aunts and uncles places all the time. There were visits to Uncle David and Aunty Patsy in Blackburn, trips to Castlemaine to visit Aunty Di and Uncle John, trips to Adelaide to visit Aunty Patty, and to our great excitement I remember waving mum off to fly (wow, to FLY, on TAA!) to visit Aunty June and Uncle John in Hobart for a family wedding.

Now, we grew up in the best place a kid could grow up in the world, in Williamstown. 38 The Strand was a regular destination for visitors, and all of us just loved it. Family were regulars and there were lots of days spent playing with our older cousins, but the most regular visitors were The Barnard Family and The King Family. The closeness we had with these clans can’t be overstated, and mum just loved the time we all spent together.

Mum’s parents were dominant in our early family years. While my grandmother died when I was five, mum was always so proud of the influence she had on Richard and I even in these short years. She would read the newspapers to me every morning, and never tire of answering my no doubt ceaseless questions about the world and what was going on in it. Grandfather died when I had just turned 15. Living with us he was an ever present powerful figure of a man, and would regale us with stories of The War, of sailing to Antarctica in a failed attempt to pick up Mawson, and of life as a Sea Captain. Mum loved every bit of it, and watching him ail and finally leave us took its toll on her.

Mum loved to travel, and her love of travel passed to me, and I have made it my career. As a person who thought about things as much as she did, the world and its wonders couldn’t have not impacted her. She always encouraged us to discuss what was going on in our lives and in the world as a whole, to think it through and take our own position on it. She brought us up to be strong and confident enough to then act on what we saw and what we deemed needed to be done. When we strove to achieve and did our best, she was proud, oh so proud, and we knew it.

While after Grandfather’s death we eventually moved away from Williamstown to be closer to places of work and study it was always our home in her heart. As our family matured and Richard and I lived for periods of time in other cities and other countries we always knew she was watching our every move, and was at the end of a phone line the moment we wanted to talk. Whenever something was going on in my life I would instinctively pick up the phone to talk about it with mum. That never stopped, even in recent weeks while she was in hospital. I’m going to really miss that.

I was chatting yesterday with my cousin Roger in Hong Kong, and I wanted to share a couple of his observations about mum. As a child he clearly remembers Pam as having been the beautiful aunt who had come back from overseas adventures and was the epitome of glamour. Mum would never have thought of herself as beautiful, but of course she was to the day she died. What was important to her was to look the best she could look, and to BE the best she could be. One of my last memories of mum was her weak hands putting on lipstick she had asked dad to bring from home on the weekend before last. She always wanted to look her best.

Another thing Roger reflected on was mum’s genuine caring for what was happening in their lives. Well, of course, I thought. Mum would never have been anything less than genuine, I can’t think of an instance when she wouldn’t have been 100% focussed on the person she was talking to. There would never have been a commitment she would not have kept. These rock solid values she passed down to her children, and they have been passed on to her grandchildren.

I’m not sure whether there is an afterlife, I just don’t know. What I do know is that the existence of something in this world can only be confirmed by the impact it has on the other things around it. The impact of mum on the people she loved, the way their values were shaped by hers, is unmistakeable in her immediate and extended family and the next generation which has followed. This is her legacy. In this way, I have no doubt she lives on and will for as long as her memory is preserved and her story is told.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 14 August, 2010

Vivre La France, Vivre La Vie – Reflections

Holidays are a great time not only to chill and see new places, but also to have the headspace to think.

I kicked off this blog over the Java Sea two weeks ago on my way back to Australia after a brilliant three weeks in Europe, time to write after having had time to reflect on what’s going on in my life. It has been something I have tapped away at since.

France, where the last week of my Europe travels was spent, had been a good place to think. Tours, in the Loire Valley, and then Paris, were both beautiful and wonderful as they have been on every trip, but the unique stuff about France I believe is not in captured photos of beautiful places (of which, I would add, there are many in this wonderful country). It’s the whole emotional connectedness, dare I say angst, thing that sits under the surface.

The French are so Latin, so passionate. Where else could Film Noire have evolved. Edith Piaf. I really think it’s easier to connect with your thoughts and emotions when you are in France.

My friend Yves, in Tours, is sick. Cancer. He’s going to get through this, if I have anything to do with it. Problem is, I probably won’t. I’m not good at feeling powerless. A lot for me to reflect on.

My mum isn’t well either. A history as a smoker left her with emphysema. Initially it was a shortness of breathe, but it just got worse over the years, long after she had had her last cigarette. Now she’s on oxygen twenty-four hours a day, and she’s now constantly feeling like sleeping. She’s in hospital as I write. Powerless again. More reflection.

My problem as a crazy lover of life is that I don’t cope well with the other side of the coin. Aging and death are things I’m not in the slightest bit comfortable with. Never have been. Coming from the Gay Games, full of fit good looking gay men and lesbians looking half their age, the ironic juxtaposition with the glaring mortality of two people I love left me thinking.

Leaving aside the issue of death for a moment, do we overvalue youth and undervalue the richness of a person that can only come from age? In Yves & Jerome’s backyard grows a grapevine with sweet delicious ripe grapes, sitting alongside unripened grapes that are so bitter you can’t help but screw your face up. In our gay community a lot of the unripened fruit is pretty abrasive, yet we idolize it. I don’t claim innocence on this count. Far from it, I’m guilty as sin. Yet I also know that I spend most of my time socializing with my elders. How do I reconcile this?

I guess it’s by doing things like writing what you are reading now, and talking with friends. Processing the mortality of loved ones who are not young and fit any longer and who’s lives are at grave risk. Processing my own mortality and the fact that I will grow old and die, one day. And so will the gorgeous young men and women of this world, no matter how immortal they feel now.

Is the sexiest thing about vampires in this current New Moon craze the hot actors in the films, or is it the idea of eternal youth. I reckon the latter.

The irony that most of the best written (in my opinion) vampire books were set by Anne Rice in Paris is not lost on me. I reckon you feel way more in touch with life, love, sex, aging, and finally death, in France than anywhere else on this planet.

So there you go, I can’t be accused of not sharing my thoughts. This may be a travel blog, or more accurately destination blog, but it’s got some reflection mixed in. My experiences at the moment are influenced as much by my interplay with the significant people around me as they are by the places I am at any point in time.

I can be truly thankful for this time in France. I don’t think I would have given such time to pondering topics of aging and mortality, some with respect to two special people I love, some with respect to myself, anywhere else in the world. Next challenge is to see if I can now resolve the rather large personal issues I have with these.

It’s funny, I spend my whole life clutching onto life. Perhaps growing up requires me to stop guarding life and youthfulness and put all that saved energy into making every day the best it can possibly be.

Growing up… Mmmmm, next week perhaps.

Well, keeping in spirit of a blog with lofty aspirations and started in the air, it was also finished in the air, on a trans-continental (work) flight from Sydney to Perth. Sometimes you just have to finish things up in the air.


I am in the air again, on my way to Melbourne. Three hours ago I got a call to say my mum had taken a turn for the worse. While I was at the airport waiting for a flight rushing me to be with her, she died. My wonderful brother Richard put a phone to her ear so I could talk to her as she took her last breaths. I am so sad. I was going to can this blog, but on reflection, no. Mum always encouraged me to think about things, to share my thoughts. Everything that Richard and I got up to as kids, then as adults, she wanted to talk about. Not just places and people, but what their meaning was to us. She would have liked to talk about what I have written here. This is for her. I love you mum and miss you terribly already.

So, The Cologne Gay Games are over.

Whatever I say will sound cliched, but what the hell, I’m going to say them anyway.

The truth is that I’ve competed and achieved some personal best performances in the pool, I’ve made new friends and strengthened existing friendships, and for a wonderful week I have lived in a city very different to my own (whether I consider that to be Sydney or Melbourne). I’m sure most other games participants feel the same way. How lucky I am to be able to participate in these things.

As I fly through the French countryside at over 200 kms per hour on that most wonderful machine, the TGV, Germany now feels a million miles away. It’s sad that the games are over, but wonderful that I have been enriched by the experience. That’s not to say this is the first Games which has had that effect on me, New York, Amsterdam, Sydney & Montreal did too, but it’s interesting to look back on what has made the Cologne Games such a great experience anyway.

I am richer in having achieved my first Gay Games medal (3 in fact, all silver, but a thrill nonetheless). I won medals in Montreal, my last Games, but technically that was an Outgames… it’s nice to also take something home from a Gay Games.

I am also richer for having achieved best ever results in waterpolo with my Melbourne Surge team, taking home one of those silvers in a hard fought match against Utah. It was a real T.E.A.M. experience, probably the first time I've been involved in such a full-on team sport experience.

I’m richer for achieving two more of those medals in relay teams with my beloved Glamourhead Sharks. I love relays, it’s so great to share success with my team-mates, and brilliant to set goals for future meets with the team. Reckon our 4x 200m relay team has a shot at a world record at the Asia Pacific Outgames in Wellington in March.

And I’m pretty damned satisfied to have sliced most of my personal best times in my swimming events, including the 100m butterfly, 400m IM, 800m freestyle and some 45 seconds off my 1500m freestyle time. To be swimming times faster than I was swimming at the Sydney games in 2002 is a real thrill, I’ve got to say, and has me setting my sights on breaking through some serious time barriers I’ve never broken through before. At these games I came closer than I ever have before to nailing an individual medal in my pain-in-the-bum super competitive age group, coming in 4th in two events, just missing a medal by a whisker. Next time with some hard work I should break through on this front, I reckon.

All that being said, the most brilliant thing I’ve got out of these games has been a pile of new friends who I will without doubt maintain contact with, and probably compete with at future games. Awesome. Went to a house party hosted by my Kolner friends where I met a handful of new and interesting people, including our favorite diver Matthew Mitcham, which was a really fun night. And, as always, my Australian teammates are just that much closer for us having shared the games together.

Full marks to Cologne. The city not only put on a great games, it showed off its character to the fullest. For those who haven’t visited, Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city, yet has wonderful little neighborhoods, and a fantastic gay & lesbian community. Schaafenstrasse, near Rudolfplatz, was one of the best street parties I’ve seen, and was absolutely pumping every night of the games. Neumarkt was filled with stalls and stages. By day, the old town, cathedral area, and shopping strips were full of locals & visitors. What a great city.

So, over the next four years there will be games in Wellington, Antwerp and Cleveland. There will be IGLA (GLBT aquatics) championships in Hawaii & Iceland. Bring them on, I can’t wait.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 30 July, 2010

Five Melbourne things I love about Brighton England

Can I just say, I love traveling.

OK, so those who know me know that this is not news. Having spent the last 15 years working in the travel industry you’d kind of hope that was the case.

The thing I love the most is seeing other places and people and enjoying the differences to Australia and Australians, viewed with a clarity that only comes from being a traveller rather than a local seeing things for the millionth time.

Sometimes, however, what you notice is surprising similarities instead.

Our first stop on this trip, for fellow swimmer Mark and I, was Brighton England, visiting my good friends Ralph & David. Brighton turned on it’s now-customary grey and bleary weather for me, and we knew that things were as they should be.

While our jet lagged bodies slid along the city streets I noticed something quite interesting: this town has a lot of similarities to Melbourne.

Firstly, there is street art. Lots of it. And like Melbourne, it’s really good. One back street had a series of buildings painted pretty much from footpath to chimney, really quite awesome.

Second, the food. Lots of cafes, coffee that was almost up to Melbourne standard (which goes down really well after a 24 hour flight, let me tell you) and some pretty funky cutting edge restaurants and food streets.

Next, a big gay & lesbian community. Currently running at about 30% of the population, Ralph tells me. Brighton Gay Pride is evidently one of the biggest in the country (after London, of course). And it’s a really friendly community, unlike some others which will remain un-named.

Brighton of course came to be as the seaside retreat from the big city. As did St Kilda. And the similarities are obvious. St Kilda’s Luna Park may not be the size of Brighton Pier, but it certainly has the same spirit. And just as fire took out the St Moritz in St Kilda, the West Pier in Brighton went the same way. Right down to the palm trees, seaside escapes are they both.

Finally, who can not see the parallels in the laneways which trace their way through both cities. Cousins they well might be, even if one is a fair bit bigger than the other.

So, that’s Brighton and Melbourne. Would I be stretching it to also draw a comparison between London and Sydney?

Two cities which are seen by outsiders as the signature cities of their countries. Lots of history, landmarks immediately identifiable by anyone with a passport, very much travel hubs of their region.

Lifestyles are oh so similar, both Fast Lane, professionals working hard and partying harder, with massive dormitory/nursery suburbs extending out for miles.

The gay or trendy can’t wait to live there, and, quite often, before long can’t wait to leave.

London outdoes Sydney by a county mile on the art and culture front, it goes without saying. The Tate Modern and Tate Britain are stunning, much better than anything I’ve seen in Sydney, although I will admit to not having been to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Circular Quay in years. And the theatre in the West End is closer to Melbourne than Sydney, but of course ten times bigger than either. And a comparison of public transport? Don’t make me compare The Tube to Sydney’s embarrassing buses.

We stayed with my wonderful friend Mel in Streatham, an example of how funky most of the neighborhoods of London are, even if it isn’t Clapham or Camden. Sydney has a bit of that too. And in heading out to St Albans to visit other friends Clare & Neil the village thing works in both cases as well, but I’d suggest one doesn’t draw parallels too closely.

And both have a Hyde Park. Let’s not forget that.

Are you convinced? Well, really you should be. It’s not exactly a secret that the early European colonisers of our fine land tried to understand a continent with weird looking animals and lots of sunny beaches by trying to draw parallels with the world they knew. New South Wales… Victoria… and try overlaying the names on a map of the north coast of Tasmania with that of the south coast of Devon some time. Not exactly coincidence.

The key message here really is just about the quality of the experiences in these cities. And perhaps about digging a bit deeper for the hidden secrets, no pun intended.

Well, England behind us and the Gay Games just around the corner, time to sign off for now as we head on our ICE train to Cologne. Wiedersehn.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 18 July, 2010

Adventures in Bangkok: Three Colours Red

Asia has always fascinated me.

It’s so close to home, yet so completely different. Culturally, climactically, and demographically, it has always been a welcome change whenever I’ve been travelling.

What I guess I have known but not spent too long analysing is how different Asia is economically.

This trip to Bangkok has been different in a number of ways. Firstly, it has been a work trip. It has involved a daily commute to the office, meetings and teleconferences, business lunches and security passes. Second, it has been only a few weeks after a series of protests which paralyzed one of Asia’s largest cities, saw scores of people lose their lives, and a number of large buildings burn to the ground.

Don’t get me wrong, the Thais have been just as friendly and welcoming as ever, the food and shopping have been just as outstanding, and the tourist draw cards are as perfect as ever. It’s just that now a more serious thread weaves under the fabric. On this trip I have seen Thailand in a slightly different light.

Thailand, or more particularly Bangkok, has seen spectacular growth in the twenty years since I first visited here. Then it was tuk-tuks at twenty metres to get around, now it is metered taxis in every lolly-shop colour and air conditioned sky trains. Back then shopping was fake Lacoste polo shirts in Khao San Road, now it’s Armani and Gucci in Siam Paragon.

Head offices of companies like my own, Amadeus, are now based here guiding their commercial activity across the entire Asia Pacific region. While there are quite a few expats in these companies, the opportunity has certainly been shared by the Thais, these are certainly not Anglo-Saxon workplaces.

There is plenty of money in this town, some wealthy foreigners and a lot of wealthy Thais.

So why do I find myself at all surprised by this?

Well, to an Australian, Asia has, generally, been warm, cheap, accessible and full of the friendliest of people, and as a result, it many years ago became a holiday playground. To be blunt, we have I think become more used to seeing our Asian neighbors staffing hotels than running multi-national corporations. I recognize that I myself, who I pride on being a died-in-the-wool internationalist, have unconsciously formed preconceptions in this area. How’s that for an uncomfortable admission.

Well, this trip has provided some valuable insights into what is really beating at the heart of today’s Thailand, and addressed a lot of these preconceptions I wasn’t even aware I had.

Bangkok, like the other big capital cities in this region, has grown some very wealthy citizens. Rama 1 Road, which runs East-West through the centre of Bangkok, is lined by some massive shopping centres, all Thai owned.

MBK is perhaps the best known, probably five hundred metres long and six stories high, it is full of stalls selling everything from t-shirts to iPhones, diamonte scrunchies to green curry chicken. It is enormous, and most of the stuff there is pretty cheap.

At the other extreme is Siam Paragon. This centre makes Harrods look positively hawker-market. Marble and gold throughout, it’s all European designer stores, Gucci to Chanel.

Next door is Central World, incorporating Zen, again, very top end. I know that because I could see a melted and mangled ‘L’Occitane En Provence’ sign in the rubble outside Central World’s burnt out shell.

What motivated the Red Shirts to establish their blockade of the commercial heart of Bangkok for weeks, and to torch a number of buildings as they were removed, is hard to completely pin down, but suffice to say there weren’t many Red Shirts driving Ferraris. A lot of Thais appear to feel the wealth, of which there is no shortage, is not being shared around, and they would like a bit. From what I understand there’s more to it than that, including just run-of-the-mill frustration with a government they don’t like, but economics seems to be a pretty big part of it.

I find it hard to condone protests that lead to violence and vandalism, but I’m not completely surprised it has happened, even in as peace-loving a country as Thailand. Throughout Asia there is the most appalling gap between the very rich and the very poor. I recall ten years ago being driven through Mumbai and having the houses of millionaires pointed out on the hill overlooking people living on flattened cardboard boxes next to the road, begging for coins from passing cars. That these countries provide no safety net to the poverty stricken while such wealth exists is downright shameful. I might add, that is not an Asian phenomenon, there are many in Australia who would push us in that direction, and in the United States this situation of the very very rich living next to the very very poor is a reality already.

Has Thailand heard the last of this? Not a chance, I’m afraid.

This wonderful country with it’s fantastic people are in for a bumpy ride over the next year or two I fear, but they will come through it, I’m confident of that. I really hope so, as on this trip I’ve found that this is more than a brilliant place to visit, it’s an excellent place to work.

On this trip I have discovered the most wonderful restaurants, been to the equivalent of an AFL Football Match (that being, Thai Boxing!), jogged around Lumpini Park dodging the locals doing their morning Tai Chi, and had a brilliant time shopping and socialising with my work colleagues. Full on week of work, make no mistake, but great to be working somewhere like this.

OK, enough blogging for one day, time to head out and make the most of this city. I do love a seriously rough Thai Massage, might make that my first stop.

Posted by: Nick Ward | 11 July, 2010

A Tale of Three Cities, Four Days and One Removal Van

I’m a P type person. My first Myers Briggs claimed me as a J type, but I think it was mixing up me-at-work with me-a-la-naturale. My last one came out P, and I’m sure it was right.

I don’t naturally plan a long way ahead. In fact, my schedule generally is little more than a sketch of how the day might pan out. I kind of like it that way, stay flexible and grab new and interesting opportunities as they arise.

When it comes to moving your life and years of accumulated possessions from Melbourne to Sydney, however, playing things by ear is not an ideal strategy.

My week started with my usual late-Sunday flight back to Sydney after a weekend of packing. Oh, and brunches, dinners, and Waterpolo. Good one, Nick.

Now, I was well aware that with a looming work trip to Bangkok followed days later by three weeks in Europe for the Gay Games I didn’t have much time to get it together, pack and ship my stuff and list the apartment for rent. About a week, to be precise.

Work duties had me in Melbourne on the following Wednesday, as luck would have it, so with two days in lieu up my sleeve I could sort it all by the end of the week.


The removalists arrived late Friday afternoon, and I was sealing boxes as they were collecting them. ‘Just In Time’ might be the the next big thing in retail stock management, but in the world of moving house it’s a sure fire recipe for frayed nerves.

The removalists gone I was left with an empty flat. Allegedly.

How is it that a cupboard full of cleaning products you’d swear you emptied is still full of it’s original contents?


And the cupboard in the laundry that was full of assorted pots, bowls and candle holders is cleared right down to, but excluding, the bottom shelf?


Well, I’m now out of there. Vacated. Gone. My beautiful apartment will have new residents within days. (Ummm, it will, won’t it?) Few last logistics to manage and I’ll be a Melbournian with a Sydney address.

On the plane back to Sydney on Saturday I nursed cuts and bruises and aches and pains, but a satisfied glow hung over it all. National Tourism Industry Awards on Saturday night were a battle at times to stop yawning (no reflection on the event or the company), but after a good sleep in I threw some clothes into a bag and headed to the airport.

Bangkok here I come.

First trip to the Amadeus regional mother-ship, will be interesting. Sat on the plane next to a chatty young guy, soon worked out he was family. Nice. Going to be an interesting week. Gee I hope that removal van arrives ok.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »