Tell us about your journey into the role of Travel Editor of The West Australian?
It’s probably no surprise that this is my 21st anniversary as Travel Editor of The West Australian. Within two weeks of starting work as a feature writer in London, when I was 18, I was on assignment in Germany. That’s how it started – that’s how it still is. I trained separately as a writer and photographer, edited The West Magazine for years, was the start-up editorial project manager for thewest.com.au, got side tracked as a novelist, but travelling and writing has been the core of my writing life. People think my interest is in the ‘travel’ itself, but it’s not – it’s in the writing. It’s in finding and telling stories, and ‘sharing the world’.
What does a typical day in your role look like?
Readers often ask ‘where’s your favourite place?’. My answer is always ‘where I am, or where I’ve just been’. It sounds a bit pre-prepared (and it is) – but it’s true. When I’m away writing, I am so immersed in a place, its people, culture, food, music and history, that I can’t think of anywhere else. In Madagascar, I’ll be watching lemurs, playing kabosy (the Malagasy ukulele), eating in local homes, attending a Turning of the Bones, when ancestors are brought out of tombs and danced with. I’m totally there. And then I go to France – and I’m totally there.
+ On the road, I download and caption every photograph every day, and write at least 1000 words a day – so it’s pretty much 20 hours a day. (My wife doesn’t travel with me. She says it’s not a good spectator sport.) I write in the present tense, which makes stories inclusive of the reader – not ‘second hand’. So stories have to be written every day, in the here and now.
+ When I’m in Perth, it’s just a straight 60 hour week. I love it. We publish big print editions on Saturday and Sunday. I answer every email every day. I chat with readers. We present Round the World Dinners, Travel Quiz Nights, Meet the Team nights and the Festival of Travel. I come up with itineraries for Travel Club Tours – like our recent one-off to Africa. Yeah, I love it.
What is one of the biggest moments recently?
We published the Travel supplement in The West Australian every week through the pandemic – the only newspaper in Australia to do so. Every week, I’d ‘take the temperature’ of our readers – see where our communal mind was. I tried to be sensitive to the mood during those strange days. We went from ‘should I go’ to ‘should I come back’ to ‘how to get a refund’ to local parks, then the wider State, interstate and back out into the world. And through that period, we launched Sunday Travel (which is now a solid 24 pages) and grew West Travel Club to 38,500 members.
Who or what inspires you most?
The readers. Always the readers. I’ve always been so totally aware that if someone takes the time to read anything I’ve written, there’s just the two of us in that moment. Reading and writing is personal. One person writes words. One person reads them. It requires trust from the reader; honesty and integrity from the writer. I take that seriously.
And, if you do take that seriously, the readers become your best friends. Dealing with readers all day; learning more about their lives and likes and adventures and adversities… that’s inspiring.
If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
I might pass on the advice my first editor, the disarming Mr Derek Hales, gave me on my first day at work, as an 18 year old. I was called into his huge office for my ‘induction’ – to be stared at by a disarming man behind a big desk, with a Bible on one corner, a dictionary on the other and a picture of Sir Winston Churchill smoking a cigar, on the wall behind him. Mr Hales gave me two rules.
Rule One. Never throw away a notebook. I’m a simple person, and I haven’t been given another rule. I have every notebook I’ve ever used. They are all filed, catalogued and cross referenced. (That’s a separate issue.)
Rule Two. Never use the word ‘assumed’. A couple of weeks later, a young writer sitting next to me (who hadn’t had Mr Hales’ brief induction) was asked why he’d put something in a story. He replied that he just assumed it was right. We never saw him again.