turning the idea of holiday on its head

Today we collected our caravan out of storage with a different plan. Over the last few years, living in our ‘yurt with wheels’ for a few months every year has pretty much been dream living. It has helped us integrate what typically gets called ‘holiday’ into our lifestyle. In 2013 we are experimenting with another approach. Why not?

photo copy

Now don’t get us wrong, Melbourne is as good a city as there is to live in, and Brunswick in particular has been a rich and deep community in which to raise our family. But we are in the last days of a twenty year season as bobos in [the ] paradise of Brunswick.

Instead of living in urbania and travelling to the coast, we’re flipping it the other way around. We’ll be living in an amazing apartment on the Sunshine Coast, a place that as Melbourians we associate with holidays, and I’ll be travelling to work.

Apart from the appetising prospect of coming home to spectacular beaches, balmy weather and therapeutic views, there is some pragmatism in our decision to relocate. My work effort will be split between ongoing involvement with the PNG Sustainable Development Program and my Melbourne based work (4000 odd kms away) which is taking some interesting and exciting turns in 2013. More to come on that as it takes shape. So the Sunny Coast is about half way between, apart from it being one of our favourite stretches of Aussie coast.

I’m looking forward to blogging about the experience of living and working in three places. I’ll mostly be blogging here, but occasionally here as it relates to what we call our yurting lifestyle. We are stoked that we can do this and its not for everyone. But if there is a message underlying this that we want to ‘shout from the rooftops’, it is this:

“Life is a gift. Don’t wait until tomorrow to do the stuff you dream of. We are not stuck, there are choices we can make, as long as we embrace the consequences that come with them.”

travelling and learning


This blog has been brewing slowly. I posted it yesterday here, but it fits on this site too. What are we doing here in remote Morocco? Is it worth the expense in time and money and the cost of being away from family and business? Is it not bourgeois luxury this phenomena of travel?

Allow me a little latitude as I try to articulate some thoughts in response to these questions. I’ve been thinking about how travel helps us ‘learn’ really important stuff. I’m not talking about learning as the memorising of a fact, but the ability to adjust, to be agile. Learning, in this sense, is about equipping ourselves with an expanding repertoire of insights, tools, etc from which to interpret and respond what we encounter in everyday life.

Becoming more rooted, more deeply competent in existing sets of insights, or ‘polishing our current repertoire’ if you like, while immensely worthwhile, is not learning in the sense that I am using it here. If a person fails to learn (life skills) they become stuck in childlike ways of behaving through adolescence, or adolescent ways of behaving as young adults etc. Learning is about the capacity to live appropriately and effectively in the fluid circumstances of life.

It is about expanding our toolkit of insights, frameworks etc, so as to be better equipped to live well. If we fail to expand our insight toolkit, and simply become more deeply competent in existing knowledge, we become a parody of ourselves.

It’s an oldy but a goody, but it is rarely possible to learn within our comfort zone. Learning requires a new experience, one that forces us to process things differently. Grief or ill heath for example are great teachers. In fact the best teachers are often experiences we might class as negative. I recall sitting toward the back of a church many years ago listening to a young enthusiastic preacher wax lyrical. At the conclusion, my wise older friend beside me said, “he’ll be good once he’s suffered a bit’.

Intentional learning is about choosing to put ourselves in places where existing responses will not suffice. Getting out of our comfort zone.

So Morocco for us was and is about choosing to challenge our view of what life is like. Watching a NatGeo Adventure show about Berber cuisine is not the same as engaging an artisan in the Fes medina in ‘conversation’, a medina which remains effectively unchanged since the middle ages. Driving through the Riff and Atlas mountains where sweeping valleys are completely devoid of trees other than olive groves, messes with the notion of countryside.

And as any traveller will attest, the challenge of language is also real. We’re never certain what will arrive at the table when we order food … we feel like such doofesses being monolingual.

Of course, one does not need to travel halfway around the globe to learn. But when travel is the go, choosing  a place that expands one’s repertoire makes sense from a learners perspective. And as I wrote about in the 3rd day, being in one place long enough to slow down and just be, is also critically important. Tours rarely offer real learning opportunities from what we’ve seen, if learning means seeking to see the world from an alternative perspective.

None of this means other motivations for travel are not fantastic and valuable. Indeed we have indulged ourselves and our yurting lifestyle of the last few years hardly expands our repertoire except in a single direction.

As I write I am sitting beside Maria and Johanna on the sundrenched rooftop of a riad in Fes, with our bellies full of breakfast. Hardly a challenging environment, and yet the sounds, smells and related lifestyles and beliefs of the community in which we are living this week offer a relentless invitation to think about the simple yet important questions of what matters in life.

big scatter as the seasons change

It is the first day of spring and the first bud has blossomed on our apricot tree. The changing season, and in particular the start of spring, is packed with good things.

And on a different front, after 20 years, with our tribe of six calling Temuka Ave home, the season has changed.

In December 2011 I blogged about scattering and gathering. A big scatter is upon us. This last week we farewelled a nervous and excited Rachel … she will spend 3 months on the Fiji Island of Ovalau volunteering in a local school. You can follow her reflections here.) By the time she returns Maria, Johanna and I will be preparing to move to Caloundra for 2013, a punctuating year as the seasons change on a other fronts. Zac and Jan will be in Beijing and Hong Kong later this year and then Zac will be moving out in the new year. And Heidi is planning either a return to South East Asia or an East Coast road trip in January. A new season.

In a few sleeps, Maria, Johanna and I leave for some adventuring in Istanbul, Santorini and Morocco, then home via Abu Dhabi where my brother Phil and Carol are based these days. We are continuing to make the most of this season of life before Johanna hits the business end of high school. If you would like to follow our reflections as we travel and experience what will be brand new places for us, you can do so at via our yurting and travel blog here.

‘do’ part 3: five out of seven

Just about everyone at my stage of life, late 40s, has aspirations associated with physical fitness, health and wellbeing. When I was younger, exercise was relatively easy. Going for regular runs and generally being more active in recreational pursuits was just part of life.











Stereotypically, when I hit 30 a lost it. With young kids I stopped doing sporty stuff with my mates. I had always eaten pretty much whatever I wanted without obvious consequences … then I started getting podgy. I was watching home video one day where I was mucking around with the kids on the floor; I saw my protruding gut and thought ‘Oh crap!’. Blah, blah, typical story. So I resurrected my fitness and began swimming, and other stuff and being more careful about food. But in the meantime a subtle shift started to happen.

Again typically, mid 30s to mid 40s my mind acted as if I was still 20 something, but my body started breaking down. To put it bluntly, I kept injuring myself. And then more recently my second encounter with melanoma brings home the reality that whatever fantasy might be going on in my head, I am not immune to aging.

So these days, exercise is actually a survival instinct, rather than recreation. Not that good general fitness will necessarily fend off the cancer, but my strong will to keep living life to the full is great incentive to stay in OK shape. I say OK shape, because I have also made peace with the what I can realistically achieve in multidimensional life.

For the last few years my practice has been to exercise three times a week. Problem was that if for some reason I missed one, then two a week didn’t seem enough to ward off the sluggard in me. And during winter, if the man-flu hits then it can eat a few weeks before you realise it.

So at the start of 2012 I set myself a simple goal; exercise 5 days a week. But I had to make some changes to make it possible. Firstly, rather than an early (work) meeting knocking out the routine, I made the commitment to get up at rude o’clock if necessary to make sure the heart got started.

Secondly, what worked for me was figuring out how I could minimise the faffing around at the beginning and end … all valuable time. So I decided to compromise – when our local YMCA closed for a major (2 year) refurb, rather than join somewhere else I bought a decent exercise bike for cardio and a few dumbbells. If push-ups and sit-ups are good enough for Tom Hafey, then they’re probably OK for me. So two mornings on the floor in the lounge (Johanna gives me a hard time about the background puffs and groans that accompany her getting ready for school – but she’ll get over it), two on the bike on the back deck and then a swim on Sundays. Apart from a couple of weeks when lurgy has slowed me down, I’ve managed 5/7 every week this year.

For some people that might not be big ‘do’, but I’m feeling pretty chuffed.

‘do’ part 2: intentional vulnerability

About doing, rather than thinking about

My Japanese is pretty rubbish really, but long after I stopped learning I still find myself resorting to Japanese words in my head when the English phrase is not quite right. And having studied teaching second languages at Uni, I was across all the research that indicated how valuable it is for people to learn to see the world through the lens of another culture / language. We mono-lingual Skips miss out really.








So in the spirit of living with no regrets, I reckon its time for me to get learning. Given that I hope slow travel will feature heavily in the coming years, I found myself wondering how good it would be to have at least a basic understanding of the major languages of the world. My realistic aim is to be able to have basic, travel oriented conversations in at least French and Italian (to add to Japanese) If I do that, then in the years to come I’ll add more, this will be a lifelong project.

But for me there has been a psychological hurdle. One of the reasons my Japanese is crappier than it might have been was my failure to embrace failure. I am one of those people who used to hide behind a ‘natural ineptitude’ – which is probably code for “too gutless to make a fool of oneself”. Unless I figured I knew how to construct the sentence perfectly I would baulk at even starting it. So one of the things I had to take on board in embarking on my new language journey is the inevitability of feeling inadequate.

And it got me thinking again about the learning process. I realise how easy it is for us to stay comfortable in the areas in which we are competent. As we go through life we get recognised for our expertise in certain things and it is both affirming and comforting to stay within that community. Well bollocks to that … if we are fair dinkum about lifelong learning lets always be putting ourselves in situations where others are better than us, and lets embrace the inevitability of feeling inadequate and embarrassed by our elementary knowledge and skill.

… he says gulping, realising he is talking to himself.


‘do’ part 1: meaningful food

Hello again everyone.

It’s a strong theme of my other blog to live with no regrets. The association is usually with the bigger decisions in life, but this year I’ve also been taking on some smaller projects. In the ongoing spirit of the Do Lectures, this year there a few things that I’ve been doing rather than pondering about.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working on a ‘meaningful food project’. The objective is to capture the stories and recipes associated with meaningful food experiences in our family. You know how it works, over the years certain dishes get associated with particular feelings or events. Food traditions become really important in our identity and belonging. So far we’ve got 28 recipes to include.

For each one I’ve allocated 4 pages in a bound book. Page 1 is about the story – why is this food meaningful for us? Page 2 is reserved for photos. Page 3 is ingredients and 4 is method.

I decided to handwrite it rather than sanitise it digitally. The idea is to create a bit of a scrapbook rather than a polished product. Downside is that there will only be one … with 4 kids not sure how it will work, but we’ll figure that out later.

I’m not rushing it. I expect it will take a couple of years to complete. I’ve tended to fill out the pages as we happen cook a dish. Today, for example was minestrone day.

An extract goes something like this;

“When there is a pot on the stove, the house always smells good, but Maria’s minestrone takes it to another level. The deep, rich aroma from the slow cooked osso bucco and tomato broth somehow gets in your bones. Like her other Italian dishes, this food reminds us who we are and where we belong. Its good anytime of the year but especially good on a winter weekend.”

Next time I’ll share some of my feelings as I put L plates on as I teach myself French.

williams and leto

I hope you haven’t settled into the year yet. A few nights ago, with a few of us at home we pulled up the movie library and scanned it for a classic to watch. This time we landed on The Dead Poet’s Society.









Robin Williams brilliantly plays John Keating, an unorthodox English teacher at an exclusive boys high school in north east USA. In the context of inspiring an appreciation of poetry as art, Keating urges the boys to ‘seize the day’, and ‘suck the marrow out of life.’ The narrative reminds us that choosing the road less travelled requires extraordinary courage and comes with no guarantees of success. We love this stuff don’t we; admiring the courage in others, but typically struggling to mimic their lead.

The next morning, with the TV on a music channel, out front of 30 Seconds to Mars, charismatic Jared Leto sings the anthem, (I will live my life …) ‘Closer to the Edge’ . So what of 2012? How’s it turning out? Routine and conformity, or closer to the edge, sucking the marrow out of life? What are the dreams? Why not go after them? Embrace risk, the consequences.

My silence on this blog is partly the result of a ridiculous and fulfilling work schedule. I arrived home Friday and with the prospect of my first travel free week this year, I’ve carved out some time to press pause and re-orient. Not that there hasn’t been some good think time this year … in fact my head has been bursting. The six projects that I’ve been working on have been wonderfully engaging. I’ve loved the time I’ve had to digest some past and current issues of Monocle – my favourite travel reading. Maria and I have been scheduling a year that includes some yurting (working and living in our caravan – Port Fairy and Byron Bay) as well as planning some more of our ‘bucket list travelling’ – as some of you know we’re in a window of opportunity given our family stage at the moment.

This is also huge year for Ergo. We are buzzing with the impending launch of a new line of business designed to expand the services we offer to our clients, one we expect will also result in growth for our company.

My silence on this blog is also an exercise in freedom. As I have written on this blog before, there is a fine line between commitment and addiction when it comes to things that in and of themselves can be good. Sometimes, for me at least, blogging can become more about the audience. As someone who has lived as an extravert, I am slowly learning to be content with my own thoughts, without the compulsion to share them. The question against every action, ‘for whom am I doing this?’ is perpetually refining and liberating.

So, not sure when I’ll get back to this blog … but in the meantime, as I process some thoughts about generative living for a publishing project, can I urge us all again not to give in to the gravity toward normal ruts. Lets keep asking ourselves, ‘Why not?’. Let’s live as if this year was our last, but without expecting it to be so.

What step changes are we shooting for in 2012? What skills, what experiences, what areas of character are we going at full throttle? If you’ve settled in, its not too late to shake it up.

not what you think: part 2

Ok, so let me ground the philosophical musings of last week …

AFL is a better code than NRL, Macs are better than PCs, and Spooks is the best spy drama on TV.






Pronouncements like these litter our conversation. We get passionate about our beliefs and can even get into arguments. This happens because we make leaps in logic …

We go from: “I really enjoy AFL” to “NRL is a rubbish game”. What we don’t necessarily acknowledge is: “AFL is all I’ve known and it has provided me with extraordinary satisfaction and a sense of community. As for NRL, I’ve only ever seen it on TV and I’ve actually got no idea what it feels like to play rugby league or support an NRL team.”

In one sense, all we’ve got is our point of view. There’s nothing wrong with not having grown up with NRL, but why do we insist on limiting our appreciation of life by wanting to look at everything through our own blinkered experience? Why do we leap from, “I’ve experienced this to be true,” to “my experience is universally true for everyone”, and it’s corollary, “your experience of truth is invalid.”

Despite the passion involved, the relative merits of football codes don’t matter in the scheme of things. Other things matter more. Justice for people in society who get marginalised or are victims of indiscriminate power or carelessness matters more. Asylum seekers and people with disabilities are just two groups that come to mind. We should be very wary about forming views about people until we have experienced their plight first hand. Until then, listen intently.

The point is simply this: if we want to grow and develop, immersion in a situation that challenges our preconceived ideas about what is good and right is the way to go. Feeding ourselves with content and people that affirm what we already think puts our roots down deeper, but doesn’t help us figure out if we’re in the right spot in the first place.

… but Collingwood supporters really are morons.

behaviour change; not what you think






The London based RSA, founded in a Covent Garden coffee shop in 1754, is dedicated to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Last week I read an RSA essay by Matthew Taylor exploring 21st century enlightenment. Included in the essay is an evidence based exploration of behaviour change. Here are a couple of paragraphs;

“Most of our behaviour, including social interaction, is the result of our brain responding automatically to the world around us rather than the outcome of conscious decision-making. In this sense it is more realistic to see ourselves as a node integrally connected to the world rather than a separate, wholly autonomous, entity. For example, recent work on the impact of social networks shows how they subtly but powerfully influence our lifestyles. After studying public health patterns for two decades Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler conclude:

‘Social influence does not end with the people we know. If we affect our friends and they affect their friends then our actions can potentially affect people we have never met. We discovered that if your friend’s friend’s friend gained weight, you gained weight. We discovered that if your friend’s friend’s friend stopped smoking, you stopped smoking. And we discovered that if your friend’s friend’s friend became happy, you became happy.’

Practically, it turns out that changing our context is a more powerful way of shaping our behaviour than trying to change our minds. If you want to become a better person, don’t buy a book of sermons, choose more virtuous friends.”

I first started to think deeply about behaviour change about 15 years ago after reading Professor Rodney Stark’s 1996 book The Rise of Christianity. The book unpacks the sociological context and factors behind the extraordinary growth of the movement in the first three centuries AD. At the time, the disruption in my thinking was related to the power of community to affect people’s lifestyle choices. In short, rather than people choosing a particular behaviour (for example, helping poor or sick people) because of a belief, studies of a variety of groups suggest it is more substantially driven by a desire to belong to a community who also practices these behaviours.

What we are exposed to, our experience of life, is the dominant shaper of our beliefs and behaviour, rather than our articulated belief system or worldview. So what? Here are two important implications:

1. Until we have experienced the alternative, we should be cautious about how dogmatically we argue our case as superior.

This should not paralyse us in putting forward a viewpoint. Indeed, whether it is a trivial argument about the merits of Sydney or Melbourne or a more substantial discussion about an ideology, we should make our point with robust evidence. But the point is that until we have walked in another person’s shoes our argument is simply a point of view. In a less ethereal context, a commitment to immersing ourselves in the other’s perspective is a powerful path forward in everyday family or household tensions.

It is often said that until one has a child, we have no idea what its like. Until we have grieved we have an impoverished view of life. Until we are unemployed, we have no idea what it is it actually like. I recall Ched Myers, from whom I have learned much, saying that the reason he chose to live where he did in LA was to “intentionally see the world through the eyes of the marginalised”.

2. Personal and professional development is still mired in the myth that it is mainly about content. Content, without context is hollow though. The stuff that catapults us forward is our intentional or unintentional exposure to a situation that challenges our existing capabilities or prejudices. Our lives follow predictable paths because we stay within our communities; we feed our minds with content with which we already basically agree, we hang out with people like us. There is nothing wrong with this except if our long term goal includes development and wisdom. My hypothesis is that the broader our thoughtful first hand exposure to different perspectives, the wiser our grasp of that domain.

Happy exploring.

a web of simple thanks: part 5

Rob Conkie – the unconventional creative








In this little series reflecting on key influencers in my years between 20 and 40 I come to my mate Rob. Rob and I lived in the same house in Brunswick in the late 1980s. I was a fairly conventional young man; until I met this Ballarat boy it was not common for me to hang out with people who regularly wore clown pants to Melbourne Uni when most other people wore either their private school casual uniform or black. Rob opened up my experience of life to include creativity. I had never known someone as sensually aware and intelligent.

I picked up a little practice from Rob that I still find myself doing sometimes; sitting at the dinner table, before he started eating, Rob would slowly lean forward so his face was immediately above the meal. With eyes closed he would inhale deeply, embracing the smells, immersing himself in anticipation of what the flavours would soon deliver.

On more than one occasion I’ve heard people snigger at the extreme ridiculousness of liturgical dance; for good reason I might add. Can you imagine my reaction, while away with friends one weekend, when Rob announces that he is going to perform a dance to a well known song? He executes with such passion and meaning that the circle around him were drawn into a moving and memorable experience.

From his love of drama as an undergraduate and teaching as a young professional, Rob has done the hard yards, here and in England, and now finds himself with a global reputation in Shakespearian performance. I so admire his passion and competency in a domain of which I know virtually nothing.

But Rob is no marginal arty farty. We got to know each other over a diet of sport and slap stick comedy. We laughed and competed our way around Royal Park golf course countless times. We never got our balls confused because for years Rob played with the same bright pink ball. His golf prowess, unlike mine, meant that he wasn’t prone to losing the little blighters. He kicked the pig skin with both right and left (we are both Carlton supporters), a skill that no doubt served him well during the long period he called England home when the world game joined his list of sporting passions. Despite our shared generalist sporting skill and the hours upon hours we spent talking and competing (we played nerf basketball in our kitchen endlessly, seeking to score from increasingly impossible angles and positions – darts, snooker …. ), I could never come close to him on a tennis court where he still hits an A class ball.

On one occasion, much to Maria’s embarrassment, we sat ourselves in front of a TV screen at Barkly Square Shopping Centre and laughed ourselves silly watching the Naked Gun 2 ½ . We laughed often together, seeing things that were not conventionally comical, but of which we shared a comic perspective. We had some fun, typically during morning peak hour traffic when driving home from the cleaning job we shared, picking out the stereo-typical commuting types. A favourite was the blond young professional women driving small red cars. It amused us deeply how many there seemed to be on any given day at that time.

The Australia I recall growing up in had a neat way of categorising people. White collar, blue collar; Catholics and Protestants; Aussies and migrants; private schools kids and government school kids. There were us’ and thems’ at every turn. Meeting and becoming friends with Rob helped me appreciate that the tendency to categorise creates prejudices that prevent us from embracing all humanity has to offer. Like many exceptionally talented people, Rob did not fit a stereotype and in being a friend, taught me to love the unconventional in people.

Mate, as I’ve said to you before, I feel like our souls are connected in some way. You have helped me laugh. You have opened my eyes. Our lives have their own independent maturity now but you have left an imprint on mine that means I will always be grateful for having you as a friend.