The rest:

Projects, Politics, Protests

Friday, 25 December 2009

I’ve been posting some ‘end of 2009’ lists in an assortment of categories, starting with Aerial Views, then with Hotels (good and bad), Other Transport, Music, Cars & Drives, Galleries & Museums, BooksAnimals & Wildlife and Photographs. Today’s is my final end of year sum up.

Planet WheelerLooking back over 2009 it feels like I’ve been working hard to put my name on things! Planet Wheeler, the foundation Maureen and I established after we sold the majority interest in Lonely Planet to BBC Worldwide, has been busy on all sorts of projects, particularly in Southeast Asia. You can find more about our activities on the Planet Wheeler website. We’ve also supported organizations like Engineers without Borders and Architects without Frontiers. I helped launch Divided Cities, the book by Esther Charlesworth, who started Architects without Frontiers.

Wheeler CentreThe Wheeler Centre – Melbourne’s new Centre for Books, Writing & Ideas – was officially opened and will kick off its programming in February 2010. And we now have a Wheeler Chair in Entrepreneurship at London Business School. I said, at its launch, ‘Entrepreneurship is the key to wealth creation in much of the world, and no more so than in the emerging economies – countries which were often the focus for Lonely Planet Publications’ early success.’ Our first professor is Rajesh Chandy and we’re pleased that his work will have a strong emphasis on the developing world.

There were a bunch of projects, problems and people which variously interested me, annoyed me, impressed me or made me very angry.

I was lucky to meet Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born mobile phone pioneer who made a fortune through bringing mobile phones to Africa and now funds the Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. It’s bigger than the Nobel Peace Prize and, sadly, it’s hard to find a winner every year.

I also went along to the launch of the 2009 Global Peace Index which sets out to find the world’s most peaceful countries and at the same time underline why being peaceful is a good thing.

A trip out to the Kimberley in Australia’s rugged and wonderful north-west corner with the Wilderness Society showed me (if I didn’t already know it!) that this is an amazing part of the world and at the same time an area facing grave threats. I think we’ll be increasingly involved with the fight to protect the Kimberley in the years to come.

Dr Hastings BandaI met with the Malaria Consortium, an organization dedicated to fighting a disease which causes huge damage in the developing world. And, of course, a danger for many travellers. Riding my bicycle through Malawi I kept bumping into Dr Hastings Banda, another of those African ‘rulers for life’ although I have to admit compared to some African horror stories Dr Banda was a small affair. Although he did cause Lonely Planet a lot of problems for a spell!


I flew into the US a number of times during the year and a couple of times had to put up with the tediously slow processing that can be (but not always) the penalty for having to deal with Homeland Security. Other people had much more trouble with Homeland Security, as I blogged in the remarkably little reported tale of the Air France Paris-to-Mexico City flight which had to be diverted because the US decided it didn’t like one of the passengers on board. Diverting a trans-Atlantic flight in 2004 because Yusuf islam (aka Cat Stevens) was on board – and on his way to meet with Dolly Parton – did rejuvenate his musical career.

Of course the challenges of global warming popped up throughout the year and on Saturday 12 December I joined the crowds marching through central Melbourne in the Walk against Warming to inform the Australian government they should stiffen their spine at Copenhagen. They didn’t. At the start it was evident  that one company doesn’t give a stuff about the problem. An Armaguard security van stranded in the crowd, sat there with its engine running and its driver laughing at people who suggested he turn it off.

The saddest story of the year? Shoes by the Danube, a monument by the Danube River in Budapest, 60 pairs of old shoes, cast in metal, marking the spot where in 1944 the Arrow Cross fascists shot a group of Jews and threw them into the river. Simple, poignant, a heartbreaker.