Month: December 2014

A Worthy Resolution for 2015

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IMG_26392015 is the year that a series of long-awaited Design Forum convened to open a conversation where a central question will be addressed: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

This is the culmination of a running stunt called the 10 City Bridge Run which involved me running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. Right now as I type this post, I am standing on the verge of the ninth leg here in Toronto. The weather is cold with some snow flurries, and at -9 degrees celsius, there is every possibility it could snow while I am out running. I will be running between the cusp of two years: setting off when the new year turns in Sydney, and ahead of the new year here in Toronto. Bridging the years.

The resolution is to improve child survival.

One way you can help now is by signing this petition to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, who is Australia’s Foreign Minister, where together we will be asking her to be the official champion for this series of Design Forum.

I made two videos along this journey which give a little more information below. Happy New Year!

First or Last: A Matter of Perspective

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stephens sunriseIn a few short hours, it will be -6 degrees in Toronto and possibly snowing  as I set about on the next 24 km leg of the 10 City Bridge Run. This is the ninth leg ahead of travelling to the final city of New York tomorrow morning.

As I take my first steps on this run, the New Year will be welcomed in my home city of Sydney.

Will my run be the first act of the New Year, or the last gesture of the year passing by? It doesn’t matter much. It is just a matter of perspective.

Either way, I will be bridging the years with running across both the old and the new. The Last and the First.

A Song For My Mum

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IMG_3181It has not been an easy year for my mother. For many people it has been difficult. While our family comes to terms with the loss of my brother, my mother is finding these days difficult, and so I asked Luigi to sing for her when I returned to Glasgow.

Luigi is the head chef at the Val Doro Restaurant, which is the oldest chippie in Glasgow. It has been in his family for over 80 years, and in operation since the late 1870’s. An institution. I’m convinced that Glasgow wouldn’t be the same without it.

IMG_3182It is a classic chippie. I took this photo when I was running the Glasgow leg. There were less people there the day I dropped by and asked Luigi to sing a song for my Mum.

It would be easy to draw a comparison to some British comedy tv shows, but I won’t. Luigi has a heart of gold. Francis who is the sous chef on shift is every bit as diligent, taking care with the deep fry while Luigi sings.

Make yourself a cup of tea Mum, and enjoy Luigi singing especially for you.

Reflections On Sorry Business A Few Weeks On

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IMG_3210In the wake of my brother’s death, my good friend Gloria pressed me in a gentle way as only a good friend can to look towards my own welfare and that of my brother’s legacy by paying attention to ‘Sorry Business‘.

Most Australians have heard of sorry business, but few really have any understanding of what it means. Gloria’s gentle insistence was probably as close as I will ever come to Bruce Chatwin’s fascinating account of ‘walkabout’ in his book ‘The Songlines’.

I knew it was the right thing to do to continue the journey I was on at the time when my brother fell ill. In effect, as a family, we were forced to come to terms with the immediacy of death in circumstances outside of our own control when he was first diagnosed with leukaemia just after New Year’s Day two years ago.

Just over a month ago when my brother privately revealed to close family and friends that his reading of protein levels in his blood which apparently is the measure for recording the severity of leukaemia, I was again alerted to a question of time. He was disappointed in the news, but strong and fighting. A committed resolve which I admired in him, and which seemed so far from his bookish, gentle-nature. I was the warrior in the family, but here was my brother staring down death.

My brother was idiosyncratically stoic and pragmatic. This is more a reflection on how he approached the display of emotions, and so he and I had a funny language with which to express admiration and love between each other. His final words to me when he was admitted to hospital before the rest of us were acutely aware of what was to come were a reflection of that character: his pragmatic appraisal of the situation, he focus on the needs of others above himself, and perhaps mostly a compelling expression of admiration for what I was doing.

It was an admiration in as much as an acknowledgement that the two of us were different. I knew that. He knew that. We respected each others strengths as complementary to where each of us were ‘less gifted’.

And Gloria was right.

Trust your intuition cause whatever you do to respect his memory will be the right thing to do Matt. You will know what to do for sorry business 

I discussed my intuition with my family that I ought to continue this journey which I was embarked, the 10 City Bridge Run, rather than return for his funeral. My decision was not influenced by Gloria’s words, but she did help me to listen more intently to what I ought to do at that time. My family understood readily and agreed, as much as for my sake, as for honouring my brother’s legacy.

My sister read my eulogy at my brother’s funeral, and I still have to spend some time with her talking about that. It is not really a conversation I can do from the other side of the world. It can wait, but not for too long.

I was able to make some recordings on video and send them to my brother for him to hear before he died. I am thankful for that. My brother said he died knowing he was loved.

Just as the flowers in Martin Place have since been cleared away after the pre-Christmas Lindt Cafe siege, with a few photos around the subway entrance as a reminder, my grief has been aided by the opportunity to pursue this journey as a tribute to my brother. I am indebted to many friends for that opportunity. Your kindness is humbling. Thank you.

There is a lot more I could write, but it need not be mentioned here. Except to say that Gloria was right.

As we enter a New Year, read this as a lesson to look after your friends in the same way that Gloria looked after my welfare. Kindness is a currency that costs nothing, but has an unequalled dividend.

Everyone Was Doing Their Best

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IMG_1461A good friend of mine has a pearl of wisdom she wheels out frequently when it is appropriate, and it often is. “Everyone was doing their best at the time” she says. It is a very forgiving statement. Part cautionary, and part empathetic. Everyone was doing their best.

What she means is that even though people might have been capable of doing better (and we all are), because of the situation people found themselves in at the time and their own personal limitations, their actions represented ‘their best’ at that moment.

Her statement is pretty radical. It means that people who even do bad things are acting at that moment at the best they could at the time. Just read any newspaper and see the stories of unethical behaviour, or cast you mind back to the week just gone to think of examples where other people fell short of our expectations.

Some won’t agree with her philosophy. I know I didn’t agree with it when I first heard it from her.

But there is some power in her words. It moves from blaming to acceptance. In writing this post, I am just putting this idea out there. I am not suggesting that it is a perfect philosophy. But it does have it’s merits, and we only have to look to some of our own personal failings to see that it offers a kindness that might not always be deserved.

The 10 City Bridge Run is based on some pretty big ideas. Yes, at the core is child survival, but the big ideas revolve around building bridges and opening conversations. And building bridges and opening conversations first need us to establish some willingness to listen or to find common ground that is worth connecting with.

It would be easier to convene a simple conversation about child survival, and paint the problem in a generic sense with some specific case studies. That might be easier, but it may also fail to acknowledge the context we are dealing with. We are talking about real people in situations different to our own. It is not a simple matter of assigning a better flow of infrastructure, or ways of appropriating medicine and nutrition. There are circumstances that have caused bad situations to emerge, and they must also be acknowledged even if they are beyond our ability to address them. What does ‘everyone was doing their best’ mean for regimes that hold people in poverty because of corruption?

Returning to a personal reflection, I think of the context that my friend once again gave me this advice in response to a question I had asked. Her response was good. Very helpful.

And now as I prepare to leave Glasgow for Toronto for the next leg of the 10 City Bridge Run, the second last leg, I think back to what I have done and not done since 2010 when this idea was first conceived. More often than not, my performance has been imperfect. There were plenty of ways I fell short of my potential. Even reflecting on my time here in Glasgow I think of ways things could have been better. But there is also some comfort in reflecting that at the time, I was doing the best I could based on my own personal limitations.

What is more important now than looking behind is looking to the future as we set our minds to the Design Forum that will unfold in 2015 and ask how this can be meaningful to bring about change that matters. We will learn from the past, and it will stand us in good stead if we suspend our own tendency from being our own best critics.

Thunderbirds Are Go!

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Thunderbirds-are-goOk, well maybe it isn’t Thunderbirds, but with about as much energy and excitement, I am delighted to announce that the journey continues tomorrow departing Seoul bound for Glasgow.

There have been more delays and challenges along the way than maybe I care to remember, but also many lessons from those situations. I really need to document all of that to share.

Importantly, this is coming together and the stunt is making sense to frame the Design Forum in 2015. The Design Forum will be a whole new challenge, and that is an opportunity for cooperation, collaboration and partnership for many. Please join us. We do need your help.

I especially want to thank my father who was the first person to support this initiative back in 2010, not because I primed him beforehand, but because he cared enough to act. He has continued to support me in more ways than anyone will ever know, and suffice to say without his help and advice I personally would never have come this far. Thanks Dad.

Make no mistake, we have a unique opportunity ahead of us. I hope this provides inspiration for many, and if the end of the year is looking bleak for whatever reason then please join us with optimism for 2015 as we stand in solidarity to make change for those most in need.

Many of you will know I am forging ahead to make this count as a tribute to my brother, Stephen who sadly died the previous week. This journey is about improving the delivery of child survival. If you would like to support the journey ahead with a small contribution of a couple of dollars before we roll into Christmas, please visit this link as well. https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/epic-quest-to-honour-my-brother-s-legacy/x/1194797

Thanks to all. BZ.

We Take Our Past With Us

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IMG_0761“You can run, but you can’t hide.” It is such a common quote, but actually I don’t know where it is from.

Joe Louis the great American boxer was attributed to saying “He can run, but he can’t hide”, but that is not the reference I had in my mind when I started writing this post. I am sure it is a line from a movie somewhere, but someone will have to help me out.

The point is that we have a past, and try as we might to shake off the bad bits, they are part of makes us who we are for better or worse. Learning to live from the past is of far more importance. Make peace with the past and become a better person.

When I ran through Singapore, I was reminded of my early days as a young officer in the Australian Army when we did some training exercises in Singapore. I didn’t so much run through Singapore as across it, from top to bottom starting at the Causeway and finishing on Sentosa Island. I was a hot and humid day, and I was feeling it, probably getting a little heat stroke and dehydration along the way.

A short distance after getting started on the third leg of this journey when I ran across Singapore, I passed this red sign you can see on this post.

Singapore is only a small island, and so space is at a premium. It is also a country with conscription with every male required to do national service. So with a large army, they need space to train, and safely. This sign to some extend explains that, but it also echoes a past history marked by violent struggle to emerge as a strong democracy.

We have to know our past. There are lessons to be learnt, and the getting of wisdom.

Without sounding too dramatic, there is a lot we stand to learn about child survival from what has happened in the past. Not everything has worked, and no doubt there has been a lot of wastage. Some of that has been well-intentioned, and other has been simply wasteful. But this is not a time for criticism, but analysis and designing a better future. And that is what this journey is about. The 10 City Bridge Run asks “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We are not all experts, but we can learn from those who have gone before.

Here is a short reflection from during the third leg across Singapore:

And here is a short musical note of thanks from the very talented Freddie King to Robert for his support on the 10 City Bridge Run. Thanks Robert!

You Don’t Have To See The Whole Staircase

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IMG_2989One of the many great quotes from Martin Luther-King Jr came to mind earlier this week. I was remembering a conversation I had with my good friend Kelley from New York when she was visiting Sydney. It was back in 2010 and we had just met through a mutual friend who asked me to show her around the city. Over coffee, I spoke of my hesitation with releasing a new website for 10 City Bridge Run. Characteristically, she scoffed and told me in the most kindhearted of ways to get over myself and just start.

Now I am looking at what that final leg in New York might look like. And then together we will begin a new journey with a series of Design Forum. Actually, we will have more gaps in our knowledge than certainty, so will have to follow the advice from MLK:

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.

A Moment of Unexpected Excitement

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A friendly gathering with students as I began running
A friendly gathering with students as I began running

Sharing stories is part of makes us who we are. Of course, it is the ability to tell a story to someone that makes it worthwhile. Not so much the audience, but it is in the sharing.

I encountered a moment of unexpected excitement in Shanhaiguan, a costal city in China located at the beginning of the Great Wall, and am sharing it here to say thank you to my mate Kent for his support of this epic quest.

Shanhaiguan is an interesting city in itself, having been strategic for defence for centuries to protect China from domestic threats, and was sieged and sacked in 1901 with most of what we now enjoy of the Great Wall that can found there being destroyed. What stands now was largely rebuilt in 1986 or thereabouts. Still, it is an impressive structure today of what must have been an impressive engineering feat back in the day centuries ago.

Goat track
Goat track

But that is not what this story is about.

When I set off on the run, I initially headed west running out of the town to the river that forms a valley which runs parallel to the Great Wall. The river is very wide in parts, maybe wider than the Han River in Seoul, and there are many bridges there which I thought would be good to cross over as part of this initiative.

I reached the river, and found I could head south to the Bohai Sea on a badly sealed road, or take a goat track that weaved it’s way along the reeds at waters edge below. So I decided to travel on the goat track.

Since beginning the running, I had been hearing fast air spinning around upstairs. There were a lot of planes in the sky from what it sounded to this old Forward Air Controller, but I couldn’t spot any despite the noise. I was at a loss to work out where they were or what they were doing.

Fighters conducting landing drills
Fighters conducting landing drills

As I took the goat track, I began to see the aircraft. Coming in to land at what I soon found to be an airport located abutting the river. Every two minutes, and with little break, these jet fighters were landing. An impressive sight.

Running closer, I encountered a farmer with his goats. He signalled to me something, but I didn’t know what he was indicating. I sensed something was not quite right up ahead. Then I realised the sounds I was hearing was also gun shot from shotgun. I wasn’t wanting to push my luck in China, already I was running in a city wearing a gong fu uniform and Mao Army hat. Not the easiest situation to explain when questioned…

I indicated I would proceed to the high ground, and then saw ahead of me two soldiers who were patrolling away from me in the same direction I was travelling. Both watching their arcs, both with shotgun drawn. After a few moments earlier considering the vulnerability of the location, and having taken some happy snaps, I decided to be on my best behaviour but also get a little closer to see what was going on.

Beaters patrolling
Beaters patrolling

By this stage, I was able to take some pretty good photos of the planes. I didn’t want to make it too obvious, but I ought not to have worried because of the cameras that were monitoring the area, including me no doubt.

It was then obvious to me. The soldiers were not hunting anyone. They were basically beaters, making sure there was going to be no aircraft Foreign Object Damage from birdlife taking off startled by the fighters. Their job was to make the reeds as least hospital as possible for birds. Besides, there was plenty of river for them to next elsewhere.

A little while later, I found a dead snake on the pathway. Being used to snakes in Australia that are pretty poisonous, I generally make it a habit to treat all snakes with respect. I had no idea what this snake was, and still have not identified it. But I was happier to see it after I had left the reeds.

Can anyone identify this snake?
Can anyone identify this snake?

Running further down the footpath, I started closing on an old ‘grandfather’ type character. He was adorable. Dressed in his Mao styled suit, he just wanted to talk. And talk. And talk some more.

My Chinese was pretty scant, but he had the impression that I knew enough to have a chat. I put it down to the fact that he was lonely and wanted to have a chat. It didn’t seem to bother him that I was a foreigner, but he was full of compliments for my gong fu uniform. In the end, I just had to run off. I couldn’t stand there and listen for a long time. I didn’t know how to say “sorry, but I had to run”, but he soon got the message.

And perhaps he was just showing my premises where this blog began. Sharing stories is part of makes us who we are. But it is in the sharing.

IMG_1734Thanks for sharing this journey Kent.

Terrible Tragedy

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Inscription on a bridge in Glasgow I found when running: “All greatness stands firm in the storm”

Glasgow has been devastated by a terrible accident where a lorry overturned and killed six people, injuring eight others.

It is a terrible incident to occur at any time, which is compounded by the proximity to Christmas when focus is so heavily set on family.

This news is troubling for anyone, and I think that the response in Sydney last week shows the extent of outpouring that will precipitate this tragedy.

My decision now is to determine the way forward:

  • Proceed to Glasgow as planned with an intention to run 28 December
  • Delay arrival to run on 31 December and bridge the New Year
  • Travel to another city in UK to run

I havent decided either way at this point, but welcome your input. What would you do? What is your advice?