Travel News

Hamish Macdonald: how I travel

The award-winning journalist on working in Afghanistan, the beauty of the human spirit and Sardinian specialties.
Journalist and Q+A host Hamish Macdonald

Journalist and Q+A host Hamish Macdonald

Stephen Blake

Just back from… The NSW South Coast, which was initially a holiday but then turned into work.

Next up… I genuinely don’t know.

I grew up in Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. We used to do a lot of road trips as a family. We also did a lot of walking trips in the mountains, back-country stuff; we’d pick wild berries up in the far reaches of the mountains; there was a lot of kayaking on rivers; a lot of making bush pancakes and damper on camping trips. And there might have been an overseas trip or two when we were little, but I have more memories of driving up to Sydney to see family and begging to be allowed to stop at McDonalds to get a hamburger.

When I was 14 or 15 I did an exchange to Germany. I lived outside Munich for part of a school term, and that was the first time I really travelled anywhere on my own. I definitely think I’ve always had a big appetite for travelling and exploring solo. It wasn’t something that ever scared or worried me.

London is where I’ve lived for more of my adult life than anywhere else and I have an unbelievably soft spot for it. It’s such a big, exciting global city. It’s so close to so many places, and in such close proximity to so many different cultures and languages, even within the city. At the same time there is such a rich history that belongs to London itself. I think it’s a really rare combination of all these things in one place.

I am most comfortable and most happy working in places that other people don’t really want to go. I’ve always loved working in Afghanistan and remote parts of Indonesia, or hiking into the Himalayas for some obscure story, for example. Those sorts of things are probably where I’m my happiest.

I think the most challenging places for me to work are where the entire world’s media has descended upon one place to cover one particular story, such as going to the US to cover an election in Washington DC. To me those are the strangest experiences because you’re right up close, in the thick of the American democratic process, and when you see it at such close proximity you realise how bizarre, and frankly mind-boggling, some of the processes are around these people.

Afghanistan is a really intoxicating place. It’s physically very beautiful, and very overwhelming I suppose. The Afghan sense of history is really profound, so the conversations you have are always full of insight and detail, and layered with nuance. As a journalist, that’s really exciting. And for all of the bloodshed and difficulty that they deal with every day, there is still an enormous amount of beauty, joy and human spirit on display in really surprising ways. So on a human level there’s a lot to connect with.

I think the unfortunate reality of the way we tell stories about the world is that you often get a really one-dimensional picture of a place. If you haven’t been to Afghanistan, or a similar area, you might have the impression that it’s all guns, bombs, death and destruction. And yes those things all exist there, but human life carries on. People go shopping to buy bread; they go to weddings and have funerals; they send their kids to school; they play musical instruments; and they share meals together. Those are the things they often tend to tell you about, rather than the bigger picture of a complex issue.

I’ve spent lots of time in Italy. I’ve had lots of friends get married there. I’ve also spent a lot of European summers in Sardinia. My former co-anchor on Al Jazeera, Barbara Serra, is an Italian journalist who very kindly makes her Sardinian home available to use frequently. I’m a pretty keen bicycle rider, so I’ve done a lot of riding in different parts of Italy. I completed the Maratona dles Dolomites three times, which is a single-day ride in the Dolomites of about 150 kilometres. I absolutely loved that. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

I’ve also been to Carloforte, which is on an island off the south of Sardinia. They have a tuna festival, and I’ve been there during it. I had some incredible tuna dishes while I was there, but I was simultaneously quite shocked when I was told which parts of the tuna they were.

Hamish MacDonald is the new host of Q+A, which airs Monday evenings on the ABC.

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