Why Me, Why Now?

About Me:

In 2000 the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay travelled across Oceania and Australia for 115 days. I was the Official Photographer for the event. I’ve never written about the experience until today…

Tr_08The Relay: 

22nd May – 7 June 2000: Guam, Palau, Micronesia, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, New Zealand

8 June to 15th September: Australia

Why Now?

You may wonder why I am writing this story now – after 16 years. Well, for a few reasons. But the main thing that got me started was storage. Storage is the bane of my life! I’ve been travelling from country to country for many years. And most of my ‘stuff’ ends up stored in boxes in one country or another. Right now I can count 4 countries that serve as major storage locations for my ‘stuff’.

But recently, in between projects I found myself back in Sydney over the summer I finally took the time to re-look at my Sydney 2000  Olympic Torch Relay images. And what struck me was two things. Firstly, not  many of my images were ever made public. I got plenty of Australian and international newspaper and magazine coverage, but that was only ever 2 or 3 images a day. The SOCOG (Sydney Olympic Games Organising Committee) website had a tiny on-line gallery – but really, back then, the internet was so new I doubt anyone ever looked at the web site. I don’t think I ever did!

The internet was not what is is today. No one thought to go online to look at photos and most people didn’t even have internet at home. I remember in the SOCOG office we had to get special permission to justify why your desktop computer should be connected to the internet. (which was fair enough – there was nothing much to see and you couldn’t search like you can now). But I digress…

The second reason was that I discovered that all these horrible, over exposed/under exposed/out of white balance, tiny thumbnail digital images could be brought to life, re-mastered as it were, using the new software we have today. Combing through the 25,000+ photos I shot during the Torch Relay I found that a lot of the images I thought were unusable are now very much alive and of surprisingly good quality.

Tweaking contrast, exposure and colour balance, and increasing resolution gives them a new life. New software has allowed me to get the most out of the raw image files. And it is a blessing that the camera shot in ‘raw’ file format as the original image sensor data is still there, untouched. If I had shot the files as jpegs (which I did for a later project) I would not be able to extract this original data and the images would be always the messy soup they were recorded as.

Of the 25,000+ images I shot probably have never looked at more than 50% of them – not even on the same day I shot them. Time was always against me. The laptop I used had a terrible screen. The software was slow. It was usually 10pm by the time I had managed to get a minimum of 4 images transmitted back to newspapers and then burnt a CD worth of files to archive. And the next day we would be on a plane at 6 am to arrive in a new country at 8am to do it all over again.

But now technology has caught up. And I have a few weeks spare. So lets re-master the Torch Relay! Don’t expect miracles – this is still 16 year old technology and even a $400 digital camera from today will kick its ass – but the re-mastered versions look a lot better than they ever have…

See the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay Photo Gallery here…

The Beginning of the Journey

The Beginning

My first image I’m showing is actually not a digital image at all. Its a very bad quality scan of a film shot I took in the office. I’m starting with this because it reminds of the team I worked with and reminds me of the the story of just how I became the Official Photographer of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay…otrapre

In 1997 I got a job at SOCOG as the AV Coordinator. Basically, I was the guy who helped everyone in the office set up their AV equipment for meetings and presentations. It was a rapidly expanding office. When I started there were approx 250 staff. By 1999 we had over 600. My role grew as more staff had more meetings and more presentations. The role  expanded into setting up for press conferences and sponsor meetings and off-site events. I started filming the events too. I loved it. And it meant I got to work with every department an Olympic Organising committee contains. From sports, to media, to sponsorship, to IT ,Torch Relay and Opening Ceremonies. I was there for 3 years , and to this day it is still the longest full time job I have ever had.

Like most Australians I had no idea what a Torch Relay was. But socialising with the Torch Relay department got me interested. It was the then head of Torch Relay media, John Flower who mentioned the job position of ‘Official Photographer’. I had an Arts degree and had worked in television, film and photography before joining the Olympic circus. So I was keen. But it took another year of campaigning before I was able to actual apply for the job. My ‘campaign’ was to produce propaganda videos and send them to the Torch Relay team. One was a team building video, while others were more direct calls to ask for the job. One was even a sinister ‘black mail’ video. It was all in good fun – and apparently livened up their weekly team meetings.

Finally in February, Torch Relay Director Di Henry took a risk and gave me the job. For this chance I will be forever grateful to her.

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The core Torch Relay team in one of the last meetings before we hit the road (at SOCOG headquarters – Jones St, Sydney)

There was not a lot of research information about how an Official Photographer goes about his role on a Torch Relay. Di and John had gone to the Atlantic 1996 Olympic Games as observers. The information they passed onto me was – “the photographer runs around a lot, and is everywhere all the time”. And so with that brief I braced myself for the adventure.

Learning to Ride

One day in a Torch Relay team meeting Di casually mentioned about the Harley Davidson sponsorship deal. They were providing 4 police Harley Davidson motorcycles and 1 Photographers Harley. “You can ride, can’t you Greg” Di said. It almost wasn’t a question – just a statement. So I quickly replied ‘ah…yeah…’. That evening I went home and booked into a motorcycle riders course! I had 6 weeks to get my licence and learn to ride a 1200cc beast.

I passed the course two weeks later. But the day Harley Davidson delivered the bike to the office I was still too scared to ride. I had only just learnt to ride a postman’s 125cc bike. How the hell was I going to even balance on a 350KG beast? I made the excuse I was busy that afternoon and left the Harley was left in the office carpark for the next 2 days. I was building up the courage (and planning a time when no-one would see my first attempt to start it!).

Eventually I got used to it and rode it around Sydney for 2 weeks to get better prepared to use it on the Torch Relay. Although in the end, it wasn’t used that much on the relay. It was big and heavy and not ideal for travelling at 6kmh. When not used by me it had to be lifted onto a supply truck to be moved ahead. The truck driver hated having to put it on and off every few days. So in the end we pretty much left it on the truck. Even a lighter bike would not have been ideal because it forces you to have to commit to using it all day. When really, as a photographer, you need to be able to jump around and shoot from different vehicles. One minute on foot. The next on the back of the media truck and then you board a train or tram or a boat for a special ‘alternative mode of transport’ event. So you have to ditch the bike – but as its a Torch Relay, you are always moving forwards – so how do you get your bike to meet you ahead?  Short of hiring a dedicated bike rider, you’re stuck with it. Anyway, it was a fun story – but not the best planning.

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This is me about a week after my first ride of a Harley Davidson (trying to look like I’ve ridden a Harley all my rebel youth!)



21st Century Technology (but only just…)

Digital Camera Technology

Just before the Harley was delivered to me, I received another expensive, but also terrifying gift. Kodak delivered the digital camera to me. The love it/hate it DCS620. It was Digital ! It cost $28,000! I also got to use a laptop! I was given a mobile phone! And a satellite phone! It was like christmas – but be careful what you wish for… (or – life is never easy and it is never glamorous).

This was May 2000. The internet was new. Digital cameras were new. Data over mobile phones was almost non-existent. It was a brave new world!

Kodak (remember them?) were a major sponsor of the Olympic Games and as such they agreed to provide a digital camera to me to shoot the Torch Relay on. If not for them, we would be stuck with the choice of paying over AU$30,000 for one of their new cameras or doing it the old fashion way of photojournalism. The ‘old fashion’ way – well, really it was still the current way in those days,  was to shoot on film and either ship the film back to the office to have developed and scanned  or develop the film yourself in a make-shift dark room you would have to set up in the bathroom of your hotel each night. Dragging chemicals and enlargers around the Pacific islands and Australia and staying up until 2am processing and drying film was not going to be fun. I had never had to work that way before. I hated the dark room process. And shipping film back to the office was going to be a 3 day journey (or longer) for most of the Torch Relay. The whole point of shooting everyday was so we could give images to newspapers and news agencies so they could publish the very next day. If they received them 4 or 5 days late they would not be interested. Old news is anything that happened more than 24 hours ago.

Just 6 months earlier Kodak had released the first professional grade digital camera – the DSC620c. A few non pro digital cameras had been around for about a year – but the image quality was so bad as to be unusable for almost everything.

The Kodak DSC620 (beside a standard film camera). It was almost twice the size

The DCS620c was a 2MP camera. To put that into context – its picture size is 1728×1152. The iPhone camera is 8MP. My current Canon DSLR is 22MP (and costs $2,500!)

While the technology was pretty amazing for the time – it was also unreliable. Taking a photo in anything but perfect light (eg bright midday sun) would result in mostly over exposed (or occasionally very under exposed) images.  Colour temperature recordings were always wildly off balance. On one day setting colour balance to 5,000k looked redder than a tomato, and on another day it would look green. Using a flash was such a random experience only one in 10 would ever expose adequately. Even when setting the camera manually, the shutter speeds selected did not always record to that speed. 1/125th might get a metadata reading of 1/60th. So when reading the digital file on the laptop using Kodak’s dedicated software it would render the file as 1 stop over exposed. In the heat of trying to edit images and get them transmitted before deadlines expired, it was a frustrating experience.

There are three possible explanations to this digital disatser. 1. I may have had a wonky camera, 2.it may just have been the state of technology in 2000, or 3.I may have been a dud photographer… I like to believe it was the 2nd excuse….

One of the unique features of this new digital camera world was being able to review your shots on the little LCD screen on the back of the camera. When I say little – I should say postage stamp size! And the screen resolution was so bad you could only see that a. you had taken a picture and b. it was in colour. You had no idea if the image was in focus or if the colour settings were giving anything usable. But yes, it was a step up from film cameras in that regard.

The screen on the back of the DCS620 - about the same size and quality as a postage stamp
The screen on the back of the DCS620 – about the same size and quality of a postage stamp


The next challenge with digital was editing the files. In may 2000 laptops were a luxury. You were either an executive or very rich to be toting a laptop. IBM (remember them?) were also an Olympic sponsor and so provided me with a laptop. But this was the days before USB and bluetooth and retina screens. My laptop screen had an 800×600 resolution on a 12inch TFT crystal display. So viewing the digital image from the camera on this poor quality screen made it very difficult to get an accurate take on what adjustments were needed. And all images from the DCS620 needed a lot of adjustments!

The software was basic and you would open one image at a time. Adjust colours and then re-save to the internal hard drive. Internal drive was 4.8GB (yes – total hard drive size of 4.8GB!). There were no external drives. No USB drives. When the hard drive was full I would connect a SCSI (wikipedia that to understand!) connected external CD writer and make a back up copy of the files. It took about 45mins to burn on CD (DVDs were not yet around).


Then came the really fun part. Transmitting the files. It was email – but ‘transmitting’ was the term used because it really was a technical experience. Some mobile phones could connect to data. It required the phone to be connected via a special cable to the laptop. You then dialled up the internet providers special number and crossed your fingers. Speeds were about 9.6kbs (to put that into context, your iPhone today can transmit and receive at over 3mbs !! So more than 300x faster. Sending one of my photos in 2000 would be like sending an sms today ie. instantaneous)

And then you held your breath…

The pictures from the 2MB camera produced a JPEG of  approx 1.6MB after editing. But 1.6MB would take days to send. So I would reduce the file size down to a tiny 200KB to 300KB. (I really cant believe that myself now – KB not MB!!). On a good day a 200KB file would take 25minutes to email. And if it dropped out after the 20th minute, you just dial in again and start from the beginning. Based on these numbers, I would generally only send out 4 or 5 images a day. Or sometimes one if things were really bad.

To put the transmit speeds into a rough context: your iPhone today can transmit and receive at over 3mbs –  So more than 300x faster!! Sending one of my photos from 2000  using an iPhone today would be like sending an sms –  ie. instantaneous,  not the 20+minutes it took back then.

During the first 15 days of the relay we were in remote Oceania countries. Mobile phones did not work at all. I carried a large satellite phone that opened up like a briefcase. You had to point it in the direction of the satellite in the sky – placing it outdoors or the roof would block the signal. It was as slow if not slower than a mobile phone but cost about 100x as much per minute. From memory I only managed to send about 6 photos via satellite – before giving up. I never saw the monthly bill for the sat phone – but I’m sure it was rather high.

The other alternative to sending photos was to use the hotel internet or land line. Back in 2000 most small hotels had no internet. So I had the joy of plugging the laptop modem into various phones at outback hotels  and motels to try and dial into the internet.
Occasionally I would get a ‘fast’ speed of 28kbs. But mostly it was as slow as a mobile phone – but slightly more reliable.

Now, was all this better than having to shoot on film and develop my own negatives? Probably – but only just!

Running, Walking, Crawling (Never stopping, Never going back)

But the thing to bear in mind here is what type of project this was. An Olympic Torch Relay is a constantly moving, 6 km/h, wandering circus across 20,000km. Everyday. From 7am to 8pm. A new hotel every single night. Events taking place all day, every day. Stop for an hour and you are now 1 hour behind the Relay. You must catch up. And you need to negotiate the horrific traffic jams that the Relay is leaving in its wake. So shooting the Relay, capturing all the important moments and yet still managing to send photos every day was a significant challenge. If I had known the real details before I signed up for the job I might not have been such an energetic and excited puppy. I’ve since heard of more than a few photographers who have been employed to shoot relays over the last 10 years and cracked under pressure and had to give up, saying it was too much for one person to handle.

But I was young (much younger than I realised when I look back at some of the photos of me at the time) and I was going to grab the bull by the horns. And we had a great team of individuals on the Torch Relay crew – which made the long, long days still enjoyable. It also helped that we were all doing it for the first time. There were no ‘experts’ as there are today. We lived and learned how to produce the biggest Olympic Torch Relay ever undertaken – one day at a time.

Its a time I always look back at very fondly.

The entire Torch Relay crew and convoy of vehicles line up for the official photo in Kiama, NSW during the test event before the actual relay started.

Day 01- Almost

Day 1

Our first day out with the torch (the torch being any of the 10,000 individual torches as apposed to the Flame – of which there is only one – actually that’s not strictly true, there are 3 flames but I’ll get to that later) after leaving Sydney to start the Torch Relay in Guam was on the tiny Manus Island (now infamous as as location of Australian governments off-shore immigration processing). It was  a stop to re-fuel the plane and our first encounter with some locals.

We weren’t there for official Torch Relay business – but there was a crowd (I guess a jet landing on their tiny runway was news!) so we got out a torch and passed it around. And my first real Torch Relay photo!

The impromptu, first outing for the torch at Manus Island airstrip

Our plane for the Oceania leg of the relay was provided via Flight West. They went bankrupt shortly after the Games…

See the Day 01 Photo Gallery here…

Day 01 – Guam (22 May, 2000)

Day 01 – Guam (22 May, 2000) 

The Real Day 1

And so the real day 1was  Guam (at least for us – the Torch Relay of every Olympic games actually starts in Olympia in Greece and does a week around Greece – but that’s really all run by the Greeks themselves). I was nervous. My first real Torchbearer – with a real Flame. I had to get a good shot of this other wise my future on the 125 days of the relay would be in doubt. Thankfully it was a good set up for taking a photo. The sun was bright. No real challenge for the finicky digital camera. The backdrop quite nice. Some interesting visual lines to focus the eye. Even today, I think its one of the highlight images I took over the entire 115 days (but I’m sure I’m still a bit emotionally attached to it for obvious reasons)

And this is it:


Thi is actually my first flame shot - but its less glamorous - taking place in the souvenir shop beside the look out
This is actually my first flame shot – but it’s less glamorous – taking place in the souvenir shop beside the look out. Flame security officer lighting the first torch from the safety lantern.

See the Day 01 – Guam Photo gallery here…

Day 02 – Palau (23 May, 2000)

Day 02 – Palau (23 May, 2000)

For weeks the advance team had been raving to us about the beautiful photo opportunities they had planned for us in Palau. They had planned canoe trips across the crystal clear waters and the lush green islands as a backdrop. As soon as we got dockside the skies opened up and it rained like there was no tomorrow! It was a nightmare to shoot and keep everything dry. Looking back, the rain adds some dramatic effect – just not your traditional Pacific Island canoeing photos



What could have been an iconic moment - slightly ruined by the choice of white boxer shorts!
What could have been an iconic moment – slightly ruined by the choice of white boxer shorts!

The crew taking shelter from the torrential rain in a support boat

See the Day 2 – Palau Photo Gallery here…

Day 03 – Micronesia (24 May, 2000)

Day 03 – Federated States of Micronesia (24 May, 2000)

Unfortunately most of the good images of day 3 in Micronesia have been lost. Of course the not so great ones survived – Murphy’s law!

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay continues it's journey through Oceania.
24 May 2000 - 6.25pm,  Federated States of Micronesia
Traditionally dressed men blow shell horns to signal the arrival of the second last torchbearer for the day, Vice President Redley Killion, after canoeing past Sokehs Rock (in the background) to land on Misko Beach . The Olympic torch is spending a day in FSM  on it's way to Sydney  for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
credit - photo Greg Garay/SOCOG


Flame Protocol

This image shows a young me  (long hair and all) in my hotel room.

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Babysitting the Flames

Everyone goes to a lot of trouble to keep these little flames burning 24hrs a day from the beginning of the relay in Greece right through until the Opening Ceremony in Sydney. It would be logistically a lot easier to light a new one each morning with a match – but Olympic tradition is strong. And for all the fakery and staged moments, the one true part of the Olympic journey is that this flame is the original flame.

If a torch goes out (by wind or rain or other hiccup) the miners lantern is always on hand to take a new, original flame from. So yes, there are 3 flames at any one time. One on the burning torch and two resting somewhere nearby (usually a security vehicle – or at night in the Flame Security’s hotel room) in the miners safety lanterns. Protocol is to only let the public see one Flame.

There was also a Flame that was sent back to the SOCOG office in Sydney in an additional safety lantern as a ‘disaster insurance’ version in case we really screwed up with the backups on the road. But I never saw it and never heard anything about whether it really was kept alight back in the SOCOG offices.


Command Chief Barry blending in with the local culture on the tarmac at FSM
Command Chief Barry blending in with the local culture on the tarmac at FSM

See the Day 3 – Micronesia Photo Gallery here…

Day 04 – Nauru (25 May, 2000)

Day 04 – Nauru (25 May, 2000)

Nauru is a tiny island, existing mainly for its phosphate mining. It is also now infamous as Australia’s controversial off-shore immigrant processing location. Not a lot happened here during the day we brought the Olympic Torch Relay – as you can see from the airport arrival ceremony!


And the journey on the phosphate train seemed to take quite a long time for such a tiny island. And of course we ended the day at… the phosphate mine…

See the Day 4 – Nauru Photo Gallery here…

Day 05 – Solomon Islands (26 May, 2000)

Day 05 – Solomon Islands (26 May, 2000)

The day in the Solomon Islands was a magical day for photography. It was the first island that felt really authentic. Rich, tribal  culture and costumes. The local tribes really came out and put on an amazing display. The airport arrival celebration was something that I had trouble capturing with the camera. It could have been my inexperience or just the temperamental digital camera – but I just didn’t capture enough of what was happening.

But by the afternoon I had another chance to get some more tribal colour and am more pleased with some of the images.



The torchbearer jumped of the canoe and swam the last 100m to shore! Totally unexpected 9and frowned upon) - so I only have this low quality film scan of the moment
The torchbearer jumped off the canoe and swam the last 100m to shore! Totally unexpected (and frowned upon) – so I only have this low quality film scan of the moment

See the Day 5 – Solomon Islands Photo Gallery here…


Day 06 – Papua New Guinea (27 May, 2000)

Day 06 – Papua New Guinea (27 May, 2000)

Day 6 in PNG was perhaps my best day as a Torch Relay photographer. Rich in tribal colour. And the camera behaved itself for most of the day. Some of my favourite images of the whole relay are from this day.

The main event of the day took place at Owers Corner on the Kokoda Trail. As any Australian will know, the 96km Kokoda Trail is a legendary story about Aussie soldiers fighting the Japanese in WW2. It is accessible only by foot and takes at least 4 days to walk. We had less than a day – so we were choppered in from Port Moresby on two helicopters. What we weren’t told until after we left was that the local tribe had threatened to shoot our choppers down in protest to the way government funds were being spent!

Our safety briefing by the pilot was very short “If we go down in the jungle, we use this…” and he pulled out a rusty old machete from bedside his controls. It seemed our only way of survival was to hack our way through the jungle and back to civilisation!

Landing at Owers Corner via chopper felt special. Everyone else had sweated and cursed for days to get there. We got there in 30 minutes. Greeting us were the last 6 remaining ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’. The Fuzzys, as they were affectionally nicknamed by the Anzac soldiers (based on their big, frizzy hair and the angel-like way they carried the men to safety), were local tribesmen who, during the war, became volunteer stretcher bearers for sick and dying soldiers. They would carry the soldiers on makeshift slings for days, through the dense jungles to reach medical care. It brought tears to all of us just to stand beside these brave and humble men.

Photographically one of my favourite ‘behind the scenes’ photo is this one – showing the Torch being light by the Flame Security officer Glen (a policeman in day-to-day life). On his back is a sling containing another Torch (useful if venturing away too far from the miners lanterns – as each torch has only 8 to 12 minutes worth of gas), the safety lantern itself is in the middle of of the shot with the flame, the torchbearer with his torch (in this case Garry Imri – Chairman of the Koiari Development Authority – the Koiari tribe own the traditional lands). On the right in the crew uniform is the chief of the Torch Relay crew, Barry ‘BG’ Gallagher. His call sign is ‘Command’. And it is his voice that directs the entire operation. He keeps the whole event on time and makes all the vital day to day decisions.



A group photo before taking the chopper up to Owers Corner - even the pilot thought it a good idea to get in on this one - A last photo before we all go down?

See the Day 6 – PNG Photo Gallery here…

Day 08 – Vanuatu (29 May, 2000)

Day 8 – Vanuatu (29 May, 2000)


The difficulty of shooting a Torch Relay is based around a few important principles.

  1. The magic of the event is the Flame. Everyone is drawn by human instinct to be fascinated by a flame. It’s what the whole event is based around. But a naked flame is very hard to see in broad daylight. And trying to photograph a naked Flame is broad daylight is really hard too. A photo can look amazing but if the viewer says ‘oh, is this the flame or are they just posing with an unlit torch” you have lost most of the impact. And 90% of each relay day is done is daylight hours
  2. Trying to keep variety to your images is really tough. Everyone is wearing the same uniform. Every one is holding the same looking torch. There is really only one or two ways you can hold the torch
  3. The torchbearer is always moving forward – running , walking, on a boat, a camel… but always moving. As a photographer you have to keep up with them – and try and find a good angle to shoot them from with a background that is also visually exciting
  4. This is a live public event. Its not a photo shoot with models. You have to grab your shot in less than a second. If you falter, they will be gone. And you need to run after them. Generally they do not stop for you and pose
  5. You may not always get the person you want (!). You may have run ahead and found a great spot to get an iconic photo – perhaps its blue skies, lush palm trees, crystal clear waters,a neat pile of coconuts – and the torchbearer appears from around the corner – but he’s a 90 year old white guy, weighs 150kg and is walking with a stick. There goes your only chance to show an iconic shot of a local tribesman…
  6. You have been sitting on the back of a truck for hours and nothing visually exciting has happened. You need to get off the truck and find a phone connection to attempt to send at least one image off to the newspapers so they can have something to print for tomorrows newspapers. When the team get back to you that night they rave about the amazing sunset and the torchbearer that did back flips. You grit your teeth and continue to keep dialling to get an internet connection so you can send your mundane shots from earlier in the day

Its not an impossible task, but just factors to bear in mind when you ask ‘that would be a good shot if the torchbearer was a little higher or that lady wasn’t in the background or you could see the flame against the bright blue sky…or if the torch was being held the other way around…or”.

And here is an example of how the DCS620c was messing me around all day long. The first  is how it appeared on my screen in May 2000. The second is the same image with newer software to decode the raw file and extract a better image. You can see why some days were a disheartening digital experience back in 2000! When I thought I had a shot only to get back to the hotel and find it unusable with the available software.

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Above:The way the photo looked back in 2000 on my laptop and Below: How it looks today

See the Day 8 – Vanuatu Photo Gallery here…

Day 12 – Tonga (2 June, 2000)

Day 12 – Tonga (2 June, 2000)

Tonga was an interesting day for a number of reasons. We had our first protestor/hooligan! He was a pretty funny old guy – running out from nowhere holding his own flame stick. The real torchbearer at the time was the Australian High Commissioner. Perfect timing!


That evening was an emotional moment as the last torchbearer of the day carried the flame into the local stadium in front of his King. His name was Paea Wolfgramm, a Silver medalist in Super Heavyweight boxing at the Atlanta Olympic Games.

Tongans paid great reverence to their then King. Paea bowed as he handed the torch to the King, who held it , unscripted for just a few seconds then handed it back to Paea. He then went down to light the cauldron. You can see from the images, tears come to his eyes. He was a big man. A boxing champion. But the special moment brought out his raw emotions. A great evening to have been part of.


See the Day 12 – Tonga photo gallery here…

Day 14 (4 June, 2000)

Day 14  (4 June 2000)

Fiji was supposed to be our day 14 stop – but recent political unrest had them scratched from the itinerary.

As mentioned earlier, the Flame can be carried onboard aircraft thanks to them being housed in a safety lantern. Here is shot of them onboard the ‘flame plane’ as we flew between Tonga and the Cook Islands. They are resting in a specially designed seat holder, allowing them to be strapped in for each flight – just like any first class passenger!

Sitting beside them is Flame Security boss Chris Reeves (also a policeman in normal life). It wasn’t essential for him to sit next to them all flight – but this was a special photo I shot for the newspapers – so it is looking very official!

You’ll notice Chris in more than a few of my photos. His role as the guardian of the flame meant he was never more than a few feet away – and so often ended up in my photos. Some complained he was becoming the unofficial ‘face of the Torch Relay’. But it is hard to keep out of the shot while also having to keep control of the whole Flame transfer situation. Chris did his best to stay out of shot, usually with one eye on me to make sure I was getting a good clean shot before he had to step in again (but I’m sure he also loved the attention none the less).



Chris babysitting the Flame - poolside in Vanuatu

See the Day 14 Photo Gallery here…


Day 15, 16 &17 – New Zealand (5, 6, 7 June, 2000)

Day 15, 16 & 17 – New Zealand (5, 6, 7, June 2000)

On 5th June we landed in New Zealand and spent 3 days zig zagging across the two islands.

Two personal moments stand out for me from these days in NZ. The first was a shock to system. We had just covered 2 weeks in the warm and humid Pacific Islands. And then our first day in New Zealand had us being choppered straight from the airport up to the ski fields of Coronet Peak in Queenstown where it was, well, very cold – naturally.

I am no ski bunny and always choose hot over cold. To add to the shock, immediately after we landed in the snow I was guided to a snowmobile the advance team had thoughtfully arranged for me to shoot from the back of. So, in a borrowed ski jacket, we zoomed off in front of a skier who made a rapid decent down the slopes.


The weather was closing in and the wind chill of sitting on the snow mobile was almost unbearable. I was hanging on for dear life, sitting backwards, bumping down the slopes. On top of that, I was trying to do what I was actually there to do – take great shots of the skier Torchbearer. After 2 minutes I couldn’t even feel my fingers. I had to visually look at my trigger finger as it pressed the shutter button to confirm I was even taking a photo. The viewfinder was completely fogged up. So, with one hand holding on for dear life, the other was pointing the camera in the vague direction of the skier, hoping that at least one frame would be in focus and maybe even have the torchbearer in the shot too.

Looking at the shots I took I’m amazed I got more than one useable image. And also a little annoyed they don’t portray the pain I went through to capture them!

My second bone to pick with New Zealand is its police force – or one policeman in particular. It was in the afternoon in Auckland and we were running along a dockside area. Crowds were low (as happens occasionally – sometimes just because the public are not aware which route the Flame was taking). The torchbearer at the time was New Zealand’s most medalled  Olympian (4 Golds) Ian Ferguson. As usual, we had a couple of local police motorcyclists riding beside the torchbearer to keep the crowds clear and the route secure.

Although at this location, there were no crowds. Running alongside the torchbearer, I was grabbing shots. Its a challenge. Run ahead. Turn around and grab a few frames. Then run ahead again to line up another few shots. All while carrying a small backpack with extra lens, batteries and essentials, and a second camera dangling around your neck. I sensed that one of the NZ police motorcycles was always very close to me. Closer than usual. But I kept up the run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot rhythm.

Then this cop started stopping in front of me, essentially blocking my shot. I ran ahead to get more distance. Then I felt the front tyres of his bike nipping at my heals – actual rubber on the soles of my feet. I almost tripped. I stopped running . Turned around and this cop also stopped. I shook my head at him and ran on. I had a job to do. Then he did it again. Recovering from a stumble, I stopped, and he blocked my path. ‘What are you trying to do?” I shouted . He said nothing. I ran on and he adopted the same tactic, blocking me, trying to trip me with his front wheel. Exhausted and fed up I grabbed my two-way radio and said ‘Command, can you do something about this cop – he’s trying to run me down!’.

It was a crazy situation. There I was, wearing head to toe official Olympic Torch Relay uniform, with a Torch Relay team radio on my hip and this cop was acting like I was a suicide belt wearing terrorist.

There was some crackle over the radio as our police team connected with the NZ police team to tell them to give me priority. Then he did it again. Now I was pissed. I stopped dead. He stopped, blocking my path. “Listen to your fucking radio – they are telling you to stop getting in my way” “MORON!”. I yelled. Not really worrying about being arrested at that moment. He looked blankly at me, still not understanding what the situation was. A few metres ahead the relay stopped and we regrouped and waited a few seconds to let everyone catch up and move back onto the normal road route. Out of breath and emotional, I walked back to the media truck and jumped on board to calm down. The motorcycle cop stayed with the relay for the rest of the day, still looking blank.

I never did get a good shot of Ian Ferguson thanks to this ignorant cop.

See the NewZealand Photo Gallery here…

Day 01 – Uluru, Australia (8 June, 2000 )

The Other Real Day 01 – Uluru, Australia (8 June, 2000 )

With the lack of internet connectivity (this was 2000 remember) the media and public awareness of the 17 day Oceania leg of the relay was pretty low. We had just completed a once in a life time journey across the Pacific, but for the rest of Australia, the Torch Relay really started on 8th June 2000. And first stop of the 100 day route around Australia was right in it’s centre at Uluru.

Expectations were high. Australian media was going to be watching and critiquing. We were going from having just 3 or 4 cameras shooting the relay, to dozens. TV networks were broadcasting live. Our ‘little’ Torch Relay crew of approx 15 would grow to over 100. Mistakes, delays or trip ups would now be front page news.

Landing at Uluru and looking out the window I could see over 100 cameramen penned into a media enclosure, TV broadcast trucks with satellite dishes pointing into the sky, the Olympic Minister, the Governor General… police, celebrities, crowds. Nauru seemed like a world away.

A few funny things happen on this frenetic, icy cold morning at Uluru. The plan was for the Governor General of Australia to light the first torch from the safety lantern and then hand it to indigenous sportswoman, Nova Peris-Kneebone. The symbolism was dramatic. The Olympic Flame’s first moments on Australian soil. Australia’s indigenous iconic landmark and the top indigenous sportswoman.

The truth is a little different. The first flame to come off the Ansett Flame Plane (another sponsor airline that went bankrupt just after the Games) was one of the two safety lanterns. A pretty basic looking box had been made in New Zealand when it was realised we needed to hide the lanterns  coming off the plane in front of Australia’s media. The real first person to carry the Flame on Australian soil was Flame Security chief Chris Reeve. Not that anyone knew that as he carried the non-descript box off the plane and across the tarmac.

'Nothing to see in this boring box... just keep looking the other way...'

Then the other safety lantern was officially carried down the stairs and handed to the Governor General. He had been briefed how to, very carefully, put the brass handled wick into the tiny hole in the miners lantern to transfer the Flame out and onto a torch. Unfortunately he was not as steady as he once was, and he pushed the wick in too far and extinguished to Flame! What a disaster! I don’t know how it was seen on live television – the cameras were quite a way back from the position. But all of the torch relay crew gasped.

The Governor General tries lighting the torch with a wick that has no flame on it...

So it was Chris who was to star again – this time in a not so secret way.

He had taken the first safety lantern to the police vehicle waiting off to the side of the tarmac. The Olympic Minster, Governor General (now looking very sheepish), a gaggle of dignitaries and all the indigenous traditional owners stood there not knowing what was going to happen.

Chris jogged across the tarmac, and not wanting to risk a second disaster and lose the only remaining Flame, lit a torch himself from it at the security vehicle and then gingerly jogged back across the tarmac – , holding the torch in a low, casual way,  as if he was not really carry the Olympic Flame, trying in vain not to look like he was now the first torchbearer at Australia in front of the world’s media and live television!

Chris, trying not to look like Australia's first torchbearer!

He then handed the Torch to the Governor General who quickly passed it straight onto the first of the traditional owners. Along the line it went, before the Offical first Torchbearer, Nova Peris-Kneebone, took hold of it and then started the run around the base of Uluru.

Lesson learnt – only the Flame security team would ever be allowed to put the wick into the safety lantern from now on.

I suspect the media, if they did catch on to what happened, chose to ignore it and focus on the celebratory aspect of this historic moment.

From a photographic perspective, the big moment of the Flame Arrival,  the set up was not great. It was 9am in the morning and the staging location meant the sun was shining straight into the lens – with terrible backlighting of the torchbearers, the rock (Uluru) and everything else that should have been an iconic moment in Australian history.

The camera crews packed in tight - and having to shoot straight into the morning sun

Neither I, nor any other photographer got anything great.

Then we moved onto the actual running with the Flame around Uluru. Again, lighting was tricky. The iconic shot that was needed was an indigenous torchbearer with Uluru in the background. But that never happened for me. The best shot I got of the rock and the Flame was with a white guy with red hair (a natural blonde who dyed his hair red to honour his special moment at the base of the red rock)— kind of ironic! But that’s the challenge when you can’t stop and pose the right torchbearers.

I got a few decent images – but nothing great. The next day most of the Australian newspapers (including the Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald) ran my photo of tennis great Evonne Cawley on their front page. It wasn’t a great shot, and probably could have had sharper focus. I heard a few photographers bitching about the photo the following afternoon as they looked through the newspapers (‘who is this guy, this image is soft”). I didn’t say it out loud, but my response was ‘well, it must have been better than anything you guys shot that day. And I’m handing these photos out to news agencies for free, you guys actually work full time for these papers and still they chose not to use any of yours…”).

Overall, I felt I had passed the test of shooting the Torch relay in the ‘real world’ – and over the next 100 days had dozens of my images on front pages of newspapers and magazines – which is really the best way to gauge if you are doing the right thing.

A good selection of front pages of Australia's biggest newspapers featuring my photos


Reading the other headline of the day, I notice that there was a coup in the Solomon Islands and 800 expats were evacuated via navy ship. We had just run the Torch Relay through the Solomon a week  earlier… Makes you wonder what might have happened if we were there the day they decided to stage the coupe. The Olympic Flame would have made a pretty good hostage…

See the Day 1 – Uluru Photo Gallery here…

Day 2 to 19 – Australia (9 to 26 June, 2000)

Days 2 to 19 (9 to 26 June, 2000)

After the excitement and colour of the Oceania and Day 1 in Australia, the days and weeks that followed were less colourful. Not boring, but looking back through the image archives, nothing stands out that as a must see image. Lots of outback towns as we traveled though Queensland. Good crowds. Lots of smiles and tears of joy. But nothing visually amazing.

Something possessed me on day 18, as the sun set on Innisfail, to play around with the camera and flash. I was probably a bit bored of everything I had been shooting day in and day out. And by good design, or good luck I captured an image that is one of my top 20 from the whole relay. It was shot using a flash and slow sync. The shutter was just 1/5 sec. The result is an artistic take on the motion and movement of both the Torchbearer and the Flame. I only managed to grab 2 frames of this – before the Torchbearer was off up the road and out of sight.

I think I regret not being a bit more arty at other times of the relay, but then I knew newspapers didn’t go for these sort of shots. And if it was an important torchbearer moment I’d basically be throwing the shot away. Still, looking back, I didn’t take as much time as I should have to shoot some alternative stuff like this one.

See the Days 2 to 20 – Australia Photo Gallery here…

Day 20 – Great Barrier Reef, Australia (27 June, 2000)

Day 20 (27 June 2000)

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay continues it's journey around Australia
27 June 2000 - 1.20pm, Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland,  Australia
Wendy Craig Duncan carries the flame underwater. The flame was taken underwater using a specially designed flare..
The Olympic torch is spending 100 days travelling around Australia on it's way to Sydney  for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games on 15 September.
credit - photo Steve Nutt

photo: Steve Nutt

Day 20 was another highlight – taking the Flame underwater at the Great Barrier Reef. This was a first for any Olympic Torch Relay. From a photography perspective, it wasn’t practical for me to shoot underwater – so this is the only official shot from the relay that is not mine. I shot from above water as the flame was transferred to the scuba diver Torchbearer (Wendy Craig Duncan). The underwater torch was a one-off design, with a an underwater flare mechanism in place of the usual gas canister burner.

Already set up and waiting was underwater photographer Steve Nutt. I actually never met Steve. But his film was developed and delivered to me back at the hotel a few hours later. I then scanned the images and sent them out to news agencies. There was a tense few hours waiting to receive this film. What if he didn’t get a good shot? We had sold this big moment to the media for months. A world first! Underwater Olympic Flame! Even Steve would not know until the film was processed…. But as you can see from this shot, he nailed it and everyone was suitably impressed.

See the Day 20 – Australia Photo Gallery here…

Day 21 – Australia (28 June, 2000)

Day 21  – Australia (28 June, 2000)

After the success of our Oceania and first two big moments in Australia, (first day at Uluru and the underwater Flame on the Great Barrier Reef) I decided to let my hair down a little and celebrate in Cairns. I’d been shooting everyday, non-stop, for 35 days. Our Day 21 schedule was to fly with a reduced core team of about 8 crew to Thursday Island in the morning and then another small aircraft flight back to the mainland, landing in Katherine. The rest of the crew were also celebrating, knowing they had the day off while our little core crew flew off for the day.

I got caught up in the laid back, late night revelry of the main crew – forgetting I was flying out early. At around 4am I was dragged off the dance floor of the hotels attached nightclub and reminded we were boarding our flight in 45 minutes! The core team were already assembled in the lobby ready to move out. Shit!! Panic and fear are the best antidotes to intoxication…

I packed (well, I never actually unpacked when I checked in – but that was standard when you are only in a hotel for about 7 hours on any given day), grab my camera gear (wisely having set my batteries on to charge before I started dancing) and ran back to the lobby, with all of about 30 seconds to spare.

The core team, who I had formed a pretty tight bond with over the last 40 days, giggled and then poked fun of me for the rest of the day.


Arriving on Thursday Island

But to my credit, my photography never skipped a beat. We landed on Thursday Island, relayed for a few hours then flew off again to Katherine in the Northern Territory.

We traveled deep into the wild and remote Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) by boat. It was another magical moment, and our Aboriginal Torchbearer Monica McDonald was so photogenic. At a point deep into the Gorge, elders from the Jawoyn tribe were waiting for us high up on a rocky outcrop. There was something very spiritual  about bringing a flame to this ancient land. The connection to the Aboriginal story telling and the story of carrying a Flame was a very poignant fit.

Photographically it was a challenge. We had traveled a long way into the gorge, but time, as always, was restricted down to the minute. Monica got off the boat and walked up to the elders on the outcrop. But we could not get off the boat, so I had to shoot the whole moment from about 100metres away. And she couldn’t take any directions from us over that distance , so we had to just rely on the pre-event brief we gave her to pose with the elders, pass the torch around, hold it up high, look proud etc. Within about 4 minutes the Flame was back on the boat and we were heading back. Another magic moment where you had to get the best shot you could in a tiny window of opportunity.


I’m pretty happy with the images I got from the moment, but it is one of those times where if I had more time and more freedom to move around and position people I could have had some truly iconic images.

By the end of day Day 21 I was really exhausted. No sleep (with only my self to blame for that) 2 flights and another two or 3 boat trips. I reminded myself to check the following days schedule before making any decision to ‘let my hair down’ again.

See the day 21 – Australia Photo Gallery here…

Day 22 – Australia (29 June, 2000)

Day 22 – Australia (29 June, 2000)

Day 22 was a similar photographic experience to 21. We took the Flame deep into Kakadu National Park and the Yellow Water Billabong. Another amazing Aboriginal place. But where yesterday we had the photogenic and active Monica, today we were again on a boat, but our feature torchbearers were traditional owners, Minnie Alderson and a man I did not record the name of. Both are obviously highly regarded members of their community, but posing for a photograph was not on their list of priorities that day. So for me, it was a slightly disappointing moment.


There I was on one of the great, mythical, dream time billabongs in Kakadu, with two tribal elders and the Olympic flame – but all I could shoot was them sitting down on plastic chairs on an aluminium boat as we motored around. It could have been so much more. But we got what we got. I do understand the reason for not being able to get off the boat – and the actual photo I shot of the enormous salt water crocodile lying in the reeds was real proof. But perhaps a younger tribe member in a dug out canoe or the like would have been better.

On second thoughts, looking at that photo of the crocodile again - maybe a dug out canoe is not really the right idea.…

At least the character and detail in both of the elders faces was story in itself.

We then took another flight to the tiny community of Nguiu on Bathurst Island and then back again for a final moment in Darwin. Another pretty extensive day of flights and boats – and a lot of running in-between.

Crew photo just before boarding for the next flight


A behind the scene shot shows just how hard we were trying to make the best of it - that's boss Di Henry trying to coax the two torchbearers into at least holding the torch a little higher or straighter while staying out of our shots… she didn't really succeed - but you cant say we didn't try!


See the Day 22- Australia Photo Gallery here…

Day 23 – Australia (30 June, 2000)

Day 23 – Australia (30 June, 2000)

Another photographic highlight moment for me came at the end of Day 23 on Cable Beach, Broome. Timed perfectly by the advance team for sunset, we had our feature torchbearer Jamali Bintalib riding a camel. There was a pretty large crowd at this location, but they were well controlled behind marshals, which allowed me to shoot a really clear shot of the sinking sun and the camel as they strode gently up the beach.

Unusually, I shot 42 frames of this moment, so there was a good variety of angles and moments to select from. Most of my photo opportunities  for special moments only result in 4 to 8 frames shot as the moments are over in a matter of 10 seconds or less. My camel at sunset shot is a standout of the relay.

See the Day 23 – Australia Photo Gallery here…