Day 53 – Australia (30 July, 2000)
Crew, Uniforms and Radios
The crew, who numbered over 100 on most days, all wore a uniform. Some wore it better than others. But it helped us to identify each other in a large crowd and from a distance on the side of a road.
The other part of the ‘uniform’ that was invaluable was the two- way radio system. It was vital that we all knew what was happening. The convoy itself stretched over 1km from lead vehicle to tail police car. Plus there were others moving hours ahead to set up special locations. For me it was the best source of information. I knew exactly where the flame was and so knew how much time I had to get a particular shot. While public waited on the side of the road for hours, or other cameramen waiting nervously, not wanting to miss the moment, I could be as cool as a cucumber knowing where and when the real action would take place. It was my guardian angel. I could even communicate with the team to tell them if I had any special needs for a particular shot. If I wanted everyone to stay 20m back from a torchbearer so I could get a clean shot, I would just radio through the request.
In many ways I felt spoilt. Having a front row seat to every single moment of the relay and having the power to ask for special things could appear like I was being treated like a king. But I had to keep reminding myself that it was not me that they were treating like a VIP – but my camera. I just happened to be attached to the camera. It probably gets forgotten and some may feel envious of me – but the reality is that its all about getting a great shot so that even now – 16 years later, the whole world can see the event from the best angle.
But I did try my best to act with humility and be thankful for the unique position I was afforded. A lot of my photo credit should go to the team who made sure I was in the right place at the right time to shoot the best shots, every day of the relay. Often I would get driven ahead, or helped onto a chase boat to get special access to shoot from, only to have the person that sweated to get me there left behind. Often they never got to see the Flame at all.
The whole event was a massive team effort – but I felt especially supported and privileged to be put in the front row at the sacrifice of others being left behind. And for that, I hope my photos make them proud of what they worked so hard for.
There where countless funny stories of working on the relay. On the subject of two-way radios, one story that I alway remember was this:
One crew member was having a particularly hard day. She was working off two, constantly ringing, mobile phones plus her two-way radio headset. Fed up, she called a friend back home and was venting all her frustrations; life, work, the relay. Really getting it off her chest. She was pacing up and down, arms folded, talking into her mobile phone. This is all perfectly acceptable. Life on the road can have its ups and downs. And it helps to get things off your chest. But what she didn’t realise, that by crossing her arms, she was pressing on her two-way talk button! Her conversation was going live across the whole team radio. It took one of the crew to call her other phone, which thankfully she answered, to alert her. She was mortified.
And I remember that lesson every time I plug into a two way radio at work…
Our convoy of officially branded vehicles stretched on for kilometres. Generally I was transported around the relay by others (after mostly giving up on using the Harley Davidson as discussed earlier). I was either onboard the luxurious Media Motorhome (or its poorer remote cousins) or being driven ahead in a sedan, or hanging on to the side of a boat, or a train, or an aeroplane.
I also did quite a bit of running – keeping ahead of torchbearers, running beside them in the ‘run-turn-shoot-run’ ballet I had almost perfected. I certainly got fit along the way. But nowhere near as fit as the police security runners who ran with the torchbearers every step of every day. Somedays they clocked up over 50km of running. They were usually working in a pile of sweat for most of the day (you’ll see them in almost every standard shot I took). The other group that ran more than most were the young ‘escort runners’ – school kids specially selected to escort between 5 and 10 torchbearers. So where a torchbearer would run 800m, The escorts would do 8km. It worked most times because a. they were young and fit kids and b. there was usually a combination of slow torchbearers (older people who could only walk) and more energetic joggers. So it was not an 8km sprint.
Except for one unlucky girl. This poor escort runner lucked out when she seemed to get sprinting torchbearer after sprinting torchbearer. The final straw was when the she got to her 6th torchbearer who was about 16 years old, built like a rake and clearly ready to ‘go for it’. He shot off with the Flame. Already worn out, she took about 20 paces before pulling a face that said it all, and abandoned the relay to unceremoniously throw up on the side of the road and retire from the event. It was funny to watch, but also heartbreakingly bad luck for her.