A few days ago, I wrote about Alan Waddell, a 92-year-old man that is walking every Sydney, Australia suburb and street, documenting them with photographs. At the end of the article, I stated, “Hopefully, Mr. Waddell would like to do an interview with us in the future if he happens upon any spare time.” Of course, I forgot to pass along the article to Mr. Waddell, however, I lucked out and he still found it anyway. Plus, he agreed to do an interview with us! I want to point out the fact that his website’s FAQ section already runs through most of the basics of the when/why/how/where he started walking – so as a prerequisite to reading this article, you should really read the FAQ. I tried to ask him a short list of questions that are not answered there. So, here goes my interview with Mr. Waddell:
How many more streets and suburbs do you estimate you have left to cover?
There are over 500 suburbs in Sydney, so with my 221 completed, I am not even half way! That means perhaps 20,000 streets left. I know I’ll never make it, but I’ll keep going for as long as my body will let me.
What has been the most interesting thing you’ve observed on your walks?
The suburb Dangar Island has no cars. When I got off the ferry to start walking its streets, I was amazed to find that instead of a car park at the ferry wharf, it’s a wheelbarrow park. There were about 20 barrows there. The residents leave them at the wharf to use for getting their shopping or whatever back up the hill to their houses on return to the island.
What has been the best thing about all of the attention you’ve received from walking and your website?
By far the best is the hundreds of emails (and yours was one!) that use a variation of the word “inspire”?. It has been very encouraging to me to learn that so many people have been inspired to start walking, thus improving their health and lessening their risk of heart disease, diabetes and so on.
What has been the worst thing that’s happened?
The worst things hasn’t happened: that’s being robbed or assaulted. Sydney, like any other major city, has its share of such offences. Probably my walking in daylight has lessened the chance. Otherwise, the worst thing has been forced layoffs for a couple of weeks at a time from ulcers, but they seem to be OK now.
What do you hope to achieve through documenting your efforts?
My son Graham has spent hundreds of hours on setting up and maintaining the web site record. It is meant to be fun, and if it brightens the day for visitors, as it seems to, that is very pleasing for us. It also shows that lots of enjoyment awaits us when we walk our neighbourhoods, both in the people we meet and the discoveries we make that you don’t see from your car.
Have you ever been walking in the United States before? If so, what were your impressions and how does it compare with Australia?
I have visited the United States but that was before I took up walking. Of course I loved California, including the moving national monument (cable cars), Yosemite and the people, who were very kind to us.
I feel that most cities in the United States are not comfortable to walk in and were too heavily designed for automobiles. Do you feel that this is the case in Sydney? Have you experienced many barriers to walking? (I don’t recall experiencing many).
I think that we are lucky that most of our city is good for walkers. There have been some complaints that newer suburbs were too much geared to cars, and apparently designers are now trying harder to make new suburbs encouraging for walkers.
Are there any words of wisdom or motivational things that you would like to say to our readers?
I always say that if we don’t look after our hearts, our hearts won’t look after us. Walking is great for the heart, along with the rest of the body. And it’s a form of exercise where the risk of injury is small. Please can I wish you all the very best for walking your neighbourhood (even if we Australians can’t spell “neighbourhood” correctly!).
WE WOULD like to thank Mr. Waddell for this interview, I really thought it was insightful and fantastic. There are a few things I wanted to highlight from the interview. One, I certainly hope that Mr. Waddell can finish his quest. I am so amazed both at the number of Sydney suburbs, and the number he has walked through! Also, Mr. Waddell verified something important – Sydney and its suburbs are highly walkable EVERYWHERE. You cannot say that about almost every American city. The sad thing about it is that Australia is 100 years younger than the United States. So, the argument that cities now develop around the automobile is not true. Sydney gets it, and we’re left behind.
One final thought: Mr. Waddell’s words of wisdom are very good, please take them to heart! And, for Mr. Waddell, Australians can spell neighbourhood correctly. After all, Americans rewrote the dictionaries in “revolt” from the British during the revolutionary days. Oh, and if anyone out there is reading and wants to grant me another request – I would like a few million dollars to help spread our cause, thanks! 😉