When Aaron Leaman met Hulk (sort of)
So what do our reporters get up to on holidays?AARON LEAMAN
One of the greatest moments of my childhood never actually happened.
The retelling it spawned wasn't so much a lie, as an innocent exaggeration.
The story in its simplest form was that I was on holiday visiting family in Brisbane when I happened on a chance meeting with pro wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan.
The tale came with trimmings: the giant wrestler was so taken with our fleeting encounter he insisted on having a photo taken of us together.
The year was 1988 and my 11-year-old world was coloured with wild possibilities with which I weaved a rich tapestry of tall stories.
Over the following 12 months, my photo with the Hulkster was flaunted far and wide.
It was my ace in the hole and the perfect punctuation to any schoolyard dispute.
The story which accompanied the photo quickly developed a life of its own.
There were those who questioned its authenticity.
But mostly my wrestle-head friends willingly accepted my well-crafted yarn.
Interestingly, up until that year I hadn't been a huge fan of the Hulkster.
My favourite wrestler was, and still is, the late Macho Man Randy Savage; a glitzy gravel-voiced showman who provided me with my first glimpse of greatness.
But during the summer of '88, Savage and Hogan teamed up to form the Mega Powers and I was more than happy to pose with the giant life-sized cutout of Hogan.
The photograph was taken at a Brisbane night fair: you can see the lights of a fairground attraction in the background.
During this holiday I fell in love with the vast red continent.
Our family trip began in Sydney and included the usual must-sees: the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
As the Times' transport reporter I've developed a keen interest in civil engineering and, in particular, bridges.
Done right, a bridge can become an instant landmark and stand as a triumph of modern engineering.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is both, and filled my young mind with awe.
My long-held wish is to one day climb its massive arch and take in what must be one of the greatest views in the modern world.
While in Sydney we stayed at The Mercantile - Australia's longest-running Irish pub.
The old hotel was a colourful joint full of colourful characters and not an obvious choice of accommodation for a young family.
But it was the perfect base from which to explore the great city.
We later met up with my Uncle Nigel, who drove us to Newcastle where we stayed for a few days before boarding a bus for an excruciatingly long bus trip to Beenleigh, just south of Brisbane.
My Uncle Chris lived there and worked nearby at Power's brewery.
The brewery was one of the chief sponsors of the newly formed Brisbane Broncos rugby league club, and Uncle Chris became a great source of Broncos memorabilia.
We went on a site tour of Uncle Chris' workplace but it's fair to say dad was a lot more interested in the inner workings of a brewery than I was.
It was 16 years before I returned to Australia.
The year was 2004 and I needed a break from my job as a primary school teacher.
I resigned from my job and moved to Melbourne where I stayed for three months with my best friend Matt.
He'd recently followed a girl over the ditch and was ensconced in Melbourne's Bohemian capital, St Kilda.
My initial plan was to find work in Melbourne but the visit quickly morphed into an extended holiday.
I visited the city's attractions, such as the Old Melbourne Gaol, the shops and took in the Australian Open at the Rod Laver Arena.
Watching Swiss master Roger Federer play Argentinian David Nalbandian in the men's quarter-finals remains a personal sporting highlight.
St Kilda itself is an intoxicating suburb filled with noise, life and chaos.
The sights along the beach can include anything from ranting homeless men to topless sun-worshippers.
My stint in Melbourne finished prematurely but I returned this year to attend Matt's wedding.
The temperature was mercifully mild for January but one day did climb into the mid 30s.
I love weddings, but seeing your best friend tie the knot is a special day.
It was a late afternoon ceremony and was held near the old St Kilda Sea Baths.
As events unfolded I ended up giving the best man's speech, and my Woody Allen style of oratory appeared to win over the sizeable gathering.
I've since learnt my ramblings were captured on video but thankfully I've avoided any viewing.
On the evening of the wedding I helped Matt set up the honeymoon suite he'd booked at the Hilton.
The view of Melbourne's expansive cityscape from the Hilton suite was spectacular and perhaps justified the room's spectacular price tag.
Australia is my favourite holiday destination but there is still much to explore.
I plan to return to Melbourne and Sydney in the near future and one day hope to visit Adelaide, Perth as well as the country's vast interior.
New Zealand's relationship with Australia is often couched in terms of our intense sporting rivalry.
But the bonds between the two countries obviously go beyond the sports field and reach back to a time when men and women from both countries served together in overseas conflicts.
I still remember former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's speech to the Australian Parliament after the second devastating Christchurch quake.
She told her colleagues that New Zealand's plight was Australia's plight.
It's that same spirit which sees New Zealand firefighters head over the ditch every summer to fight the Australian bushfires.
I can't think of a better place to explore.
- © Fairfax NZ News