by Paul Ward-Harvey

As Chairman of our District Youth Exchange Committee, I attended many National Chairs Conferences. In 2007 I was elected by the National Conference members as the Australian  representative to attend the European Youth Exchange conference in Iceland.
I arranged to fly via Abu Dhabi (to visit a friend), Milan (to visit Giulia, a former Exchange student from Lake Como), Copenhagen, and then Reykjavik in Iceland.
Upon arrival in Reykjavik, and as we were motoring to the hotel, we passed a large aluminium smelter powered by geothermal electricity….and upon enquiry I was told that the raw material, bauxite came from Australia!
Some 300,000 people live in Iceland, most in Reykjavik. The city and scenery are spectacular. The country was devoid of trees once, but not naturally. It was due to deforestation by the populace for building, boat building, and firewood. A reaforestation programme is proving successful.
The Conference was well attended, and covered numerous topics of interest. Each country representative had been requested to man a stall featuring their country’s attractions… my stall featured the vast outback, the Barrier Reef, kangaroos, koalas, Tim Tams and Sao biscuits with Vegemite. Dare I say that all were a great hit…excepting the Vegemite…but a few past Exchange students who had exchanged to Australia felt obliged to try it again.
Upon return home, I subsequently reported to the next Australian Conference on the Sunshine Coast..quite a contrast to Iceland. A number of the delegates in Iceland were in attendance at that Conference. Overall, the meetings with representatives from Districts with which we were exchanging students, and the cross flow of information and experiences, was most valuable.
As a postscript, Iceland in 2007 had the highest per capita income in the world. In 2008, its banks collapsed, preceding the world financial crisis, and throwing Iceland into a severe depression. In the face of enormous pressure from European countries, the Icelandic Government refused to bail out the Icelandic banks or pay those banks debts to their European creditors. Today, as a result of restructuring and tourism, Iceland has almost regained it’s pre 2008 status.