Julian Ledger was honoured for his work at the Australian Tourism Industry awards.

I don't often get asked to meet people at famous heritage sites but since the women's prison in Fremantle is an exciting upcoming project for the Youth Hostel Association it seems appropriate that chief executive Julian Ledger should choose to meet here.

In Perth from Sydney for a couple of days, Mr Ledger is back where his 35-year career with the YHA first began and, after having come so far, has a chance to reminisce on how he got here.

"As a student I had relatively little idea what I wanted to do. I got my job in the nuclear industry because it was in the British Lake District and I love the mountains and I've always gravitated to places with mountains," he says.

"I took the opportunity to go travelling and I went travelling through Asia, as one did in those days, and was away for six months. Went through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma and landed in Perth with a working holiday visa and no idea what I wanted to do."

When an opportunity to join the YHA in Perth came up Mr Ledger applied on a bit of a whim and before he knew it found he was going to have to extend that visa.

"I was only 23 and surprisingly got the job and found it fascinating and very enjoyable, very hard work," he says.

It was here that Mr Ledger met and married his wife Akiko and so he found himself, quite contrary to what he first thought, settled in possibly the least mountainous city in the world.

As he speaks it's obvious Mr Ledger is passionate about his job, not only because he enjoys his work environment but because he is able to support something he believes in.

"The opportunity to travel is a wonderful thing . . . you can find out more about yourself, you can obviously see new places, meet new people, but you can also grow as an individual," he says.

"Travel broadens the mind, particularly the backpacker mode of travel where you kind of fit in with the local communities."

After a long stint in Perth Mr Ledger moved with his family to Sydney where he took up the position of chief executive of YHA Ltd Australia, a subset of the wider Youth Hostel Association that operates more than 4000 hostels in 80 countries.

Recently he accepted an award for outstanding contribution by an individual in the industry at the 2013 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards.

While Mr Ledger finds he gets enough satisfaction from doing well at work, the award was a welcome acknowledgment of the youth-tourism sector.

"When I first started with YHA back in 1987 tourism wasn't even considered a proper industry and certainly youth tourism wasn't something you heard much about. Over time tourism grew to employ more than half a million Australians . . . so I feel that this award has been some recognition that we're a substantial part of the industry and we're also a professional part of it," he says.

Outside of his role with the YHA, Mr Ledger is a family man with two adult children at home.

"A work/life balance has sometimes been a challenge because the work has been quite all-consuming and there's been a lot of travel," he reflects.

"These days I think I've got that more in balance and I've been really happy to see my own kids take their first tentative steps . . . both have had the opportunity to work and travel overseas and I think it's helped them come into university as more rounded than they might have been."

He's also a huge fan of the little- known Australian sport of rogaining - a long-distance, cross-country navigation sport - and became involved as a competitor and volunteer when it first came to WA in 1980.

"It's not a huge sport but it gets me outdoors, I get to see a lot of countryside, I meet some good people and it keeps me fit."

Mr Ledger has no plans to retire anytime soon but when he's ready he has aspirations to spread the tourism story that he's been a part of for so long.

"I have in mind that there is the story to be told of the whole of the Australian backpacker sector.

"I've been in it really from the beginning. I've seen it from the west coast to the east coast and one project may be in future to sit down with a dictaphone with a bunch of individuals who were there and to see whether we can pull that story together."

Right where we sit in Fremantle is what will soon become another great part of the YHA history with the development of the women's prison into hostel accommodation.

It's a project that's been in the pipeline for the past three years and one that Mr Ledger is extremely excited about.

"It's no good locking buildings away. It doesn't create the revenue that will sustain them. Having historic buildings, like the women's prison in Fremantle, as a living youth hostel is fantastic," he says.

"I think it will be one of the world's most unique YHA hostels because of its history - some of the guests' rooms are in the former cells - it will definitely be a talking point back home."

If there's one more thing that Mr Ledger is as passionate about as his job and his family it's the "variety in this country" that makes living here and marketing this place so enjoyable.

"Being a part of the Australian tourism industry is a fantastic thing . . . when you see the depth and the range of product you can't help but be excited. I like marketing Australia, it's a lot of fun," he says

But it's not just a job for the professionals.

"At the end of the day we all have to be champions of Australia as a tourist destination," Mr Ledger declares.

The West Australian

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