Tony Wheeler was born in England in 1946 but spent most of his younger years overseas. Those years included a lengthy spell in Pakistan, a shorter period in the West Indies and all of his high school years in the USA. He returned to England to do an engineering degree, worked for a short time as an automotive engineer, then went back to university and completed an MBA.
1st Book: As soon as Tony left business school in London in 1972, he and his wife Maureen set off for an overland trip to Asia. Their intention was to be away for about a year, get travel out of their systems and then settle down. When they arrived in Australia with 27 cents and a camera (which they soon pawned) between them, the continual questioning from people they met – “How did you travel? What did you see? What did it cost?” – inspired them to turn their diaries into a book. They called it Across Asia on the Cheap.
2nd Book: The first print run was 1500 copies, hand collated, hand trimmed and hand stapled. Tony and Maureen took the book around to bookshops in Sydney and it sold out in the first week. 18 months in South-East Asia resulted in their second guide, South-East Asia on a Shoestring, which they put together in a backstreet Chinese hotel in Singapore in 1975. The ‘yellow bible’, as it became known due to its distinctive yellow cover, soon became the guide to the region. It has sold well over half a million copies worldwide and is now in its 13th edition, still retaining its familiar yellow cover.
Lonely Planet: Today there are over 500 Lonely Planet titles in publication, each one with a ‘between-the-lines message that travellers should respect the planet they wander’ (San Francisco Examiner), and an adventurous, independent approach to travel. In addition to practical travel information each guide contains concise background information on the culture and history of the countries covered in the books.
Travel Writing: Tony believes that travellers enjoy themselves much more when they know more about the places they’re visiting. He says that travel writing is ‘dawn to dusk hard work, always on the move, always checking things’, but he and Maureen manage to fit in several trips each year. Tony continues to play an active part in researching, writing and updating Lonely Planet guides.
Author: Over the past 30 years, Tony has researched and written Lonely Planet travel guides, diving guides and walking guides. He has also researched and published Chasing Rickshaws, a pictorial essay of the rickshaw in Southeast Asia, Time & Tide: The Islands of Tuvalu, a snapshot of life in the South Pacific and more recently Rice Trails: A Journey Through the Ricelands of Asia & Australia. Tony’s most recent research trips took him to the Falklands and South Georgia Island, and East Timor. The East Timor guidebook was awarded the Pacific Asia Travel Association 2005 Gold Award for Best Travel Guidebook.
Charity: Since selling Lonely Planet for $244 million, Tony and Maureen Wheeler have endowed the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, and set up the Planet Wheeler Foundation, which operates in child and maternal welfare, education and health care in Asia and Africa. Tony also sits on the board of Global Heritage Fund, which protects cultural sites in the developing world.
Officer in the Order: In 2014 Tony was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to business and commerce as a publisher of travel guides, and as a benefactor to a range of Australian arts and aid organisations.”