Sydney Morning Herald recently ran an article on the top 10 travel things to do in Australia before .... (the bucket list) .... and, they are grand things indeed, but I have a different 10 from our 33 years of Country Town Tours.
Over these past thirty three years I have been involved in Country Town Tours or organising Country Town Tours and these are visits to regional and rural areas of Australia with an athlete, coach or some similar identity.
They involve - schools, youth groups, youth rallies, breakfasts, sports dinners, service clubs, prisons, farms and the like. Someone or a church in the host location puts the program together, there is no charge from our end, and it's proven to be a remarkable gifting from the Lord to such areas.
As I read that SMH article, what immediately sprang to mind were the many places Delma and I had been over our 38 years of marriage and then narrowed that down to Country Town Tours.
This is my list of 10 from our Country Town Tours - some of these are multiple visits
Trans-Continental / Ghan Railway
Admittedly I am a railway man and this heading covers the numbers of occasions visits vua rail and exercising ministy. The Trans-Continetal Train existed since the track was opened 17 October 1917 which ran from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. In 1970 the standard gauge line was connected from Adelaide to Port Augusta and likewise from Kalgoorlie to Perth.
The Ghan originally ran from Port Augusta to Alice Springs (1924) with a rich history of dramas and etiquette. In 2004 the line was extended from Alice Springs to Darwin. One of our highlights after our Darwin and Kakadu Country Town Tours in 2010 was to travel on The Ghan from Darwin to Alice Springs. We enjoyed the stop over at Katherine to visit the Gorge on the tour provided.
While we're in the regions of the West, our Country Town Tour in 2010 to Albany was a wonderful time in the Lord, but the region to our breath away. It was from Albany that the Anzacs left Australian shores for the Great War including Gallipoli and eventually the Eastern Front.
It was in Albany that the US Navy's submarine fleet was based in WWII and a visit to the war memorial at the lookout illustrates numerous torpedoes and exhibitions of that time. For many months the electronic torpedo head were failing on the torpedos and although they were directed to the target, when they hit enemy ships, they proved duds.
One of the remarkable things about Albany is the name Vancouver. No not Canada's, but the same person. Captain George Vancouver 1757-1598 was a British naval captain of exceptional talent and it was he who founded the west coast Canadian city of Vancouver and the same person who discovered the Albany Sound – both cities have very similar dispositions, vast waterways. Everywhere you look in Albany there are streets, parades, circuits, crescents, major roads, parks, blocks .... all name Vancouver.
Timboon and the Great Ocean Road
The numbers of Country Town Tours we've engaged in throughout Victoria and mind you in Melbourne, are so many that a few stand out. One of these was to Timboon where as the Australian cricket team chaplain I was guest speaker at their regional association's annual cricket dinner. On a number of the then King of the Mountain in the 80's David Lloyd accompanied me and wooed the audiences with his achievements and his T-shirt witness. David Lloyd was a potato farmer.
The Great Ocean Road has the Twelve Apostles – huge limestone structures created in times past by erosion just off the shore line at the Port Campbell National Park and a must for tourists from around the world. I'd be hard pressed to find a prettier town than Timboon.
Sale and Ballarat
Sale is another of those near coastal rural centres in Victoria (Gippsland), but on the eastern seaboard. My son Wesley was a teenager about 14 when together we engaged in a Country Town Tour to the area, for me, one of many. I had always been involved in Chambers of Commerce and as we lived at that time in Moruya, so too there. The pastor was organised our Country Town Tour was the secretary of Sale's commerce community and this was a remarkable link. The oil and gas rigs are off the coast of Sale. I recall that trip as he took Wesley under his wing for a full afternoon.
Ballarat is another regional Victorian centre famous for its Gold discovery and a fierce regional politically independent streak – viz the Eureka Stockade. Quite apart from our visits in ministry was our family holiday there many years ago and the highlight was a visit to the Gold fields town. We heard the preacher on the balcony extolling the virtues of staying away from vice and moreover, the evils of drink. Delma enjoyed studying the remarkable embroidery in the dress shop.
Tasmania too has been a favourite haunt for our Country Town Tours on many visits. We are heading there again the second week of September this year. We're visiting various areas of Tasmania starting in Launceston and ending up in Hobart. Steve Suba in Launceston is the Well-Being Australia Tasmanian co-ordinator through which we link.
Yes, it is just a great big country town – ask the old locals. Many ministry trip have been enjoyed visiting Canberra, perhaps one that stands out was being the invited preacher to the Combined Southern Canberra Churches annual evening service (approx 1987) after I had appointed both the Canberra Raiders (Rugby League) and Canberra Cannons (NBL) team's their chaplains. Only last year as part of the ARPA conference (Australasian Religious Press Association) where we did a full tour of Parliament House and the Press Gallery. The national Capital is an important place to visit.
The Illawarra extends south of Sydney from Coalcliff, to Thirroul, to Wollongong, to Port Kembla, to Shellharbour, to Kiama – a huge coastal region set between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Dividing Range. Over all these years of Country Town Tours we have enjoyed many visits to churches in this area. One memorable one was Fairy Meadow Anglican and the athlete who joined me on that occasion was soccer player Andy Harper, now a national commentator identity.
Mackay has been part of our Country Town Tour schedules over many years – we seem to keep getting invited. The numbers of athletes and coaches who have been part of our Country Town Tour team to Mackay have been legion – some these have been Les Sillis (Rodeo), Bruce Thomas (Great Triathlon), Tony Dunkerley (Soccer) .... men's breakfasts, sports dinners and schools have all been hall marks. Mackay Channel 7 even did a news spot when Bruce Thomas visited. I was born in Mackay, my parents were dairy farmers at Crediton (Eungella) 60 miles west on the Great Dividing Range. My father's farming diary can be read on-line.
Mt Isa is indeed one of Australia's most famous mining areas with huge trains ore heading back to the coastal city of Townsville and onto export. The Country Town Tour was an eye opener as here was this isolated metropolis in the centre of nowhere with a very defined local identity and pride. It is in such centres where one does everything when visiting – the tour thing, radio interviews, schools, churches, speaking here and there and everywhere – when the Australian cricket team chaplain comes to town your on the agenda big time.
In 1997 I was invited as one of the four speakers to the Whitsundays combined churches tourism ministry conference and spoke about Australia's Bush Orchestra (tourism ministry) which I had set up in Moruya. This was not my first visit to the region, my grand father Walter Tronson established the first tourism business on Happy Bay Long Island in 1934 and we as a family had visited several times.
But it was a 2002 Country Town Tour to Airlie Beach and a visit to meet Garry Poole at Midge Point that set into train the events that led us to purchasing the Laguna Quays Respite cottage in the Midge Point region in 2011. It has since enjoyed constant usage by missionaries for respite and now, a second such missionary respite facility is getting started now at Aldinga Beach in South Australia.
This list only represents 10 regions that have stood out to us in our Country Town Tours, a very different list that anyone else might put together. These visits all represent a particular kind of Christian witness through the coming on key people who have given of their money and time to serve the Lord Jesus. What joy in this!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html