The five places that made me: Tim Fischer, former trade minister, ambassador
From: Bendigo Advertiser
May 6, 2016, 10 a.m.
Tim Fischer's travels have taken him all over the world.
In 1968 I was sent to represent my country in Vietnam for a year. I was 21 years of age and a Platoon Commander and Transport Officer. Flying in on a Qantas charter to Saigon, I can still recall the Blue Danube Waltz being played loudly throughout the cabin as various planes and helicopters were above and below and to the side – it was the busiest airport I think I ever encountered.
We were moved to Phouc Tuy Province, about 100 kilometres east of Saigon. On peaceful days the jungle and streams were attractive. Nearby at Vung Tau there was a supply base but with a very Australian creation – the Back Beach surf club, complete with barbecues and squash courts. During my year in Vietnam I had to grow up fast but I also developed an understanding and appreciation of Asia from a relatively young age.
Over some 10 visits representing Australia as trade minister and government envoy, I have had the privilege of meeting the fourth King and fifth King of Bhutan, both brilliant leaders who have helped ease the country towards a successful constitutional democracy. The economy is growing and the main export is hydro power to India, also potato and mandarin exports. Tourism fulfils a growing portion of GDP. But I learnt from visiting this kingdom that GNH (Gross National Happiness) is regarded as more important by the leaders and the people. It's something that has stayed with me as a result.
In 2008 I was posted to Rome as an ambassador for 1000 days and enjoyed every day of it. All four main basilicas are superb but there is so much to see away from the tourist crowds that I drew up a two pager of Rome Tips Anew. My top tip? Palazzo Colonna has a ballroom that makes Versailles and its mirror hall pale by comparison.
WEST BANK, ISRAEL
As ambassador to the Holy See, I visited Bethlehem University, run by the De La Salle brothers from all over the world. To stay on campus and only about 600 metres above Manger Square is to be uplifted by the mix of Christian and Muslim students, several hundred each day going to their lectures and going about their studies. The high wall dividing Bethlehem from Israel near the rear of campus is a sharp reminder all is not well on the West Bank and unlikely to be for decades more.
I first visited Argentina as trade minister in 1998, subsequently returning often and always discovering more on each occasion. The Teatro Colon Opera house just off the main avenue of Buenos Aires made a huge impact. Larger than La Scala in Milan, after a recent revamp it is just mouth-watering in its beauty and superb in its acoustics. Alas, the tango I will never conquer, but everything from the grand colonnade of the Retiro Complex to the Pink Palace, where Evita sang from the balcony, awaits.
Tim Fischer will share his passion for South America, joining the Captain's Choice Ultimate South America 'Journeys by Private Jet' tour as a Special Ambassador. The tour departs Australia on September 15. Phone 1300 176 681. See www.captainschoice.com.au.
The story The five places that made me: Tim Fischer, former trade minister, ambassador first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.