This is my first battlefields tour and I have contemplated doing one to Gallipoli or the Western Front as we have relatives who died at either place - Tasman Jarvis who died at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and Frederick Trevaskis who died at Langemark, Belgium on 13 Oct 1917. I'm a bit cranky with myself for missing Greece and Crete last year as Max's father Charles Douglas Spencer received his military medal in Greece in 1941.
I also wouldn't mind doing a South African one as two of my mother's uncles, Solomon and William Price went to the Boer War twice, both joined the South African Police and William even married a Boer widow before he died in South Africa in 1916. The other trip I would seriously consider doing is Tobruk where my uncle Leslie Gordon Price was a 'Rat' but his 'kidney dish' shows that he was at many other places in the Middle East and later the Pacific.
So in some ways it's a bit odd that I have ended up in Darwin for a battlefields tour with no personal connection apart from Max's 25 years defence service which saw him in Darwin with both the Army and the RAAF in the 1960s and 70s. However, it was a good opportunity to see how these tours operate and whether you do find out more about the military side of things as well as doing the touristy thing too. As we have four grandchildren in Darwin, we know the city fairly well but I was interested to see how others highlight Darwin to tourists.
So it was with some excitement that I made the trek out to Melbourne airport and after about an hour's delay due to 'paperwork', my Jetstar plane finally made it into the air. It's a long flight over Central Australia and I always get a window seat so that I can look down on the desert, see the sand dunes, the salt lakes, sometimes flooded creeks and rivers and so on. It's fantastic scenery even from that height although we didn't seem to be as high as usual. The pilot also managed to make up some time and after collecting our luggage we (other battlefields tour people were on the same flight) were quickly met and at the Novetel Darwin Atrium on the Esplanade in no time.
With about five minutes to spare before the official welcome dinner we all quickly checked in and headed back down for dinner which was postponed for a few minutes so that we could all settle. I had a bit of trouble with my key card not opening the door but that was soon sorted. Given my hearing issues, they very nicely left me a seat on one of the front tables where I was pleased to see two people I knew from Queensland and the gentleman on my right was from the same suburb where I live (talk about a small world).
Like most group dinners this was an either/or choice and I ended up with chicken for a main and the pudding for dessert with the other choices being steak and cheesecake. Tables of eight never really work for me but given the noise level everyone else seemed to be having a good time getting to know each other. A sponsor of the tour is Inside History Magazine and there was a complimentary copy of their magazine handed out to each individual or couple - appropriately it was their military issue Sep-Oct 2011. After dessert we had the first lecture of the tour, no wasting time!
Brad Manera's World War 2 1939-45: an overview of Australia's role in Europe and the Pacific was a very good introduction to the whole tour. Brad is an easy speaker and his photographic presentation supported what he was saying. At the end he took lots of questions from a very keen audience.
We all have to be ready for our tour of Darwin in the morning at 9.00am and as I had already lost 90 minutes that day (daylight saving & time differences within Australia for my overseas readers), I went to bed! Tomorrow afternoon there are two more lectures and a sunset cruise so another big day ahead. Stay tuned.