Tim Fischer: What travel taught me


My Jesuit and military educational phases gave me a great curiosity and thirst for learning about everything, far and wide. Travel became part of this equation early on as it opened my eyes, initially to Thailand and its neighbours. I learnt to push the agenda, so I ended up in the beautiful gardens of many Commonwealth war cemeteries – at Chittagong and Comilla in Bangladesh, for example. This helped me gain a better understanding of the footprint of bravery and POW suffering in World War II along the way, also a passing knowledge of the colourful backblocks of Asia.


There is a golden rule on flights crossing interesting terrain: always sit on the side opposite the sun as you see clearer and further, even from 30,000 feet. So it is I have collected bonus views of the mighty MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia, the pyramids on the edge of Cairo and on flights to that other airport in Rome, Ciampino, with great views on descent over Rome. To and from Bhutan there is an exception to the rule, regardless of where the sun is: always sit on the right-hand side for extended views of the main Himalayan chain – including in the distance the distinct Mount Everest.


As then trade minister, for a quick update on the pulse of a big city, including the standard of living and infrastructure modernity, I always liked to start the official visit program one hour earlier and insist on being taken by the ambassador to the grand terminal station, such as at Pretoria and Tehran. I learnt much in the process and was able to impress ministers later in the day with my local knowledge and gain a break on the various trade negotiations. Today the habit continues. How can you go to Paris and not visit the superb Le Train Bleu restaurant at the mighty Gare De Lyon? Come to think of it, our current ambassador to France owes me a return hospitality lunch there.

Having matriculated with honours in "Musical Appreciation", the foundations were laid for chasing down many an orchestral concert and many grand opera houses, not just the large ones but superb smaller ones such as in Lucca and Montepulciano in Italy. On any tour, fine music can be uplifting and the homes of Beethoven, Mozart and Puccini inspiring.


In outback Australia , the big natural attractions such as Uluru dominate, but drill down and there are really memorable others worth experiencing. Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland, Mungo National Park in NSW, Pichi Richi Pass and steam heritage railway near Port Augusta in South Australia, Wave Rock in Western Australia and Montezuma Falls in Tasmania are great chill-out and meditation places. See you there soon if I can schedule treatments* in order to travel ever onwards and learn.

Tim Fischer's latest book is Steam Australia: Locomotives that Galvanised the Nation (NLA Publishing, $39.99). See nla.gov.au

(*Tim Fischer is having treatment for acute leukaemia.)