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Guest Notes

Railway Notes

15 November 2014

9:00 AM

15 November 2014

9:00 AM

Home on the farm, or so it is meant to be this year but of late it has been everything from travelling the Trans Siberian railway to helping deliver Riverina seeds to the GCDT vault in north Norway and attending the AGM of the innovative CRC on Autism, which my wife Judy chairs. I even made it to the Top End, speaking at the excellent Darwin Export awards dinner.

Still, as an almost ex- everything these days, it is always nice to be surprised by unexpected courtesies. I very recently addressed the Tokyo Shinkansen Bullet Train 50th Anniversary Conference on Shinji Sogo, the great game changer who created High Speed Rail (HSR) and switched key trunk rail in Japan from narrow to standard gauge.

As I sauntered in to the big 50th Banquet and showed my delegates card, I was informed I was on Table 31 and thought nothing of it. I sat down next to Lord David Howell, a former UK Foreign Office Minister and also Tom Daschle, ex US Senate Majority Leader and soon we were reflecting on the havoc created by both Ukip and the NRA. Suddenly PM Shinji Abe arrived with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy on his left and Japanese hosts on his right, sitting down quickly at our table and introducing himself around. I decided to ask if he was looking forward to the G20 meetings and Abe said straight away: ‘Yes Brisbane mid November and all systems go.’

Abe second time around is full of energy and clearly a man in a hurry. His speech to the banquet was sharp and to the point. Abe having spoken, he then poked at his entrée; within sixty minutes he was gone, fair enough as he has more than a few issues on the boil. Next move, let us get Abe and for that matter John Alexander MP (HSR strong supporter) to convince PM Abbott that HSR is the way to go – Brisbane Sydney Tullamarine Melbourne!


It is clean, fast, efficient and by the way there have been zero fatalities in five decades of operation – Tokyo Nagoya Osaka. Today this is a hugely profitable 515 kms route for JR Central with sleek comfortable trains every few minutes, taking a mere two hours twenty five minutes to cover what took nearly seven hours before Shinkansen.

Back in Sydney I raced in from Mascot to welcome the new NSW State Governor David Hurley on parade for the launch of the Reserve Forces Day March to be held in most capital cities in the middle of the Anzac Centenary year. All went smoothly and I was able to thank the Governor for his early successful visit to Lockhart last month. In my role as National Chair of this organisation that salutes National Serviceman and Reservists, I reflected on the fact it was a reservist doing his job, on a peaceful day in Ottawa last month, who was shot dead.

Sadly I was not able to make it as a member of the public to Albany for the big AIF Convoy enactments but I was glad to see the Japanese destroyer, JS Kirisame, did. It is worth reflecting that in WW1, Japan and for that matter Italy were on our side and Japan gave repeated Convoy protection and support in 1914 and 1915.

Less well known is that one of the most incredible post Great War Anzac icons has been snatched from the Old Parliament House Museum and despatched to Albany. It is the extraordinary silver cigarette case given by Kemal Atatürk to S M Bruce in appreciation for the work Bruce did in to secure a sensible Bosphorus navigation treaty. Think about this; Bruce was a Brit officer slugging it out on the Gallipoli beaches whilst Atatürk was commanding the Turk forces decisively on the ridges. Our former PM Bruce kept this icon on his desk until he passed away.

Finally at home and in the heap of mail I found my new book hot off the printing presses. It is titled Maestro John Monash: Australia’s greatest Citizen General and I was relieved to find that the photos came up well as this is always a worry. My books on East Timor and Bhutan were launched at the NSW State Parliament, my two books on trains at Sydney Central Station; however Scotch College Melbourne was chosen as the launch site for the Monash book as Monash was Equal Dux there in 1881. Josh Frydenburg has written a strong foreword to set the scene and now I hit the road for a book selling tour, the SA launch to be at the Riverland town of Monash (beat that budding authors), the Tasmanian launch at Devonport.

My research for the manuscript uncovered new material and puts forward the argument that Monash was grossly discriminated against. Rawlinson in 1920 likened him to ‘a clever, slippery, creepy and crawly Jew’. WM Hughes, after initially promoting Monash, then froze him at rank Lt General and the book comes up with an interesting solution to all of this. Buckingham Palace even gets involved and gives a nod to the book. Five hundred people attended the rousing launch at Scotch with many books sold, a great start.

Later in November I note the new Wagner International Airport at Toowoomba will open for business, think Ride of the Valkyries from the other Wagner and full marks to a leader having a go and developing a project in the critical and sometimes infrastructure ignored inland as well. Controversial, but so was the Mascot Third Runway project and so are the long planned third and fourth runways at Tullamarine. Australia needs to be bolder with key infrastructure and people buying near airports and building their own ‘Castle’, well excuse me, please expect aircraft noise. Now next year I plan to spend more time home on the farm, or else.

Tim Fischer AC GCPO was Deputy Prime Minister in the Howard government.


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