Country Town Tours was a name coined by WBA board member Vic Matthews in 2000. These have involved mission outreach visits to rural Australia: from as far south west as Albany in Western Australia to the Cairns region in far north Queensland. To the central north to Darwin and the Kakadu in the Northern Territory and as far south as Hobart Tasmania. And all points in between.
No Country Town Tour is the same. Some have involved professional sport coaches and elite athletes focusing on coaching clinics to juniors along with schools and youth groups. Other Country Town Tours have focused on the Footplate Padre ministry where there is an historical railway culture.
Many other Country Town Tours over the years have been engaged in Men's breakfasts, sports dinners and service club functions. There have been Country Town Tours that have concentrated on meetings with professionals in small private group meetings.
The January Country Town Tour (CTT) to Tasmania involved a variety of activities within many of those descriptive illustrations. That CTT included Hobart and Launceston. There were luncheon meetings, a visit to a Bible College, interviewing prospective young writers for the Well-Being Australia "Press Service International" ministry, private gatherings, being part of a rural outreach, and the like.
The four-day itinerary of the northern rivers of NSW Country Town Tour included a number of small rural communities but some interesting aspects of the visit was the limited stay in Grafton where additional people were involved.
The Catherdal Fair was right next door to The Abbey Motel where they were being accommodated which was a rather they thought. The Anglican Catherdral is next door and the Fair was held in the Cathedral grounds. One of the stalls had large cartons of mixed rural fruits which epitomised a country fair.
Close by was the Grafton Vintage Car display and this was fascinating as exhibits ranged from a 1950's Silver Cloud Rolls Royce to a very first 1948 Holden, an MG sports car, an early model caravan and utility, a 1920's Chevie, a VW beetle, a 1960 Vanguard Standard 6 along with numerous others.
Mark Tronson incredulously claimed, as a historian, to the derision of his companions, he'd seen that very same black Rolls Royce on many a Movietone News at the cinema as a kid in the '50s. He even showed them where various celebrities, including the Royals on various State visits, sat and waved to the crowds.
The 1960s Vanguard station wagon fascinated him, as he too owned that very same model in the early 1970s when living in Port Kembla, when working as a locomotive engineman.
It had an overdrive gear on both 2nd and 3rd gear, a forerunner to the modern overdrive geared vehicles of today. On the model he owned, and as was the one on display, the overdrive was switched by a lever on the steering column. He believes that had he never have sold that Vanguard, that it still would have been running today such was its tenacity. Indeed, a view shared by many old Vanguard owners.
What Mark Tronson refers to as his most fascinating part of the Country Town Tour, was to the Grafton Railway Station where he chatted with the Station Master. Mark Tronson serves as the Footplate Padre, a ministry to railway personnel. He was a locomotive engineman for 10 years prior to seminary and has since written 16 books on railways and writes a monthly Footplate Padre column for the railway e-magazine, On Track.
He was given a tour of the old South Grafton Locomotive Depot which has long since been abandoned. He was taken to the old turntable which is now security protected by a high cyclone-wire fence. The station master had been based in Grafton for many years and as Mark reflected on his childhood experiences the station master told of his own roles in such locomotive movements.
As a teenager, he often travelled with his parents by rail from Canberra to Queensland (the family had relocated from Mackay in 1961). Mark Tronson explained that when those passenger trains arrived in Grafton around 5.30am, the diesel locomotive would be detached and it would head off in the direction of the South Grafton Locomotive Depot. This was off to the right to the railway station precinct.
Another 44 Class diesel would be waiting on the line adjacent to the platform. It would then be signalled ahead and then back onto the passenger train. That fresh diesel would haul it through to Brisbane. This procedure occurred every morning.
The station master noted that for many of those years he was the very person officiating that shunting movement. Once backed onto the train, he would ensure the coupling attached and would then join the hoses of compressed air from the diesel to the carriages (for Westinghouse brake operation).
Country Town Tours are varied
Mark Tronson noted that these Country Town Tours have many differing aspects to them. This CTT included rural centres in the northern rivers of New South Wales, the city of Grafton, the Cathedral Fair, the Footplate Padre, and various art communities which are major functionaries in rural communities.
Country Town Tours says Mark Tronson are "a marvel in our eyes as the Lord leads people together in a wide variety of situations once might never could imagine occurring."
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 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 www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html