Friends visit up North from down under

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Members of a Friendship Force chapter visiting from Australia, and some Hay River hosts, visited the Hay River Heritage Centre on Sept. 10. They included, left to right, Ludmila Bischof, Janice Davis, Jill Youngblatt, Jim Larkin, Lorene Brown, Kerry Stevenson, and hosts Nancy Makepeace, Tom Makepeace and Richard Lafferty.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Members of a Friendship Force chapter visiting from Australia, and some Hay River hosts, visited the Hay River Heritage Centre on Sept. 10. They included, left to right, Ludmila Bischof, Janice Davis, Jill Youngblatt, Jim Larkin, Lorene Brown, Kerry Stevenson, and hosts Nancy Makepeace, Tom Makepeace and Richard Lafferty.

Travellers from the south – way south – are getting to experience a bit of what life is like in the North.

This week, a group of 15 visitors from Australia is being hosted by the Friendship Force chapter in Hay River. Friendship Force is a non-profit cultural exchange organization.

Nancy Makepeace, past president of the Hay River Friendship Force and exchange director for the visit, said it is the first time the group has welcomed anyone from Australia.

Makepeace explained the visit is the result of friendships made with a couple of the Australians when she and several other people from Hay River were on a previous Friendship Force visit to New Zealand.

“So they decided they would come and visit us,” she said. “The best part of Friendship Force is these connections. You reconnect with friends you’ve met.”

The travellers are from Tweed Valley in the state of New South Wales on the east coast of Australia.

Ludmila Bischof, president of Friendship Force Tweed Valley, said the group is happy to be in the North.

“A lot of people have envied us because this is unusual to come this far north and that was one of the attractions of going somewhere different,” she said.

Bischof said members of the group would all love to see more animals in the North, noting they had already seen buffalo while travelling by bus through the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary.

“That was really good,” she said.

Bischof also said the landscape is much different than in Australia.

“It’s more marshy almost,” she said on a particularly rainy Sept. 10. “You’ve got heaps of water. That’s another attraction. You see Australia is really dry. We’re a dry continent.”

In addition, the travellers are hoping to experience Northern aboriginal culture.

During their stay, the plan is to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, the Visitor Information Centre at the NWT/Alberta border, Enterprise, Alexandra Falls, the Hay River Reserve, Wood Buffalo National Park, Fort Smith and the Northern Farm Training Institute among other places.

“We try to showcase the South Slave,” said Makepeace.

The Australians arrived on Sept. 9 and will be departing on Sept. 16.

Before coming to Hay River, they also visited Lethbridge, Alta., for a week and from there explored parts of the province.

Their trip to Hay River means they are the 12th group hosted by the local Friendship Force chapter in its 10 years of existence.

Makepeace said travellers have also been hosted from Holland, Belgium, the United States and other parts of Canada.

Currently, the Hay River chapter of Friendship Force has 14 members.

Visitors from other chapters stay in the hosts’ houses and become part of life in Hay River while here.

Friendship Force is an international non-profit organization in 63 countries. Its 16,000 members are committed to forming friendships around the world as a way of promoting peace.

The Hay River members of Friendship Force are now planning to visit Australia.

“We’ve been invited to go to the Tweed Valley because now they know us,” said Makepeace.

That visit is expected to happen in November of next year.

–Paul Bickford