Aussies check out Bell-Irving salmon hatchery

Part of visitor exchange program

Darin McClain

Darin McClain

They came from a place down under, country star Keith Urban’s home town, to be precise, and had a bit of a walkabout by the Bell-Irving hatchery in Kanaka Creek Regional Park.

Then they said g’day mate and toddled off to check out Whistler and points farther afield.

The group of 19 visitors belonged to the Tamworth, New South Wales, chapter of Friendship Force, an international visitor exchange program that has 360 clubs around the world.

Tamworth, about four hours north of Sydney, is home for country star Keith Urban, who used to busk on its streets, and is Australia’s country music capital.

Once a year, a Friendship Force International group in one part of the world will visit their counterparts in another part, and stay in their homes during the visit.

Once back home, the visitors will return the favour. The group started in 1977 and was promoted by then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

“We’re part of a non-profit group that promotes world peace,” explained Annette Watson, one of the group’s leaders.

“The idea is, if you put your feet under somebody else’s table,” the divisions between people around the world disappear.

During the few days in the Vancouver area, “we received wonderful hospitality and we saw things you do not see as a tourist.”

She called Vancouver “just wonderful, vibrant city.”

The group previously spent a week in Colorado and Oklahoma before coming to visit the Friendship Force of the Lower Mainland.

Lissa Macmaster is a member of the latter group and lives in Maple Ridge and wanted to ensure her guests saw more than Vancouver or Richmond.

In addition to checking out the salmon hatchery, the group toured Fort Langley and visited Harrison Hot Springs, White Rock, Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

The group was then bound for Whistler and after that many would continue holidaying on their own.

Macmaster hoped that the next group to arrive from Indonesia would be able to stay longer.