Kevin Smith – Local Gent

Comments (0) Interviews

Attention all history and war lovers. Local gent Kevin Smith invites you to join him in Borneo to see for yourself what our ANZACS went through during the Second World War.




How long have you lived in Armidale?

Helena and I have lived in Chestnut Avenue for 41 years. We came here from Ashford Central School, where I had been Principal for a year, following my time at the University of Florida. I came to Armidale to take up a joint Teachers’ College/UNE appointment to teach courses in Education Administration, at the invitation of the late Professor Bill Walker. We had also lived in Armidale for a short while in the mid-1960s.

Tell us about your experience in the war.

Well, in 1951 I enlisted and trained for the Korean war, but then the Army decided they had other plans for me … the Army can be like that. I was to become an instructor for the early intakes of National Service, then I was involved in interviewing new recruits. Sitting on my backside, sending others off to Korea, was not what I’d enlisted for. Later, I successfully completed a Military Intelligence course. Apart from that Regular Army service, I have also served in the Hunter River Lancers (Walcha troop) and the NSW Mounted Rifles (Forbes troop). So – sorry Sue – no war experiences. Helena has more personal experience of war than I have. Maybe that frustration of youthful plans is what caused me to take up military history after my retirement.

I’ve also had some experience with the Navy, including a patrol boat visit to the Ashmore Reef in 2002 – quite an adventure for a bloke in his early 70s. My more significant involvement with the RAN was writing an official Report on Submariner Morale in 1986. That was thanks to top level introductions by Derek Norton (now Secretary of the Armidale RSL Sub-branch).

Actually, I did get to Korea about thirty-five years later as a consultant for UNESCO.  I guess that staying at a top hotel in Seoul beats being in a freezing foxhole on top of a snow-covered mountain.

When and why are you off to Borneo?

It is an escorted tour for eighteen days in April and May. 2012 is the 70-year anniversary of the first Australian prisoners of war being sent to Sandakan. I’ve planned an extensive tour for persons interested in the gentle adventure of visting this exotic island, where headhunters roamed just over two generations ago. For those who treasure memories of family members who were there as POWs, it is a pilgrimage.

For tour members interested in a little eco-tourism, we guarantee some fascinating experiences. Above all, I want tour members to share my pleasure in meeting the friendly people of Borneo, at their cultural events and in their market places. On my Borneo Reflections tours, we also dine at times with Borneo people – some of whom have their own family connections with the wartime years of enemy occupation and the local resistance.

Is this your first tour to Borneo?

Far from it, Sue. I’ve been there ten times in all, either doing research for my books, planning tour itineraries, or leading my own tour groups on four occasions.

What should people expect to do and see on this tour ?

For many, ANZAC DAY at Sandakan, on the site of the former POW camp in the cool of early morning will be a highlight. A similar very special visit a few days later will be to the pleasantly laid out Commonwealth War Graves on Labuan Island.

The sanctuaries for the shaggily red-haired Orangutans and the pot-bellied, long-nosed Proboscis Monkeys are of great interest to many travellers, as is majestic Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in South-East Asia at 4,093 metres. The ensuite accommodation I’ve arranged equals that of any motel in Armidale. We definitely do not camp in the jungles or use huts in native kampongs. We do not undertake treks, but enjoy travelling by modern air-conditioned coaches. Our clientele do not look for luxury, but are people who do look for comfort.

My 2012 tour will visit the locations of Australian commando operations by ‘Z’ Special Unit as a unique aspect of our travels. As usual, we shall trace the route of the 1945 death marches and will visit POW camp sites at Sandakan, Ranau and Kuching. I shall be providing informative commentary at many such places along the way. One previous tour member had this to say:

“The groundwork and planning by tour leader Kevin Smith, New England Travel and Willie Teo of Destination Borneo left no stone unturned. We are so grateful to you for the thoughtful, caring and compassionate way you planned and operated the whole trip”.

How can one book for the Borneo Tour?

New England Travel is again handling the air travel by Malaysian Airlines and the financial arrangements for my Borneo Reflections 2012 tour.  Passports are necessary, but visas are not required. Glenys Williams can advise on all of these logistical details and is looking forward to signing you up for this tour of a lifetime. Either Glenys or I can provide brochures giving a complete summary of the tour.

I am hoping that eventually we shall have twenty registrations from reasonably fit people aged between 18 and 80 from all parts of eastern Australia.

Our only disappointment is that Sue Dee says she is unable to come with us.

Thanks Kevin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *