Tragedy forges true bond
THE story behind the formation of the sister city program between Gayndah and Zonhoven in Belgium is a sad one with a better outcome.
Zonhoven residents Roger Bas, Angelina Di Perna and Marie-Claire Hulsman visited Gayndah to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the sister city relationships between the two towns.
Mrs Hulsman works for Zonhoven Council and has been involved in the program since its inception.
"The sister city was established by a friendship more than it was two councils coming together," Mrs Hulsman said.
"Our former council CEO's aunty was a missionary in Papua New Guinea and he would do fundraising in Belgium and every couple of years visit Papua New Guinea to bring the funds and take a look at the projects. In 1987 he, his wife, his niece and his niece's husband all made the trip. Unfortunately his niece's husband was murdered while on the trip."
Gayndah man Mike Goebel was in the country at the time.
"Mike helped to organise the search for the body because he was on a guided trip in the forest when he was murdered so they had to search for him," Mrs Hulsman said.
"Mike was great and helped the family with everything he could, they got to know each other well and after all of that they invited Mike to Zonhoven and the year after Mike invited them to visit him in Gayndah.
"When the CEO got home he told council he wanted to establish a sister city program with Gayndah."
It only took two years from then to launch the program.
Experiencing life on the other side of the planet
EVEN after first visiting 25 years ago, Marie-Claire Hulsman has loved the differences in lifestyle and culture compared to her home in Belgium.
"I'm from the Gayndah sister city of Zonhoven and I first visited when the sister city program started," Mrs Hulsman said.
"It is completely different where I live, we have a lot more inhabitants but we have much denser communities too."
Mrs Hulsman was able to see how Australia gained its reputation for wide open spaces.
"We don't have the space you have here, there is so much more countryside but fewer people and that is completely different from where we are from," Mrs Hulsman said.
"Also your rural environment with the orchards, the cattle and the way you make your living. It's all completely different."