Sandakan April 26, 2012: The swelling number of young Australian visitors for the annual Anzac day commemoration service on April 25 is drawing cheers from city officials and tour operators alike.
At a welcome dinner at his official residence Tuesday night, Sandakan Municipal Council President, Datuk James Wong, noted the packed backyard garden and said he was pleased to know that the Anzac service is garnering more interest and the number of visitors has grown from year to year.
Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Miles Kupa, said there are Anzac Day services in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere but he decided to come to Sabah for it because Sabah has attracted the biggest attendance.
This year has attracted over 150 Australians - the largest ever.
"As the number of increases, I think the relationship between Australia and Sabah gets closer too," Wong said.
"But I am specially pleased that this year we have students from Western Australia including even a group from Christmas Island," Wong cited his delight and surprise, noting that Christmas Island which has a population of only about 2000, is 3,000km away from western Australia but form a part of Western Australia.
But Perth-hailed tour operator, Ryan Rowlan, a great believer in the idea that "there is no future without history" has done a lot to bring about a swelling presence of students in both Anzac Day and Sandakan Day services, by encouraging schools and teachers to take up the mantle of keeping Australian history in Sabah alive.
Besides the Christmas Island group, 10 students and three teachers representing a total of 13 schools in Western Australia were also here, said a teacher named Sue.
Datuk John Lim, owner of Sepilok Jungle Resort, who is hosting the Christmas Island group at his resort, said the beautiful Sandakan Memorial Park and the powerful story behind it has itself become an attraction for Australian students.
"The Anzac commemoration is one very important aspect or attraction of a package for Australian and New Zealand students to know Sabah but when they are here, we give them first hand experience of exciting places, such as the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation centre, its Rainforest Discovery Centre, or if they have time, take them for a day trip to Kinabatangan," Lim said.
"But we are also getting more and more students from the UK, Europe and even the US because of our attractions and promotions," he said.
"Tourism players know the importance of keep looking for new areas to attract the flow of people to come," Lim said.