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May 28, 2008

Timboon: Ocean Road spirit

A new whisky distillery on the inland route to the iconic Twelve Apostles is transforming Victoria’s Great Ocean Road hinterland into a cosy winter escape.

By Melissa McConachy

Producing a wee dram for the wee hours was not foremost in Tim Marwood’s mind when he and wife Caroline Simmons settled in Timboon, at the centre of Australia’s prime milk producing region, 14 years ago.

After shelving professional careers in Melbourne to relieve Tim’s father on the family dairy, ideological differences sent them down the ‘value added’ path, and with financial backing from their parents they launched Timboon Fine Ice Cream in 1999.

Synonymous with natural ingredients and country hospitality, the award-winning ice-cream quickly became a crowd pleaser on the Victorian events calendar and at farmers markets.

A retail hub was inevitable, but conscious of the seasonal stigma attached to ice-cream, Tim and Caroline suspected the venture would not be sustainable during colder months and mounted a search for a “winter tide-over”.

They did not anticipate finding the solution in the Great South West’s murky past.

“I was in discussion with the locals when I happened on the history of illicit whisky distilling in Timboon,” Tim says. “A rummage through historical records took us back to the late 1890s, when Irishman Tom Delaney established an illegal whisky trade because he was “agin” oppressive government”.

According to fable, Delaney’s partner in crime, James Love, struggled to provide for his wife and five children and participated in the profitable pastime to ease his financial burdens.

When production peaked, the pair was reportedly producing 100 gallons of “Mountain Dew” a week. Cheekily badged with the Government stamp, it was a common tipple at local weddings and country race meets.

The gentlemen maintained an affable relationship with the local constabulary, whose ration was put through the still twice. But when the Government stamped out the practice, law and order fell
into the hands of former boxer Detective Inspector John Christie, who raided the lamp-lit shanty where Delaney and Love were at work. Christie seized the still, but the men escaped and were outlawed before turning themselves in.

The illicit occupation was brought to a standstill, but demijohns of Delaney’s whisky were uncovered in nooks for many years. Tales surrounding his infamous drop are legendary, largely promulgated by local descendants who have continued their forbears’ farming tradition, leaving the ‘trade’ in the capable hands of Tim and Caroline.

On a fact-finding tour of Scotland, Tim talked to the whisky greats before mastering his craft under Australia’s micro-distilling expert Bill Lark, who revived the practice in Tasmania after a 150-year hiatus.

Like Bill, Tim and Caroline recognised that the essential components of world-class whisky were at their doorstep: a reliable barley supply, access to soft water and the ideal climate.

They commissioned Knapplewer Engineering in Hobart to manufacture a 600-litre copper pot still based on the Scottish McClellan model, and use traditional production methods to create a spirit that will rival any ‘uisghe beatha’ (water of life) from the Scottish heartland.

Timboon whisky is distilled from single malted barley using a customised wash produced by the Red Duck microbrewery at Camperdown in the Western District. It is aged in oak resized ex-port barrels – anywhere from two to 25 years – and diluted with ancient limestone filtered sub artesian water, then bottled at 40 per cent alcohol/volume.

“Each single malt whisky has its own nuances and distinct character which is part of its allure,” Tim says. “While it might be acceptable to use mixers with blended whiskies, there is only one way to drink single malts – neat.”

Like the ancient Celts, who proclaimed that whisky held medicinal powers, as a former nurse Caroline is happy to wax lyrical about the spirit’s mystical properties. “Whisky is a panacea for anything,” she says.

The couple has forsaken the clandestine practice of distilling by kerosene lamp, instead recently converting the disused railway shed at the centre of Timboon into an upmarket boutique distillery, café and outlet for regional produce. Undertaken with assistance from Regional Development Victoria, the renovation has retained the building’s rustic charm, creating a relaxed modern interior within the original structure.

Located 15 minutes from Port Campbell and the Twelve Apostles on the main connector path from the Great Ocean Road to the Princes Highway (the alternate route to Melbourne), the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery is Victoria’s only operational boutique facility.

Visitors can see the distillation process underway while sampling the product range, which includes the flagship Christie’s Single Malt Whisky, named in honour of the detective credited with Delaney’s surrender.

Consistent with their philosophy, Tim and Caroline also use local ingredients for other popular spirits. Love’s Strawberry Schnapps, a tribute to Delaney’s industrious business associate, is produced using strawberries from Timboon-based Berry World, while Baxter’s Coffee Cream, named after Timboon’s tenacious turn-of-the-century blacksmith, is a smooth blend of spirit and cream sourced from local dairies.

The Schnapps embodies a unique Australian style with an upfront, fruity palette and contains only half the alcohol content of European varieties. The Coffee Cream, with a hint of hazelnut, is described by locals as “dangerously drinkable” and is the distillery’s most popular drop.

All spirits are finished and bottled on the premises, where a pictorial display brings the characters inspiring the region’s distilling trade, their guises and anecdotes, to life.

Drawing on regional produce, the café/restaurant puts a strong emphasis on freshness and quality, serving light lunches in front of the open fire and a la carte one evening each month. Visitors can also enjoy tasting plates, coffee, Timboon Fine Ice Cream and boutique beverages, or stock up on local wine, handmade Belgian-style chocolates, sourdough bread, cheese, strawberries, smoked trout, eel paté and honey.

It’s a best-kept secret that the rugged beauty of the shipwreck coast is at its most romantic in winter, when the hordes vanish and chimney smoke radiates from hillside cottages.

“The Great Ocean Road hinterland is so dramatic; every season is different and spectacular in its own way,” Caroline says. “The area should be appreciated year-round.”

The Timboon Railway Shed Distillery provides another reason to take the ‘long and winding road’ south in winter. And don’t be surprised if you stumble across Delaney’s kith and kin sitting by the fire near the still, sipping amber nectar and big-noting the legendary outlaw who started it all.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Timboon Railway Shed Distillery is in Bailey Street, Timboon, and is open 10am to 5pm daily and for seasonal dinners. For more information visit: www.timboondistillery.com

Timboon Distillery spirits are available directly from the cellar door or through email order: info@timboondistillery.com

May 26, 2008

Duke Kahanamoku – Hawaii’s Boy's Own Annual Hero

FORTY years after his death, Duke Kahanamoku
still stands tall on Waikiki beach today.

david ellis

THERE are three types go to Duke's Restaurant and Barefoot Bar at Hawaii's Outrigger Waikiki hotel.

Those seeking a drink with one of the best views of the world's most famous sands, those looking for a good feed with the same views, and those who pay homage to a bloke whose life story reads like Boy's Own Annual.

DUKE's original solid redwood surfboard on the wall of
Duke's Restaurant and Barefoot Bar at the Outrigger Waikiki. 
Duke's is named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Hawaii's most-loved sporting son, hero and legend who thrilled his own people with his prowess on a surfboard, stunned Olympic officials with his times in the pool, figured in an amazing surf rescue off California, played in 28 Hollywood movies, and taught some of Australia's earliest board riders.

In-between he made headlines when he wrestled to death in the surf an 3.5m eel, served as a Sheriff, and ran a gas station.

Duke Kahanamoku's name had nothing to do with Hawaii's one-time royalty (Honolulu still has the only royal palace in America,) but after England's Duke of Edinburgh who'd visited Hawaii in 1869.

Born in 1890, the young Duke was besotted with swimming, surfing and canoeing, but when colleagues tried to have his amazing times and feats recognised, they were told this was not possible as he was not a member of a registered club.

So they set up their own, calling it "Hui Nalu" (Club of the Waves.)

Finally recognizing his achievements, American Olympics officials invited Duke to vie for a spot in their swimming team at the 1912 Amsterdam Games. He qualified with an extraordinary 100-metres dash at trials in Chicago… but when he went to Amsterdam he slept in, and it was only after he begged organisers to delay his event while he put on his costume, that he went on to break the world record.

He beat this again at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, but at 34-years of age lost his 100m crown to 20-year old Johnny "Tarzan" Weismuller at the 1924 Paris Games.

In-between, his prowess at surfboard riding saw him invited to give demonstrations in California and Australia – and while it was long claimed he "brought stand-up surfboard riding to Australia" when he gave demonstrations and lessons at Freshwater Beach in Sydney in 1914, historians say that locals had already been surfboarding at next-door Manly and other beaches for several years on boards imported from Hawaii.

They point to photographs at the Yamba Historical Museum on the NSW North Coast of a Tommy Walker riding a surfboard off the local beach in 1910 (including while standing on his head,) while the Australian Surf Museum in Manly rescued a board that Charles Paterson rode at North Steyne two years before Duke's visit, after finding it being used as a family ironing board.

Duke Kahanamoku's life was always associated with the water and the unusual: in 1917 he rode an 11-metre wave for 2.8km off Waikiki, and in 1925 while living in America as an actor used his board to single-handedly save eight people whose launch capsized off California's Corona del Mar beach.

And when a 3.5m eel the thickness of his leg bit off his right index finger off California's Long Beach in 1913, he strangled it to death in a 10-minute struggle in the surf.

After retiring from Olympic swimming in 1932 (he won three Olympic Golds, two Silvers and a Bronze and was inducted into the Swimming, Surfing and US Olympic Halls of Fame,) Duke also retired from Hollywood and returned to Hawaii where he served a record 26-years as Sheriff of Honolulu.

He also launched his own line of surf clothing, ran a gas station and at fifty years of age finally married his long-time love, Nadine. When he died in 1968, thousands led by a 30-officer police escort followed the 78-year old's ashes to where they were scattered off his beloved Waikiki Beach.

Duke's original 4m-plus solid redwood surfboard is on display in Duke's Restaurant and Barefoot Bar at the Outrigger Waikiki hotel with other memorabilia; the Bar is open from 11am to midnight and the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner with typically American-hefty servings of salads,  sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, seafoods, steaks and prime rib  – and a million-dollar view.

Creative Cruising features Outrigger and OHANA Hotels in Waikiki in its Hawaii cruise holiday packages; phone 1300 362 599 or check www.creativecruising.com.au   
                                            

May 21, 2008

Long Live the English Legacy

FEATURE STORY
Somewhere in the highlands of Peninsula Malaysia sits a remarkable colonial building that, in the last few years, went through a facelift to become the most talked about resort in the area.
With a rich history behind it, the Tudor influenced Cameron Highlands Resort (CHR) stands proud in welcoming guests with a warm open fireplace - and service that is second to none.
The CHR is now a well-renowned resort that has won many awards since its opening.
Lavishly furnished with beautiful and ornate Victorian finishes, leather couches and a drawing room, the setting does not get any more ‘English’ than this…or so one would think….until some “tea and scones” are offered.
In the very first instance and without prior knowledge of the country’s history, it can be difficult to digest that half way around the world from England, the tradition of tea and scones would be served in a hotel – by an open fireplace – in the lush and tropical Malaysia.
Seems odd - extraordinary even - but this is one English tradition that is still widely practiced in Cameron Highlands and the CHR prides itself of this custom. And depending on the chef’s mood, cucumber sandwiches might even be served on the side!
Named after William Cameron, a British Surveyor who first discovered the place in 1885, Cameron Highlands was to be transformed into a famous retreat for British government officials and wealthy residents. 45 years later, another Brit, John Archibald Russell would introduce tea to the highlands, which was to become today’s famous BOH Tea Plantation.
Right up until WWII, the British would escape the often intolerable tropical and balmy climate to Cameron Highlands, where the weather remains below a cool 23 degrees Celsius. It is here that many decided to set up their second homes and businesses.
As one quickly discovers on a trip to the Highlands, the British heritage doesn’t end with the architecture and afternoon tea. The very well-known – and well preserved – Smokehouse serves up the perfect ‘Fish and Chips’. Once called Ye Olde Smokehouse Inn, this stunning Tudor Mansion opened in 1937 and served as a sanctuary for homesick British expatriates.
Today, surrounded by a lush and quintessentially English garden, the rooms are being rented out to travellers and honeymooners, while the restaurant is opened to all visitors. Food served at the Smokehouse is not only world-class and in generous proportions, it really sets the standard for true English cuisine.
While on the short escape to the cooler climate of the highlands, visitors should not miss out on the following activities:
Must see:
BOH Tea plantations
Strawberry farms
Butterfly farm
Cameron Highlands is about 300 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur and is an easy drive from the city.

May 19, 2008

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN


david ellis


WHEN Swiss engineer Eduard Locher revealed he'd got the government's okay to build a railway from the shores of Lake Lucerne to the summit of the 2200-metre high Mount Pilatus in the craggy Swiss Alps, folks decided that either the government was mad, Mr Locher was mad, or both were mad.

It was the 1880s, and while rail was the new craze in driving the equally-new craze of mass tourism, steam trains rarely climbed gradients steeper than six degrees (even though in America the world's first new-fangled cogwheel railway actually rose at an unbelievable 37-degrees up Mount Washington.)

Even so Mr Locher's railway wasn't going to climb Mount Pilatus at a miserable 37-degrees – his was going to do so at an astonishing 48-degrees, and to achieve this he had to re-think the cogwheel concept.

He reasoned that rather than driving-cogs that engaged "a rack" of vertical teeth cut into rails – and possibly pop out at the almost-perilous 48-degrees with calamitous runaway results – his wheel-and-cog arrangement would have horizontal teeth on both sides of a centre rail, making it impossible for the driving-cogs to disengage while either climbing up, or braking down, the mountain.

When the government declined to subsidise his railway, Mr Locher raised the money from investors – once more to most peoples' dismay – and 119 years after opening in June 1889, the Mount Pilatus Cogwheel Railway is still privately operated and has never suffered a loss.

The first Mount Pilatus trains were steam powered, but this was changed to electric power in 1937, and today each of the little red train cars that from a distance resemble some child's toy train-set amid the tangled peaks of the Swiss Alps, take 30-minutes to ascend from Alpnachstad on Lake Lucerne, to Pilatus' summit.

The view from here is breathtaking, and if ever you've wanted to do a Julie Andrews and start hollering The Hills Are Alive, this is the place to do it. Visitors gaze down from this eagles' eyrie to Lake Lucerne and its fringing postcard-pretty villages, fields of wild flowers and babbling mountain streams, the city of Lucerne itself, myriad crystal blue lakes… and in one direction, no less than seventy-three mountain peaks in a row.

A couple of hotels, seven restaurants and a rope suspension-bridge playground huddle up here on the granite peak, and millions of tourists a year flock to hike, rock-climb, cycle narrow trails, and ride a 6km sledge run.

Or just sit in the sun on deck chairs and admire the distant snow-capped peaks, or take a meal at the outdoor tables with their kaleidoscopic views.

And while the majority of visitors are day-trippers, some overnight in this lofty outpost, choosing either the cosy 3-star Hotel Bellevue with its 28 rooms and newly-renovated bathrooms, or the historic circa-1890 Hotel Pilatus-Kulm (Pilatus Summit) that has 23 more-rustic rooms.

Mountain-top dining includes Switzerland's famed cheese fondue, grilled breast of chicken wrapped in bacon with a mustard crust, noodles with julienne vegetables, tender Dentenberg roast pork stuffed with prunes, and herb tofu piccata on a tomato sauce with rice and vegetables.

And always, simply always, crème caramel with whipped cream to finish, while if you've a taste for a glass of white or red to celebrate conquering the mountain aboard the world's steepest railway, there's the local Lucerne Schloss (Castle) Heidegg Riesling-Traminer, a Blauburgunder red, or the Weingut Heidegg Pinot Noir.

Many visitors opt to take the cogwheel railway the 4618-metre ride to the summit and return to Lucerne by cable-car, that in turn offers the opportunity to get off half-way down and toboggan the remaining 1350-metres along zippy steel shutes.

DOING IT: The cogwheel railway operates May to November, but the cable car operates year-round; snowshoe trekking is popular in winter, as is sitting around a hot fondue surrounded by a sea of fog and cloud. There's a Christmas Market over two days in mid-November.

Rail Plus includes the Mount Pilatus Cogwheel in a 5-day Tops of Switzerland package to Interlaken and Lucerne from $680pp including breakfasts; details 1300 555 003, (03) 9642 8644 or www.railplus.com.au . Ask also about the Swiss Consecutive Rail Pass and Swiss Card.

                                                           ……………….

PHOTO CAPTIONS:                                      

TOY-like: a little red cogwheel rail car inches into a tunnel on Switzerland's Mount Pilatus, the world's steepest rail line.

HANGING on – no room for a fear of heights at this eagles' eyrie on the mountain's summit.

RACKING up a reputation: the horizontal rack-and-cog system that gets the trains up and down the mountain.

(IMAGES: Rail Plus)

May 14, 2008

Michael Palin: Passing Time

Thanks to all of you who remembered my birthday and sent nice messages.Especially big thanks to all those on Project Palin who signed my card. I may be very old, but it's great to know that people in places as far afield as St. Petersburg, Connecticut, Melbourne, London and Toronto bothered to wish me well and the card has survived its travels much better than I have!

The last few months have seen me complete a one-hour BBC documentary for the Timewatch slot. It's called The Last Day of The First World War and tells the story of what happened between the agreement to end the war at 5.15 in the morning, and the actual time of the cease-fire 6 hours later. The tragedy is that many thousands were killed, even though the war was officially over.

A tough story, but gave me the chance to visit the First World War sites in Belgium and Northern France and to see where it was on the Somme battlefield that my Great-Uncle Harry Palin was killed. It seems hard to comprehend what it must have been like for the soldiers fighting trench warfare. The neatly ploughed fields of today saw an unimaginable scale of slaughter only 90 years ago.

I'm also working on a preliminary edit of the second volume of my Diaries - covering the 1980s, when all I seemed to do was make films - Time Bandits, Meaning Of Life, Brazil, The MIssionary, Private Function and a Fish Called Wanda - until the offer came to present a programme called Around The World In Eighty Days, which led to... well, Palin's travels.

We set off from the Reform Club in September 1988, so this autumn will be the Twentieth anniversary and we're planning a one-off special programme which will be based around a return to some of the places and the people I filmed all those years ago. No details yet , but, if it all works out, I'll let you know.

Archie is now two years old and a trainspotter. I'm a bit embarrassed about this as it all started when I lifted him on my shoulders to look over a railway bridge near our home. Since then he shouts "Wailway!" whenever I see him.

I'm not in any great hurry to hop on a plane. I like London in May, and I'd rather give Heathrow a wide berth until they sort out all the problems following the Terminal Five lurch, sorry, launch. Meanwhile, I've been using Eurostar as much as possible. The successful opening of the new terminal at the old St. Pancras shows that the railways can teach the airports a thing or two when it comes to efficiency. Mind you, I should think a team of reasonably educated herrings could teach BAA a thing or two.

After twenty years on the road, or more generally on the dirt-track, I feel quite content spending more time at home. Just keeping on travelling for the sake of it is not the point for me. I'm not so interested in ticking off the big names (North Pole, South Pole, Tierra Del Fuego, the Amazon) just for the sake of it. You have to get something out of each encounter, a wider
knowledge, a sense of history and a feeling for the people and their way of life as well as just the T-shirt.

So I've a lot of memories and impressions, and I'm enjoying putting them in order, sealing them in my mind so they don't just drift away from my memory. Mind you, I still get very tempted when I hear of other people's adventures. John Hemming was on Excess Baggage on Radio 4 last weekend, talking about the Amazon (which he knows so well) and making my feet itch to get back there and experience once again the magical beauty and natural wealth of the great river and its rainforest.

But then Archie shouted "Wailway!" and I knew where my next trip was going to be!

Have a good summer. Be curious and be careful !



Michael - 12th May 2008.

May 13, 2008

SMOOTH SAILING – IT’S A SEADREAM


SMOOTH SAILING – IT'S A SEADREAM                            


IF you think this photo is of a calm Australian lake or harbour cruise, think again – it is in fact aboard mega motor-cruiser SeaDream II in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean as she crossed this month from Barbados to Portugal and Spain on a near dead-flat sea.

And the sun-loving couple snapped between the bottle and the glass are Aussies – Valerie and Tony Madigan from Dural in Sydney's Hills District.

Ninety-one guests were aboard SeaDream II that was transferring over 12-nights from her annual Caribbean season to the Mediterranean where she'll operate until November this year, when she returns again to the Caribbean.

The Madigan's are not new to sailing SeaDream II or "sister" SeaDream I: they've been doing so since the early 1990s when the "mega-twins" were known as Sea Goddess I and II… and they've already booked themselves on SeaDream I in November for her 11-night crossing of the Atlantic from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to St Maarten, St Barthelemy and Antigua.

If you are interested in this blue-water experience aboard the world's highest-rated boutique ship, that includes 95 crew to serve 55 couples, gourmet 5-star dining, drinks from the bars, wines with meals, nightly cocktails, a 50-course golf simulator, fitness centre, watersports where local authorities allow, port taxes and onboard gratuities, see travel agents or www.seadream.com

Prices start from US$3627pp twin-share, a saving of US$1800 on originally brochured fares; air travel is additional.

May 12, 2008

PLAYING OUT THEIR FAITH WITH A PASSION


david ellis


WHEN the illiterate farmer Kasper Schisler breached the cordon and managed to sneak into the little village in the Bavarian Alps from which he had been banished in the 1630s, he set off an extraordinary chain of events that to this day attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the place that he could have single-handedly wiped out.

Schisler was one of many unfortunate farmers who found themselves on the wrong side of the fence when the Great Plague began rolling towards Europe from Libya and Egypt in 1632

In places, villages reported sixty per cent or more of their populations wiped within days of the arrival of the agonising Black Death.

And so fast-spreading and devastating was it, that body was piled above body in mass graves without so much as a church service for individual unfortunates.

Kasper Schisler lived in the tiny village of Oberammergau in Bavaria's picturesque Ammer Valley, and on an otherwise normal day in 1632, bade farewell as always to his wife and children and headed off to the fields to work the crops that fed his family and were sold at market.

But this day turned out to be anything but normal: while many of Oberammergau's farmers were out in their paddocks, word reached the village Elders that the dreaded Plague – of which they were all well aware – had struck at neighbouring Eschenlohe, just 4km away.

In a week, two-thirds of Eschenlohe's population was dead.

Oberammergau's Elders acted swiftly, banning anyone entering their village including those unfortunate farmers working their plots: when Mr Schisler tried to return to his home, hastily thrown-together "village protection teams" blocked his way, telling he and others to return to their mountain paddocks and fend for themselves until fear of bringing The Plague with them passed.

Oberammergau's hasty security screen appeared a success: no-one succumbed to The Black Death, although by now it had leap-frogged over the village and was causing devastation in others to the north, south, east and west.

But a homesick Kasper Schisler reckoned that on the day his village would hold its annual celebrations commemorating the consecration of its church, guards too would be celebrating and therefore at a minimum, so he could sneak back home for a quick conjugal visit.

He was right, and was able to steal safely back to his family. But it was with fatal results: next morning he was feverish and within three days was dead – he had brought The Plague with him, and within a fortnight his wife, children and close friends who had concealed him had all died.

The Elders ordered that homes of all others showing signs of The Plague be boarded-up, their occupants incarcerated inside until they died.

Then the Elders suddenly did a strange thing: in July of 1633 they led the whole village to the Parish Church, including the sick afflicted by The Black Death whom they'd released from their boarded-up home-prisons.

Inside, these Elders enjoined the entire congregation to swear a sacred vow on their Bibles: if God spared their village of any further deaths they would perform a Passion Play every ten years recalling the "the Life, Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

Remarkably, not another soul died of The Plague in Oberammergau – including even the already afflicted – although it continued its grim journey through Europe, and eventually even reached England.

True to their word the Oberammergauers performed their first Passion Play in 1634 on a stage in a cemetery above the graves of Plague victims, and apart from three occasions it has been held every ten years since, with the next due in 2010.

The Play runs 7-hours including a meal break and is performed almost daily over five months; more than 2000 villagers – a third of the population – become temporary actors, musicians, stagehands, technicians, choristers and participants in tableaux vivants – motionless depictions of scenes from the Old Testament.

And their Passion Play attracts half a million international visitors: travel company Far Horizons has a 26-day escorted tour through Germany, Slovenia, Croatia and Herzegovina in September 2010 that includes a stay in Oberammergau and the Passion Play.

Price starts from $29,500pp inclusive of all transport ex-Sydney, twin-share accommodation, meals, escort, guides, entries and gratuities. Phone 1800 083 141 or visit www.farhorizons.com.au

………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

. THE Last Supper, as depicted during the Oberammergau Passion Pla

. TRUE to their word, 375-years Oberammergauers still play out the Passion of Christ.

Photos: Far Horizons

May 05, 2008

SAMOAN HOTEL HOOKED ON HISTORY


david  ellis

YOU'VE got to admire  a bloke who invests a million bucks or so in building a boutique hotel in  Samoa, and then names it after a  hooker.

But hey, this is the South Pacific and Tom Drabble is a Kiwi. But he's a Kiwi  with business acumen, imagination – and a  nice sense of humour to go with it.

Tom's place is in  Pago Pago and is called Sadie Thompson Inn after  the runaway Hawaii prostitute in Somerset Maugham's  classic short story Rain.

In his yarn, based  loosely on a trip he made by ship from Honolulu to Pago Pago, Maugham weaves a  fascinating tale of the relationship between passengers sailing with him to  Apia, and who are delayed by a tropical storm that forces them to hole-up in a  sleazy Pago Pago rooming house.

Amongst them are a  dour Scottish doctor and his wife, a brassy American "Miss Sadie Thompson," and  a pious and hypocritical missionary of unknown nationality who ultimately  slashes his throat after being seduced by Sadie – whose soul he insists he was  attempting to save when explaining his prayer meetings in Sadie's room to his  equally pious wife ("we've not allowed the natives here to dance for eight  years," the wife boasts.)

Maugham based Sadie  on a young lady who galloped up the gangway of his ship at the very last minute  in Honolulu, "a blonde runaway" he discovered had been forced out of the city's  then-notorious Iwelei redlight district during a police crackdown.

Samoan historians  have confirmed that Maugham's ship, the Sonoma,  arrived in Pago Pago in 1916, and police records  reveal a single female passenger left the Sonoma  to stay at "a waterfront boarding residence" before "opening a house of  prostitution catering to U.S. sailors…"

Other records show  that several attempts were made to deport Sadie, who finally returned  broken-hearted to Honolulu after a failed Samoan romance.  

And although "Sadie  Thompson" then disappeared without further trace, in the short time she lived in  Pago Pago,  thanks to Somerset Maugham she became one of the South Pacific's great  legends.

Fast-forward now to  1964 when Tom Drabble arrives in Pago Pago from  the little town of Te Puke south of Auckland, to work with a  construction company.  Tom falls in  love with Samoa and a local lady, Ta'aloga, and  when the construction job is finished, stays on.

In 1989 he opens  Sadie's Bar and Restaurant on the Pago Pago  waterfront, but after incurring substantial losses, buys out his partners and  closes Sadie's for a year, totally redeveloping it into his new Sadie Thompson  Inn that opened in downtown Pago  Pago in November 2003.

Tom moves the bar  and restaurant to the ground floor to attract more passing trade, and upstairs  develops twelve deluxe hotel rooms overlooking the harbour, and two 1-bedroom  apartments.

He give all spacious  rooms queen beds plus a sitting area with queen sleeper/couch, internet  connection, cable TV, DVD player, mini-fridge, hairdryer and tea and coffee  facilities.

Rooms are named Sadie Thompson, Rev. Davidson, Dr & Mrs McPhail etc from the book, and Miss Rita Hayworth and Ms Gloria Swanson  after the actors…

And dining in  Sadie's Restaurant is amongst the best in Pago Pago, particularly as Tom has a pipeline  to freshest local seafoods and market garden crops.

And if you ask Tom  if it's somewhat odd to name a classy, boutique hotel after a hooker, he's quick  to point out that Sadie is one of the South Pacific's grandest legends – good  enough for Somerset Maugham to immortalise her, and Hollywood to make three  films based on her exploits.

The first was a  silent 1928 flick starring Gloria Swanson, the second starred Joan Crawford in  1932, and the third Rita Hayworth in 1953: as the Hayworth movie was made at a  time of moral tub-thumping in America, Sadie had to be portrayed not as a  prostitute, but as a nightclub singer "with a past," while the morally corrupt  missionary Alfred Davidson was re-characterised as an unaffiliated religious  zealot so as not to offend any sections of the church.

But it did offend  one US Senator who described the film as "rotten, lewd, immoral… just a plain  dirty picture."

With recommendations  like that, no wonder Tom Grabble's Sadie Thompson Inn is on a winner.

(For details see travel agents  or go onto www.sadieshotels.com)
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IMAGE  CAPTIONS:


[] Living the  legend: Sadie Thompson Inn, Pago Pago Samoa  

[] Local dancers put  on regular shows for guests

[] Room at the inn –  spacious accommodation at Sadie Thompson Inn

  

                                 -   Images:  Sadie Thompson Inn