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October 31, 2008

Highways to History

The collection of highways traversing Queensland's Western Downs take the traveller on a journey which is rich in history writes Adrienne Costin.

Look at a map of the Western Downs, an area of roughly 126,000 sqkm to the west of Brisbane and you'll find an impressive collection of highways as it is the hub for the road network travelling north/south and east/west in Queensland.

Nine highways run through the region if you include the Carnarvon Highway, which starts at Mungindi on the southern border and leads north to the Carnarvon National Park above Injune, the Barwon which runs between Goondiwindi and St George and is named after the Barwon River, a main tributary of the Darling River, as well as the Moonie and Balonne Highways which are part of the Adventure Way.

The Great Inland Way enters the Downs from the south at the tiny town of Hebel, population 28, home to a welcoming pub and the tearooms at the Crafty Yum Yum Café. Like the rest of the Downs, the land around the little township stretches leisurely to the horizon, sometimes framed by trees or dotted with lonely specimens who stand tall alone. The Hotel opened in 1894 and was a Cobb & Co stopover. The original village store, built three years later also remains and local legend also reckons the Kelly gang used the town as a hang out.



Travel north to St George and 45km out of town watch the left for the signs to the Nindigully Pub, Queensland's oldest hotel which still stands in its original condition and location on the banks of the Moonie River. The pub's licence was issued back in 1864 when they brewed their own beer and rum. It's still a great place to for a quiet ale, even on days when special events like the Nindigully Pig Races and New Year's Eve aren't taking place.

The highway continues on to Surat, the town from which the last scheduled Cobb and Co coach left before stopping forever at nearby Yuleba. This historic run is commemorated at the Cobb and Co Changing Station, a local landmark which is home to a museum, art gallery and 25,000 litre fresh-water aquarium.

Nearby Roma and the surrounding countryside were first explored more than 150 years ago by Sir Thomas Mitchell. The unofficial capital of the region dates back to 1867 when it was named after Lady Diamantina Roma Bowen, the wife of the Governor at the time.

This thriving rural town has plenty to offer the modern day visitor but history still plays a major role and one of its most popular attractions is the Big Rig, a fascinating tribute to Australia's oil and gas industry which includes a spectacular night show. This is a rich agricultural and farming area, and grapes have been grown here for many years. In fact, Queensland's oldest winery, Romavilla has been producing table and fortified wines since 1863 and proudly continues to do so.

Even the trees are historic. The Avenue of Heroes is a heritage listed avenue of 138 bottle trees within the town which were planted as a tribute to soldiers from the district who lost their lives in World War 1. Mt Abundance Homestead outside town was the site of the first settlement in the region and was built in 1860. Visitors are still welcome.

Follow the road north and you'll go right past the Carnarvon National Park, home of the spectacular Carnarvon Gorge with its ancient rainforest and some of the finest Aboriginal Rock Art in Australia.

The Adventure Way is the link between Brisbane and Adelaide and includes two State highways as it passes through the Downs, the Moonie Highway, a 285km stretch of road from Dalby to St George and the Balonne.

As can be assumed by it's name, the Moonie Highway passes through the tiny town of Moonie which was the site of Australia's first commercial oil field. It opened in December 1961 and despite being a relatively small field is still operational today. At St George the highway becomes the Balonne for 300km to Cunnamulla, mostly following the Balonne River.  

The Warrego Highway is the 744km stretch from Brisbane which enters the Downs at Dalby and leaves it past Roma at Mitchell on its way to Charleville. At the township of Miles between Dalby and Roma you'll find the Miles Historical Museum and  more than 20 old buildings in a recreated township. Miles was originally known as Dogwood Crossing and like many of settlements in the area was established on a track blazed by Ludwig Leichhardt.

Another historic experience waits outside the town at Possum Park where accommodation is offered in historic underground bunkers and restored troop carriers.

The Leichhardt Highway, named after the explorer, begins in Victoria and enters Queensland at Goondiwindi and then heads north east across the state to the Capricorn Coast. Travelling north, take a left turn at the tiny settlement of The Gums and you'll come to Glenmorgan and Monty's Garage, a 1940s style auto garage which is now a Vintage Car Museum. While in town railways buffs should visit the End of the Line display in the Glenmorgan Railway Station. Gardeners and naturalists will also enjoy a visit to the nearby Myall Park Botanic Garden, one of Australia's oldest collections of arid and semi-arid native plants and the birthplace of the Grevillia plant "Robyn Gordon".

Goondiwindi, locally known as Gundy, is the start of the Gore Highway which runs for 210km from the Western to the Darling Downs through a rich patchwork of farming landscape. The area around Goondiwindi was settled in the 1840s by pastoralists and by the middle of that century had become an important administrative and commercial centre. The town is still most famous as the home of champion racehorse, Gunsynd, affectionately nicknamed the 'Goondiwindi Grey'.

To further explore the Western Downs visit www.westerndownsholidays.info

October 27, 2008

TOUR OPERATORS DRIVE GUESTS TO DRINK

david ellis

BACK in 1961 Elvis Presley rocked his way through a musical blockbuster that had him playing the role of a tour guide for a group of giggling American school girls and their teacher holidaying around Hawaii.

It was called Blue Hawaii and was the story of ex-GI Chad Gates coming home to a dizzy Mom – bizarrely played by Angela Lansbury who was just nine years older than the 26-year old Presley at the time – and a bossy father who wanted him to go into the family's pineapple canning business.

The independent Chad teams up instead with travel agent girlfriend Maile Duval (Joan Blackman,) and after singing and strumming his ukulele through a then movie-record fourteen rocka-hula songs inevitably marries her in one of Tinsel Town's most memorable wedding scenes on a barge on a picturesque Kauai lagoon.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s and a Californian-born tour guide escorting a group that includes four Aussie girls on the Big Overseas Adventure, travelling from Vancouver through the Rockies and across Canada to New York. 

One of them, attractive Sydney brunette Amanda Stewart catches the eye of the handsome Shamus Watkins, and at the end of the tour they decide to keep in touch.

And yes, inevitably Shamus comes out to Australia to visit, and yes inevitably they get married here…

And while they now have each other and their jobs – Amanda as a legal secretary and Shamus a guide with Sydney's Bridge Climb – they share another mutual love: the Southern Highlands of NSW, and its emerging cool-climate wine industry.

There's probably little wonder: Amanda's family has owned a small rural retreat at Canyonleigh in the Highlands for decades and it's been part of her life since a little girl, while Shamus grew up in California's famous Napa Valley wine country and worked in some of its best winery restaurants while not on the road guiding tour groups.

And this month they've put their combined years in tourism, the wine industry and the Southern Highlands to good use to launch all-inclusive wine tours from Sydney to this emerging new wine region.

They've appropriately dubbed it Southern Crush Wine Tours and are initially including four of the region's twenty-plus boutique wineries in full-day tours, with pick-ups from several Sydney CBD locations for the trip to the Southern Highlands, which interestingly are an hour closer to Sydney than the Hunter Valley wine region.

There is also a pick-up at the Southern Highlands Visitor Centre at Mittagong for those from areas other than Sydney wanting to join tours from there.

Numbers are limited to a maximum of just twenty and guests are provided with a "tasting tool kit" comprising such things as information about each winery and their wine styles, tips on wine tasting, a history of the region, and food and wine pairing.

Wineries visited have been chosen for the different experiences they offer, and the willingness of owners and winemakers to talk to Shamus and Amanda's guests about the region's award-winning light and elegant style wines.

The first call is to Centennial Vineyards Winery for a tasting, a look at the modern winery and to hear something of the basics of winemaking, followed by Eling Forest Winery & Restaurant for an appreciation of wine and food matching over a gourmet 3-course lunch (guests are given a menu when they join the coach, and their orders phoned through in advance.)

After lunch there's a visit to the historic colonial town of Berrima and its famous galleries, antique and curio shops, then Blue Metal Vineyard for a wine and Southern Highlands gourmet cheese tasting – cooler boxes are carried on coaches for guests to bring back cheeses or other gourmet food purchases – and finally Joadja Vineyards & Winery for a behind-the-scenes look in the winery and a tasting in the vineyard.

Initially tours will run every Friday and Saturday, with plans for four or five weekly.

Pick-ups begin at 7.30am in Sydney's CBD and coaches return at approximately 6.30pm; price including wine and cheese tastings, lunch and a professional guide is $149 per person.

Phone (02) 8516 0031 or visit www.southerncrush.com.au for individual or small group bookings or full-coach charters for corporates or clubs.
                                                            ……………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] ON TRACK – Shamus Watkins with Southern Highlands wine trail map

[] CENTENNIAL Winery & Restaurant, first call on new NSW Southern Highland wine tours

[] BOUTIQUE Eling Forest Winery & Restaurant includes wine and food matching over a 3-course gourmet lunch



(Photos: Tourism Southern Highlands)

October 20, 2008

ROCKY ENCOUNTERS OF THE BEAR FIND

david ellis with john crook

IT'S a bit like the mystery of the one sock in the washing machine.

There are signs everywhere warning of the presence of bears. And how dangerous bears can be.

The friendly staff at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge constantly repeat the warnings, and fellow guests tell us of their Close Encounters of the Bear Find in the surrounding spruce forests.

But we've been here a week and we've walked bush trails, and hiked lake frontages and not a bear have we seen. Are all these signs and all this talk, we start to ask ourselves, just part of a big publicity stunt to get us – and others from around the world – to this vast Canadian wilderness?

We even find on the Travel Alberta website a "Bear Update" that tells us where bears have been seen – and again how dangerous they can be.

"They're on the move now that Spring is here, looking for berry crops," it warns. Adding that campers should ensure that any food, garbage and recyclables are stowed away and bear-proofed.

So, hey, in the hope of seeing bears, cameras slung around our necks, we go in search of a camp ground. We find several, but still there's not a bear to be found. Maybe they've become wise to all that bear-proofing of what was once easy pickings?

But there's plenty more to be enjoyed here in this most northerly and largest National Park in Canada's famous Rockies, and we decide to finish our stay with an early morning round of golf – after all, the Jasper Park Lodge has been listed as best golf resort in Canada.

But even here we're thwarted, for just as we're about to tee-off next morning, who comes ambling down the fairway to put us off our swing? Not one, not two, but a whole damn family of them: Bears - Mum, Dad and their coupla kids. Wandering along in a world of their own, stopping occasionally to sniff the air and sensing we – now rapidly retreating – human intruders.

We take shelter in the car and click away to our hearts content, telling anyone who'll listen that it was worth a week's wait for this magical moment.

And we guess that really, while that magic half hour will remain with us forever, it's the spectacular surrounding Rockies that is the big attraction here.

"A little bit of heaven," are the words we hear over and again as we wend our way across to Lake Louise, where we pinch ourselves and decide that it was here the WOW factor was created.

Amid the craggy snow-capped peaks that tower into the skies, is the fabled Lake Louise, and next to it and beside a massive glacier, is the very indulgent Fairmont Chateau Resort: it doesn't come cheap, but even if you're staying elsewhere its well worth visiting the hotel for a drink in one of its bars, or a meal in the restaurant for the reward of its million-dollar views – no, MULTI-million dollar views.

And for a walk around the lake and onto Victoria Glacier – and a bracing diversion 3.5k's along trails first opened into the Rockies in the 1890s  to the remarkable Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.

This extraordinary place was built of local stones gathered-up by a Swiss artisan for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1924, and to this day still has no electricity or gas, the kitchens that turn out the most marvellous always-warm scones, jam and cream, tea, coffee and other refreshments relying on an ancient fuel stove.

And just as they did back in the 1920s, staff bring-in fresh supplies daily by  backpack or on horseback.

The Fairmont Hotel chain also have a luxury property at Banff Springs in neighbouring British Columbia that was built for the well-heeled traveller of the early 20th century venturing to the largest accumulation of snow and ice south of the Arctic Circle in the Columbia Icefield.

Amongst the highlights of adventures here is Brewster Tours' million-dollar ice-terrain vehicle, Ice Explorer onto the ancient Athabasca Glacier that stretches over six kilometres long and a kilometre wide.

For a Canadian Rockies holiday ask travel agents or Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59 about packages incorporating Fairmont Hotels and Lodges.

                                                        ………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:


[] AIN'T he cute? Maybe, but he's not to be toyed with on the green

[] A LITTLE bit of Heaven: escaping to the Rockies' Chateau Lake Louse where the WOW factor was created

[] WHEN its time to head for the hills... Banff Springs Chateau Fairmont

(Photos: Canadian Tourism)


October 16, 2008

WILD WAYS OF KEEPING ON TRACK

david ellis
THE Mt Lyell Mining Company had good reason for the motto it affixed to the front of the first locomotive it ran from Tasmania's western port of Strahan to it's copper mine thirty-five tortuous kilometres away in the wild coastal hinterland.
It read "Labour Omnia Vincit," Latin for "We Find A Way Or Make It."
It was March 1897, and today there's every chance that even with 21st century technology no company would be foolhardy enough to even contemplate a railway like that of the Mt Lyell Mining Company.
For here was a line whose locos using the then-revolutionary Abt Horizontal Cog-wheel System to traverse tracks that in places climbed mountains at almost-impossible 1-in-16 inclines, crossed some of the most ingenious hand-built bridges in railway history, and ran through cuttings hand-dug 20-metres deep through rock and clay – one alone requiring the removal of 80,000 barrow-loads of rock.
And all this amid confronting conditions that included torrential rain, ice, bushfires, floods, countless snakes and millions of leeches.
But somehow despite it all, when Mt Lyell in the early 1900s became Australia's largest mine at the time, the unique little narrow-gauge railway chugged away for 67-years, "truly earning its keep" the company said, before finally being closed in the 1960s.
Today it is running again, the line having been re-opened in 2002 at a cost of $30m from the Federal and Tasmanian Governments and with huge public support – and with two of its original five Abt locomotives internationally recognised as the world's oldest restored working steam locos.
It took a special breed to build the Mt Lyell Railway, both in the field and in the boardroom. Surveyors cut 500-kilometres of tracks through the wilderness before finding a suitable route for the line after gold, silver and then copper were found by adventurous prospectors who followed river courses into the seemingly-impenetrable hinterland.
Those surveyor's reports back to the boardroom told of impassable mountains and rainforests so dense the sun never touched the earth, of sudden floods washing away camps and equipment, of lightning-strike wildfires, and of ravines just twenty metres wide and little deeper, that would take a day to cut a track down one side and another day to climb the opposite.
But company directors, dubbed by one historian as "lion hearts fired by wild optimism," were determined to press ahead, and announced their railway on November 24 1892.
Vast teams of navvies contracted to build the line were mostly inadequately outfitted for the weather and terrain, and to compound their misery lived for weeks on end on a monotonously unbroken diet of canned food; hundreds became ill and walked away as soon as they had enough money for a steamer fare back to the mainland.
Thousands of trees were felled by axe and cross-cut saw and turned into timber for hundreds of thousands of rail sleepers – and over forty bridges that made up over six per cent of the length of the line.
And the longest bridge, a 110-tonne, 43-metre iron structure was shipped out from England.
To get it into position across the King River it was lowered from the ship onto a high trestle mounted on a barge, which was then towed into position and weighed down with thousands of sandbags that sank it low enough for the bridge to settle on its concrete abutments, and for the barge to float free.
Today thousands of visitors from around the world ride the restored Mt Lyell Railway that originally hauled copper ingots from smelters at Queenstown in the mountains, and also carried hardy pioneer passengers, 35km to Regatta Point at Strahan on the coast.
Now dubbed the West Coast Wilderness Railway it's one of the world's great wild-country train rides, with stops at several historic stations and sites along the way, and in places seeming to cling precariously to vertical cliffs that overlook wild rivers raging hundreds of metres below.
Onboard guides tell the history of the original railway, the unique Abt system, the restoration of the line, engines and passengers carriages, and point out places of historical importance: one-way by rail and the other by coach takes approximately five hours and costs from $123pp. Book through Federal Hotels 1800 420 155.
……………………….
PHOTO CAPTIONS:
[] STANDING at the station, high in Tasmania's wilderness.
[] WORLD's oldest restored working steam locomotive.
[] (Inset: Clinging to vertical cliffs overlooking wild rivers hundreds of
metres below.)
(Photos: John Crook and Tasmanian Tourism)

October 11, 2008

Michael Palin: Eighty Days Revisited

I'm conscious, as ever, that a lot of water has flown under the bridge since my last message. Since then I've been working hard at an edit of my Diaries 1980 -1988 in time for publication next year, whilst watching Archie grow up and trying to come to terms with my identity theft by a hockey mum in Alaska. And no, Sarah Palin is not my sister, daughter or alias. And I'm Sahara Palin not Sarah.

After a grey old summer in London I'm about to set out for the heat again with some of the old team, on a new journey, currently called 80 Days Revisited, which will hopefully be shown as a one-hour special on BBC-1 around Christmas. At the same time Weidenfeld and Nicolson are publishing a new edition of Around The World In Eighty Days. Because some of the original pictures have gone missing in the twenty years since, we've trawled the archives and found some great new photographs and the book will be completely re-designed. I've written some new material, including a new preface and a short new chapter describing our return visit. So here, good and patient website friends, is the latest on the latest journey.


Eighty Days Revisited

A new look at an old adventure

In Eighty Days Revisited we may not be going back to the Reform Club or ballooning over the Rockies, but we will be returning to the scene of one of the best-remembered sequences of any of my travel adventures, the dhow journey From Dubai to Bombay, episode three of Around The World In Eighty Days. As we sailed agonisingly slowly down the Persian Gulf on board one of world's oldest surviving traditional sailing ships we formed a unique relationship with our Indian crew. Mutual incomprehension gradually gave way to friendship and affection, as we accepted the fact that our lives, and the success of our journey Around The World In Eighty Days was in the hands of this band of ragged, under-paid sailors from Gujerat.

After a week at sea together, I found our farewell at Bombay to be one of the most emotional moments on all of my travels. As I said on film at the time : "It's almost impossible to accept that I shall never see them again".

Well, twenty years after we waved each other good-bye in the crowded waters off Bombay I'm trying to prove that nothing is impossible by setting out on a search for the crew of the Al-Sharma.

With the same cameraman who shot the original dhow journey we shall re-visit Dubai and meet those who found us the dhow in the first place, and then on to Bombay, now Mumbai, to see if, in the intervening twenty years that great teeming city has changed in more than just name. From Mumbai we take the over-night train north and west to the little town on the Indian Ocean from where many of Al-Sharma's crew hailed.

What happens here is far from certain, but I'm hoping to make contact with as many as possible of my old ship-mates. If all goes well we'll renew a unique friendship by sitting down together to watch, marvel and laugh ourselves silly at our adventures of twenty years' ago, when, together, we made our slow but happy way from the Middle East to India.

This return journey, the first I've ever attempted, will be as much of a challenge as the originals. There are plenty of if's and but's on the way, but, for me, and hopefully for you, this promises to make Eighty Days Revisited all the more exciting.


Michael P, September 2008

October 07, 2008

Lima: The City of Kings

Founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535, as La Ciudad de los Reyes, or ‘The City of Kings’, Peru’s capital Lima, is an enchanting city which is guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who visits there.

This undeniably cosmopolitan city blends the excitement of a modern bustling metropolis with a strong dash of old world charm.

This blend of ‘old and new’ will be apparent upon walking through the city you will see fourth-century Pre-Columbian ruins which are nestled in the long shadows of office towers, and Spanish Colonial buildings line the historic central square.

La Catedral or the Cathedral is a must see attraction, originally constructed in 1555 this central landmark still stands even after suffering earthquake damages twice in its history.

Lima is the gastronomic capital of the continent, which boasts a range of delectable dining options ranging from suave seaside restaurants to hole-in-the-wall eateries; the city caters to every taste and budget.

The capital’s world renowned cuisine fuses Andean and Spanish culinary traditions, as well as some African, Asian, French, Italian and Muslim cuisine.

The two most famous restaurants in Lima are the Rosa Nautica and the Costa Verde, both located on the sea front and both specialising in fish.

Don't leave the city without trying traditional Lima dishes (criollo), including Ceviche which is raw fish marinated in lemon juice and chilli or the distinctively sweet mazamorra morada (a purple corn pudding).

Lima has an exciting entertainment centre with bars such as San Isidro's havens for the modern elite to Barranco's cheerful and inexpensive stomping grounds.

Weekends from January to March also see the fresh-from-the-beach summer crowds heading down to Kilometer 97 on the Panamericana for the nightlife.

On August 30, the locals celebrate Santa Rosa de Lima, with a giant street procession honouring the patron saint of Lima and the Americas.

El Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles) is heralded on October 18 by a huge religious procession where locals clad in purple clothing take over the streets in celebration.

In late July, the entire country is turned upside down as Peruvians celebrate Fiestas Patrias (National Independence Days), and Lima is no exception, with lively street parties and dancing.

Tourists who are planning to visit Lima are faced with a task that at best could be described as challenging and that is deciding which time of year to visit the capital city.

From April to early December, a melancholy garúa (coastal fog) blankets the sun in a fine, grey mist. Come December, however, the sun shines through and Limeños (Lima locals) head in droves for the beaches. Warm temperatures (accompanied by high humidity) continue through to March.

The best time to visit is in March and April, when the sun is still shining, or in early to mid-December, before it gets too sticky.

October 06, 2008

EGOTISTS TO ELEPHANTS – THE LIFE OF RON

david ellis

I'VE been trying to talk my mate Ron into writing a book.

Because Ron was an ambassador. Not any old ambassador, but a special ambassador.

For a hotel. His job was to look after the VIP of VIPs, people like royalty and business tycoons, and film stars and entertainers and, yes, visiting ambassadors. And once an elephant.

Name a name and Ron can tell you something about the person behind it – after all he spent 32-years at the home of VIPS, the very swishy Regent Beverly Wilshire, of Pretty Woman fame, on LA's best-known street, Rodeo Drive.

Ron Howard was the hotel's Night Manager. And because of the hours he worked he found himself handling some intriguing situations, and often fielding some weird requests from those who'd maybe had an extra glass or three in the course of the day, and now needed urgent assistance in the passion of the resultant moment.

And no matter how whacky some requests sounded, or whom they were made by, Ron always seemed able to come to the rescue with goods, services and, yes, shackles. So diplomatically so, that many appreciative guests started writing not to the General Manager or other executives with requests for special favours upon their arrival, but directly to Ron.

So the hotel gonged him as their "Ambassador," the man whom regular guests could ensure would have their favourite table set aside in the restaurant, their usual suite awaiting them, candles and flowers for that smoochy occasion, vintage Champers on ice for that deal-clinching dinner…

And the needs of that elephant.

The dumbo thing had got stuck in the hotel's lift doorway on the way out after starring in a corporate promotion in the ballroom, and despite everyone's pushing and shoving, couldn't be budged.

Come Ron to the rescue - with a packet of peanuts. He simply scattered them across the carpet and, hey presto, one baby elephant takes a deep breath and walks out for a feed.  Now that's real ambassador stuff for you.

And he's been called on to diplomatically resolve diplomatic situations: when Britain's top pop group at the time chucked a party and got into a food fight, wrecked a chandelier and generally trashed the room, were they thrown out?

Nah.  Ron "had a bit of a chat" with the lads' manager and got a cheque for the damage, plus a promise they'd address their behaviour better in the future.

And as a special hoot when Frank Sinatra celebrated his 55th birthday at the hotel, instead of a blonde bimbo popping out of the over-size birthday cake, Ron arranged to have Sinatra's mate, Sammy Davis Jnr do it… while on another occasion for a charity fund-raiser he set-up a half-size soccer field in the ballroom, and asked  Pele to launch the night by kicking the ball from one end of the artificial turf into the goal at the other.

Not to be out-done, another participant tried to replicate this skill, but put the ball through a $30,000 Venetian-crystal chandelier. "I couldn't smooth-over that one," Ambassador Ron later told me. "It was our General Manager."

Ron also got hold of a Mariachi band to surprise an entourage of visiting Mexican V-VIPs, had the entire Boston Pops Orchestra strike up the band at a political convention, and arranged garaging when Steve McQueen moved into the hotel with his collection of motorbikes for a long-term stay.

And he's become mates with others who've stayed long-term at the Beverly Wilshire, including Elton John, Mick Jagger and Andrew Lloyd Weber, while most members of the British Royal Family, the Dalai Lama, Aga Khan and Japanese Emperors have all propped there and rubbed shoulders with him.

And Hollywood made parts of Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts at the hotel, although the Presidential Suite seen in the movie was actually a replica built in a Hollywood studio.

A few years back, Ron decided to move on, becoming Director of Sales (Middle East) for LA's equally-grand Beverly Hills Hotel.

And I reckon that with his diplomatic skills he's just the bloke who one day will announce when he's got both sides to end the war in Iraq.

Which is why I'm trying to get him to write that book.

                                                      ………………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] LA's best-known address, the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Rodeo Drive.

[] "AMBASSADOR" Ron Howard hams it up at the keyboard during an Epicurean Society dinner at the hotel.   

(Photos: Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.)


October 03, 2008

WRECKING A HOLLYWOOD BLOCK-BUSTER

david ellis & john crook
IT had all the makings of a Hollywood block-buster: a wild and stormy night, a shipwreck and the captain going down with his vessel, and just two survivors – a beautiful young girl and a handsome young man washed ashore to the sanctuary of a cave on one of the most treacherous stretches of coast on earth.
And a final dash for help that culminates with our young hero carrying the shivering and semi-conscious maiden to the refuge of a bed in a remote country farmhouse…
But despite all this it lacked the most vital of all for Hollywood – there was no romance. And the reason was that 18-year old beauty Eva Carmichael was a daughter of 19th century British aristocracy, while handsome Tom Pearce was a mere apprentice seaman.
The tiny 1700-tonne clipper ship Loch Ard was almost at the end of a 3-months voyage from England to Melbourne when, at dawn on June 1 1878, she ran aground in heavy fog and wild seas on Mutton Bird Island near Victoria's Port Campbell.
Her captain, George Gibb had battled for hours to keep her clear of the island, and when she finally struck many of the seventeen crew and 37 passengers – who just hours before had ended a party celebrating the virtual end of their long journey at sea – were killed by collapsing masts and spas, that also prevented ship's boats from being launched.
Within ten minutes the Loch Ard had rolled on her side, sinking with all on board except Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce.
Tom managed to paddle ashore on the smashed remains of a lifeboat, and struggled up a beach to shelter from the wind and rain in a cave in a narrow gorge. Soon after he heard Eva's screams in the surf and sighted her clinging alternately to a chicken coop and part of a ship's spa.
By now she had been in the water five hours, and after swimming to her rescue Tom dragged her to the safety of his cave. Then in still-pouring rain he climbed to the top of the cliff and miraculously bumped into two workers from a nearby sheep station.
After he blurted out his story the men gathered blankets from their homestead and with Tom raced back Eva who, clad only in a wet nightdress, was now semi-conscious and suffering hyperthermia; the young apprentice seaman insisted in carrying her himself to the homestead, where they spent several days recuperating.
Upon hearing their story the Melbourne media went into near-frenzy; Tom received a hero's reception including a gold watch from the State Governor and the first Gold Medal from the Royal Humane Society of Victoria – while hundreds openly prayed for romance to blossom between Tom and Eva.
But such was not to be, and they never saw each other again – with virtually all her family lost aboard the Loch Ard, Eva returned to an only brother in Ireland while Tom fulfilled his wish to become a ship's captain (and was shipwrecked twice more.)
The story of Tom and Eva is told nightly in Shipwrecked, a sound and laser show at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village at Warrnambool, near western Victoria's world-famous Shipwreck Coast, a disaster zone that since European settlement has claimed an astonishing 700-something vessels.
The nightly show is not only a gripping tale in itself, but remarkably is projected onto a huge wall of water rather than a screen; the Maritime Village also incorporates an original lighthouse and light-keeper's cottage, replica shops, a sail-makers workshop, an historic shipping agency office, an old bank, chapel, Masonic Temple and a cosy Tea Room that serves the most wonderful traditional Devonshire Teas.
Numerous artefacts from many of the shipwrecks along the neighbouring coast are on display in the Museum – look out in particular for a spectacular 1.5m high porcelain peacock that survived the sinking of the Loch Ard, and floated ashore unscathed in its wooden crate two days after the tragedy.
GETTING THERE: WARRNAMBOOL is on the Great Ocean Road, 260km south-west of Melbourne. Bookings for the nightly Shipwrecked Sound & Laser Show are essential; for information phone 1800 637 725 or (03) 5559 4620. It's also an easy drive to Loch Ard Gorge in which Tom and Eva initially sheltered in their cave.
…………………
PHOTO CAPTIONS:
LOCH ARD Gorge was anything but picturesque and tranquil on the wild and stormy night that claimed the small clipper ship after which she is named.
FLAGSTAFF HILL Maritime Museum is a working village that takes visitors back in time.
EXHIBITIONS ashore and afloat have something of interest for those of all ages.
(PHOTOS - John Crook)