.

March 30, 2009

BABS’ 50-DAYS GETTING TO THE CHURCH ON TIME

david ellis

WHEN a girl's asked to be bridesmaid to her best friend, it's important she get herself to the church on time.

But that can take on a whole new meaning when our bridesmaid lives in Wales, and the church is a near-20,000 kilometres away in Brisbane, Australia – and she refuses to fly.

That was the dilemma facing Barbara Haddrill in 2006. A committed eco-campaigner, Barbara has an aversion to flying because of the environmental impact of carbon belched out by today's jetliners.

So she sat down in the 4-metre long caravan in which she lives a largely self-sustaining existence on a farm on the outskirts of the picturesque Bronze Age town of Machynlleth, and started plotting how to get to Brisbane – not in a mere 24- to 30-hours, but via an amazing fifty day odyssey one way, and a further seventy the other.

And she not only had to carry her needs for such a vast Jules Verne-like adventure, but also her bridesmaid's dress as well.

"It started to get very daunting," she says now. "And I kept putting it off until I simply had to start moving."

And move she did. Like something out of Girls Own Annual her tent and necessities went into one backpack, clothes and bridesmaid's dress into another, and an accordion she plays in a local gypsy-music band called Finikity Charos, was tied to the lot.

Then she hitchhiked to London, coached it from there through Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus and into Moscow, and connected there with the Trans-Siberian Express for a 6-day, 6,000km journey to Beijing… often entertaining fellow passengers with her accordion.

But in Beijing reality set in as she found herself unable to communicate in the local markets she sought out for their regional foodstuffs (that included at one stage deep-fried Asian lizards and grasshoppers.)

"I started bawling my eyes out in Tiananmen Square, because no matter how much pointing or waving of notes I couldn't communicate about what I was buying – and worse, how to get from Beijing to Australia. I feared I was failing in getting to my friend Helen's wedding, and just felt stuck."

But she forged onwards, somehow combining a heady mix of road and waterways transport across China, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore, and from there by cargo ship to Melbourne.

"There was me and sixteen male sailors from Russia, the Ukraine and the Philippines. It was the first time I felt nervous: English was virtually unspoken, and there was a lot of staring, but it actually turned out a lot of fun."

And a coach got her happily from Melbourne to Brisbane in time for Helen and Steve's marriage on the beach at North Stradbroke Island.

"It was lovely, and worth everything," says Barbara.

But she then had to get back home to Wales. Again she started by hitch-hiking, getting a ride from Brisbane through the Outback to Adelaide with a tough truckie who said he'd take her along 'so long as I didn't argue.'"

From Adelaide she got a bus to Darwin, broke her own rule with a short flight to Bali as it was the only option available, used buses and boats to Singapore, and hopped on another cargo ship from there to Genoa.

"Then it was by train to Milan where I caught up with my mum and sister, train to Paris, bicycle from there to Calais for the ferry across the Channel, train to Bristol, and finally bicycle from there to Machynlleth."

"Had I gone by air I would have been responsible for 11.2 tonnes of CO2, but doing it my way I reduced this to just 1.8 tonnes."

Barbara's amazing 18-country adventure by road, rail, bicycle and on foot has recently been published as a witty, at times emotionally-gripping book, called Babs2Brisbane that can be ordered through Amazon Books or http://babs2brisbane.com/

FOOTNOTE: Barbara still lives in her caravan, generates her own hydro-electricity in a nearby river, uses forest-floor wood for heating, grows her own fruit and vegies, raises chooks for eggs, writes and lectures about her journey, and works in a vegetarian restaurant at Machynlleth's Centre for Alternative Technology.

And apart from sometime circumnavigating Wales by horse and cart, she has absolutely no plans to go any further afield again.

March 23, 2009

ALCATRAZ – TAXING TIME ON A KREEPY ROCK

david ellis

with

malcolm andrews

HOLLYWOOD has a way of treating bygone gangsters somewhat kindly – even when not actually glorifying their antics, it seems to always want to give them something of an ill-deserved glamour and romance.              

But it can't put a glamorous or romantic edge to some of their nicknames.

Alvin  Karpis, murderer and kidnapper, was better known as Kreepy, and achieved particular fame when he was arrested in 1936 by the head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover. Hoover had the Press snap a photo of Kreepy tied-up with Hoover's own necktie, but he forgot to tell reporters that his G-Men had already subdued Kreepy by the time he'd arrived.

And bootlegger and armed robber, George Kelly was better known simply as Machine Gun, and won something of fame in 1933 by urinating on one of the police officers trying to arrest him. Aussie lads would doubtless have made a more appropriate nickname out of that, but nevertheless Machine Gun is still popular here today at pub trivia nights: one of his trials was the first-ever recorded on movie film.

But one of the most famous American hoods of all was Al Capone, endearingly known as Scarface. And while he controlled crime across the United States during the Prohibition era of the 1920s, he was never convicted of the murders and robberies he pursued with great zeal: he went to jail in 1931 for not paying his income tax.

And whatever their crimes, all these criminals had something in common: they all did time on Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Harbour, a place that between 1934 and 1963 became arguably the most famous prison in the United States. And it had its own nickname: 'The Rock'.

It was officially named "La Isla de los Alcatraces' in 1775 by Spanish naval captain Juan de Ayala – 'Island of the Gannets' after the sea birds that nested there.

Today the one-time Alcatraz prison is a tourist Mecca that's still a very forbidding, gloomy and depressing place.       

Capone soon learned that: he was sent there in 1934 after a life of ease in Atlanta Federal Prison where he had bribed the warden and his guards to allow him a snug bed, a comfy lounge, a radio and even deep-pile carpet on his cell floor.

But despite trying to suck up to Alcatraz' warden on the day he arrived at 'The Rock,' Capone found this bloke to be of the old-fashioned variety, and got no home comforts during his 4½ years there.

Today's tourists learn all about these infamous inmates as they stroll around, listening on tape-recorder headphones to the history of the prison, and what to stop and look for.

And about escape attempts. Thirty-four prisoners were involved in fourteen attempts to get off 'The Rock', two trying twice. Seven were shot dead, two drowned, and all but five of the rest were recaptured… although authorities reckon those five probably drowned too.

The most famous attempt was in 1962 when three of those missing five  escaped through air-conditioning ducts. Hollywood made a dully-named movie out of it, 'Escape from Alcatraz' starring Clint Eastwood. The relatives of two of the three claimed they later received postcards from the pair – posted from South America.

Amongst other movies set at Alcatraz was 1995's 'Murder in the First,' starring Kevin Bacon, Christian Slater and Gary Oldman. While it was supposed to have been based on a true story, it was pure Hollywood fiction.

'The Birdman of Alcatraz' was also Hollywood pap. The Birdman was a fellow named Robert Stroud, convicted in 1909 of manslaughter in Alaska and, later, of the murder of a prison guard.

But he never kept birds while on 'The Rock' as the film purports: the only time he had such pets was at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, and even there he wasn't the loveable character as portrayed by actor Burt Lancaster in the movie: in 1942 he was transferred to Alcatraz for brewing illegal hooch in a still he was supposedly using to make medicines for his canaries.

But despite all, Alcatraz wasn't as bad as the movies made out, and many inmates preferred it to other prisons – because they at least got a cell there to themselves.

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] ESCAPE from Alcatraz – a lot'a men tried, and a lot'a men died

[] VISITORS explore cells along the former prison's "Broadway"

[] BIRDMAN Robert Stroud: a still in his cell for making bird medicines also coughed up illegal hooch

March 15, 2009

STRUTH! David Ellis looks at the world's more weird and whacky

David Ellis looks at the world's more weird and whacky

IN HIS CONTINUING SEARCH FOR THE WORLD'S MORE WEIRD, WHACKY AND UNUSUAL, DAVID ELLIS discovers that last weekend several hundred people descended on the British beachside town of Brighton – not for extra-marital activities on which the town founded much of its past reputation… but for Britain's first-ever Divorce Fair.

Organiser Suzy Miller said she got the idea of her "Starting Over Show" from the success of wedding fairs that bring together representatives of all the goods and services needed to organise the nuptials.

"So I thought why not put on a more positive spin on what to do when going through a divorce?" she said. And the response was instantaneous: over thirty exhibitors set up stalls offering services from legal representation to accountancy and sorting our your finances when a marriage breaks up, divorce counselling, dating agency services, image consultancy, places to escape to to consider the future, and even chocolates to help see you through the divorce process.

And a team of pole dancers – because Suzy said they tend to give some women a sense of self-esteem.

"Divorcees feel a strong emphasis on moving on, and this Fair helped those who came along look at the best ways of handling what to do next," Suzy said.

FOOTNOTE: The Continent's first-ever divorce fair two years ago was in Austria, and took a different approach. There the exhibitors were mainly gumshoe private detective agencies, DNA testers and "discreet photographers and sound engineers."

March 10, 2009

OMAN’S SPLENDID HERITAGE: CITADELS, FORTS AND ANCIENT GATES


Photo: Arti Kumria

The Sultanate of Oman’s rich heritage is reflected in more than 500 open-air museums – its old forts, ancient walls and gates, as well as its houses and mosques. No matter where you travel, you will see remnants of Oman’s turbulent history, with many of its fortresses and watch towers erected deep in its interior or atop mountains, or along its 1700 kilometre stretch of coastline; each constructed to prevent hostile invasions.

Visitors today to Oman can visit a number of these striking landmarks, some of which have undergone extensive restoration programs. One of the best places to delve into Oman’s history and its resplendent fortresses is in Muscat.

During the late 16th century, the Portuguese, who occupied the city for 150 years, constructed Oman’s most famous citadels. Built on two serrated hills overlooking Muscat’s harbour – Al Jalali to the east and Al Mirani to the west - the paired forts were used to oust Portuguese and Ottoman invaders a century later and protect Muscat from further invasions. Now guarding majestic Al Alam Palace -- the ceremonial palace of H.M. Sultan, Qaboos – the Al Jalali was enlarged to its present size during the reign of Imam Ahmed bin Said, the founder of the Al Busaidi state in the 18th century.

At the beginning of the 19th century, his grandson Sayyid Said bin Sultan, enlarged the citadel along with Al Mirani. Al Jalali has since been restored and converted into a museum, under the present reign of His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

“Visitors wanting to gain an insight into Oman’s history need only look at the country’s most beautiful forts in Muscat and Nizwa; just a three hour journey away. Splendidly built amid an ancient landscape of palm trees, desert and coastline, travellers are able to explore the watchtowers and darkened rooms, each harbouring tales of old-world Arabia,” says Mona Tannous, Australian Director, Oman Ministry of Tourism.

Also in Muscat is Old Town, located at the eastern end of the Greater Muscat Area between Muttrah and Sidab and a perfect place to step back in time and view an array of ancient doors and centuries-aged dwellings.

Much of the city’s rich history and heritage has been preserved, including remnants of Muscat’s original clay wall and threeaccess gates - Bab al Matha'eeb, Bab al Saghir and Bab al Waljat - which fortified the capital.

One of the most splendid buildings in Oman’s interior is Nizwa Fort, which played a pivotal role in the country’s struggle with the Portuguese in the 17th century. Constructed in 1668, Imam Sultan bin Saif al Ya'arubi, the fortress is the biggest citadel in the Arabian Peninsula, with its circular structure spanning 45.7 metres and standing 30 metres high. Once used as the Imam's headquarters, its skilful design allowed for boiling oil to be poured through a hole in its thick doors, a tactic that was commonly used to prevent marauding enemies gaining a stronghold. Standing alongside Nizwa Fort is Imam’s Mosque – renamed Sultan Qaboos Mosque in 1970 – which was built soon after the construction of its more famous neighbour.

A short drive from Nizwa is the ancient town of Bahla, which once nurtured many of Arabia’s finest scholars and scientists, and the current gatekeeper of Oman’s mythical jinns and sorcery. The main attraction, however, is its impressive fortress and 12-kilometre-long mud-brick wall with 132 watchtowers. Also featuring seven massive gates, visitors will see where Omani sentries pummelled the invading Persian army over the centuries.

Following recent excavations, it is believed that some of Bahla’s defensive structures date back to the third and first millennium BC Also fusing in with the surrounding oasis and wadis, Bahla’s wall and fort – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- are also said to be one of the oldest in Oman, with its foundations dating back to the 12th century.

Just beyond Bahla lies the Castle of Jabrin, which dates back to 1670. Built as a defensive citadel by Iman Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’arubi, Jabrin features a number of residential rooms with high ceilings adorned with elaborate rosette carvings. Featuring two massive towers with impenetrable walls, Jabrin also rewards visitors with a sweeping view of a heat-infused desert vista. The elaborate tomb of Iman Bil’ arub, who died in 1692 is also located in the castle.

Other notable forts that should be visited along the Batinah Coast include Nakhl Fort and Rustaq Fort -- the oldest and tallest fortress in Oman. Constructed on an ancient spring, its ground floor was used to store dates grown from the nearby plantations as well as ammunition. Rustaq Fort, however, was not without some pleasures. On its first floor lived the royal harem, complete with a falaj, which helped create an indoor spring pool.

At the heart of the Batinah Coast lies Sohar Fort, constructed in the 15th Century along Sohar’s present day corniche. Strategically positioned to fend off invaders from the Straits of Hormuz, it is believed that the Fort, which accommodated an army of 1000 men, was once surrounded by flourishing palms and multiple towers. Today, only one tower remains and the fort now serves as a museum.

Amongst the oldest castles in Oman are Al Hazm, built in 1711 and Mirbat Castle, located in Oman’s southern Dhofar region in a small fishing community near Salalah, off the Arabian Sea’s misty coastline.

“The Sultanate has diligently engaged in a massive restoration program of its forts, with the aim to preserve the country’s architectural heritage and making these magnificent dwellings accessible for future visitors,” adds Ms. Tannous.

Managed by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, the forts’ admission charges are variable, ranging from AU$1.50 to AU$3.00 in admission.

For further information on Oman, please contact the Sultanate of Oman Ministry of Tourism office in Sydney.

T: (02) 9113 5959
E: info@tourismoman.com.au
W: www.omantourism.gov.om

March 09, 2009

THOUGHTS OF ROMANCE A WILD CALAMITY

david ellis

HE cut an almost debonair figure as he strode the boardwalks of Deadwood in America's legendary Wild West, while she was a part-time hooker whose youthful good looks had long gone and she now mostly dressed like a man and cussed as enthusiastically.

And she got her kicks from shooting-out bar-room chandeliers while smashed on whiskey.

Yet this seemingly odd couple shared time together, and as she approached death nearly thirty years after he was shot dead at a Deadwood card table, she begged to be buried alongside the man she described as "my great love."

But despite 130 years of research, students of the Wild West are as perplexed today as ever about the real relationship between the two – legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickok, and the irascible Calamity Jane.

We know that just as in Hollywood's enactments, the Deadwood Stage did roll-out over the hills, lawbreakers were lynched on the streets of "the shootin'est town in the West," and that Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were known to step the boardwalks together and share a drink or five in the local saloons.

Deadwood had hit the headlines in the mid-1870-s when gold was found in the surrounding Black Hills of Dakota. Within days thousands of hopefuls had flocked to the Hills, scooping-up nuggets "as big as candy bars" and blasting their way into the gold-bearing hillsides.

Thirty-thousand miners invaded Deadwood in the 1870s and '80s, and headstones at the town's Mt Moriah Cemetery tell how many of them died by rope, bullet, booze or natural causes.

But unlike in the movies, Wild Bill Hickok did not go to Deadwood intent on putting on a badge again and upholding justice: he left his newly-wed bride at home in Wyoming and jumped the Deadwood Stage with the intent of relieving gullible miners of some of their Black Hills gold at the poker table.

And when he arrived there in 1876, he was mysteriously accompanied not only by a colourful former Pony Express rider, 'Colorado' Charlie Utter, but by Calamity Jane whom he'd previously met when they were both Army scouts.

The one-time Marshall Hickcok (who between engagements moonlighted as a bounty hunter and professional gambler,) is known to have considered Calamity little more than a drinking mate, but to the alcoholic hooker he was always "my great love."

And Calamity proved to be anything but Hollywood's Doris Day who would host "Marshall" Wild Bill to candle-lit dinners in a rose-gardened Deadwood cottage.

But whatever their relationship was, it ended on August 2 1876 when Wild Bill – who drank with his left hand to keep his gun-hand free – dropped into the Number 10 Saloon for a game of poker. As the only seat at the table had its back to the door, he opted-out for fear of being ambushed from behind.

But fellow gamblers talked him into staying, and he'd played just a few hands when a drunken hoodlum, Jack McCall stumbled through the bat-wing doors and shot him dead with a single bullet to the head. Wild Bill's two black aces and two black eights spilled to the floor, and are known to this day as "Deadman's Hand."

McCall was tried, but acquitted after claiming the killing was revenge for Hickok killing his brother; when it was discovered that McCall's outlaw brother had died years earlier, he was recaptured and hanged.

Calamity Jane meanwhile was doing what Hollywood didn't tell us: she was working as a barmaid and part-time prostitute in local saloons, often taking her pay in whiskey.

And just before her death aged 53 she asked that she be buried next to Wild Bill, even posing haggard and gaunt with a bouquet at his grave. Martha 'Calamity Jane' (Cannary) Burke died on August 2 1903, bizarrely twenty-seven years to the very day after the shooting of James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok.

Deadwood today is a fascinating trek back into the Wild West, with an El Dorado of restored boardwalk casinos, saloons (including the Number Ten Saloon,) dining halls, an1860s gold mine to explore, and museums recalling the days of the Wild West.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays can add a short-break to Deadwood to a USA, Canada or Alaska vacation; phone 1300 79 49 59.

………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] CALAMITY Jane dressed and cussed like a man – and was no Doris Day.

[] Deadwood Number 10 Saloon today (Pic: Alan McWhirter)

March 05, 2009

Aboriginal tourism experiences designed for family bonding


Les Gibson with the start of Munbah Beach in the background
Aboriginal adventure provider for fathers and sons, Les Gibson of Munbah Beach Getaway, 50 km north of Cooktown is planning to extend his program for mothers and daughters with the assistance of his own daughter, Kathi Gibson-Steffensen.

Les broke into the tourism industry more than 16 years ago and over the years his imaginative adventure programs attracted the attention of travel writers and TV lifestyle programs such as The Great Outdoors.

His activities are centred on a picture-perfect location right on an expansive beach as Les explains: “It all started when I built the shack as a weekender to do fishing etc down on the shore about 30 kilometres east of Hope Vale.

“It’s a beautiful spot right on the beach. It’s called Munbah, and in our language, that means muddy creek. But the creek is not muddy, it is beautiful water but that was the way the old people thought because of the colour. But the stream drains water from a freshwater swamp and the colour comes from tannin, a natural substance in the water from the swamp.

“I didn’t find it hard to communicate with people, even those from overseas who came to stay. I like talking to people and sharing some of our bush skills and culture with them. I believe it can help them in their own life, even back in the busy cities.

“With the father/son program, we concentrate on doing things together. Firstly, on how to make a spear or woomera then having the dads and boys making one together.

“We also give them insights into bush medicine so that when they go home and hopefully follow up with camping trips together they can put this information into practice.”

Les says one of the most vital practices and know-how in bush medicine is how to treat stings from a box jellyfish.

Bush medicine

“If anyone gets stung by a box jellyfish or stone fish, we use hot ashes mixed with salt water. The sting is gone in 20 minutes and there is no pain. A lot of these things are just survival techniques. It is the core of the whole indigenous culture and traditions which have been passed on to generations.

Kathi will guide Les with the extension of his program that will be interest-specific for mothers and daughters while his other daughter, Tina, as an established artist, may assist with craft development such as coloured sand painting.

One of the favourite spots at Munbah is out the front of the shack under the awning, sitting in one of the old lounge chairs and looking at the change of colour of the ocean as the tide ebbs and flows, while in the late afternoon the sun plays with different hues as it casts its receding rays over distant Cape Bedford.

Les likes to take his guests hiking up into sparkling, white, sand dunes that give good views right out over the ocean. At another area along the beach, the sand hills are the colours of the rainbow. “This is a special place and I like to share it with others,” Les says proudly.

For further information, phone Les Gibson on 0488963806. A website is being developed.

Photo caption: Les Gibson with the start of Munbah Beach in the background

ENGLISH NAVY LORD’S BIZARRE DUEL PERSONALITY

david ellis

A RUSTING old anchor on a waterfront lawn at English Harbour on the tiny island of Antigua in the Caribbean attracts only mild attention from most visitors… after all, this harbour was once one of Britain's major naval centres, so there are plenty such items of maritime history to be found here.

But in fact it marks an infamous blot in Britain's naval history, for it was here that a British peer and Acting Commander – Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron Camelford – shot dead a lower-born officer in a pistol duel… because the latter refused to kowtow to His Lordship.

Lord Camelford was no stranger to controversy: when he travelled with Captain George Vancouver on his journey of discovery to Tahiti and America, Vancouver had him flogged for trading ship's stores for the favours of a Tahitian beauty, again for unauthorised trading with Indians on the American coast, and yet again for breaking the binnacle glass while skylarking.

And finally Vancouver put him in irons for falling asleep on watch.

After other problems Lord Camelford left the navy for a short time, but rejoined and rose to the rank of lieutenant aboard HMS Favourite, and possibly because of his family connections, in 1797 was appointed Acting Commander over the ship's First Lieutenant, Charles Peterson who was actually his senior.

Inevitable friction between them saw Peterson transferred to HMS Perdrix, but the two found themselves moored uncomfortably side-by-side in Antigua's English Harbour in 1798.

They quarrelled yet again over seniority, and Lord Camelford, who considered himself a top shot and had already killed one man in a duel, challenged Lieutenant Peterson to join him on the lawn opposite their ships.

He shot Petersen dead, was court-martialled and acquitted, but ironically when he made a similar call against a friend six years later, it was His Lordship who proved not the shot he thought he was: he died on the spot at just 29 years of age, and with no heirs his title died with him.

The British chose English Harbour, 20km south of Antigua's now-capital St John's, as a base for their ships for raids on valuable sugar-producing islands in the Eastern Caribbean, and to thwart others eyeing-off the same islands. They could also repair their ships in a harbour well-protected against enemy and storms, and which had plentiful timber.

Lord Nelson was temporarily based there, and hated the place so much he wrote back home that it was "an infernal hole… a vile spot." And bizarrely when he fell ill and sailed back to England, he took a barrel of Caribbean rum with him to "preserve my body in the event of my death at sea."

English Harbour ceased operations as a naval base in 1889, and today is a favourite haunt of cruising yachties who find safe haven here. And local maritime and naval buffs who formed the Friends of English Harbour in the mid-1990s have restored much of the original Georgian dockyard, believed to be the only one of its kind remaining in the world today.

They've also created a fascinating maritime museum in the 1885's Admiral's House which, typically of the British, was given its illustrious name despite never having been home to an admiral: most of the time it was occupied by the officer-in-charge of the docks and his storekeeper.

As well as the anchor marking the spot where the erratic Lord Camelford shot Lieutenant Peterson, there are restored capstans on which fiddlers once sat and played sea shanties to encourage greater effort by sailors struggling to haul ships ashore for repairs, the massive pillars to which those ships were tied upright once on dry land, historic stone wharves, 250-year old warehouses that are now boutique hotels, and the museum with its fascinating collections.

Sadly most visitors to Antigua don't go much beyond the shops, markets, restaurants and bars of capital St John's, but the trip down to English Harbour is well worth the taxi fare.

Most cruise lines visiting Antigua depart early evening, but the twin 112-passenger mega motor-yachts of SeaDream Yacht Club generally don't depart until later at night, allowing time to enjoy the town's after-dinner nightlife; details travel agents or www.seadream.com

                                                  ……………………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] ANCHOR marks the spot where Lord Camelford shot Lt Peterson in a duel in 1798; the capstan behind was used to haul naval ships ashore for repairs – a fiddler sat atop to play encouraging sea shanties.

[] MUSEUM at Antigua's English Harbour, with the bust of Lord Nelson – who considered Antigua "an infernal hole and vile spot" – guarding the door.

[] FIGUREHEAD in the Museum: while women were considered bad luck aboard ship, bare-breasted figureheads were designed to shame a stormy sea into calm, and were often a likeness of a shipowner's wife or daughter.

[] ADMIRAL'S INN hotel: built in 1788 to house naval engineers, it was abandoned on 1889, restored in 1954 as a doctor's residence and police station, and became a boutique hotel in 1960.

- Photos: David Ellis


BRIDGING OCEANS JUST THE TRICK AT 90


david ellis

PENNSYLVANIAN Ed Halluska got so smitten with the game of bridge after just one session, that he gave up his engineering job to learn all about it and become a professional bridge instructor.

That in turn led to he and his wife Helen deciding to go on a cruise that was advertised as having daily bridge sessions, which led to both of them then  becoming smitten with cruising.

And so they could indulge their new-found loves, Ed pulled off a neat trick snaring himself a job as a bridge instructor on a cruise ship.

Today they've become something of record breakers, although they never intended it being that way. "It just happened," said Ed when they passed through Sydney recently as part of a world cruise aboard Cunard's 5-star Queen Victoria.

And most startling of all this is that Ed fesses-up that a few days after leaving Sydney on their way to Singapore and London, with countless ports in-between, he'll be celebrating his 90th birthday aboard ship.

As well, this isn't Ed and Helen's first world cruise, nor their second, nor their third. Not even their tenth, fifteenth or twentieth… this is their twenty-third world cruise, and their 316th sailing somewhere on the planet. You almost get tired just thinking of the logistics – never mind keeping enough space in the Passport for another stamp.

And no, Ed's no longer a cruising bridge instructor. Today he and Helen just cruise for the love of it, and for Ed to play bridge every day with other passengers. Helen sometimes joins in, but says "I'm not as good as Ed – I don't concentrate enough."

And the quietly-spoken Ed fesses-up once again – this time as to why he's no longer a cruising bridge instructor, after the company called one day to say "they'd have to let him go."

When he asked them why, after much stammering and stuttering they finally said  "well, you know Ed, it's your age..."

"AND WHAT, I demanded to know," and this is the first time we've heard him raise his voice above barely a whisper. "WHAT is wrong with being 80?"

But let him go they did, so Ed and Helen decided to just keep on cruisin',  spending half of every year at sea.

"When we cruised into Sydney Harbour on Queen Victoria we'd chalked up 3,716,656 kilometres during 4,497 days at sea in forty years," he says. "And we've still got to get to London, and then home for a few more short cruises and then a world cruise next year on the British ship Saga Ruby."

With all this exposure to The Good Life, we ask, how do they manage to keep as trim as they are? "We don't miss any meals, but then we don't clean the plate ether," Ed says.

"We eat only what we feel we need to at breakfast, lunch and dinner – at dinner maybe just a bowl of soup with crackers and dessert one night, and next night just the main course – and fish at least six times a week."

They also walk as much as possible both aboard and in port, and Ed does daily sessions in the onboard gyms that include 80 push-ups – non-stop. Again a nice trick at 90.

And on their way to Sydney on Queen Victoria a fellow guest asked Helen if she missed being at home. "Good Heavens no," Helen replied. "I don't have to do the cooking or the washing up, and when we go back to our cabin after breakfast our bed is made up and the room is cleaned."

And now 87-years old Helen fesses-up: she was trained in voice and enjoys a bit of a sing on stage every now and then. And Ed boasts how she got a standing ovation a few nights before arriving in Sydney with her rendition of the Italian song Anima-e-Core – How Wonderful To Know You Really Love Me.

How wonderful indeed, for this sprightly couple who've been married 66 years.

If you'd like to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary or no real reason at all on Queen Victoria's next visit here in February 2010, phone 1800 225 656 for the name of the Cruiseco cruise-specialist nearest to you.

                                                       …………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] GLOBE-trotting Ed and Helen Halluska had cruised 3,716,656 kilometres in 40 years by the time they arrived in Sydney recently on Queen Victoria

[] BACK to the drawing board – planning next year's world cruise on Saga Ruby.

(Photos: David Ellis)