June 28, 2010
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says for the first time, members of the ten years old Lake Eyre Yacht Club finally have the opportunity to go sailing – because never before since the Club was formed on April Fool's Day 2000 have they actually had a lake with enough water in it to sail on.
And equally interesting, Lake Killamperpunna that the regatta will be sailed on from July 5th to 9th, and which is part of the Lake Eyre system, has filled with water from Cooper Creek that's not flooded across the Birdsville Track and into Killamperpunna for twenty years.
Already over fifty Lake Eyre Yacht Club members are on the road or have towed their boats to Lake Killamperpunna that's 160km up the Birdsville Track from remote Marree (itself 685km north of Adelaide.)
And their historic first-ever regatta will be sailed in a surreal landscape of wildflower-covered sand-dunes lapped by water that's a seldom-seen item in this part of the world.
Dubbed "The World's Most Exclusive Yacht Club" the Lake Eyre Yacht Club has around 140 members who live in mainly coastal areas in all States except the Northern Territory, and their "yachties" club house in Marree is one of the most photographed buildings in the Outback.
As well as a quirky and off-beat tourist icon selling souvenirs (to pay for the club's maintenance) the club house is also a valuable information source of up-to-the-minute information for tourists venturing to Lake Eyre and other parts of the Inland.
For more details of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club's first-ever regatta and conditions in the Outback go to www.lakeeyreyc.com
SHE's the world's most famous super-nanny, a no-nonsense figure who floats around under an umbrella, resolving the seemingly insurmountable with little more than a spoonful of sugar.
And come next month she will have been enthralling us for exactly a century, a milestone we can reasonably presume would suggest that she was – naturally – the creation of one of the most fertile literary minds of Europe, Britain, the United States…
How wrong we can be, for in fact she was the inspiration of a 12-year old schoolgirl from the-then tiny village of Bowral in the rural Southern Highlands of NSW.
But unlike in the books of her adventures, Mary Poppins didn't blow into Bowral on an east wind in July 1910 as easily as she did into the Banks' family home at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane – her coming-about had a much more unhappy genesis.
The mother of schoolgirl Helen Lyndon Goff moved with Helen and her two younger sisters to Bowral from Queensland in 1907 after their bank clerk dad, Travers Goff died at an early age.
Helen boarded at school in Sydney and only returned home during school holidays as her mother struggled to make ends meet raising her girls and fighting the grief of losing a husband and father.
A fond Aunt Ellie in Sydney gave financial and other support, but one bleak winter's night in mid-July 1910, the grieving mother ran out into the pouring rain and threw herself into a swollen creek at the bottom of the family's Holly Street backyard.
Bedraggled and failing in her bid to drown her herself she went back into the house and past the children into her room – and instantly to take their minds off what they had just seen, the 12 year old Helen wrapped her siblings in an eiderdown in front of the fire and began telling them the story of a magical white horse that could fly down from the heavens and perform amazing deeds on land, in the sky and under the sea.
She made the story up as she went along and until her younger sisters had fallen asleep – but in subsequent days when begged to tell more stories in front of the fire, the magical horse evolved into an equally magical nanny.
As she grew up, Helen dreamed of becoming an actor, but unable to find opportunities turned to writing instead, adopting the name Pamela Lyndon (PL) Travers (her father's first name) and writing eight Mary Poppins stories.
Walt Disney sought film rights to these as early as 1938, but remarkably was rebuffed by PL Travers who "did not believe film could do justice to her creation." She eventually relented – but only with unique script-approval rights included – and Disney's classic Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke was released in 1964.
Many researchers believe Helen Goff as PL Travers based her Mary Poppins on the benevolent Aunt Ellie who paid the rent for the Bowral home, and while living in Sydney, "always seemed to be on hand to fix things."
Now Southern Highland locals, business and civic groups are planning a week of festivities in mid-July to celebrate the 100th anniversary of when they believe Mary Poppins was first conceived as a "magical flying horse" on the night Helen Goff's mother attempted suicide.
Amongst them is 17 year old school student, Melissa McShane who has spent five years with her father Paul, a Southern Highlands businessman, researching the life and times of Helen Goff as she evolved into PL Travers.
Melissa has also been one of the driving forces to have a statue erected in Bowral in honour of the writer – and remarkably has won permission from the family of the late British sculptor Sean Crampton to use drawings he had made for a sculpture of the super-nanny in New York (and which never went ahead because of a lack of funds,) to be erected in Bowral.
It will cost around $60,000 and will be placed at the town's Bradman Oval, as coincidentally the cricketing great as a schoolboy lived just a few houses from young Helen Goff in Holly Street.
When it all comes about, it will be, as Mary Poppins would doubtless have observed herself, "practically perfect."
 BOWRAL student Melissa McShane as Mary Poppins (photo courtesy Corinne Dany Photography & Design www.corinnedany.com)
 AUTHOR PL Travers (Helen Goff) reviews the script for Disney's 1964 movie based on her Mary Poppins books
 HELEN Goff watches her younger sisters in the creek behind their Bowral home – where Mary Poppins first evolved
 BRITISH sculptor Sean Crampton's design for a Mary Poppins' statue for New York – now Bowral may get it after the New York venture fell through
June 21, 2010
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that a Sydney café touted as having this month created the world's largest hamburger, may not have the record in the bag (or the box) after all…
The husband and wife team at the café, in suburban Randwick made the meat "pattie" for their gargantuan burger from 84kg of mince bound together by 120 eggs, put it in a "bun" made up of 21kg of dough, and garnished the lot with 16 tomatoes, 120 slices of cheese, a couple of kilos of lettuce and a bucket of barbecue sauce.
But its been revealed that last month in Toronto, Canadian celebrity TV chef Ted Reader who hosts cooking show King of the Q, created a burger that left this seeming monster in the shade: his effort scaled-in at a whopping 200kg nestled in a "bun" that weighted a-near 50kg.
Chef Reader – promoted as Canada's "barbecue guru" – took six hours with a crew of ten helpers to grill his mammoth burger in Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square, topping it off with 20kg of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and sauce.
After completing their calorie-laden spectacular that weighed a total 265kg (590-pounds,) Ted Reader and his team cut it up and sold portions to an admiring crowd – raising $8,500 on-the-spot for a camping program for children suffering burns injuries.
June 18, 2010
As the first pods of humpback whales enter Queensland waters on their 2010 migration, the vessels in the Hervey Bay whale watch fleet are preparing to welcome the barnacled beauties back to their favoured holiday destination.
There's no watching the whales pass by at Hervey Bay. The experience is totally "up close and personal" and it all takes place in sheltered waters, not the open sea.
A whale watch encounter in Hervey Bay is time spent with the whales at play, its the joy of having a new mum trust the fleet enough to bring her baby over to the boat, and its cheering as friendly youngsters perform for their audience and show off newly crafted acrobatic skills.
The 10 operators in the Hervey Bay fleet offer a selection of whale encounters ranging from short and sweet half day tours to leisurely full day sailing experiences. And for those with extra time, there are extended packages available showcasing the region's other natural wonders such as Fraser Island and Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
Nature also value-adds to the whale cruises with sightings of other marine life – dolphins, turtles, seabirds and often dugongs, all residents in the waters of Platypus Bay on the north-western end of Fraser Island where the whales take their annual vacation.
Visitors arriving early in July can join a Whalesong Cruises "Whale Search" cruises for the chance to see some of the first whales to enter the Bay. Or later in the month they can choose from morning and afternoon cruises. A selection of extended packages are also available including a Fraser and Whales Superticket combining a whale watch cruise and a Fraser Island Company full day Fraser Island Safari; a Fraser Hummer Whales Package including whale watching and an island tour for a maximum of four people in a Fraser Island Company Hummer; and the 3 in 1 Eco Package including a Fraser Island tour, whale watching and a day tour to Lady Elliott island where you can swim and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.
Hervey Bay Whale Watch's 'no frills but lots of thrills' cruises on the red rigid inflatable "That's Awesome" are available for dawn (7am-10am), day (10.30am-1.30pm) and dusk (2.30pm-5.30pm) patrols. From the same fleet, the larger Quick Cat II offers two cruises daily, a 7am departure and a 1pm departure. They also offer a Superpass including a morning whale watch, light breakfast, morning and afternoon tea and ranger-guided nature walk on Fraser Island. Kingfisher Resort Whale Watch Cruise guests also travel on Quick Cat II.
Tasman Venture Whale Watching and Spirit of Hervey Bay Whale Watching Cruises half-day tours depart at 8.30am and 1.30pm. Spirit also offers Sunshine Coast departures for the whale watch cruises, and a Whales and Fraser Island Adventure Ticket including a full day Fraser Island Explorer Tour and a half day whale watch cruise. The luxurious Freedom Whale Watch III offers ¾ day cruises, as does Mikat Whale Cruises, fresh from a refit earlier in the year.
For a more leisurely experience, Shayla Sailing Cruises and Blue Dolphin Marine Tours offer full day sailing and whale watching experiences with morning, afternoon tea and lunches included.
Adult, concession, child and family packages are available on all cruises and the season runs from late July through to November. For more information on cruises and accommodation packages visit www.whalesherveybay.com.au
Qantaslink offers daily flights between Brisbane and the Fraser Coast. www.qantas.com.au
Virgin Blue flies direct to Hervey Bay from Sydney with connections from other ports. www.virginblue.com.au
QR Tilt Train packages from Brisbane to Hervey Bay start at $74 per person one way. www.tilttrain.com.au
For more information on the Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast visit www.queenslandholidays.com.au
June 11, 2010
IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis warns: don't tell Mr Rudd, but New Zealand has found a cheap and easy way of detaining a record number of prisoners it can't fit into its over-crowded gaols.
Its building inexpensive, transportable prisons out of old shipping containers.
And while civil libertarians are aghast, NZ prison authorities point out that tens of thousands of the 12m by 2.4m containers are already being used around the world for everything from houses and holiday homes in the South Pacific and Hawaii, to offices, shops and even restaurants in Europe, the United States, China and, yes, Australia.
And more-imaginative owners and architects have even piled then several rows high in Europe to make elaborately shaped blocks of "flats" in cities, or square and more simple shapes in remote mining, logging and other regional areas.
New Zealand's Corrections Minister, Judith Collins says the old containers can be moved around the country as needed, with each container having three cells that each accommodates two prisoners.
"If they can be made into nice homes that are warm in winter and cool in summer, they can obviously be made into very good prison cells," she says, noting that they are strong, weatherproof and even salt-water proof.
And while civil libertarians liken them to "inhumanely putting people into tin cans," Ms Collins had the last word.
"Prisons are not holiday camps. Crime is voluntary, and if people want to commit crime, then there is going to be a response, And that response may very well be prison."
June 07, 2010
Image: Death at a Funeral (c) Parabolic Pictures Inc.
IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says a man in New Zealand has had a stop put to several months of free lunches.
From March until a couple of weeks ago the man dined free at least four days a week. And not at restaurants, his club or even charity soup kitchens – but by gate-crashing wakes following funerals.
Staff of a Wellington funeral firm noted his regular appearance at several funerals in one week earlier this year, and after spotting him at least three times in another week photographed him and sent the photo to other branches of the company – where those staff, too, quickly recognised him as a "regular" at their funerals and wakes as well.
And he made the mistake last month of not being content with quietly trawling the tables at one wake, but pulling a plastic container from a backpack and filling it with some of the culinary offerings.
Dubbed "The Grim Eater" he was always well-dressed, courteous and engaged with relatives and other mourners in paying their respects in church and at an estimated 120 subsequent wakes.
After his plastic container mistake he was finally taken aside and told that while he was welcome to attend the funerals, he could not attend the wakes – and he's not been seen since.
WOE betide any winemaker outside the Champagne region of France who makes a drop of bubbly and labels it "Champagne."
Because the word "Champagne" is registered under the Protected Designation of Origin Food Name laws of the European Union, regulations that are strictly-enforced to protect the reputation of regional foods from competition by possibly inferior non-regional products.
We tend to blame the French for inspiring these laws in the early 1990s, and the big penalties they incur if breached. But as far back as the 1950s Europe had laws protecting the naming of cheeses from regional areas of Austria, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. And yes, France.
And today the Protected Origin Food Name laws range to most countries of the EU, embracing an almost bizarre coterie of food and drink from British Melton Mowbray pork pies, Stilton cheese and Newcastle Brown Ale, to Italian Gorgonzola blue vein cheese, Lubecker Marzipan from Germany, Austrian Marchfeldspargel asparagus, Polish Oscypek smoked sheep's milk cheese and Kashubian garden strawberries, French Camembert de Normandie, and numerous varieties of deli meats, fruits, vegies and even breads.
And just joining the list is, of all things, rhubarb. Not any old rhubarb, but British Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb from the so-called Rhubarb Triangle, a 23 square km area bounded by Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in West Yorkshire, and revered by devotees as akin to Rhubarb Heaven.
My good mate and fellow travel writer and broadcaster at Port Macquarie in NSW, Malcolm Andrews mentioned this when recently discussing unusual fairs and markets that could be visited in the UK.
His interest was that his dad was Chief Construction Engineer on the vast Snowy Mountains Scheme in the middle of the last century, and as a teenager Malcolm spent his week-days at a boarding school in Cooma, going home to Cabramurra (two hours drive away) at weekends.
"They were some of the most miserable years of my life," he recalls. "Particularly the lumpy porridge that began the day, stale sandwiches at lunchtime, dinners of almost inedible stews.
"And the vilest stewed rhubarb and insipid custard. It turned my stomach, and half a century later I still can't stand the sight or smell of stewed rhubarb."
But ever a dedicated scribe, Malcolm followed through on Yorkshire's Forced Rhubarb going onto the list of Protected Origin Food Name products – and even intends to one day visit the annual Rhubarb Triangle Festival and Farmer's Market held every February in Wakefield.
And he'll do the tour of the forcing sheds, the walk around the rhubarb gardens, and test his stomach to see if it's up to watching a rhubarb cooking demonstration (revealing dedication above and beyond the call of duty.)
Rhubarb actually originated in the cold, wet climes of Siberia, and when introduced to England several centuries ago flourished in the area bounded by Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield – four times the size of today's Rhubarb Triangle.
In the 1800s farmers within the Triangle began force-feeding their rhubarb crops in the field with horse manure and human waste, as well as spoil from the many surrounding woollen mills, and after two years would move the plants into heated unlit sheds.
In the dark and warmth, the vast carbohydrates stored in the rhubarb's roots transformed into glucose and the plants flourished into massive yet tender and flavoursome crops that were picked by candlelight, so as not to interfere with the peace of those plants still growing.
Every Christmas an amazing 200 tonnes a day would be sent to London's Convent Garden Markets, and more extraordinarily at one stage to Paris on special express trains.
Thankfully today's Rhubarb Triangle farmers use more modern – and certainly hygienic – means to fertilise their crops in the field, and later in their forced-growing sheds, although the tradition of candelight is still used during harvesting.
And Janet Oldroyd Hulme who conducts tours of the Rhubarb Triangle, swears that so successful are today's Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb farmers, "that in the pitch-dark hothouses, you can almost hear their rhubarb growing…"
FOOTNOTE: A "Yorkshire Rhubarb Crumble and Custard" garden won the public vote for Best Small Garden at last month's Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Have a look at www.yorkshire.com if you're inspired to visit the Rhubarb Triangle and February Festival and Markets.
 YORKSHIRE rhubarb – two years in the field before going into the forcing sheds.
 IN the forcing sheds the stored carbohydrates produce massive plants that are mostly tender, flavoursome stalks with few leaves.
 A resultant latticed rhubarb pie
 SIGN proclaiming Yorkshire's reputation as the world's leader in forced rhubarb production.