August 25, 2008


frank linn and david ellis

Trust the travel guides, the websites or the brochures? Frank Linn, David Ellis and some mates explored New Zealand's Wellington, based solely on the recommendations of mates who reckoned they knew it. Could they be trusted?

Where to eat and drink, what to see and where to stay were the key questions. So we decide to live dangerously and see how their recommendations pan out.

Recommendation 1: Lodgings. Something central, easy walking distance to everything, and "good value." They all suggest the Novotel. We book, getting one of Accor's weekend deals; it's only a few blocks to the waterfront and shops so we're off to a good start.

Recommendation 2: Te Papa Museum on the waterfront. Perfect because it's  bucketing down and we need somewhere to hide. Here's a fabulous insight into New Zealand's geography, history and peoples.  We weren't told, though, about the The Brewery Bar 50 metres away: a self-discovered gem.

Recommendation 3: Dinner, and its Saturday night. On the list are Logan Brown, Floriadata, Matterhorn, Juniper, Concrete, Martin Bosley – and the "cheap and cheerful" Momma's Kitchen which is what the wallet dictates: Sorry, Momma's doesn't take bookings and there's a 40-minute wait. Floriadata, a smart, buzzy sort of place is next, but it too doesn't take bookings and, as Kevin O7 would say, Do You Know What? A 45 minute wait. Cold and wet, we stumble into La Casa for some home-style Italian fare. It's not on the list but their lasagna's big and with the salad and a Pinot Noir hits the spot.

Recommendation 4: Breakfast at Pravda. But it's not open Sundays! Thanks. Ever resourceful we lurch on and discover Lido in the City Square that comes up trumps.  (We finally make brekkie at the Leninist-themed, minimalist Pravda a few days later, and it proves most worthwhile.)

Recommendation 5:  Start the day with the cable-car from Lambton Quay, close to the Novotel, to the top of the city, then a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. Vote? Thumbs up.

Recommendation 6: Hire a car from Europcar at the airport for the 70-something k's to quaint and gourmet Greytown and check out the pub and the chocolate shop. The pub is great for lunch with exceptional local food and wines enjoyed on the sunny verandah. And the building's something of an original take-away: it got there by truck from Wellington.  At Schoc Chocolate we sample chilli chocolate, chive, lemongrass, rosemary and herb and sea salt chocolate.  Top marks, and purchases made.

Recommendation 7. Motor on to vineyard country and stay at the two-storey colonial-style Martinborough Hotel, dine in their award-winning restaurant, play some snooker in the Whiskey bar, and have a beer with the locals. It's Sunday evening, so the restaurant's closed, the snooker table has made way for more restaurant tables due to Chef's expanding reputation, but the bar's open and serves a light meal. The upstairs high-ceiling bedrooms (claw-foot bath, tasteful decor, wide balcony) are superb, as is breakfast the next day. Worth visiting – and we get in at around half price this Sunday night via a last- minute hotel website (and despite what the website says, the restaurant is open.)

Final Recommendation 8: Back in Wellington, take a spin along the sea-level Scenic Route around the headlands west of the city, the beaches and the cute timber residences (occupied both by weekenders and commuters) hugging the base of the cliffs. An easy, gorgeous drive made all the more pleasant by a flat sea and relatively clear sky; give this a tick.

And while on the road, we're advised, check the Chocolate Fish Café and the bar in the timber-clad Maranui Surf Life Saving Club. And do you know what? Chocolate Fish is no more and the surf club stops serving at 5pm; a pity because it seemed warm and friendly.

We drive on and find La Bach café/bar. A perfect setting for a cleansing pilsner and a cool Sauvignon Blanc. But do you know what? Sorry, we're waiting on our liquor licence! So we head off over the hills and find ourselves in Cuba Street where we successfully become the night's first patrons at the Floriadata .Very good indeed.

(IF you don't have any friends able to share their experiences of Wellington, go onto


August 18, 2008


david ellis

WHEN mining engineer George Pilz heard in the 1880s of gold to be found in the mountains that tumbled down to the sea around what was to eventually become known as Alaska's Inside Passage, he had no intention of hiking into such inhospitable terrain himself.

Instead he sat back in his office and put out word that if any of the local Indians could bring gold to him, he would reward them for their finds... and come to a deal on searching for more of this white man's treasure that the locals appeared to see little value in.

Some weeks later a chief named Kowee arrived on Mr Pilz' doorstep in Alaska's then-capital Sitka, and showed him a pouch-full of small nuggets recovered from a stream on the mainland opposite Mr Pilz' Baranof Island.

Getting excited, George Pilz hired several itinerant prospectors to go off with Chief Kowee in the hope they could find his El Dorado.

Sadly for him, his prospectors were more interested in hooch than hiking the rugged mountains, and swapped most of the food and fossicking supplies he'd given them, for the local firewater produced by tribes they met along the way… returning to Baranof Island with the news that if there was gold, there wasn't much of it.

Mr Pilz was pondering his next move when Chief Kowee once again turned up on his doorstep, insisting gold was to be found if the right people were sent to find it.

This time George Pilz hired two respected prospectors named Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, and with Chief Kowee they headed for what was to be dubbed Gold Creek – and at the head of this readily recovered handfuls of nuggets "the size of peas and beans."

An ecstatic George Pilz put a larger expedition together and within weeks word had spread south to the United States that there was gold for the taking in them thar Alaskan hills.

The Rush of 1880 was on.

A 65-hectare site was mapped out for a prospectors' camp-site at the foot of the mountains, and within a year this became the first new town to be founded in Alaska since it had been bought by America thirteen years earlier from Russia for a mere US$7.2m.

At first it was called Harrisburg after Richard Harris, but this was later changed to Juneau and quickly boomed with the explosion of one of the world's greatest gold rushes.

Soon mines replaced hand-fossicking the icy creeks and streams for the precious metal, and by the early 1900s more than fifty stamp mills were working around the clock pounding the resultant ore.

And while Alaska's capital was moved from Sitka on Baranof Island to Juneau, like all good things the gold boom ground to an end, although not until around 40-million ounces of the precious stuff had been recovered and with small amounts still being mined to this day.

Gold's demise, however, left Juneau anything but destitute: over 1-million tourists now flock into town each year, most of them by cruise ship between the warmer months of May and September. They visit the old gold mines and stamp mills, and gawk at the unbelievably spectacular scenery that includes the snow-capped and spruce-draped mountains, and the extraordinary Mendenhall Glacier that's over 2.5km wide, 30-metres high at its face and 16km long, and regularly sheds house-size chunks of ice to reveal its dramatic aqua/electric blue interior.

And there's excellent shopping, dining and museums, while Juneau's a treasure-trove of trivia: its one of the world's few capitals not to be served by road from the outside world, with all everyone and everything coming by sea or air.

Yet despite this it's actually got more vehicles than its 31,000 residents.

And amongst more important 'services' subsidised by the local government is the town brewery… while parts of the town itself actually sit on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold, because as it grew, it spread over many of the 'tailings' from the old mines.

Only problem is, to retrieve this fortune, Juneau would first have to be demolished.
(For information about visiting Juneau by cruise ship, local ferry or air, contact Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59 or



. JUNEAU – built on one of the world's greatest gold rushes

. HISTORIC AJ Gold Mine and stamp mills, one of over fifty that once flourished here and now a tourist attraction.

(photos: Alaska State Library)

August 17, 2008

Why I Love The Bali Writers Festival

Your body's just been pampered with a heavenly Balinese massage; now it's time to feed your mind with a talk by a famous author.. If you love Bali, and books, then the Ubud Readers And Writers Festival is a gift from the gods.

It's a chance to sip a fresh mango juice at a café overlooking a tranquil rice field, then wander down the road to mingle with literary types.
After an hour or two of workshops, debates, and lectures, it's probably time to find another café, tuck into some nasi goreng and continue talking about books with the friendly person you met at the last lecture.

The annual festival takes place each October in Ubud - Bali's cultural capital, in central Bali. Founded in 2004, the festival was dreamed up by Janet De Neefe, a Melbourne woman who moved to Ubud after falling in love with a Balinese man 24 years ago.

Janet herself is a best-selling author. Her book Fragrant Rice tells of her life with Ketut, with whom she has had four children, and the richness that Bali has brought to her life. (It's also peppered with recipes, as Janet is also a brilliant cook who runs several Ubud businesses, including two restaurants and a bakery.)

Deciding on the festival, said Janet, was "my way of bringing international visitors back here," after the Kuta bombing in October, 2002.

"The effect on our community at that time was enormous and Ubud suffered greatly," she explained. "Many people lost their jobs and for a long time a deep sadness prevailed.

After Fragrant Rice was published, she said, "I'd attended some writer's festivals and then it struck me; why not have one in Bali?"

"With its beautiful ricefields, tranquil surroundings, and wonderful guesthouses and hotels, I just knew Ubud would be an ideal venue."

She formed a committee of supporters, and got to work..

The week-long event begins impressively; with a feast, speeches, then a stunning Balinese dance held at the Ubud Palace. The next few days are a whirl of stimulating talks, food, and workshops, with visitors from Åustralia and across south-east Asia.

Former United Nations assistant secretary general, Shashi Tharoor and Man Booker prize winner Kiran Desai were two favourites at last year's festival. "It's so informal, you feel like you can wander up and ask these people questions without any sense of imposing on them," says Perth film-maker Melissa Hasluck. "I thought the festival was great."

I still have fond memories of the inaugural festival, when a small group of us signed up to join Tony Wheeler, the guru behind the Lonely Planet series, on a guided tour of Ubud. Through the ricefields we trekked, as Tony pointed out temples and other glorious landmarks. We then sat at a small restaurant and chatted about travel.

By day, Balinese volunteer drivers were on hand to whisk us from one venue to another.

A highlight for me was hearing a witty speech by festival regular Nury Vittachi, the Hong-Kong based author of the Feng Shui Detective series.

Inspired by his talk, I bought his book on the spot at the waiting trestle table and asked him to sign it.

We later bumped into each other at the beautiful Lotus Café, overlooking a sea of lotuses and an ancient temple. "Can I buy you a banana juice?" he said politely, as he and his three friends sat down. (Ubud's informality lends itself to this sort of thing.)

Nury, a veteran of many international writers festivals, was entranced by Ubud. "The local people I've met are so friendly and charming, and the children are gorgeous," he raved. "But I also find the expat community interesting. I can see how Bali has seduced them to stay indefinitely."

All the visitors I spoke to agreed they'd loved their week at the festival. Some of us stayed at five star hotels, while those on a budget were content to enjoy the charm of inexpensive home-stays. As ever, the meals were delicious and inexpensive. Aside from the festival, I managed to squeeze in some cycling through nearby villages, whitewater rafting and a stroll through the ricefields.

Try to allow enough room in your suitcase to amass a few treats; I flew home with not just a new Balinese painting, but an armload of books from my newfound friends..


For details visit website


david ellis

AUSTRALIA's playing host over the next few months to one of our most  unusual maritime visitors, the diminutive 6,800 tonne MV Doulos that's the world's oldest active ocean-going passenger ship.

And while several hundred thousand of us will go aboard for a bit of a sticky-beak as she works her way from Brisbane to Fremantle between now and November, it's unlikely that any more than a handful – if even that – will take up an invitation to sail on her.

That's because this classic little liner, that was originally launched as a freighter in 1914, is no longer a cruise ship – she's the world's biggest floating book fair from which have been sold more than 15-million books in 20 years, providing funds to allow her to give away many more times that number to worthy causes.

Owned and operated by Germany's non-profit charity GBA Ships e.V,  Doulos plies the oceans of the world to distribute books and literature resources to the under-privileged, provide medical aid, distribute food and clothing, help with construction projects, encourage inter-cultural understanding, and enthuse young people into becoming more effective in life and service.

And while a major task is to also spread the message of Christianity, Doulos' 330  volunteer crew and staff – from her Australian Captain, Ashley McDonald through to her doctor, engineers, radio operators, seamen, cooks, waiters and laundrymen – do so without "Bible bashing"  those they come in contact with.

Doulos was built as the cargo ship Medina in Newport News, USA in 1914 and worked the American coast over the next 34-years, being sold then to a Panamanian company that converted her into a 1000-passenger ship re-named Roma to ferry pilgrims from South America to Italy and back for the 1950 Roman Catholic Holy Year.

Afterwards Roma brought migrants from Europe to Australia, but that short career ended abruptly when she was arrested in Newcastle and laid-up for a year over a dispute about bills.

When finally released she was bought by Italy's Costa Line and re-named Franca C to carry holidaymakers between Italy and Argentina, before being remodeled yet again into a luxury First Class liner to ply the Mediterranean – and in the 1960s to pioneer the ultimately lucrative cruise market out of Miami, Florida.

She was sold by Costa in 1977 to Germany's charitable Good Books for All (subsequently renamed GBA Ships e.V.,) and this time re-named Doulos – Greek for "slave."

She's sailed over 350,000 nautical miles, and visited 600 ports in 100 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific. More than 20-million people have visited her library and shopped at her book fair, toured the ship, and enjoyed cultural performances and displays by her 40-nationality officers and staff who, while not doing voluntarily aid or construction work, do similar shows ashore for charities, elderly peoples' homes, schools and hospitals.

Captain McDonald, then an Australian Navy officer, and his wife Alison a speech therapist, met in Darwin and married in 1955. They were living in Fremantle when Doulos first visited there in 1999 and were amongst over 200,000 who toured this unique vessel during her first Australian tour – and a year later with a 21-months old daughter, accepted offers for Ashley to become volunteer 2nd Officer and Alison a voluntary speech therapist.

After four years aboard they returned to Fremantle where Ashley rose to Deputy Harbour Master, before in 2005 being invited to this time become Doulos' Captain.

"I didn't need to read that email," Alison recalls. "The look on Ashley's face told me everything." Captain McDonald tossed-in a 6-figure salary to work for free as Master of Doulos, while Alison abandoned her own career to once more work as a volunteer speech therapist on board and at ports they would visit.

Now, with three daughters, like all others aboard they not only work for free, but raise funds to support themselves and Doulos' running, charitable and religious work.

Although of the latter, as the Mayor of Catania in Italy says: "Those on Doulos don't speak about religion – they're an expression of it."

(DOULOS is in Brisbane until August 17, Sydney August 21 to September 8, Geelong September 11-29, Albany October 4-8 and Fremantle October 10-28; to visit phone Wilhelmsen Lines Australia (02) 9255 0800.)


DOULOS off Sydney Opera House on a previous visit in 1999.

BOOK a place – visitors to Doulos' vast library and book fair that sells and donates books to worthy causes.

Captain Ashley McDonald with Doulos in the background.

(Images: Michael Kenyon and GBA Ships e.V.)

August 11, 2008


John Crook & David Ellis

THE locals of the tiny western Victorian village of Moyston are wondering why if  they've been virtually forgotten in this the 150th year of Australian Rules football, even though it was in a paddock close to here that local Aboriginal children played a game destined to become the nation's Number One football code.

For they say many officials of today's game appear to have overlooked the role of these children and the game they called 'marngrook' that had them running, kicking and catching a ball made of a possum hide stuffed with feathers or charcoal.

The only white fella amongst the rough and tumble of those early games in the dust of the Wimmera, was a chap named Tom Wills: he spoke the local language, played their Aboriginal games with them on his father's cattle property called Lexington, and whilst he gets a few mentions in AFL circles, his role and that of his playmates appears today to have been largely ignored.

And this is despite the fact that Wills went on to join a committee that drew up the first rules of The Melbourne Football Club at a meeting in East Melbourne's Parade Hotel in May 1859, and to play for Melbourne and then Geelong, captaining both fledgling teams in 1859 and 1860 respectively.

And on one early occasion, with a lack of players and officials, he both played and umpired in the one match.

By October 1896 the Victorian Football League had been formed with eight teams on its books: Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda; within four years this had grown to twelve teams – often made up of first grade cricketers who used VFL to keep fit in winter – and in 1982 the South Melbourne Football Club relocated to Sydney to become the Sydney Swans.

By the late 1990s the game had spread nationally with teams in all mainland States and the name was changed from the Victorian Football League to the Australian Football League.

Which is why the townsfolk of Moyston had been expecting big things in this the year of AFL's 150th anniversary, with local songwriters putting words to music about Tom Wills and his town, and historians dusting off records of how the game has grown from the dust and the sounds of happy kids booting a rag-tag ball between the Moyston gum trees in those far-off days.

Sadly such recognition appears not to be on the horizon, even though most of the thousands of tourists who've passed through Moyston have stopped to pay homage to the game that was born here in the shadows of the Grampians.

But it's not been all muscle and testosterone that have helped the survival of this town: there's a small but growing cultural community of writers, poets and artists who have settled in the foothills of the local national park and display and sell their works in the town's only store and a number of galleries and studios.

There's also been a general increase in the local population, with the draw-card a lower cost of living, a quality country life-style and a close proximity to the larger towns of Stawell and Ararat, the latter just 15 kilometres away. 

Moyston is a cute little place with a smattering of houses, hobby farms and larger commercial holdings, a bluestone church, a general store, a couple of B&B's, and a collection of boutique wineries scattered amid the surrounding countryside.

Go visit, have a picnic on the grounds of the local football club, stroll through the rose gardens that are home to the memorial to Tom Wills and his Aboriginal mates, have a chat with the locals – and then drop a note to the AFL and reprimand them for ignoring this important little slice of their game's history.

After all it was Moyston that gave us 'footy,' which in 150 years has not just spread its wings Australia-wide, but has gone international and is now played in Canada, Japan and New Zealand.


Moyston is 239 kilometres north west of Melbourne
B&B accommodation includes Grochan Country Retreat Tel : (03) 5352 4797, and accommodation options in nearby Halls Gap range from backpacker facilities to the five-star Marwood Retreat.


. MEMORIAL to Tom Wills and his Aboriginal mates who used a stuffed possum hide ball to play 'marngrook,' the forerunner to today's AFL.

. RETREAT to the bush – part of the 5-star Marwood Retreat snuggled in the leafy Grampians.

. SLEEPY town: tiny Moyston is home to an active cultural community.

(Images: John Crook)

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