May 22, 2009


Fisherman might be nervous, but Eco-Tourism is the industry cheering-on the declaration of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone this week. The declaration is seen as the first step towards the creation of the most significant marine park on the planet.

This has the potential to foster growth of sustainable tourism and establish tourism connectivity which is a major opportunity for Australia in the middle to long term.

“I fully support the Australian government in taking such a pro-active and far-reaching decision,” said eco-tourism industry pioneer, Mr Tony Charters.

“Too often we see government stepping in after damage has been done, in an effort to repair environmental areas. Through taking the initiative to create the Coral Sea Conservation Zone the government is taking a pro-active position to protect this near-pristine marine environment.”

Mr Charters will convene the Global-Eco Asia Pacific Tourism conference later this year on behalf of Eco-tourism Australia, to be attended by industry leaders in this sector of tourism. Reef tourism and its connection to the Coral Triangle will be one of the key agendas.

The new conservation zone links Australia to its south-east Asian neighbours in a direct and influential way – which can only be good for ecotourism.

“The recent announcement of international co-operation to increase protection of the Coral Triangle by the six South East Asian countries responsible for it, is also very heartening, and managing tourism operations in these fragile and sensitive areas is a very important issue that will be discussed at the Global-Eco conference.”

The Coral Triangle stretches from the waters west of Malaysia to Fiji and includes critical Australian waters now incorporated into the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. While the initiative comes from a conservation perspective it has equal benefits for tourism.

“There are many natural and cultural heritage linkages within the Coral Triangle not the least of which include the ancient trade linkages that were formed through these waters, the WWII history and the reef and marine systems. These values will directly benefit Australia’s tourism industry through building stronger links with our south-east Asian neighbours,” said Mr Charters.

Mr Charters also applauded the notion of having a Coral Sea Marine Park linking up with the existing Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“Linking the potential Coral Sea marine park with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park would make a meaningful difference to the region’s ability to plan, respond and adapt to climate change”.

Often billed as the Serengeti of the Sea the Coral Sea is a spectacular rich and varied marine habitat critical for species such as tuna, sharks, turtles that are seriously depleted around the world.

May 18, 2009


david ellis

CLOSE to a million people a year visit the replica of Shakespeare's old Globe Theatre in London's Thames-side Southwark, either to just gawk or to take-in a performance.

Probably only a few ever ponder its history, one that's as contorted as anything the Bard himself could have penned – and he was certainly no slouch when it came to matters of intrigue.

That history goes back nearly four-and-a-half centuries to 1576 when the forerunner to the original Globe Theatre was built in nearby Shoreditch by actor-entrepreneur James Burbage, who uninspiringly for an actor simply called it the Theatre.

Shakespeare was one of its early troupe of resident actors called The Chamberlain's (later The King's) Men; the Theatre flourished for twenty years until Burbage died in 1597, and the owner of the site grabbed it in lieu of alleged unpaid land rent.

The King's Men moved to another playhouse, and between Christmas and New Year's Eve 1598, doubtless fuelled by voluminous good cheer and with the landowner at his up-country estate, moved-in and demolished the Theatre.

They stored the pieces for a year before rebuilding it in Southwark as The Globe, with the deceased Burbage's sons selling shares in the new enterprise: Shakespeare who was now both a writer and actor for The Globe, bought 12.5%.

Actors had an enormous work-load, some memorising 5000 lines covering thirty parts for a different play for every day of the week, except Sundays, Christmas and Lent which they got off.

And as most of the public at the time could neither read nor write, a black flag would fly over the roof of The Globe signifying a tragedy was being performed that day, a white flag for a comedy, and a red one for an historical play.

Then during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry the Eighth in 1613 the audience got more for their entry Penny than they'd expected: a stage cannon set fire to the thatch roof, and The Globe burned to the ground.

A replacement theatre was built on the site, but soon after England's Puritan Parliament ordered its demolition and its foundations buried to remove all traces of The Globe, slamming it as "a very great annoyance to noblemen and gentlemen, with all manner of vagrants and lewd persons attending, and with drums and trumpets greatly disturbing ministers and parishioners at Divine Service."

It appeared The Globe theatre had finally succumbed forever, but fast-forward 300-years to the 1960s, and not to an Englishman but to an American Shakespearean actor and movie director, Sam Wanamaker who embarked on a twenty year campaign to have a new Globe Theatre rise in London.

Wanamaker's research put the foundations of The Globe under a derelict brewery, warehouse and row of brothels ear-marked by the London Council for demolition.

But the Council had little interest in Wanamaker's idea of a new Globe rising on the historic site, preferring instead a slab of concrete the size of a football field for a garbage recycling plant.

Wanamaker persevered with his campaign to have the Council reverse its decision, and during this time found parts of the original Globe Theatre under an adjacent Heritage listed house – which the Council again put off-limits to him because of its Heritage listing.

Eventually he won his fight with a new Council giving the go-ahead for the new Globe Theatre, rather than a recycling plant, to rise 230-metres from the original; sadly Wanamaker died four years before the Queen officially opened it in 1997.

And like the original, the remarkable 'O' shaped building is made of oak without a single bolt or nail in it, everything instead being mortised and dowelled, with walls of original-style lime plaster over oak lathe-and-staff, and  a thatch roof.

The stage extends from the rear of the 'O' with a pit area before it in which "groundlings" (dubbed "stinkards" on hot days in Shakespeare's time) stand during performances, while there are also three levels of seating galleries.

But the new theatre holds only 1700 compared with the original's 3000; regular tours include a Shakespeare Exhibition, a history of the original Globe, and another of the infamous inns, 'stews' (brothels,) bear-baiting and pit-dog fighting arenas that once surrounded it.

Travel agents can include tours or performances in UK packages.


[] THE new Globe Theatre: a garbage recycling plant had been planned on the historic site amid London suburbia.

[] A SHAKESPEAREAN performance inside the new Globe.

STRUTH with david ellis


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS finds that between them, every fortnight the fifty aircraft of Australia's Royal Flying Doctor Service fly the equivalent of a return trip to the Moon. 

And on an average day, their onboard medical crews treat 717 patients, hold 39 clinics and evacuates 99 emergency patients.

All this of course doesn't come cheap: it costs $180m a year to run the service, the money coming from Federal, State and Territory governments, commercial contracts, private donations, philanthropic grants, private trusts, events and fundraising. 

If you'd like to help towards this with a donation, or get  more information, contact Deb Hunt, RFDS (02) 9941 8888 or or visit 

WING-NOTE: AN early flying doctor at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory always carried a bag of old bolts with him, and when returning from the Outback with a patient would fly directly over the local mission station hospital... the number of bolts he dropped on the hospital roof would let the duty matron know whether the incoming patient needed a car or an ambulance to get to the hospital from the airstrip, and the kind of attention - from minor to major - they were going to require. 

The mission station is still there, complete with the thousands of dings in its corrugated iron roof.

May 11, 2009

STRUTH! Pack your Pooch with Pet Airways

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS finds that when an American couple, Dan Wiesel and Alysa Binder couldn't find an airline that could assure 100% safety and comfort for their pet Jack Russell terrier, Zoe in the cargo compartments of planes when they went on holidays, they went out and leased a Beechcraft 1900 turboprop to do the job for them.

But now it's not just for Zoe: when they mentioned what they were planning to friends and business associates, Dan and Alysa got so much response they turned their holiday with Zoe into a full-time business: Pet Airways that will carry pets-only to join their owners on vacation.

Initially they'll be servicing New York City, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles from July, but plan more cities for their pampered "Pawsengers" that are carried in what's normally the Beechraft's pressurised passenger compartment, with seats and overhead lockers removed.

Holidaymakers fly on regular airlines, and their pets follow aboard Pet Airways in carriers supplied by their owners to ensure both owners and pets are happy with the way their dogs and cats travels.

And pets are offered drinks in the Paws Lodge before flights, staff ensure that pets relieve themselves before boarding, and a "Pet Attendant" travels with them so they're not distressed while flying.

Did someone say "only in America…."


david ellis

WHEN travel agent Jenny Williams sets off for a cruise with one of her regular groups of mature-age singles travellers, she goes with a Be Prepared attitude worthy of the finest in the Scouting movement.

Because amongst the many accoutrements a good travel agent always has tucked away in their travel bag, Jenny also has a few dozen pairs of industrial-strength ear-plugs – and a roll of yellow ribbon.

A travel agent specialising largely in the cruise market for some 38-years, Jenny in more recent times has been putting together and escorting group-cruise holidays for singles in the 45-to-65 age group, and sometimes even a tad older.

"I love travelling with them because they're mature, love life and have fun – and they're too old to be head-bangers, and too young to qualify for the blue rinse set," she says of her clients, who come from all walks of life: professionals, office workers, farmers, retirees, once an aircraft salesman and another time a Qantas pilot.

"Some are divorcees, some have lost a partner, some have simply never married and enjoy travelling in the company of others – we even have some who come with us because their partners don't want to cruise," Jenny says.

Her cruises have been mainly to the South Pacific and Asia, and while she normally takes around thirty singles, last February she merged her group with another group of 250 holidaymakers a fellow agent had organised aboard Sun Princess for 13-nights to New Zealand.

Jenny gets as much information as she can about each of her cruise-goers so she can match them as best as possible with those of the same sex to share cabins. "Best of all, as they're sharing they're not having to pay those dreaded single supplements," she says.

"Where I can, I organise for those from different capitals cities to meet together before we sail so they get to know something of each other… quite often its at these gatherings that they find out who have common interests and decide whom they might like to share with.

"It usually works out very well – but of course there's always the odd reason for those ear-plugs, and everyone says they in fact work really well!"

Jenny says the death of Diane Brimble on an Australian cruise ship in 2002 gave her business a bit of a jolt. "What happened to poor Diane saw bookings for singles simply melt away, but if anything when the shock wore off we rebounded stronger than ever – I think because of our being organised and escorted aspect."

Currently she's putting together a group to join a 14-day "Cruise, Blues & Rock & Roll" tour to New Zealand aboard Dawn Princess in February next year. "This is right into our age group, with music of our era performed by such Australian greats as James Reyne, Joe Camilleri, Russel Morris, Lisa Edwards and Mike Brady and Band," she says.

And in July 2010 she's booked space for an Aussie singles group for a 17-night luxury cruise aboard Dawn Princess again, this time from New York to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, Mexico and Los Angeles.

"I don't hold clients' hands," Jenny says. "While we have dinner together every night as a group, I leave them to do their own shore excursions, shopping and socialising by day, but am always there on board as a 'friendly face' if they have a query or need."

And while she says these aren't "view mat" ("view to matrimony") cruises, she's had two weddings result from her cruises, and says two other couples are now in permanent relationships.

Which brings us to that roll of yellow ribbon she always carries with her. "Yes, sometimes those of the opposite sex do find each other attractive during a cruise, and discover they might want to spend some more-personal time together.

"So if you come back to your cabin one day and find who you are sharing with has borrowed a bit of my yellow ribbon and tied it to the door handle, its a signal for you to go and have a drink and come back later!!!"

To learn more of Jenny's upcoming group cruises for singles, or individual cruise itineraries, phone Delphinus Cruises on (03) 9783 5119 or check-out


[] JENNY Williams: "Mature age singles are fun to travel with… too old to be head-bangers, and too young for the blue rinse set."

May 09, 2009

STRUTH! That's a ton o' tucker

IN HIS CONTINUING SEARCH FOR THE WORLD'S MORE WEIRD, WHACKY AND UNUSUAL, DAVID ELLIS has found that the sea certainly does appear to give holidaymakers something of an extra in the way of appetites.

On an average South Pacific or New Zealand cruise, passengers and crew on P&O's Pacific Sun chomp and slurp their way through 80 tonnes of food and drink, including 50,000 eggs, a tonne of bacon, 2.8 tonnes of chicken, 2.5 of rice, 1.5 of pineapples, a tonne of lettuce, 375kg of coffee, 5000 litres of milk and 7500 tea bags.

Then there's the few tonnes of beef, nearly as much lamb and veal, a tonne or so of fish, potatoes by the truckload, enough soup to fill a milk tanker, more fresh fruit and vegies to cut up than you'd like to think about, and enough breakfast cereals to keep the average family regular for a year.

And to clean the 13,000 plates, 10,000 glasses and 15,000 pieces of cutlery needed to down all this every day, a bank of 29 dishwashers is in service almost around the clock.

Struth! A Night in the Dungeon

Malmaison Prison Hotel Oxford

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says you can now sentence yourself to a night in a centuries-old prison in the grounds of William the Conqueror’s circa 1071 castle in Oxford. The Malmaison Hotel has 94 suites that have each been created by knocking out the inner walls of three former prison cells in the defunct gaol, making sleeping quarters in two of them and a separate ensuite in the third; the hotel has a bar, brasserie and plenty of 4-star facilities. And old lags who once did time here would doubtless get a chuckle out of knowing that guests who decide to lock themselves up for a night's prison experience – doors to suites are the original heavy steel jobs and there are still bars on the windows – pay $347 a night for the privilege. For a bit extra there’s the “Guvnor’s House” that has four-poster beds and a mini-cinema; if you want to do time here, see travel agents.

STRUTH ! Tree Mail

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS finds South Africa's postal service began 150 years before European settlement of the country – and that the first letter "posted" there was literally given the boot.

It was back in 1500 when ships of many nations were stopping off in what is now South Africa to take-on water and whatever food they could barter, that a Portuguese bloke came up with the idea of putting mail for delivery back home, or from whence they'd recently come, in an old seaman's boot under a tree in what is now Mossel Bay; ships heading in the opposite direction would clear the boot and deliver its contents to the countries to which it was addressed

The first letter left this way by Pedro de Aitade, a naval commander, was addressed to the King of Portugal. It was found a year later in the boot by the Third East India Fleet, and doing the right thing, they had it delivered to Portugal and the King.

Today a large stone replica of the original boot stands on de Aitade's original boot site – 509 years after he left the first letter there in 1500 – and mail posted in this boot-shaped Post Box is franked "Post Office Tree Mossel Bay."


david ellis

MOST hail it China's greatest building job since the Great Wall was started in the 7th century BC and took two-thousand years to finish.

But while the Three Gorges Dam has so far taken just fifteen years of hard yakka and has another two to go, it's also attracted its fair share of doomsayers, self-anointed structural genii and general ratbags.

A massive 2km-wide barrier of steel and concrete across the great Yantze River in China's south-east, the dam has already cost over AU$50-billion and will soak up another $10b before doing everything its being built to do: generate a whopping 22,500MW of electricity, control flooding in the lower Yangtze in wetter months, and release water to these areas in drier times.

In the process of building this gargantuan wall that's 101-metres high, 115 through at its base and twice as wide as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and its approaches are long, over 1.24 million people had to be re-located to newly-created towns and cities as their original communities slowly drowned under a spreading 23-trillion litres of water.

And thousands of cultural and historical relics were also moved to the safety of higher ground – while one 200-year old temple and a rare, attached 9-storey wooden pavilion had another dam built around them, leaving them sitting on what's now an island within the growing 1000-sq kilometre reservoir.

The doomsayers and their hangers-on have been having a field day knocking all this, pointing out that 1300 archaeological sites have been lost forever under the dam's 100-metre deep waters, and claiming that with the pressure of so much water behind it, the dam will one day burst like an over-ripe lychee and wipe out millions living along the Yangtze below it.

Or that in a good earthquake the whole lot will come tumbling down with the same catastrophic results, while Siberan Crane will lose their winter-holiday wetlands on the Yangtze, the river's population of indigenous sturgeon will be virtually wiped out by human intervention in the natural flow of the river, and that its dolphin population will go the same way.

The idea of a dam across the Yangzte is nothing new: Sun Yat-sen, the "Father of Modern China" first came up with the idea in 1919, twenty years later the Japanese invaded China and drew up plans for a Yangtze Dam, America also thought about one at War's end, and in 1949 when the Communists took over China they also got their engineers to mull over the idea.

But it wasn't until 1992 that work finally started on the Three Gorges Dam.

As well as river-flow control, the 32 massive generators in the biggest hydro power-station in the world will produce a third more electricity than the combined output of every power station in NSW. This alone is expected to save over 100-million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year from China's notorious coal-fired power-stations, while by controlling river flows and depth, shipping costs on the Yangtze have been reduced by 25% and river freight capacity increased six times.

And interestingly it's created a whole new industry: river-cruising, with around a dozen tourist-ships now operating on the Yangtze. One international company, Viking River Cruises sails 12- to 17-night luxury cruises between Shanghai and Beijing, including with some voyages, side-flights to see the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors.

These cruises offer a chance to see vast areas of China up-close and personal with daily shore excursions to cultural, historic and religious sites, a local zoo to see the pandas, modern shopping centres contrasting with village markets, and a school sponsored by Viking Cruise Lines at which the kids sing Chinese songs and encourage visitors to put on their own impromptu singalong of national anthems or folk-songs.

Our Jolly Swagman usually gets a good work-out.

There's also an inspection of the dam and the locks that move vessels 100-metres between the lower Yangtze and its upper reaches behind the dam.

Viking's guest suites have balconies, dining is exceptional with a mix of Western and Chinese cuisines, there's an Observation Lounge and Bar, Sundeck and Bar, gym and onboard entertainment.

For fly/cruise details on Viking Century Sun's cruises on the Yangtze being sold exclusively to Australian guests, phone Cruiseco on 1800 225 656 or visit


[] CHINA'S Three Gorges Dam – biggest building job since the Great Wall

[] LOCKS raise and lower freighters and cruise ships over 100m between the  Lower Yangtze and the Upper Yangtze behind the dam

[] VIKING River Cruises' Royal Viking Sun amid China's spectacular Three Gorges

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