December 30, 2011

South Pacific in Film and Popular Culture

2003 film, The Stonecutter, was filmed on Moorea and
Tetiaroa in French Polynesia by Daniel Zirilli
by David Stanley,

Over the past eight decades the paradise isles of the legendary South Seas have provided a backdrop for many Hollywood productions. French Polynesia has been the most popular location by far, followed by Fiji and Samoa. Both Hollywood films set in Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal Diary (1943) starring Anthony Quinn and The Thin Red Line (1999), were about the Pacific War. Easter Island features in Kevin Costner’s Rapa Nui (1994) while The Other Side of Heaven (2002) deals with Mormon missionaries in Tonga.

The earliest Hollywood films about the South Pacific were based on Somerset Maugham's famous short story Rain about a hooker and the repressed missionary. Sadie Thompson (1928) with Gloria Swanson was a silent movie, while Rain (1932) is a talkie starring Joan Crawford. Return to Paradise (1953) with Gary Cooper movie was filmed entirely on the Samoan island of Upolu. Samoan Wedding (2007) about four Samoan guys rushing to find fiances before Sione’s wedding a month away is actually set in Auckland, New Zealand.

Pacific Harbor, Fiji, has been used as a movie location many times. His Majesty O'Keefe (1954) with Burt Lancaster, Nate and Hayes (1983) with Tommy Lee Jones, and Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) were all filmed there. Fiji is also the setting for a romantic tale of young castaways which has been filmed twice: The Blue Lagoon (1980) in the Yasawa Islands with Brooke Shields and Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991) on Taveuni with Milla Jovoich. Perhaps the most famous Fiji-related film is Cast Away (2000) which places Tom Hanks on uninhabited Monuriki Island in the Mamanuca Islands.

French Polynesia boasts a classic silent movie of its own, Tabu (1931), set on Bora Bora's barrier reef. Tahiti is famous for three films which pit Fletcher Christian against the tyrannical Captain Bligh: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, and The Bounty (1984) with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. More recently, The Stonecutter (2003) was filmed on Moorea and Tetiaroa by Daniel Zirilli. And the St. Regis Resort on Bora Bora was the setting for Couples Retreat (2009) with Vince Vaughn.

More information about all of the movies mentioned above, including DVD covers and online ordering links, is on South Pacific Films

December 29, 2011

History of New Years Eve in Times Square NYC

History of New Years Eve in Times Square, New York City


1904: The first-ever celebration of New Year's Eve in Times Square took place in 1904. 200,000 people attend the event. Also at this time, New York opened the city's first subway line while The New York Times Magazine commemorated the official opening of their new headquarters.

1907: The very first ball was lowered in Times Square after a ban was made on fireworks for the celebration. The illuminated iron and wood ball was adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs. It was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds

1920: In 1920, the New Year's Eve ball was replace with a 400 pound ball made of entirely wrought iron, making the ball 300 pounds lighter than the original.

1942-43: Due to wartime restrictions during World War II, the New Year's Eve ball was not lowered in 1942 or 1943. Instead, people partied but offered a moment of silence on New Year's Eve.

1955: In 1955, the iron New Year's Even ball dropped some more weight when it was replaced with an aluminum ball (replica seen to the right), weighing a mere 200 pounds.

1972: Dick Clark began his famous, live New Year's Rockin' Eve Special filmed in Times Square. The show was such a success that it became a New Year's Eve staple, airing every year afterward.

1981: In 1981, red light bulbs and a green stem converted the New Year's Eve ball into an apple for the "I Love New York" marketing campaign that referred to New York as "The Big Apple." In 1988, the ball returned to it's classic look.

1995: In 1995, the ball was upgraded with aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls, but the ball was lowered for the last time in 1998.

2000: For New Year's Eve in 2000, the millennium celebration, the New Year's Eve ball was completely redesigned by Waterford Crystal. The new crystal ball combined the latest in technology with the most traditional of materials, reminding us of our past as we gazed into the future and the beginning of a new millennium. Approximately 2 million people attended the 2000 New Year's Eve Celebration.

2001: 7,000 police were on duty during the New Year's Eve Celebration that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since then, security for New Year's Eve has been increased. From undercover officers, bomb sniffing dogs, and checkpoints to officers sealing manholes and carrying radiation detectors, the NYPD took every precaution to keep event goers safe.

2008: Forty-three billion text messages were sent globally during the 2008 New Year's Even Celebration.

2009: NYC decides to keep the New Year's Eve ball up after the celebration as a year-round fixture.

Today: For 2011, Waterford Crystal has designed 288 new "Let There Be Love" crystal triangles featuring a romantic pattern that blends a modern cascade of hearts with diamond cutting. Another 288 triangles are emblazoned with last year's "Let There Be Courage" design of a ribbon medal symbolizing the triumph of courage over adversity; and 1,152 triangles sparkle with the "Let There Be Joy" design of an angel with arms uplifted welcoming the New Year. The remaining 960 triangles are the original "Let There Be Light" design of a stylized radiating sunburst.

December 27, 2011

Massive liner once carried 12,000 Passengers

Imperator at anchor 1913
The massive bronze eagle on the bow
Postcard of SS Imperator 1913
Cigarette card showing RMS Berengaria post-1920
Picture of the brand new Imperator in 1913

By Roderick Eime

Even as the band aboard RMS Titanic struck up their final rendition of "Nearer, My God, to Thee", the finishing touches of an even larger ocean liner were being added.

At 261m and more than 46,000 GRT, the Titanic and her sisters Olympic and Britannic, were about to be surpassed by the massive German vessel, SS Imperator, which would stretch to 276m and weigh an unheard-of 52,117 gross tons. On her bow a massive bronze eagle figurehead was hurriedly installed to counter the new RMS Aquitania which would otherwise be 12 inches longer.

4,234 passengers could travel aboard her in four classes, with some 900 in first class alone. Among her luxury appointments were a twin-deck swimming pool and Ritz-Carlton Restaurant, complete with orchestra. Her four massive propellers ran smoothly and silently at a distance from the hull – a problem recognised in earlier designs that created worrying vibrations.

Her maiden voyage took place on 10 June 1913 and to much fanfare, she sailed out of Hamburg. Despite the press acclaim and much chest-beating by her owners, the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG), there was trouble with the ship. She sailed uncomfortably in heavy seas, swaying awkwardly from side to side and it turned out she was top heavy. The unkind nickname of "Limperator" was soon applied.

In October she was back in the new AG Vulcan Hamburg shipyard for urgent remedial work which included stripping out the marble bathrooms, shaving three metres off the four funnels and replacing heavy furniture with wicker. The most radical action was pouring 2000 tons of concrete between the double hull.

When she returned to service in March 1914, the route ahead looked promising, but came to an abrupt halt with the declaration of war. HAPAG Director, Albert Ballin, had campaigned doggedly to avoid war, but events escalated during Imperator's July eastward crossing. She made full steam for Hamburg and sat out the conflict under crude camouflage.

After the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, Germany was stripped of assets and territories, with the Imperator renamed USS Leviathan and going into service as a much-needed troopship. On one journey she carried 12,000 passengers.

By August of 1919, her military duty was complete and she reverted to Britain, being renamed again. From now until the end of her days, she would sail as RMS Berengaria with Cunard and White-Star. There was more urgent work carried out in Liverpool and she did not return to service until July 1920, where Sir Arthur Rostron, the heroic former captain of the Carpathia, was assigned command. The German-built vessel served as Cunard flagship until 1934 when, in a further twist of irony, she was replaced by another larger (291m) ex-German vessel, the former SS Bismarck.

Her final days were not bathed in glory and like other once magnificent liners, she suffered the ignominy of cut-price, prohibition-dodging cruises where she earned the new nickname "Bargain-Area". In the end, her aging wiring was prone to catch fire and her owners retired her in 1938. By 1946, her scrapping was complete.

For more detail on SS Imperator, see

December 18, 2011


David Ellis

CHRISTMAS is nigh and tens of thousands of Australians are about to head for airports around the country – and many of them, sadly, will prove to be  exasperatingly rude.

Here are some tips on how not to be one of those who drive fellow travellers to the point of rage and temporary insanity.

Check-in: Check out your allowable baggage allowance before you pack – remembering you will be charged for being overweight. There's nothing worse than being behind someone rummaging through an open suitcase on the airport floor cramming boots and jumpers into their carry-on pack. And there's no use arguing when asked to pay for the extra weight – you'll only holding up yourself and everyone else.

The departure gate: On many flights you board according to where you are sitting on the plane. So, if you are in row 5 and they're calling passengers for rows 25 to 30, don't force them to push past you. You won't be left behind.

Carry-on luggage: If there's no room to store your carry-on in the overhead bin immediately above your seat, don't throw a tantrum. Just put it in the bin in front or behind where you are sitting… remarkably every bin is going to the same place the plane is.

Reclining your seat: So you want to drop your seat back. It actually makes little difference on short flights. But it certainly does to the person behind you, especially if he or she is trying to have a snack, a sip of wine or watching the TV screen on the back of your seat. (A colleague carries a broadsheet newspaper on long flights. If the person in front reclines the seat too far he opens his newspaper, ensuring the top of the page keeps falling forward onto the offender's head. Their seat quickly returns to the upright position.)

Safety instructions: It's just as boring for air crew to have to give their safety demonstrations as you think it is for you to have to listen. And even if you aren't interested in the possibility of it saving your life, try to show respectful interest.

Little darlings: Parents travelling with children often appear oblivious to their little darlings kicking the back of the seat in front, poking faces over the top of their seat at passengers behind, yelling, or making a general nuisance of themselves. Just because you as a parent are used to such behaviour, don't expect all others to be. And if it's you whom you feel has to ask parents to pull Dennis the Menace into line, do so politely. Harsh words will only inflame the situation.

Smelly armpits: Please make sure you use a deodorant, and please, please, please no singlets exposing hairy armpits.

Carry-on food: If you are on a low-cost carrier that allows you to bring food onboard rather than buying theirs, be considerate in what you choose. Many fast foods, especially those with lots of onions, can simply stink in confined spaces. If you must eat, try non-odorous sandwiches, muffins, biscuits or fruit.

Respecting people's space: The seats are small enough without you hogging the armrests or sticking your elbows into those next to you. And as for shall we say ... those of larger body size, don't flick up the armrest so you can spread out. Each person is entitled to a seat – not half a seat or a seat and a half.

Mobile phone etiquette: So many people make a nuisance of themselves shouting through mobile phones on the street, how can we expect them to be different on an aircraft? When you land and want to inform loved ones, your fellow passengers couldn't care less. Why not just send a short text message?

Getting off: Once its time to get off the plane, don't try to elbow your way past those in the seats in front of you. Give them time to get their stuff together – it may seem like it, but you're not in a heavy metal concert mosh pit.

The carousel bunfight: The conveyor belt is long enough for every passenger to get decent access. So don't squeeze in front of someone already waiting to collect their baggage. If you miss your bag it will return again quickly enough.

Bon Voyage!

[] THE bigger they get the more comfortable they become to fly in – it's the passengers who can make flying an ordeal.

[] JUST what you don't want all the way across the Pacific.

Struth! Sleep on a wing and a prayer

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a hotel in Costa Rica has the ultimate accommodation for aviation buffs – stay in your very own converted Boeing 727 that sits atop a 16m high stone pedestal on the edge of the picturesque Manuel Antonio National Park, and overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After forty years service in South Africa and later Colombia the old 727 was bought by the owners of the Hotel Costa Verde who found it decommissioned and forlorn at the San Jose International Airport. They had it broken down into sections and shipped on five big-rig trucks to the hotel site.

There it was reassembled, lined with Costa Rican teak panelling, and furnished with handmade items created from Javanese teak. It has two air-conditioned bedrooms (one with two Queen Beds, the other with one,) two private bathrooms, a kitchenette, dining area, flatscreen TV, views of the resort's gardens and surrounding forest, and a private entrance by way of river rocks and a spiral staircase.

And an Ocean View Terrace built over one of the wings, with a canopy over it to keep you shaded or dry depending on the weather, offers ocean and jungle views and close-up encounters with the wildlife neighbours – toucans, monkeys and sloths – as you sip a glass of bubbly or three on a balmy tropical evening...

A night will cost you between US$250 and US$500 plus taxes, depending on the season; details from

(Photos: Vincent Castello)

December 17, 2011

Struth! Summit Drive a Smashing Success

In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis tells how a group of adventurers got to the top of Europe's highest mountain, Mt Elbrus in Russia, the hard way – by a LandRover that they drove, winched, pushed and cajoled to the top that's 5642m above sea level.

Considered one of the three "easiest" of the world's Top Seven Peaks to conquer (the other two are Australia's Mt Kosciusko and Africa's Mt Kilimanjaro) the ten Russians modified a LandRover Defender and began their ascent in August 1997.

The initial approach proved simple enough along a rutted dirt road. But once they hit the snowline, things went pear-shaped, particularly as they had decided against using wheel chains, convinced the LandRover's 4-wheel drive and their own physical efforts would be sufficient. But the vehicle broke down several times and the adventurers would often have to walk 5000m back down the mountain for spare parts.

Then on September 13 1997, 43 days after setting out, they drove and shoved the LandRover to the very summit of Mt Elbrus – leaving it there while they went for a rewarding break on the Black Sea. By the time they'd returned a fortnight later, however, the mountain had frozen over so they decided to walk all 5642m back to their base for wheel chains... leaving a lone driver at the top with the car.

For some reason he decided he couldn't wait, and started driving the LandRover down the mountain, losing control on the ice and jumping out just as the vehicle ended a 1600m out-of-control slalom down the ice and snow and smashing into a pile of rocks... and with a flying wheel that broke free just missing by centimetres the main party returning with the wheel chains.

The vehicle was abandoned and over the next few years stripped by villagers from further down the mountain, so that today there's little remaining of the first successful effort to "drive" a vehicle to the very top of Europe's highest peak. 


David Ellis

IF ever there's a town that's a 'must-visit' for romantics or chocoholics it's Perugia in Italy.

And if you're both, you'll find yourself in Seventh Heaven: One of the town's biggest factories makes chocolates called Kisses – and there's a street that's so narrow it's officially named Woman Kisser Lane, and whose tradition demands that you offer a kiss as you squeeze past anyone coming in the opposite direction.

There's no mention if you give them a chocolate afterwards.

Perugia is the capital of Umbria about halfway between Rome and Florence and it's Perugina chocolate factory makes the world-famous chocolates called Baci – Italian for 'kisses'.

As anyone with a sweet tooth knows, these tasty little bundles of chocolate incorporate nougat and ground hazelnuts, and are then topped with a whole hazelnut, covered with another coating of chocolate, and finally wrapped in foil that carries an expression of love in a half-dozen or more languages.

Luisa Spagnoli started the Perugina chocolate factory with fellow confectioner Giovanni Buitoni in 1907 when she was 30 years old.

Locals say the pair fancied each other and initially exchanged clandestine messages through their own hand-made chocolates – but historians scotch that as fanciful urban myth.

The factory started with a hand-full of workers, but today is owned by the multi-national Nestlé company that ships its chocolates, candies and after-dinner mints around the world.

Free tours of the factory, in the Perugian suburb of San Sisto are held in specific languages daily, and include a visit to the Museum of Chocolate, a video on how chocolate is made, a guided walk along the production line, and a shop that sells the full range of chocolates, candies, nougat and biscotti, T-shirts and memorabilia.

And, yes, for chocoholics the guides offer free samples from silver trays at different points throughout the tour.

And possibly the best time to visit Perugia is in October when the annual nine-day EuroChocolate Festival is held. But be prepared for the crowds: it attracts more than one million tourists, and is one of the largest chocolate festivals in the world, with visitors able to buy such delights as chocolate-covered bananas, chocolate liqueur, chocolate moulds, and giant bricks of chocolate.

And wallow in a spa-full of chocolate.

But Luisa Spagnoli, the woman whose talents spawned the town's fame, didn't stop at just chocolates.

She turned her business acumen to the breeding of angora rabbits and in 1928 became the first person in the world to turn the soft, silky fur into shawls, boleros and fashion garments under the name l'Angora Spagnoli.

Today some 100 Luisa Spagnoli fashion stores are scattered around the world, with headquarters firmly entrenched in Perugia.

The townsfolk are also proud that it was here that the famous Renaissance painter Raphael learned his trade. He was apprenticed to another master Perigino (who was born Pietro Vannucci, but took the name of the town where he grew up).   

Art lovers flock to Perugia's Exchange Guild to see one of the best-preserved Renaissance frescos in Italy, painted between 1498 and 1500 by Perigino and some of his students including the young Raphael.

Art historians attribute the figure of Fortitude, seated on a cloud, as the work of Raphael – who, incidentally, the locals delight in telling visitors died at an early age of 37 "from an over-indulgence in sex."

Another must for anyone interested in art is a visit to the town's Franciscan Church to see a copy of Raphael's painting Entombment of Christ. The original caught the eye of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a wealthy and powerful nephew of Pope Paul V, while he was on a visit to Perugia in 1607.

The painting wasn't for sale but the Cardinal had some men "acquire it," and the original remains to this day in the Borghese museum in Rome.
And if you take a visit to Perugia, you just simply can't miss a visit to Vicolo Baciadonne (Woman Kisser Lane.)

But just remember – before you head along the half-metre wide laneway, make sure you check who is coming the other way, and whether or not you would enjoy the traditional greeting.

Carolinasusi Italian Tours have 3-week escorted tours to Umbria and Tuscany every northern Spring and Autumn. Details (07) 3396 8652, (07) 3262 6332 or

Photo Captions:


[] LUISA Spagnoli: sweet tooth for success

[] LUISA's fashion store in Perugia, one of over 100 world-wide

[] WHAT started it all – Luisa's famed Baci chocolates

[] TIGHT fit may bring rewards in Perugia's oddly-named Woman Kisser Lane

[] FAMED artist Raphael: his original Entombment of Christ was stolen in

   strangest of circumstances


(Photos: Carolinasusi Italian Tours)


David Ellis

HAD it not been for one of the more bizarre maritime chases in Australia's colonial history, it could have been years before the now-Hunter Valley's rich agricultural lands and coal seams were to be opened up to early settlement – including to go on to become one of Australia's premier winemaking regions.

In the early 1790s a group of convicts stole one of the only two sailing sloops in the-then fledgling Sydney Town and fled north to what is now known as Port Stephens. They lived there for several years with the local aboriginal people, before being found by accident by the sloop HMS Providence that had been swept north in a fierce storm while on an exploratory trip out of Sydney.

The four surviving "miserable and half-starved" convicts happily returned to Sydney Town aboard the Providence to face the music for their escape. But after just a couple of years two of them organised another escape… this time taking the colony's only other sailing boat, the "Cumberland" and once again heading north.

Colonial Governor John Hunter ordered a search for them, and bizarrely Lieutenant John Shortland took off in pursuit of the sloop in just a row-boat manned by a handful of sailors.

That was 1797 and he never did find the escapees, but he did come across the broad entrance to a river that some lost fishermen had earlier dubbed Coal River after discovering coal along its floodplains.

On his return, Lieutenant Shortland told Governor Hunter of the rich potential of the river (which Shortland officially named after the Governor,) and free settlers and pardoned convicts were encouraged to go forth and settle there.

They quickly discovered just how rich those lands were, and soon a port town called Newcastle grew up, supplying the new settlers with their needs and shipping their produce to Sydney Town, Hunter Valley coal to India… and by the early 1820s, wine to Sydney from the first Hunter Valley vineyards.

And while by the mid-1970s the Hunter Valley's wine and allied industries were booming with a new kind of tourism sassiness, industrial Newcastle seemed trapped in a time warp, its image reflected by stand-up comic Bob Hudson's The Newcastle Song reminiscing long and clear on the mating habits of the night-time occupants of the city's Hunter Street Mall…

But today Newcastle has found itself internationally-recognised, listed this year in the Lonely Planet travel guide as one of the World's Top 10 Cities to Visit  — alongside such legends as New York, Valencia and Delhi.

So, how did the ugly duckling turn into such a strikingly beautiful swan?

In reality many facets of that swan have been obvious but unappreciated since the city's founding — grand colonial public buildings, imposing commercial and residential streetscapes, and a magnificent coastline of stark rocky outcrops contrasted by temptingly sandy beaches…

But most importantly has been a more-recent appreciation of Newcastle's history, together with a seemingly new-found devotion to landscaping, the arts, tourism and cuisine, and an interesting scheme called Illumination Newcastle that nightly bathes some of its most historic buildings under soft floodlights.

The transformation is most obvious in the city's eastern end, where the old Royal Newcastle Hospital site has given way to tourist accommodation, cafés and apartments, paving the way for a 24-hour life rather than a drab nine-to-five existence.

Amongst new accommodations is the Sebel Harbourside, a near-beachside hotel whose 88 guest rooms feature chic, contemporary furnishings, and all the mod cons of a 4.5-star property.

Many of its rooms also offer spectacular ocean views.

Amongst historical nearby attractions is Fort Scratchley that formed an integral link in our defences against potential invasion — real and imagined — and during World War II, whose canons were Australia's only-ever to fire in anger against an invading naval force.

The Fort's resurrection allows visitors to spend a couple of hours touring its tunnels, and to enjoy the most spectacular views of the port and its most significant landmark, Nobby's Head.

Nearby, the grand Customs House attests to Newcastle's maritime and trading stature, and if visiting Newcastle don't miss the East Newcastle Heritage Walk that embraces eighteen historic sites from the old Customs House, to the original gaol site, the beach promenade and an historic convict-era lumber yard.


 or Freecall 1800 654 558.


Photo Captions:

[] NEWCASTLE's grand colonial City Hall.

[] CLASSIC landmark: the city's famous Nobby's Head and lighthouse.

[] CHIC new accommodations, the Sebel Harbourside.

[] COURTING history, elaborate coat of arms on Newcastle's historic


(Photos: Sandra Burn White)

STRUTH! Mexico's tunnel of love


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says you'll never be troubled by gawking invaders when you stay at the Capella Pedregal resort outside Mexico's Cabo San Lucas: the only way you can get into this beachside haven is by a private tunnel that runs several hundred metres through the heart of a mountain that divides sea and town.

And when it comes to pampering, Capella Pedregal seems to have it all: 138 plunge pools (one for every room and suite plus a sprinkling of others around the grounds,) an in-house astronomer to discuss the night sky with guests, a resident Mexican folk healer who uses home-grown herbs to "support emotional healing," a traditional Mexican kitchen that offers free private cooking lessons as well as private Tequila Tasting lessons with a "Tequila Master," a Food and Wine Journal in which to record your favourite resort food and dining experiences for when you make a return visit, and to keep you in shape a free A-list fitness trainer.

There's also 24-hour room service, a personal assistant for all guests during their stay and a driver to run you into town should you wish to diner there, go sport fishing or play golf.

And the cost? Start looking from US$375 a night for a room, and from US$1250 for a beachfront suite.



David Ellis


FANS of 19th century British writer Charles Dickens are flocking to England for celebrations to mark the bicentennial of his birth on February 12 1812, and one story that's sure to be told over and again is that of the tragic life of a young Sydney woman, Eliza Donnithorne – whom Dickens is said to have fictionalised as Miss Havisham in his classic Great Expectations.


The first of many exhibitions to be staged in England to honour Dickens is A Hankering after Ghosts; Charles Dickens and the Supernatural that opened at the British Library in London in early December, and will run until March 4.


From when he was a young boy Dickens had a fascination for ghosts which culminated in arguably his most famous novel, A Christmas Carol in which the skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge changes his ways after a visit by three spirits.


He also based many of his reformist novels on personal experiences when growing up, including when his father was imprisoned in the notorious Marshalsea prison in Southwark for an unpaid debt to a baker.


The twelve-year-old Charles jumped school to work in a factory to help pay off his Dad's debt; pilgrims this year will find only a part of the prison's wall remaining, and a plaque placed there by the local council.


Also marked by a plaque is the site of Furnival's Inn in Holborn where Dickens rented rooms during the mid 1830s and began writing Pickwick Papers, the serialised novel that set him on the path to popularity. Today the impressive Holborn Bars stands on the site and is home to many law firms and convention and meeting halls.


Tavistock House on Devonshire Terrace, near London's Paddington Railway Station, is also marked by a commemorative inscription as it's the location of the home in which Dickens wrote Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities in the 1850s.


And the town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire will also attract its fair share of Dickens disciples during his bicentenary celebrations: it was here in its Music Hall in 1867 that he gave the first-ever public reading of A Christmas Carol.


Shrewsbury was also transformed into Victorian London for the 1984 filming of A Christmas Carol, which starred George C Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge –the movie's grave of Scrooge still lays amongst a host of real ones in the grounds of the local St Chad's Church.


But what is not so well-known about Dickens was his fascination with Australia which he saw as "a place of opportunity," and which he actively encouraged two of his sons to migrate to.


He also had several close acquaintances settle in Sydney, and they sent him letters detailing "the many curious aspects of life in the colonies."


One of these included the tale of Eliza Emily Donnithorne, the daughter of a retired East India Company judge with whom she lived in his gracious Camperdown Lodge in Sydney's Newtown. The letter detailed how after her father's death, Eliza was to have married in the Lodge in 1846, but on her wedding day and dressed in her wedding gown, her guests assembled in the Lodge's large dining room, and with the wedding breakfast set before them, Eliza's fiancé failed to appear – and in fact was learned to be sailing to India.


Jilted and heartbroken she bade her guests goodbye, locked the dining room with the wedding breakfast untouched, closed the window shutters and lived in the darkened house with two female servants until her death there 40 years later. The dining room was never opened again and the wedding breakfast moldered away until eventually eaten by rodents.


Dickens allegedly turned the tragic and factual Eliza Donnithorne into the equally tragic and fictional Miss Havisham in Great Expectations in 1860 – but unlike his Miss Havisham, Eliza did not live the rest of her life in her wedding dress: she lived four decades as a recluse, but well-off and comfortably, seen only by her servants, doctor, solicitor and clergyman.


And bizarrely she kept the front door open, but secured by a chain, in the event her fiancé may one day return…


Eliza Donnithorne died in Camperdown Lodge in 1886 aged 60, and is buried in nearby Camperdown cemetery in the same grave as her father.





[] CAMPERDOWN Lodge, where Eliza Donnithorne was jilted and lived the 

   next  40-years in virtual darkness.

[] ELIZA was buried in the same grave as her father in Camperdown


[] CHARLES Dickens: fascination for ghosts – and Australia and the tale of the tragic Eliza Donnithorne.

[] MOCK "grave" of Ebenezer Scrooge in St Chad's churchyard in Shrewsbury.

[] MARSHALSEA Prison where Dickens' father was jailed over a small debt;

   the young Charles left school to work in a factory to have his Dad freed.


(Photos: Friends of Charles Dickens)


December 08, 2011

The Making of A Giant - THAI's First A380

The Making of A Giant - THAI's First A380
The vertical tail section of the first A380 for Thai Airways International has been painted with THAI's distinct logo at Airbus facilities in Hamburg. With the painting completed the section is now being prepared for shipment to Toulouse where assembly of the the first aircraft is set to begin.

The THAI logo comprising of violet, gold and magenta and was applied over a period of 10 days. In addition, red and blue paints were also used for the national flag of the Kingdom of Thailand.
Tail Section for THAI's First A380 Rolls Out of Paint Shop
THAI will become the ninth operator of the A380 when the first aircraft is delivered in the third quarter of 2012. THAI currently has firm orders for six A380s and will operate the aircraft on its premier routes from Bangkok to Europe. The new aircraft will offer a wide range of additional facilities and increased passenger comfort whilst being kinder to the environment with less carbon emissions.

December 06, 2011

Struth - Check in for an immaculate reception

In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the Travelodge chain's 480 hotels in the UK are offering a free night's accommodation between Christmas Eve and the Twelfth Night (January 5th) for married couples who can prove that their first names are Mary and Joseph, or their surname Jesus.

It says the idea is meant in the spirit of Christmas, and to atone for there being "no room at the inn" on Christmas Eve all those years ago when the original Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus had to spend the night in a stable.

Marys and Josephs who apply will be given a free night in a Family Room the hotel chain says "can cater for a baby and a manger, with a free car-parking space available for the donkey if needed." And a Double Room will be provided for a night for anyone during the Twelve Days of Christmas who can prove their surname is Jesus...

Applicants for the free rooms have to apply by email, provide proof of marriage and that their first names are Mary and Joseph or surname Jesus, and meet some fourteen other criteria including being UK citizens, agree not try to sell the room for cash or give it to another person… and be prepared to participate in any post-stay publicity that we presume will be meant purely in the spirit of Christmas.

November 21, 2011


David Ellis

BRICK kilns don't usually feature high on the list of things to do on a luxury river cruise.

But on one such 8-day journey along the mighty Mekong between Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia's Siem Reap, a village kiln has proven a fascinating diversion amid daily shore excursions that extend from the ubiquitous local markets, to a leisurely farmland ox-cart ride – and the chilling reality of Pol Pot's notorious Killing Fields.

And for good measure a touch of romance too, with a visit to the once-home of a young Chinese man whose love affair with a French teenager became the basis of an award-winning 1980s novel, and an equally successful 1990s movie…

This captivating cruise is aboard the stylish 62-stateroom AmaLotus that's owned by Australia's APT Touring, and which began her Mekong career only in September this year.

It's just outside the industrial and trading port of Sa Dec in southern Vietnam that guests on AmaLotus are taken ashore by the ship's tour guides and shown the workings of the beehive-shaped kilns, which to many Australians seem somehow reminiscent of the natural orange and black, and almost-similarly shaped formations, found in our Kimberley region.

And the kilns of Sa Dec operate as they have for centuries, being fired by discarded rice husks from local farms to bake bricks and tiles from other farmlands' clay – and with nothing wasted, the husks being retrieved as ash to be ploughed back into the farm soil as fertilizer.

From these kilns AmaLotus's guests are taken by small boat into Sa Dec itself for a visit to the one-time home of a wealthy and influential Chinese family, whose son began an affair in 1928 with teenager Marguerite Duras, who had been born to French parents living near Saigon in 1914.

When the affair ended in 1931, Marguerite left to study mathematics in France, joined the French Resistance during World War II, and along the way began a prolific career as a writer of plays, film scripts, essays, short fiction and novels. She also directed numerous films and died in 1996 aged 82.

But it was an 'autobiographical novel' called "The Lover" that Duras wrote in 1984 that won her the most praise and recognition: said to be the story of her teenage romance all those years before, it won the 1984 Prix Goncourt for "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year."

The Sa Dec home of her once-lover is now a museum, and aboard a sister vessel to AmaLotus on the Mekong, and named by APT La Marguerite after the author, the floor tiles are actually replicas of those in the famous old house…

The Vietnam and Cambodian guides aboard AmaLotus ensure guests see and enjoy as much of their river experience as possible, leading 2- to 3-hour shore excursions daily, with guests provided with headphones to hear the commentary that also includes insights into guides' family lives and some of their more-chilling wartime experiences.

This is particularly so during a Phnom Penh tour that includes the Royal Palace, National Museum, city markets and the infamous S21 Detention Centre –  and Pol Pot's horrific Killing Fields.

Both horrifying and chillingly fascinating, it was at the latter that Khmer Rouge soldiers killed an estimated 1.7-million Cambodians, or 21 per cent of the population. One football-oval-sized area alone contains the bodies of an estimated 20,000 victims: because bullets were too costly, most were beaten to death with axes, knives, and bamboo sticks.

There is also the notorious Tuoi Sieng Museum of Genocide on the site of the one-time torture camp, prison and execution centre.

More-pleasantly focused daily excursions include to picturesque floating communities, city and village produce markets, rice-paper making factories, a rice-whiskey distillery, demonstrations of silk weaving, a fish farm, a hill-top Buddhist Monastery, and an ox-cart farmland ride – and of course there's plenty of time for bargain shopping or picture-taking.

AmaLotus's 8-day Mekong package is priced from $3095 per person twin share (based on an April 2 2012 departure), which includes cruise, 21 onboard meals,  local wine with dinner, local beer, soft drinks and spirits on request, onboard entertainment, guided shore excursions, APT Tour Director, port charges, transfers and tipping.

Details 1300 229 804, or see travel agents.


Photo Captions:

[] LUX cruising on the Mekong River – AmaLotus has it all, and then some.                                

[] HOME of romance, now a museum in Sa Dec.                                             

[] STREET hawker sells her fresh vegetables.                                                  

[] UNUSUAL tourist attraction, brick kiln tour.                                                  

[] STYLISH floating hotel, twin-balcony suite on AmaLotus

(Photos: APT Touring)


November 14, 2011

Central New South Wales TOUR DE FORCE

When five luxury accommodation providers across Central New South Wales decided to join forces, the result was a significant marketing boost for the entire region. Lisa Doust reports. Images by Renate Ruge

 After having a quick phone chat back in late 2008, the owners of two high-end boutique hotels in Central New South Wales quickly realised that two heads would be better than one when it came to promoting their properties.

“For quite a while I’d been wanting to work on marketing our property along with others in the region, as Bathurst just wasn’t being marketed as a great destination in the same way Orange and Mudgee were,” explains Christine Le Fevre, owner of the award-winning Bishop’s Court Estate in Bathurst. “After working closely with a wide range of Bathurst businesses to collectively market Bathurst, it was the regional approach that was next touted. We then got a call from Ray Whitfield, who was thinking along the same collaborative lines, and the idea of group marketing started to gain momentum and take shape.”

Ray, who owns the Mudgee-based Wombadah Guesthouse with wife Kay, had discussed the idea in Mudgee and his talks with Christine endorsed the concept into the wider region.

The next step was a meeting with three more luxury accommodation providers in the region – David and Annette Buckland of Arancia Bed & Breakfast in Orange, Vicki and Andrew Hudson of Evanslea by the River in Mudgee, and John and Hilde Gerathy of Five Frogs Luxury Guesthouse in Carcoar – and the collective initiative entitled Amazing Country Escapes was born.

“We then started talking about the concept to Central NSW Tourism and they loved the idea and offered their total support,” says Christine. “The official Amazing Country Escapes launch took place at Parliament House in March 2009. It was positive for industry and investors to see that we were putting our money on the table and taking our product to market, and it was clear that our group would be great for marketing right across the region, which encouraged Tourism NSW to embrace and endorse us.”


Arancia Bed & Breakfast
69 Wrights Lane
Orange NSW 2800
Ph: (02) 6365 3305

Bishop’s Court Estate
226 Seymour Street
Bathurst NSW 2795
Ph: (02) 6332 4447

Evanslea by the River
146 Market Street
Mudgee NSW 2850
Ph: (02) 6372 4116

Five Frogs Luxury Guesthouse
3 Belubula Street
Carcoar NSW 2791

Wombadah Guesthouse
46 Tierney Lane
Mudgee NSW 2850
 According to Ray, the initial support shown by Tourism NSW hasn’t wavered. “They were involved in the development of our marketing strategy once we got to year two and have put their support behind a couple of successful grant applications,” he says. “Furthermore, they have supported us with advertising, famils with journalists and celebrity visits. When Layne Beachley and Kirk Pengilly toured the region as ambassadors for Tourism NSW earlier this year, they stayed at each of our properties and were very vocal about what a great experience they had!”

One of Kirk Pengilly’s key points was that Central NSW is “not that far” from Sydney. “Bathurst, Mudgee, Orange and Carcoar are all a cruisy drive from Sydney or Canberra,” Christine adds. “Our objective is to ensure that all visitors get to experience the people and places in the region that we are absolutely passionate about and feel so welcome that they want to come back again and again.”

This great passion for local businesses has led to each of the five properties signing on a range of ‘Experience Partners’ – another of Christine’s innovative marketing concepts.

“Bishops Court Estate had already developed strong relationships with high-quality restaurants, cafes, wineries, patisseries, beauty specialists, museums, galleries and artisan retailers, all run by passionate friends and described as our ‘Experience & Taste Partners’. These partners were always recommended to our Bishop’s Court guests to make their Bathurst experience exceptional,” she says. “We then introduced this idea to the rest of the group and now we all have our own Experience Partners that we work closely with. Knowing they are going to be treated as welcome friends wherever we send them makes the guest experience so much more rewarding,” Christine says with pride.

As Ray concludes, the unique Amazing Country Escapes concept has been beneficial to everyone. “Our five properties are spread out but we really work closely together to promote the region – it’s the best way to increase visitation to Central NSW and to our individual properties, and guests get to reap the rewards of our shared knowledge.”

For more information: visit or follow Amazing Country Escapes on Facebook

October 31, 2011

Struth! Small guy with a big thirst

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that one of the most-photographed statues in Germany's famous Heidelburg Castle is not that of any celebrated member of the nobility, but of an Italian dwarf with a drink problem.

Officially born Pankert Clemens in Italy's South Tyrol, he made his way to Heidelberg where he sought work at the Castle around 1720, and on seeing his odd stature and behaviour, Prince Karl Philip of the Palatine appointed him Court Jester and Keeper of the Tun – then, and still now, the world's biggest wine barrel.

Clemens performed at countless royal events at the Castle, and was soon dubbed "Perkeo" after forever replying "perché no?" (Italian for "why not?") whenever asked if he wanted another glass of wine.

It's said that in his later years he lived on nothing but wine, drinking an alleged 5- to 10-litres or more a day .

When he fell ill close to his 80th birthday, the court doctor ordered him off the wine for at least a week, and to drink water in that time.

A protesting Perkeo reluctantly agreed – and died the next day.


October 22, 2011

Razor: Underbelly tour of the real Kings Cross

Kings Cross street scene from Underbelly Razor

by Nahrain John e-Travel Blackboard

A Sydney suburb that technically does not exist, a string of public murders with no witnesses and a hidden addiction to sex and drugs, the colorful yet dangerously thrilling past and present of Kings Cross comes to life as travellers near and far discover the Underbelly of the precinct.

Accor and Two Feet & A Heartbeat gathered a small contingent of travel professionals last night to explore the suburb made famous after its secrets hit the airwaves in Aussie TV show, Underbelly.

Exposing the mysteries that locals once took to their pre-mature graves, the walking tour disclosed details of the early 1900s prostitution leadership of Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, the drug and alcohol control of Abe Saffron and the alleged current day underground activities of John Ibrahim.

Words like the Carousel Club, The Tunnel, Juanita Nielsen, the Venus Room and Donny the Glove will be forever engraved into a tour participant's mind as they digest the stories of the suburb and question its reality.

Darlinghurst Road at dusk (R Eime)
Tour guide and also a cast member in the current series of Underbelly Razor Kim Knuckey said the area has gone through many changes and explained that the increase in drugs and sex came with demand from the docks.

With up to 20,000 people living the suburb and up to 5,000 visitors stopping by he stressed that its underground activities do not make it any more dangerous than other precincts.

“People ask me how safe it is and it is as safe as anywhere else,” he explained.

“It’s probably not safe like any place after midnight and out front of pubs and bars where people can get a bit rowdy.”

See also: Underbelly Homepage at NineMSN

For details of the Underbelly Kings Cross Tour and the special ‘Crimes and Passions’ package, contact Mercure Sydney Potts Point on 02 9397 1777

October 17, 2011

Beijing's Weekend Market Offers Genuine Local Treasures

Panjiayuan weekend market is one of the best places to shop in China. Its history goes back to when traders from remote provinces brought goods old and new from all over China each weekend to sell and trade.
It became famous for its antiques, as people would bring in old pieces of ceramics, furniture, jewelry and other goods.

While its still a great place to shop, the antiques tend to be fake. Its also forbidden to export real antiques so you could get them taken off you at the airport.

Best to stick to newer and inexpensive goods. We find it’s a wonderful place to buy gifts and souvenirs for our friends at home. For $10 or $20 you can buy something quite unique (at least from an overseas perspective).

Most tour companies in China will take their clients to commission shopping markets where prices are fixed and they receive a big share of the price.

Things you find in the weekend market will be perhaps ten percent of the cost of buying the exact same thing in a commission tourist market with a bit of bargaining. If you are learning Chinese it’s a great place to get some practice, but if you don’t the vendors still know how to communicate using basic Engish.

The China Guide ( does not do any commission shopping, we just want you to have an honest and genuine shopping experience.

Thus the Panjiayuan weekend market is fit onto our itineraries as often as possible.

STRUTH! Oktoberfest Carnage

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that if you thought patrons at this year's Oktoberfest in Munich were pretty good at tossing down the amber stuff, they were anything than remiss when it came to getting stuck into the tucker as well.

This year's 6.9-million visitors drank their way through 7.5-million litres of beer, about half a million more litres than last year, and to go with it chomped down steaks and other cuts from 118-roasted oxen, 53-calves, thousands of roast chickens, truck loads of pork knuckles, and pork sausages whose consumption was counted in the tens of thousands each day.

But revellers who came from across Europe and as far away as the United States and Australia for the three weeks of the festival that's just ended, must have found all that beer and food a bit taxing on the memory: amongst 4570 items handed-in to the Lost & Found office were 1045 passports, 390 mobile phones, a walking frame, two un-matching crutches, a set of dentures – and a Viking helmet and 48 children.

"We are still trying to find owners for many of these items," a spokesman said a week after the festival closed. "But at least all the 48 children were claimed."

The history of Oktoberfest goes back 201 years to when Bavaria's Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and invited the townspeople of Munich to join their wedding party on a public green called the Theresienwiesen, just outside the city centre.

Oktoberfest is still held there to this day, with fourteen massive beer tents – some holding up to 10,000 people – erected just for the occasion and dismantled straight after so that the green can revert to public use.

Next year's Oktoberfest will be held there from September 22 to October 7.


David Ellis

OUR early colonial governors usually gave convicts a ticket of leave as a reward for good behaviour, not one for breaking out of prison.

But such was the case with notorious Western Australia bushranger and serial jail-breaker, Joseph "Moondyne Joe" Johns.

Joe earned himself ten-years in England for stealing some bread, bacon and cheese with another man in 1848, and after several years in prison was transported to the penal colony of Western Australia.

He was granted an immediate ticket of leave on arrival, but soon after was arrested for stealing an unbranded stallion and branding it with his own mark. He broke out of his police cell, stole the horse again, killed it and cut the brand off the body to destroy the evidence against him – earning three more years for his efforts.

Joe was released early but was soon charged – wrongly he maintained until his death – with pinching a steer, and after being given another ten years absconded from a prison work party. After being re-captured once more, he was sentenced to twelve more months in irons – and after trying to cut the lock out of his cell door, yet another six months.

Joe then managed to slip his irons and with three other escapees staged numerous hold-ups on the roads around Perth and robbed a general store. When finally tracked down 300km north east of Perth, he got another five years on top of his many outstanding sentences.

And determined that he should not escape again, a special cell was built for him in Fremantle Prison – authorities showing it off to Perth's newspaper as "escape-proof, built of stone and lined with railway sleepers secured by 1000 nails."

So confident too was the-then State Governor, John Hampton that he jocularly told Joe in front of witnesses: "If you get out again, I'll pardon you."

But he'd underestimated Joe, who by now had been dubbed "Moondyne Joe" after a rugged bolt-hole he had to the north-east of Perth and where he collected occasional rewards for finding escaped cattle and horses.

To keep him occupied in Fremantle, he was put to work breaking a pile of stone next to the wall inside the prison grounds.

He worked assiduously under the watchful eye of a full-time guard, daily  piling-up the broken stone until the guard could see only his head, chest, and swinging arms and sledgehammer… and not realising that for every few blows at his rock pile, Joe was adding a blow at the prison wall. 

On March 7 1867 he made a last whack at the wall, dropped to his knees and crawled through a hole to freedom.

He remained free for almost two years, being re-captured in the most-bizarre circumstances: Dressed in a wheat sack with two empty 9-litre wine barrels tied to his chest and back, sheepskin-covered boots to hide his tracks, and with a canvas bag around his neck containing skeleton keys, a brass tap and a lantern, Joe broke into the Swan Valley's Houghton Winery to fill his two barrels with wine.

Unbeknown to him a team of police were searching nearby for a suspected drowning victim, and in the early hours of the morning the winery's manager, Charles Ferguson invited them to his cellars for a rewarding drink.

Mistakenly thinking he'd been ambushed, Joe made a dash for the door but was immediately grabbed. "You've got me at last," he shrugged, then asked Mr Ferguson: "Can you give me a drink, I've not had time to get one myself."

Mr Ferguson obliged before Joe was led away, a judge giving him yet another 12 months in irons on top of his earlier sentences.

But that was not the end for Moondyne Joe: he wrote a petition to new State Governor Frederick Weld, pointing-out Governor Hampton's promise to pardon him if he ever escaped again.

To his surprise – and the community's – Governor Weld granted him a ticket of leave.

Joe died of senile dementia in 1900, and to mark the night he was recaptured in their cellars, Houghton Wines have a range of wines called The Bandit with which to raise a glass to him.

They've also a function room and a gallery named after Moondyne Joe at their 175-year old (this November) Swan Valley winery.




[] MOONDYNE Joe: a rare photo of the colourful if notorious Western

   Australia bushranger and serial jail-breaker.

[] EXTRAORDINARY cell created specially to house Joe – built of stone and

   lined with railway sleepers secured by 1000 nails. 

[] HOUGHTON Wines "The Bandit" wines named after Joe.

[] MOONDYNE Gallery at Houghton's Swan Valley winery – it was here that

  Moondyne Joe was caught trying to pinch some wine.


(Photos: Houghton Wines)


Support Traveloscopy - Support Responsible Travel.

Traveloscopy is a freelance journalism enterprise supporting the tourism and travel industries. We aim to encourage people to travel thoughtfully and responsibly and also support sustainable initiatives within the travel sector. You can help us cover our operating costs, even if in just a small way.

Last 30 Days' Most Popular Posts