June 28, 2011


On the 1st of July, Hawaii will celebrate the birthday of a very special icon of the Hawaiian Islands and it's not President Obama.  It is in fact the equally well-known Hawaiian icon - the aloha shirt.

The aloha shirt is Hawaii's most enduring symbol representing the relaxed, laid-back, tropical lifestyle of the Islands and different tales have circulated for decades about the origins of Hawaii's aloha shirt. Some say its roots can be traced to the kapa cloth found throughout the Pacific, made from pounding and dyeing tree bark. Others claim it was inspired by the tail-out shirts of Filipino immigrants, or elegant kimono cloth from Japan, or the vivid floral prints of Tahiti. No one is absolutely sure but the aloha shirt has many ancestors.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the tradition of beautifully sewn printed shirts spread from the Asian dry-goods merchants and home-sewers in Honolulu to the tailors and dress-makers, creating a new style of colourful clothing.

1946 saw the beginning of open-necked sports shirts being approved  for official business attire during the hottest months in Hawai'i from June through to October but the aloha shirt was specifically excluded because of loud patterns.  It was the  following year during the annual Aloha Week celebration that an exception was made to allow the wearing of casual aloha attire - the more colourful the better - for the entire week. With this breakthrough, the trend would continue to expand.

Soon, visitors and locals alike were donning these wearable postcards awash with coconut trees, surfers, outrigger canoes, hula girls, and endless varieties of colourful tropical flowers, birds, and fish.   Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaii's most beloved surfer, Olympic swimming champion and the founder of surfing in Australia, was the earliest and greatest promoter of the aloha shirt. Duke even had his own line of shirts that are widely coveted by collectors today. Many other celebrities from Bing Crosby to Elvis Presley and Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. were widely photographed wearing the shirts.

The modern era of the aloha shirt began in the 1960s. In 1962, the Senate passed a resolution urging the regular wearing of aloha attire from Lei Day, May 1, to continue throughout the summer months. In 1966, Aloha Friday - the precursor to casual Fridays - came into being and businessmen began the trend of wearing aloha shirts to work. By the end of the 1960s, the wearing of aloha shirts for business dress any day of the week was accepted.  

So whether it is a collectible from the 1930s or a modern style of today, the aloha shirt remains a symbol of the casual, carefree, and graceful Hawai'i lifestyle. It's caught on everywhere - from Australia to LA. Love it or hate it, every tropical destination in the world has adopted the aloha shirt.

web: discoverhawaii.com.au

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June 27, 2011

Struth! What's Chinese for Lederhosen?

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that the idea of Chinese take-away appears to have been taken to new heights – the city of Huizhou in southern China is planning to build an exact copy-cat of the Austrian village of Hallstatt, described as "the most beautiful lakeside village in the world."

And the local Hallstatters are anything but pleased… particularly after they discovered that the Chinese had been mingling with the 800,000 tourists who visit their village every year, taking detailed photographs, making sketches and measuring-up the local wooden chalets, ancient churches, a 400-year-old inn, picturesque shops and cafés, and even the centuries-old market-place.

Just 800 people live in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hallstatt, which the Chinese say they are going to replicate on a 2ha (5-acre) site as a "high-end residential development with mountain and lake views" – even though they will have to create the lake as part of the copy-cat Hallstatt, complete with a tourist ferry like the real thing.

Huizhou is an industrial city whose local company, Chinese Minmetals Corporation believes will become a tourist magnet with its $8b replica Hallstatt – the same, it says, as the City of Chengdu did when it built a replica of part of England's historic little country town of Dorchester.  

June 20, 2011

Struth! Will the Real Phil Campbell Please Stand Up?

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that when fifteen men sat down to dinner in Alabama in America's south-east at the weekend, there was no fear about forgetting the names of those around them.

Because every one of them was named Phil Campbell. And while some had wives and partners at the dinner, one lady in particular was equally as easy as all those men to identify: her name was Phyllis Campbell.

And if all that wasn't enough, those at the dinner will never forget where they sat down either: the name of that little town in Alabama was Phil Campbell – the only town in the world to incorporate both the first and surname of a person in its name.

The "Phil Campbells" of the world have been gathering in Phil Campbell since 1995 when American journalist, Phil Campbell thought it would be an idea to get the Phil Campbells of America together for a reunion. Since then its grown to include other Phil Campbells from around the world… including this year three from Australia: one from Bowral NSW, another from Coffs Harbour NSW and the third from Bendigo in Victoria.

And this weekend's gathering was particularly important: the little town of Phil Campbell – population 1090 – was almost wiped off the map by a tornado in April this year and twenty-six residents lost their lives. Since then the Phil Campbells of the world have been raising funds to assist its recovery…and at the weekend flew in for several days to join working bees helping rebuild the shattered community.

Picture shows Phil Campbell from Bowral in the NSW Southern Highlands (orange shirt) who was one of three Australian "Phil Campbells" at the weekend's reunion and working bee.

(Photo courtesy Southern Highlands News.)


June 13, 2011


David Ellis

FRANK Sinatra and his Rat Pack not only performed there but partied hard there as well, a 5-star Who's Who of show-business took to it's stage, and gang enforcer "Tony the Ant" Spilotro had a last drink at the bar before being lured interstate and "eliminated" over a Las Vegas turf war.

For The Beatles it was their digs when they played the local Convention Centre in 1964, and the casino robbery scene in the original Ocean's Eleven was filmed in its vast 7,900sq metre (nearly two acre) casino.

At its peak the Sahara Hotel & Casino was the "jewel of the desert" at the northern end of the famous Las Vegas Strip, a flamboyant throw-back to another time with its Moroccan onion-dome minaret over the porte-cochere, and a magnet for gambling hopefuls, gawking tourists, celebrities and con-artists… and members of The Mob who seemingly gathered in Las Vegas with impunity.

But last month the Sahara checked-out its last hotel guest, settled its last bets, and after nearly six decades, switched-off the longest-burning casino sign on the Strip.

Now in place of the gamblers and the gawkers are the liquidators, this week beginning the mammoth task of selling-off 600,000 items that once made the Sahara the place in which to be seen rubbing shoulders with the rich, the famous and the maybe-infamous. Or simply to take-in its lavish floor shows, have a harmless flutter on the pokies, or wager your house on the card tables.

The Sahara opened in 1952, just the sixth resort in town at the time. It soon hired jazzman Louis Prima as its late-night lounge act – one of the first such ventures in Vegas, and a marketing brainwave – and equally soon was hanging the star sign outside the dressing rooms of entertainers as diverse as Abbott & Costello, Marlene Dietrich, Jack Benny, Shirley Bassey, Paul Anka, The Platters, The Coasters, Bill Cosby, Sony and Cher, Kay Starr, The Drifters…

The list goes on – page after star-studded page.

Over the years various new owners added extra-somethings to draw the crowds: an additional 27-storey accommodation wing in 1987, a new and even more-flamboyant porte-cochere and minaret in 1997, a bizarre roller-coaster a few years later that would shoot riders above the crowded Vegas Strip, loop them through the middle of the grandiose Sahara sign, rocket them skywards – then return them to the front of the resort via the same route… backwards.

Then came the GFC, the sprawl of Las Vegas with flashier and more-modern resorts and casinos away from the older north-side, America's latest financial woes, and a downturn in tourism to the desert city. The once-glamorous Sahara was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The more-than 1000 now ex-staffers, many of whom worked there much of their lives, have mixed feelings, saying it was loss of the "old atmosphere" that killed the resort.

"When the Rat Pack came the crowds flocked-in after them, to gawk, to play the tables or the slots and eat in the restaurants… they had the place humming," said one former waitress of Sinatra and his buddies, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.

And Humphrey Bogart for a short time before his death. In fact it was his wife, Lauren Bacall who told the boys after a long, hard night at the Sahara: "Ya look like a rat pack." The name stuck.

"But its all history, and good or bad the Strip will never be the same," another ex-staffer told journalists, recalling such times as when murder-for-hire mobster Bugsy Siegel ran Vegas from his Flamingo Hotel just down the road before being gunned down in 1947.

And so today's liquidators at the Sahara. In the massive gaming area, the 1,720 guest rooms and the multiple restaurants and bars, everything has a price tag on it: furnishings to fine arts, kitchens to chandeliers, the beds of the rich and the famous, a complete cinema, the bar stools that wide-eyed hopefuls propped on... and the gaming tables many a shirt – or more – was  lost on.

Even a picture of a beaming Jack Benny next to an old-fashioned slot machine, above which a sign reads: "Reserved for Jack Benny." 

The sale will run for an estimated two months.



Photo captions:


[] WRONG place at the wrong time: after nearly six decades Las Vegas'

   famous Sahara is no more.


[] LAS Vegas Strip – once home to 5-star show business icons, The Rat

   Pack and murder-for-hire mobster Bugsy Siegel.


[] WELCOME sign still shines, but visitor numbers are down with the GFC

   and a tightening economy.


[] THREE of the Rat Pack – Martin, Davis and Sinatra – put on an impromptu


(Pictures: Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority.  www.visitlasvegas.com.au)


Struth! Megaliner moves in


STRUTH !    

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says Australia is to get its first-ever "megaliner" to be based here for a whole cruise season: the 138,000-tonne Voyager of the Seas that's the length of three football fields will call Sydney "home" from November next year to March 2013, and will sail a dozen cruises of up to 18-nights to New Zealand, South Pacific Islands and Australian ports.

To keep her 3,100 guests amused, this gargantuan liner has eleven restaurants, cafés and other eateries, thirteen bars and clubs, three swimming pools, an ice-rink with an in-line ice-skating track, rock-climbing wall and a 1400sq metre gym and spa.

There's a water park for the kids, a 9-hole mini-golf course, a casino, and if you're suddenly smitten, a wedding chapel.

And for those who simply have to shop, a Royal Promenade of shops, boutiques and bars, and down which there is a nightly band "street parade."

While finally for those who can't afford an "outside" stateroom with a balcony, but who don't like the thought of claustrophobic inside cabins with no windows, there's a special section of inside staterooms that actually have a view – they overlook that Royal Promenade with all its activity including the nightly band parade.

If you book one of these, just remember to draw the curtains when its time to go to bed…

June 06, 2011

Struth! Where airliners go to die

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that Alice Springs has been ear-marked to become home to the first major "aircraft boneyard" outside the USA.

It will be similar to those in the deserts of Arizona and California where old planes that have passed their use-by date are parked until being bought up and recycled as scrap, or broken down into spare parts.

Airlines and armed forces dump literally thousands of aircraft a year – from tiny single-seaters to jumbo jets, fighter planes, bombers and helicopters, and dry, non-corrosive desert country is ideal for storing them as they await their fate. 

Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) will open the Australian "boneyard" early next year on 100 hectares of the 3500 hectare Alice Springs Airport.

It will store aircraft that may be temporarily surplus to airlines' needs, or have been decommissioned awaiting scrapping or stripping for their parts.

In the past such aircraft from the Asia Pacific region have had to be ferried at high cost to Arizona and California for storage in their deserts, where some of the larger "boneyards" can be home to over 4000 aircraft each.

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