July 31, 2012


David Ellis

HOW romantic it would be to think that a dreamy South Pacific atoll that Robert Louis Stevenson's wife fell in love with in 1890 would inspire him to write his immortal Treasure Island.

But in truth he had published his famous tome some seven years before they set eyes on this South Pacific treasure from aboard the old iron steamer Janet Nicoll, on their way to a new life in the Cook Islands in the hope the forever-poorly author could regain his health in warmer climes.

Yet that tiny half-square kilometre speck that Fanny Van de Grift Osborne wrote of as "the most romantic island in the world," was indeed a truly treasure island – with as many mysteries, shootings, intrigues and treasures that her master story-teller husband could ever dream of.

For while Robert Louis may have mused that Fanny had discovered her treasure island in the little dot of land called Suwarrow, little was he to know that 38 years earlier treasure had been found there in the way of a rusty steel box laden with gold and silver coins, precious necklaces, brooches and other jewellery.

Nor that there was more to come.

In 1850 an American ship, the Gem loaded with barrels of whale oil had run aground on Suwarrow Island's fringing reef. The crew was unharmed and made their way to Tahiti, from where a salvage team was sent to recover the whale oil.

But the captain of the recovery vessel, Livingston Evans already knew rumours of buried treasure on Suwarrow, and while his crew recovered the oil barrels, he himself went off in search of that treasure – remarkably finding a cache of Mexican and Spanish coins buried behind a beach and believed to have been worth then (1852) around US$15,000.

Wisely, after returning to Tahiti, Evans quietly disappeared with his considerable fortune.

Then three years later in Samoa, a German trader bought details from a drunken beachcomber of other treasure he said lay buried on Suwarrow. When the trader arrived there he followed those leads… to uncover US$2,400 worth of Spanish coins at the base of a tree.

Meanwhile others were showing an interest in the tiny atoll as a trading outpost, one company building a defensive fortress surrounded by coral walls on which it mounted two cannons facing into the atoll's lagoon.

But two of the traders fell out and in 1878 in an attempt to hose-down a dangerously escalating feud another vessel was sent to sort out the problem. A gun fight broke out as yet a third vessel arrived with a New Zealand crewman aboard named Henry Mair, a friend of one of the protagonists and thus ordered by his captain to remain aboard.

But in dead of night, Henry Mair slipped overboard to help his friend, and after a long swim crawled up the beach on Suwarrow, momentarily laying there to regain his breath. But startled by a scraping sound, in the moonlight he saw a turtle digging in the sand – it's flippers scratching on a battered metal box, from one end of which spilled countless coins and sparkling jewels…

Mair hurriedly dragged the box to a safer place and buried it deeply in the sand with his bare hands before going off to help his friend, and eventually returning to his ship; he later wrote to his brother about his buried treasure and said he had left instructions as to where it lay in a box of his personal possessions to be opened only upon his death.

Sadly Mair was murdered soon after in the New Hebrides while recruiting labour – his box of personal possessions with its precious leads to his buried treasure, never found.

It's believed Suwarrow's treasures most likely came from Spanish ships that foundered there while returning to the Philippines after raids on then-wealthy Mexico.

But untangling the web of how to find Henry Mair's treasure on Suwarrow today – and any others buried there as well – would seem more the provenance of the fertile imaginings of Robert Louis Stevenson himself, than that of reality itself.

(Suwarrow is a National Park of the Cook Islands 825km north-north-west of Rarotonga; its population is two – caretakers who maintain basic facilities for occasional visiting yachts or charter vessels from Rarotonga.)

[] TINY SUWARROW Island with its vast fringing reef – Stevenson's wife Fanny described it as "the most romantic island in the world." (Samoa Tourism)
[] ROBERT Louis and Fanny with family and friends at their Rarotonga home, Vailima. (Wikimedia.)
[] THE house soon after the Stevenson's moved in. (Samoa Tourism)
[] THE Stevenson's house is a museum to them today. (Samoa Tourism)
[] TWO buildings maintained on Suwarrow today for visiting yachties and occasional tourists from Rarotonga. (Flickr)

July 30, 2012

The Mysterious Digger of Reykjavik

from Roderick Eime in Iceland

This little tale reminds me why I enjoy museums so much. Especially the tiny folk museums many of the major tours overlook.

Once when I was a kid, we stopped at a tea house gallery near Gawler and my Dad sprang up in surprise when he saw a photo of his grandfather hanging on the wall.

Today I stumbled on a tiny cottage in the historic harbour district of Reykjavik, called Hafnarfjordur. [www.Hafnarfjordur.is]

It was a time capsule left behind by a prominent local woman who died in 1980 and decreed her house not be touched and left it to the people as a little museum. Quaint kitchen utensils sat on the wood stove, vintage furniture still in place while family photos adorned the sideboard. 

As I surveyed the sepia-toned gallery of family portraits and candid snaps, something immediately caught my eye. It was a studio photograph of a striking young soldier in uniform. So what? Well it was very obviously an Australian soldier of the First World War complete with signature slouch hat and 'rising sun' emblems on his collar.

The obvious question: what was a WWI digger doing on a mantlepiece in Iceland?

Various theories were put forward by the young lady who was attending the house on this drizzly Sunday morning. One was that he was an unfulfilled romantic interest by the spinster and only child who passed away at age 88 having never left her native Iceland. The same girl suggested the soldier was French, but I was able to quickly correct her on that issue. 

So this handsome young man was not a son, nor a husband or brother. Also not a sweetheart she'd met on some international galavant. Clearly there is some research ahead.

The woman in question was Sigridur Erlendsdottir, daughter of Erlendur Marteinsson (father) and Sigurveig Einardottir. To further compound the mystery, Icelandic surnames follow a complicated protocol of adopting father's or mother's name and adding either 'son' or 'dottir' as appropriate. So, tracing a family line or looking up birth records is a headspin. The government, by the way, long gave up on names and deals with everything by number for official purposes. 

I would be grateful if you could share this with anyone you think might have an inkling as to the identity of this dashing bloke from Hafnarfjordur.

July 23, 2012

Struth! Putting it all on show in Ireland

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says Aussie winemakers aren't averse to employing anything from the outlandish to the bizarre to promote their products, and that Hunter Valley winemaker Neil McGuigan must surely take the cake with his latest effort.

In September he's uprooting eighty of McGuigan Wines' 60 year old Semillon vines – and re-planting them in a public Square in the centre of Ireland's capital city, Dublin. And he's also taking along posts and wire to support the vines where they'll be planted in neat rows in Meeting Place Square, a stack of wine barrels, an Aussie tractor, and if not everything else down to the kitchen-sink then the closest thing to it – a complete cellar door big enough to drive a truck through.

It's all to coincide with the 20th anniversary of McGuigan Wines' iconic Black Label range, with their Dublin City Vineyard being open to the public from September 4th to 9th.

Neil McGuigan says his "real life" vineyard will provide an in-depth insight into the Australian wine industry, give Irish wine lovers the chance to rub shoulders with the highly awarded McGuigan winemaking team – lead by Neil himself – in a unique setting, and of course to taste the excellent McGuigan Hunter Valley product that's helped earn it the title of International Winemaker of the Year twice in the past three years.

Australian wines are currently #1 sellers in Ireland, and McGuigan Wines amongst the Top Ten global wine brands selling in the UK. For more information visit www.mcguiganwines.com.au



David Ellis
Hilary Roots

HANDS up if you've heard of Yeosu.

And hands up again if you know where it is, with top marks if you can say why it's currently revelling in the limelight.

The answer to the latter is that Yeosu, a small port city at the lower tip of South Korea, is the site for this year's World Expo, an event expected to attract 8-million visitors during its three months run to August 12th.

It's a nice boost for a city that's not really on the way to anywhere, but whose cool summers, mild winters and lengthy spring and autumn encourage plenty of tourists to Korea to make the three-hour trip there by fast train from Seoul, or around the same time by bus from Busan.

Not a trade fair, Yeosu's World Expo is an international event along the lines of what the inaugural Great Exhibition in London's Crystal Palace first paraded in 1851, and what Brisbane hosted in 1988. And with this year's theme of Living Ocean and Coast Expo, the 103 participating nations are highlighting just how precious is water to mankind's, and indeed the earth's, survival.

Denmark notes that global water use increases at more than twice the rate of population, while the Swiss pavilion headlines "Water is Nature's Bloodstream," and has a presentation of drops of water in an obscure tunnel that ends with a taste of fresh alpine water for visitors to savour.

Some world expos are precursors of what become everyday innovations. Our co-writer this week, Hilary Roots remembers the Italian pavilion at Brisbane in '88 presenting the extraordinary concept of a telephone with pictures – something pretty banal now.

And she recalls being impressed at Japan's Tskuba Expo in 1985 with hydroponically growing tomatoes – and a robotic man walking down stairs with awkward difficulty. So what of this year at Yeosu? Hilary says there are some electronic achievements that are remarkable, including from when visitors arrive into a passageway with a gigantic digital ceiling, 218 metres long, featuring a dreaming whale and other displays. No need to queue here, simply lift your eyes and watch the colourful swim-past of thousands of digitally-created images.

Some countries at Yeosu vaunt their careful use of water. Others rest on their laurels, while some encourage visitors to stop and think, pointing out that commonsense and sharing knowledge can contribute to more equitable water usage throughout the world.

The Dutch, for example, remind the world that climate change can be coped with – and point out that they've been doing just that for hundreds of years, given that much of their country is below sea-level. They built dykes and canals and set an example in a world that can be somewhat hysteric over what to do should the sea level rise – maybe, as Hilary says, we should be thinking the old Boy Scout motto.

Again the Dutch, ever so practical, present visitors with a flat water bottle at Yeosu - it deflates as one drinks from it, folds away to next to nothing, and is refillable. Korea itself, the US and Russia have impressive displays, and organisers have put together a well-patronised aquarium featuring rare creatures such as the small, white Beluga whale, and highlighting marine ranching or farming done in Yeosu itself.

Small countries are also present. Monaco one of them, and Pacific island states from Papua New Guinea eastwards through the Solomon Islands to Vanuatu, Nauru, Fiji, Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati.

And yes Australia is there with a two-fold purpose: firstly to build on trade and investment relationships with the Republic of Korea with whom Trade Minister, Craig Emerson says we've a long history of friendship, business ties and diplomatic links. And secondly with the theme "In Harmony with the Ocean" highlighting our credentials with high environmental, scientific and technical capabilities in marine conservation, and a commitment to sustainable development of our vast natural assets – our pavilion's already been visited by over a million expo-goers including Denmark's (our) Princess Mary.

So if you happen to be in or around Korea before August 12th, join those at Yeosu looking to a better world through sensible use of water and the oceans. The new Yeosu Hotel, two minutes from the gates, is a good place to start.


[] UNUSUAL moving digital ceiling at this year's Yeosu World Expo

[] PRINCE Frederik and (our) Princess Mary head for the Australian stand at the Expo.

[] PRINCESS Mary meets didgeridoo player Kristian Benton on the Australian stand.

[] CORNER of the colourful Australian stand.

(Photos: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

July 16, 2012


David Ellis


John Rozentals

FOR wine buffs the historic cellars of Seppeltsfield, in the heart of South Australia's Barossa Valley, are a very, very special place indeed.

Because here visitors – wine buff or not – are surrounded by casks of port from every vintage since 1878. That was when Benno Seppelt, eldest son of Silesian-born Seppeltsfield founder Joseph, laid down a barrel of his best to commemorate the opening of the family's new cellar.

There are European wineries with older wines than these, but nowhere is there a collection that can match the Seppeltsfield continuum.

And those who take a Seppeltsfield Centenary Tour ($85) are encouraged to find their birth-year cask, and are then offered a taste of "their" deep golden tawny liquid that sticks to the side of the glass.

Each year, Seppeltsfield bottles and releases a small quantity of 100-year-old port, and a taste of that is also included in the tour. It's quite amazing to see the reaction of visitors sipping a wine made three years before the Gallipoli campaign, and the same year Fanny Durack won Australia's first female Olympic gold medal in the 100-metre swim at the 1912 Stockholm Games.

You can buy this century-old wine at the cellar door. And while its $975 for 375ml it's actually quite a bargain, especially when you consider that the loss through evaporation from a barrel over a hundred years – and quaintly called the Angels' Share – is something like 80 per cent. Lucky angels!

In terms of both size and age of operation, the opposite extreme of the spectrum to Seppeltsfield can be found at Bob McLean's McLean's Farmgate, a small vineyard perched atop the windswept Menglers Hill, right on the dividing line between the Barossa and Eden Valleys.

But the recognition of history and tradition is still pervasive.

The vines here look different to most others in the area, and for good reason. Bob reckons he's the first in the Barossa for about 45 years to plant and train his vines as self-supporting bushes rather than on trellises, just as the valley's European founders did in the 1850s.

"It's not as efficient in yields or in use of manpower," he admits. "But I'm sure it produces better fruit and that's ultimately what I'm looking for."

He and his wife Wilma also graze some rare sheep — a cross between demara, an African desert breed, and dorper, in turn a cross between dorset and persian breeds. The result is renowned for the leanness of its meat and is part of the McLeans' commitment to an extremely proud local food culture, one that has been made internationally famous by the likes of Maggie Beer.

Probably the best place to appreciate the strength of that culture is the Barossa Farmers Market, held each Saturday morning in Vintners Sheds on the outskirts of Angaston.

It's a lively, friendly place where bakers, cheese-makers, smallgoods manufacturers, butchers, olive growers, breeders of game birds, orchardists, gardeners and purveyors of mouth-watering condiments trade cheek by jowl and compete with each other in spruiking the invaluable role of the Barossa as one of Australia's great premium food bowls.

Accommodation wise, the Barossa Valley is packed with B&Bs and there's the usual smattering of country pubs and family motels, but in terms of genuinely luxurious offerings it's very hard to go beyond Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, just outside Rowland Flat, the village whose local stream, Jacob's Creek, has placed it well and truly on the world's wine map.

The Novotel offers a range of comfortable rooms, classy restaurant, Endota spa facilities, heated outdoor pool, tennis courts, gymnasium and direct access to the adjacent 18-hole Tanunda Pines Golf Course.

And you really do need a vehicle to take advantage of the Barossa experience. It's a relatively large place, based on a range of villages well worth visiting — Tanunda, Angaston and Lyndoch among them.

We chose an economic near-new Hyundai Getz from DriveAway Holidays that has very competitive offerings both here in around Australia and in Europe and North America.


Seppeltsfield Winery – 08 8568 6217; www. seppeltsfield.com.au.

McLeans Farmgate – 08 8564 3340; www.mcleansfarm.com.

Barossa Farmers Market – 0402 026 882; barossafarmersmarket.com.

Novotel Barossa Valley Resort — 08 8524 0000; www.novotelbarossa.com.

DriveAway Holidays – 1300 363 500; www.driveaway.com.au.

Barossa Valley Tourism – 1300 852 982; www.barossa.com.


Photo captions:

[] MISTY Barossa sunset ... looking over the Seppeltsfield vines and palms towards St Michael's Gnadenfrei Lutheran Church.

[] UNIQUE collection ... casks of fine old port in the cellars at Seppeltsfield.

[] BOB McLean amid unique bush vines ... "I'm sure it produces better fruit and that's ultimately what I'm looking for."

[] NOVOTELl Barossa Valley Resort ... luxury offerings amid Barossa hills.

(Photos Sandra Burn White)

July 09, 2012


David Ellis

WE recently ran into a colleague we worked with many, many moons ago at ABC News, returning to her now-home on the Isle of Pines after a week cruising the mighty Mekong aboard the replica colonial river steamer, Indochina Pandaw.

And so intrigued were we with what our friend Hilary Roots told us, that we asked her to share with our readers she and partner Albert Thoma's week aboard. Here's her account:

WE rode in ox carts and 'cyclos,' visited cat-fish farms and floating markets, sampled snake wine and exotic fruits, caught a rare, lithesome gibbon swinging from rafters above our heads, held hands with and gave school books to village children who tugged at our heart strings, all the while gently cruising down the Mekong.

No television, radio, piped music or internet, just the swirl of the mighty river, its banks sometimes close enough to touch, sometimes a kilometre apart, a 4,000 kilometre artery feeding, watering and housing millions along its route through South-East Asia from Tibet.

The muddy colour belies its intense richness. Every year from June to November melting Himalayan snows swell it so much that the tributary from Tonle Sap lake (Asia's largest) halts, then goes backwards, gorged with tonnes of fresh water. Such dramatic changes bring new fish, flood rice and corn fields with rich alluvial sands and silt…

Not the sort who enjoy organised tours, we'd been enticed by an article torn from a magazine a few years back and put with the proverbial 'bucket list.' Or was it purely the photo of the ship? A replica of wooden craft the British once used to ply the Irrawaddy in the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries. An olde-worlde vessel, only three decks above water level, thirty passenger cabins – the whole outfitted in teak and brass.

Run by Pandaw Cruises, she was more like home from the moment we stepped  aboard. Our cabin cosy, easy to live in, wood panelling, white and navy blue linen, highlighted by the finer touches of fresh flowers and silk bathrobes.

Such details were enhanced by the young crew, ever devoted to making our seven-day stay comfortable and memorable. A mix of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Burmese, they reflected the vessel – discreet, attentive, innovative. Refined dining of a quality and variety to match the best anywhere, whether sampling Asian dishes or enjoying those appealing to Western palates. Intrepid excursions to explore markets and fields, temples and villages, often scrambling up the bank where the ship had drawn alongside, tying up to the nearest tree… guides brimming with history, facts and figures and their own personal accounts of growing up through recent tumultuous decades in Cambodia and Vietnam.

While Indochina Pandaw can take 60 passengers, we were only 22, coddled by 26 crew. Early June is considered the low season, the water level just starting to rise. And it can rain every day, but we were lucky: only one afternoon did the wind whip up, the skies darken and the rain pelt down for an hour. The rest of the week it was warm and humid. Exploring was fun, but it was always with a welcome sigh we returned to the cool and respite of the ship.

Our fellow voyagers were all widely travelled, mainly retired, but with the mental and physical verve of people interested in extending their experiences and horizons. The canopied sun deck bar and salon, and no set-seating for dining meant we made new acquaintances, swapped many a travel tale. All dressed simply yet correctly, with no pretentiousness.

Interestingly all were Australian, except us: I'm a Kiwi, Albert is Swiss. And the pivot point, the person who made the cruise zing, who had an eye on everything from technical details to visas, from orphan children performing a magical concert with their own hand-made costumes, to a crew/guest farewell party the last evening, was Rosie – a Cambodian university graduate, officially the purser, but more like cruise director, confidante, coordinator for all aboard.

Her vivacity and contagious laugh make her precious to Pandaw, and will echo with us for a long time to come.

It could well be we'll meet again on the waterway to Mandalay…

(Details of Indochina Pandaw from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City: www.pandaw.com)
[] GOING aboard at Kampong Chhang in Cambodia.

[] COLOURFUL markets like this one in Sa Dec, Vietnam abound.

[] DUCKING up the river at Chau Doc in Vietnam.

[] SKILLED art: making rice paper wrappings at Cai Be, Vietnam.

[] SHORE excursion by ox cart on the mighty Mekong.

[] CHILDREN from an orphanage in Phom Penh give a performance aboard.

[] ROSIE – a precious possession for Indochina Pandaw.

[] INDOCHINA PANDAW on the Mekong.

(Photos: Hilary Roots)


July 08, 2012

Struth! Down a stubbie at Drinkastubbie Downs

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that his retired schoolteacher brother and wife found two sides of our approach to a cold drink on a hot day during a recent campervan adventure through the Outback and inland Australia.

A couple of Canberra-ites, John and Diane Ellis joined the droves of Grey Nomads and headed into Central Australia, up to the Gulf country, down the Queensland coast, inland through central Queensland and across the border into NSW's north-western corner, and back home, a sojourn of some six weeks to escape much of Canberra's winter.

Enjoying a bottle of wine nightly whether camping or taking a bed in a remote country pub or motel, when they arrived in Mount Isa they went in search of fresh supplies for the coming nights, and unable to find a bottle shop, asked a mature, well-dressed lady in the main street if she could assist with directions.

John says he was taken aback when she snapped back somewhat haughtily: "No. They all drink far too much out here in the pubs as it is, without having bottle shops as well!"

This rebuff was made up for, however, when John and Diane discovered a cattle property near Charters Towers that was obviously not owned by a person of the same persuasion as the lady in Mount Isa.





David Ellis

FOR South Australian winemaker Tim Adams, buying the Clare Valley's historic old Leasingham Winery this month with wife and business partner Pam Goldsack was not so much a business decision, but a homecoming.

Because it's allowed him to achieve what so many starry-eyed young hopefuls dream of: from starting as a bottom-of-the-ladder teenager, to 36-years later becoming the owner of the business in which he started his career.

The Leasingham Winery dates back to 1893 when a diverse group of South Australian professional and businessmen decided to plant grapes in the already-flourishing Clare Valley and buy a failed jam factory that they would convert into a winery. The fact that none of them had any idea whatsoever about winemaking was neither here nor there.

The group included German-born merchant Joseph Knappstein, solicitor Magnus Badger, a brewer John Cristion and the aptly-named Doctor Otto Wein-Smith; to make up for their lack of viticultural and winemaking expertise, they engaged a Mr Alfred Basedow – a European-trained winemaker – as both General Manager and Winemaker.

And somewhat unimaginatively they called their venture The Stanley Wine Company after their local electoral district.

Their first vintage in 1895 produced 11,350 litres, and the next year they built a cellar under their jam factory-cum-winery to store a much larger production. As their vineyards flourished – and other growers brought fruit to them for making into wine – they added more cellaring space, and by 1903 were producing over 378,000 litres of wine from most of the annual grape harvest in the Clare Valley.

Joseph Knappstein, the most enterprising of the group bought out his partners in 1912, and after his death in 1919 his family continued to run the company until they sold a controlling interest in 1971 to the American baked bean maker, the H.J. Heinz Corporation.

The Knappsteins retained key positions within The Stanley Wine Company, however, and held shares in it until 1976, by which time the company had grown far beyond what its original owners could ever have dreamed of.

And it was producing not only premium wines but the-then new-fangled Stanley Wine Cask.

With demand for the Wine Casks booming, the Heinz Corporation in 1984 bought the huge Buronga Winery on the NSW side of the Murray River opposite Mildura and expanded it even more to make the Casks there, while in 1988 the Hardy Wine Company bought the premium Clare Valley facilities. It also spent $2-million upgrading the Winery and it's Cellar Door, and developing gardens and picnic areas for visitors.

It renamed the winery Leasingham Wines and continued to produce premium wines there until 2009 when it moved this production to McLaren Vale and closed the old winery.

Throughout much of all this, Joseph Knappstein's successors had continued an involvement in the winery he'd had helped start in 1893, including his son Mick Knappstein who worked as a winemaker there for an incredible 57 years – and earning himself after his retirement in 1985 The Order of Australia for services to the wine industry.

And it was during his stewardship that a local schoolboy, Tim Adams wrote a letter seeking employment in the winery. Tim had sent the letter to many other wineries as well, but it was Mick Knappstein who recognised the enthusiasm of the writer and gave him a job as a cellar hand in 1975.

'Mr Mick' as he was known, nurtured the young Tim, even giving him financial assistance to do a Bachelor of Applied Science (Wine Science) by correspondence at Charles Sturt University; Tim graduated in 1981 and by that time was Assistant Winemaker to 'Mr Mick,' and the following year was made Winemaker responsible for day-to-day operation of the winery that then employed 60 people.

This month Tim and wife Pam Goldsack take over the empty Leasingham Winery as its new owners. They'll re-open the Cellar Door, visitor gardens and picnic areas, and while continuing to run their existing Tim Adams winery in the Clare Valley, will make select wines at the historic old winery and crush fruit under contract there for other growers.

Their wines will include 'cleanskins' that they make and donate all profits from to the Variety Children's Charity – and a new label that will appear around mid-June.

Appropriately it will be called 'Mr Mick.'





[] HISTORIC Leasingham Winery now owned by Tim Adams Wines – rose from a defunct jam factory that went belly-up in the 1880s.

[] TIM Adams in his own original winery in the Clare Valley.

[] TIM Adams Wines' picturesque Ladera Vineyard (its Spanish for 'ladder.')   Vertical

[] TIM Adams Wines' picturesque Ladera Vineyard (its Spanish for 'ladder')    Horizontal


(Please credit vineyard images to Frances Adams. Others supplied.)




David Ellis and John Rozentals


IT may not have the mystique of Agatha Christie's Orient Express, or require the week-long stamina of the Trans-Siberian, but there's no doubting the status of Australia's The Ghan as one of the world's great rail journeys.


Because this is an epic 54-hour transcontinental expedition covering almost 3000km between Adelaide and Darwin, and offering both an eye-opening look at our spectacular Inland, and a captivating insight into our pioneering past.


Originally begun in 1878 to link Adelaide with Stuart – now Alice Springs – it took 51-years to reach Alice, and another 75 years after that to get to Darwin.


And early passengers were never led to believe there was much in common between official- and actual-time: on one occasion in the 1930s when the train finally chugged into Stuart a fortnight behind schedule, rather than the driver, fireman, cook and guard being lambasted as bumbling public servants, they were lauded as Heroes of the Outback.


Because when their train became trapped in floodwaters in the middle of nowhere, the crew had gone off daily to shoot wild goats, and butcher and feed these, and tea, to their passengers thrice daily until the floodwaters subsided. As a journalist of the day noted: "Timetables are a matter more of hope than fact… not only is the hour of arrival indefinite, but also the day."


It is far different in today's air-conditioned Ghan – so named after the Afghan camel drivers who ferried freight from where the train terminated for many years in Port Augusta, to Stuart. Seeing the camel-train dust on the horizon, Outback locals would send the word north: "The 'Ghan's are coming…"


Modern-day travellers have a choice of seating-only Red Class, Gold Class double-sleeper with ensuite, and the more-luxury Platinum Class.


But even the highly-popular Gold Class sitting/sleeping cabins are not where you want to spend the majority of your time on this eye-opening journey: the Lounge Car is the place Gold Classers head for, with picture windows, reading material, a bar, and the opportunity to chat with fellow travellers who come from around the world.


And it quickly becomes apparent that that they could just have as easily called this part of the train Baby Boomer Class, for here are people looking for comfort and good food and wine as they crack into the kids' inheritance on this cross-desert soft-adventure…


Conversations quickly turn to the surrounding countryside, and while it's easy to imagine the Australian Outback as a possibly boring, scrubby, same-ish environment, its one that quickly proves that the more you look, the more you see...


On the journey south from Darwin, there's time for lunch before a stop at Katherine, a lunch that introduces guests to the skills of chefs Karen Chandler and Chetin Suri and their culinary wonders from an amazingly tiny kitchen.


The stop at Katherine allows a chance to join an (additional cost) tour into the Nitmiluk National Park, including a cruise through part of the Katherine Gorge and a viewing of indigenous rock art; the tour is run by the local Jawoyn people and their applause-earning expedition leader, Robbie Braun.


The Ghan's other stop for sightseeing is at Alice Springs next morning, and while the train's parent company, Great Southern Rail is based in Adelaide, its spiritual home is here in Australia's very centre...


A must-visit during the three-hours at Alice is the Araluen Cultural Precinct with its Arts Centre, Museum of Central Australia, the Strehlow Research Centre that's a repository of material relating to the local Arrernte people, a craft studio, and the Central Australian Aviation Museum.


And back on board, there's time for drinks in the lounge car, a chat with fellow guests – many of them rail buffs with infinitely detailed diaries of their international train travels – and later, while enjoying a leisurely dinner with wine (optional cost,) staff convert Gold Class cabin seating into double bunks.


Wake-up calls come at about 6.30am through a friendly rap on the door, and tea or coffee. Then a quick shower in an ensuite that's a miracle of compaction, breakfast – and another amazement-filled day as The Ghan continues its eye-opening 3-day, 2-night journey south…


For details see travel agents or go to Great Southern Rail www.gsr.com.au.





[] THE GHAN – one of the world's great rail adventures

[] THE GHAN snaking its way through a diversity of outback landscapes

[] MEMORIAL on Alice Springs station to the Afghan camel drivers who

   opened up the outback.

[] OUTBACK ruins along the track of The Ghan

[] GOLD CLASS dining car: exceptional cuisine from a wobbly kitchen

[] CHEFS Karen Chandler and Chetin Suri bring it all together

[] SLEEPER cabin in Gold Class – a miracle of compaction

(Photos: Sandra Burn White and Great Southern Rail)



David Ellis

WHAT ever it is about trains that attracts people – and it seems the older the trains, the more the attraction – Trainworks has struck gold doing it with the largest rail museum in the Southern Hemisphere.

And located at Thirlmere around just an hour's drive southwest of Sydney's CBD, it attracts 34,000 visitors a year.

It's amazing collection includes Australia's most-powerful-ever steam locomotive and by contrast one of our oldest, our most palatial rail carriage and conversely our most-feared, and seemingly anything in-between.

Visitors are particularly thick on the ground on Sundays, which feature old-days steam train rides from Thirlmere Station to the little village of Buxton and back. These 50-minutes of nostalgia for oldies are equally an eye-opener for kids, teens and younger adults into the way we travelled, and how we moved everything from freight and foodstuffs to prisoners and even our dead, in yesteryear.

And several times a year there's even the chance for the kids to meet Thomas the Tank Engine, the Fat Controller, Toby and Henry, take a ride on a vintage train pulled by Donald the Black Engine, or enjoy jumping castles, an inflatable slide, face painting, storytelling – and of course photos with Thomas (whose next visit is the weekend of July 14 and 15.)

Opened by rail-buff volunteers as the NSW Rail Transport Museum in 1975, Trainworks is now managed by Railcorp's Office of Rail Heritage and run in conjunction with a strong base of still volunteers of the Rail Transport Museum.

And a recent $30m refurbishment widened its appeal beyond its traditional base of purely train enthusiasts, to families, schools for educational outings, and to social groups and clubs for fund-raising through a day out with a difference.

Sprawling over 5ha (more than 12 acres) the site also embraces Thirlmere's very beginning from the 1860s as a tent-town for workers on the Sydney-Goulburn Great Southern Railway: there's still the original railway station opened in 1885, the Station Master's Cottage built to an American design in 1891 that was Thirlmere's first brick building, and the Co-Op Shed built around 1908.

But most captivating are the locomotives, carriages, freight wagons and railway paraphernalia, with visitors able to meander through numerous restored historic passenger carriages to re-live our rail past, or peer through their windows into the interiors of others too valuable to risk damaging. These latter include the circa-1901 Governor-General's carriage that's owned by the Powerhouse Museum and housed at Trainworks, and which is a veritable palace on wheels that would cost over $1m to replace today.

By contrast there's the last of just four-ever prison vans used to transport inmates between prisons around the state from 1915 to 1975, an austere, barred compartment with bare-board seating for 14 male prisoners with a toilet at one end, a room for five warders in the middle, and compartment for eight female prisoners with toilet at the other end.

There's also an interesting Travelling Post Office once used for sorting mail on-the-move to country centres, an unusual little Rail Pay Bus whose bus body was adapted to travel on rail to deliver rail workers' wages, steam locomotive E18 that was built in 1866 and served a near-100 years, a display explaining how signals and points work – and a funeral cart on which coffins were delivered to one-time funeral trains.

Other restored or partly-restored carriages include old Sydney suburban electrics, the 3-car Broken Hill Silver City Comet, sleeping, dining and lounge cars from the one-time all-First Class Sydney to Melbourne Southern Aurora, once steam-hauled country passenger train carriages, buffet cars – and a so-called 'dog box' lavatory car.

Amongst goods wagons are an original Arnotts Biscuits van, Shell tanker, grain and coal hoppers, a rail horse box and a guard's van.

And for those whose love is locomotives there are seventeen on static display including Australia's once most-powerful steam loco, the 260 tonne Garratt, six various class operational steam locos, while the famous 3801 fast express loco can be seen in overhaul in the Roundhouse workshops

The Roundhouse also has a 33m turntable that can swing locos onto seven different tracks and is one of only three of its magnitude in NSW.

For details, entry prices, cost of steam train rides and Thomas the Tank Engine's visit: (02) 4681 8001 or www.trainworks.com.au



[] BACK in time: locomotive E18 built in 1866 saw a near-100 years service.

[] TRAINWORKS Great Hall a steam train lovers paradise.

[] STEAM train day: Sundays at Thirlmere Station.

[] EVERY boy wants to be a steam train driver – starting young with Trainworks.

[] FAVOURITES with everyone: Thomas readying for a day out at Trainworks.

(Photos: Trainworks)


JUAN FERNANDEZ' Robinson Crusoe Island
ALEXANDER Selkirk (Robinson Crusoe's) cave home for four years and four months
STATUE of Alexander Selkirk in his home town of Lower Largo, Scotland
DANIEL Defoe's original book
MODERN day Robinson Crusoe Islanders survive on small tourist trade and lobster fishing

David Ellis

WHEN a cantankerous, foul-mouthed seaman named Alexander Selkirk told the skipper of an 18th century privateer what to do with his ship, and to let him off at the next sighting of land, the captain was more than happy to be rid of the troublesome Scot.

But the landfall on which Selkirk was put ashore was not the coast of South America he'd expected – it was an uninhabited dot in the South Seas somewhere between Easter Island and the coast of Chile that was another 600km to his east…

Selkirk would spend four years and four months alone on his island – only to return to England in the early 1700s to become, in more sanitised form, a hero to children world-wide, and later the genesis of a score of films and TV shows.

For it was Selkirk who became fellow Scots writer Daniel Defoe's legendary Robinson Crusoe.

The hard-drinking and quarrelsome Selkirk was Mate aboard the Cinque Ports, and when the ship sprang a leak during a raid on the west coast of South America, he had a blazing row with the captain about repairs. It was during this argument that Selkirk asked to be put ashore.

The captain cruelly headed for uninhabited Juan Fernandez, and despite last minute pleas that he'd changed his mind, Selkirk was abandoned there with his clothes, hammock, a shotgun, some tobacco, a hatchet, knife, kettle and a Bible.

He soon found how inhospitable his island would be. Sea lions bellowed through the night, rats nibbled at his toes and ears as he tried to sleep, and rain squalls regularly swept the island.

And he would have gone mad but for his brutish physical and inner strength that saw him through 52 months of solitude in remarkably good stead.

When his meagre gunpowder supply ran out, Selkirk took to catching fish, lobsters and turtles with his hands, and even running down and slaying with his knife the wild goats that had been left by previous visitors to Juan Fernandez.

Because he had no matches, he kept a cooking fire alight in a cave he called home, and if this went out he re-started it by rubbing dry sticks together.

The wild goats gave him not only meat, but skins to make breeches and shirts when his clothes wore out – using a nail as a needle, and threads salvaged from discarded clothing for stitching.

While not hunting and keeping a look-out for passing ships from a high rock, Selkirk harvested native cabbage palm and pimentos to add to his diet. And to amuse himself he tamed feral cats that had been dumped from previous ships, wild parrots and kid goats, telling Daniel Defoe how "I would often dance and sing with them…"

Several Spanish privateers called at Juan Fernandez, but Selkirk hid in fear that they would take him captive. He only raced to the beach and rescue in his goatskin suit when the privateeer Duke, the British flag a-flutter, dropped anchor in 1709.

By this time he could make himself little understood, uttering little more than croaking sounds. But he quickly recovered, joined the crew of one of the Duke's sister ships, and actually captained it at one stage pillaging Spanish-American ports before returning to Scotland.

It was there that Daniel Defoe heard of Selkirk's remarkable story and created Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk enjoyed a brief celebrity status, but fell back into his drunken, loose-living ways before dying of fever aboard another privateer in 1721 at just 47 years of age.

Shortly before that final voyage, he told a London journalist he read his Bible daily while on Juan Fernandez and "was a better Christian in solitude… and never as happy as when not worth a farthing."

Today Juan Fernandez, with a population of just over 600, is not the easiest place to visit, but has been called "A Lost Paradise" for hiking, horseback riding, bird-watching, scuba diving, snorkelling and sport fishing.

And interestingly two of its three islands were re-named Robinson Crusoe Island and Alexander Selkirk Island in 1966 in an effort to increase a meagre tourist flow via Chile; accommodation is available in the appropriately named Hotel Aldea Daniel Defoe and the Crusoe Island Lodge.

Flights (2.5-hours) depart from Santiago, Chile; details from travel agents.

(Images: Wikimedia)


David Ellis


WHEN the Seventh Earl of Hopetoun, a Scottish aristocrat, politician and one-time Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria, was appointed first Governor-General of the new Commonwealth of Australia, it was felt he should have his own railway carriage to journey around the countryside to meet his people – albeit that this countryside would be confined to just New South Wales.


And not any old railway carriage. His would be built from the wheels up as the most luxurious carriage for its time, equivalent to anything used to carry royalty back home in Britain.


And to heck that the economy was more than somewhat fluffy as Australia approached Federation – John Adrian Louis Hope was our first national Governor-General, a man of title, confidant to the Queen… and within months would be squiring the Duke of Cornwall and York – who was in line to become King George V – and his Duchess when they officially opened our first Federation Parliament in Melbourne on May 9 1901.


Thus the New South Wales Railways' Office of Mechanical Engineer was charged with creating a work of extraordinary opulence, and it's Workshops at Eveleigh in Sydney with the task of putting it all together.


Such a masterpiece did they create, that 111 years later it is still the most luxurious railway carriage in Australia – and fortuitously for everyone from devout rail aficionados to the just plain curious, it has been preserved for us to gawk at, marvel over, photograph and simply ponder its appointments and lavish, almost affectionately-decadent, attention to detail.


None of which came cheaply: when the carriage rolled out of Eveleigh in 1901 the average weekly wage was 2-pounds-3-shillings, a loaf of bread cost two-pence and a litre of milk three-pence… while the Governor-General's carriage cost a staggering 6,475 pounds (in today's terms around  a whopping $855,000.)


And because used for numerous royal visits, special-occasion travel by State Governors and for VIP and commemorative occasions until the 1980s, it was immaculately cared-for, and in 1992 donated by the-then State Rail Authority to the Powerhouse Museum, which in turn has it displayed at Trainworks (the former NSW Rail Transport Museum) at historic Thirlmere an easy hour's drive southwest of Sydney.


The carriage never ceases to draw particular Ooohs and Ahhhs from visitors to Trainworks, that's home to Australia's biggest and most fascinating collection of railway rolling stock.


And little wonder. The Governor-General's carriage sits alongside a mock platform so visitors can see through the windows of its Indian teak exterior into its three luxury sleeping suites, a dining room, galley with attendants' quarters, and a lavish observation lounge with everything from lounge chairs upholstered in Moroccan leather to a polished oak cellarette (small portable wine cooler.)


Interior decorations include no fewer than 311 intricately hand-carved English oak and Australian cedar panels depicting NSW botanical specimens. There are finely-etched glass panels of indigenous flora, silk drapes fringe windows, and  hundreds of items from coat hooks to light switch covers are gold plated from fourteen gold sovereigns melted down for the job.


The dining suite has a table with six chairs and an intricately carved oak sideboard, and the bedrooms feature brass and gold-trimmed bedsteads, built-in wardrobes, fans, heaters and ensuite toilets and showers.


After the Duke and Duchess arrived in Melbourne by ship and opened the first Australian Parliament, they travelled by a Victorian Railways train to Albury where, with Governor-General the Earl of Hopetoun, they boarded his brand-new carriage attached to a NSW Railways' train made up also of the State Governor's and Railway Commissioner's private carriages and several support cars for the trip to Sydney.


And bizarrely although thousands of people turned out along the route to wave them on, when the Royal train passed through stations all window blinds were pulled down – to preserve the Duke and Duchess's privacy.


For security a pilot locomotive ran ahead of the Royal train, a back-up steam engine travelled behind, and all railway crossing gates were closed and locked.


Although not the first royal, Queen Elizabeth, with Prince Philip, was the first reigning monarch to use the Governor-General's carriage in 1954, and the last royal was Princess Marina, the Dowager Duchess of Kent in 1964.


NEXT WEEK: Trainworks' treasures: mighty steam, luxury on line, austere prison vans…. even Thomas.






[] THE Governor-General's carriage – 111 years on, still the most luxurious railway carriage in Australia.


[] DINING in style while on the move for the Governor-General and VIP guests.


[] AN indication of the attention to detail in the three staterooms.


[] THE Queen and Prince Philip aboard the Governor-General's train in 1954.



July 07, 2012

Struth! Mail delivered by boot

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wonderous in the world of travel, David Ellis finds South Africa's postal service actually 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 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 was left this way by Pedro de Aitade, a naval commander, who addressed it to the King of Portugal. It was found over 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 – 510 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."


July 05, 2012


3 million Australians travel overseas each year. 16%-19% of these lose one day or more of their trip due to illness[1]. With the 2012 London Olympics fast approaching, thousands of Aussies are planning to travel to the UK to support the Australian athletes.  Aussie followers are being urged to take the necessary precautions to prevent illness on their trip.

Ravinder Lilly, Nutritionist at USANA Health Sciences, global nutritional supplements manufacturer says, "It is essential to protect your health before and during travelling. Travelling can unfortunately affect the body in such a way that it lowers immunities and increases the likelihood of encountering germs that can trigger illnesses from tummy upsets to colds to other infections. If you are planning on travelling overseas or a long distance domestic trip, you should consider taking extra precautions now, in order to defend against sickness."

Ms. Lilly has the following top three tips for travellers to avoid developing an illness:

Stay hydrated
The humidity on a plane is much lower than on dry land. Opt for plenty of water while in flight and avoid too much alcohol and caffeinated drinks that can make dehydration worse.  Staying hydrated will also help fight off headaches.

Wash your hands
Hand washing is the number one tip in avoiding illness. When travelling, you are likely to be in contact with a lot of common areas used by a high volume of other people such as buses, trains, planes, light switches, lift buttons etc. Wash your hands regularly and carry some hand sanitizer with you for those occasions where you don't have access to soap or cleaning supplies

Take a good vitamin and mineral supplement
Take relevant vitamins when travelling in order to boost your immune system and help defend against the spread of germs. Vitamins A, C and E are important immune boosters. Vitamin D, which a third of Aussies are deficient in, can also boost immune health.

USANA's Healthpak contains all of these and is the most convenient way to stay healthy and active while travelling, whilst also helping to boost the immune system and promotion of all round good health.

Healthpak is a four in one product supplying USANA's premier products in convenient packets that include Essentials (Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that work together to develop a nutritional foundation) and Active Calcium Plus. The individual dosages make travelling and maintaining a hectic lifestyle easier. You don't need to fuss with several bottles of vitamins. It's all in one easy to carry pack. Autoship Price: $195.00

Ms Lilly also says it's important to snack on low GI foods when travelling that provide a convenient source of nutrition and sustained energy.

USANA Health Sciences' new Nutrition Bars in peanut butter crunch flavour are the ideal travel companion.  These are a tasty and handy source of protein and an energy boost to keep you going until your next meal.
Autoship Price: $47.50

"Preparation is the key to avoiding illness whilst travelling. Although there are a lot of factors to consider before taking off on a trip, your health is the most important. So plan ahead and prepare in order to defend against any nasty bugs," concludes Ms Lilly.

USANA Health Sciences was founded in 1992 in the United States by microbiologist and immunologist, Dr Myron Wentz.  It is now a global company operating in 14 countries and was established in Australia and New Zealand in 1998.  There are now over 50,000 Independent Associates (distributors) in the region.

USANA was founded with a distinct vision of providing greater health and financial opportunities for its independent associates, shareholders and its employees.   The products are backed by an accredited team of scientific experts and USANA has been awarded a 5-star rating for its nutritional products – the highest of any available in Australia in the Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements (2nd Ed) by Lyle McWilliam, an independent Canadian biochemist.

USANA is directly sold by men and women in Australia who choose to work from home on either a full time basis or for a few hours a week, providing an opportunity to achieve financial freedom and limitless growth.  USANA prides itself of its integrity and ethical business practices.

For more information on USANA Health Sciences visit www.usana.com or call 1800 670 126

Vitamin supplements should not replace a balanced diet.  USE ONLY AS DIRECTED.  ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.  If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare practitioner.
*Do not take while on warfarin therapy without medical advice.

[1] Deakin University Health Advice 2011

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