December 19, 2013

Californian design style only at Brisbane

By Graeme Willingham

Having seen everything contemporary in the Melbourne Now mega art event, it was the design of California over the 1930-65 period that captivated our attention during a weekend arty visit to Brisbane.

'California Design 1930–1965. Living in a Modern Way" features some 250 objects that helped to define modern style in the 20th century, including furniture, textiles, fashion, graphic and industrial design, ceramics, jewellery, metalwork, architectural drawings and film, and is the first exhibition to examine California's role in shaping the design culture of the United States and the rest of the world.

The Queensland Art Gallery on Southbank is the only place in Australia where this unique collection of innovative designs will be on show. It runs 'til February 5.

The exhibition traces the origins of a distinct modernism in the 1930s, the design breakthroughs made as World War II technologies were adapted for peacetime use, and California's subsequent emergence as America's epicentre of innovation in architecture and furnishing.  

The exhibition is presented in four thematic sections that explore the 'Shaping,' 'Making,' 'Living,' and 'Selling' of the ideas and objects of California Modern.

For this surfer boomer, big favourites were the Greg Noll double stringer (the wooden inlay) fibreglass surfboard with signature Noll chopstick fins, the graphic design for the branding of Endless Summer (still one of the all-time great surfing movies), classic Levi 501 jeans, iconic furniture by Charles and Ray Eames, the first Barbie, open light-filled home design, a 1964 Studebaker Avanti and a 1936 Airstream 'Clipper' trailer. My partner was especially taken by the fashion, including the display of leisurewear featuring several "playsuits" and the house design.

While we completed the exhibition (which is ticketed) within a couple of hours, we were looking for more. In the forecourt though our appetites were sated by a demonstration of hairstyling and foundation garments which "shaped" the female form of that era. And outside, a troupe of really smart young swing dancers stepped it out all afternoon. Overall, it was a lot of fun and a worthwhile trip down memory lane.

Our arts Brisbane weekend began at check-in at the Mercure Brisbane North Quay directly opposite on the other side of the river. The Mercure is putting on the art style too with its new chic rooms featuring bright green wall tiles and dark grey carpets with big splashes of the vibrant colours lipstick pink, lime green or yellow which are complimented on the bed throws and lounge chairs.

Local fine art printmaker award-winner Kelly Fielding has created stunning bed heads, the artworks for which were taken from her linocuts designed to showcase the diverse landscape and lifestyle that she has witnessed everyday as a resident of Brisbane.

The hotel offers packages linked to the galleries..

We also visited the very impressive Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) which is virtually next door to QAG.

We spent a lot of time in the Voice and Reason exhibition which draws attention to the reasoning, knowledge and experience behind the work of Indigenous artists, some in dialogue with works by non-Indigenous artists. Artists featured in this display include Vernon Ah Kee, Gordon Bennett, John Citizen, Sue Elliott, Fiona Foley, Robert MacPherson, Luke Roberts and Judy Watson.

But don't miss the 25-minute four-channel HD video surround sound installation Everyday Magic.

Big news at GOMA is that leading international contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang is staging the exhibition Falling Back to Earth, part of which includes an installation of 99 life-like animal sculptures gathered around a watering hole in GOMA's largest gallery, which was inspired by the artist's visit to Stradbroke Island with his family. A meditative second new work will fill GOMA's iconic Long Gallery, inspired by Cai's time among the ancient trees of Lamington National Park and the Daintree rainforest. Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth, is exclusively at GOMA and run to April 21..


December 16, 2013


David Ellis

WATCHING fast bowler Mitchell Johnson rout England in the First Test in Brisbane last month took us back a lot of years to another extraordinary player with not just the ball, but the bat as well, and that was the flamboyant, larger-than-life Keith 'Nugget' Miller.

Arguably Australia's greatest-ever all-rounder, Miller was a hero to those of us in the decade between the end of World War II and when he retired in 1956 – amassing 2,958 runs and taking 170 wickets at an average 23, in 55 Tests.

Standing 1.88m (6ft 2ins) he was an explosive batsman, thrilling fast bowler and an outstandingly athletic slips fielder, and with swashbuckling good looks and a totally irreverent manner, found himself the idol of many a young lady's eye – and not averse to the attention paid to him from those as diverse as State beauty title-holders to royalty (Britain's Princess Margaret was an unabashed admirer,) despite being married with four sons.

Broad-shouldered, with wavy dark hair, a flashing smile and at-times maverick behaviour both on and off the field, Miller was said by a British sports writer to have "lit up the dull post-war days" of England when the Australians, led by Don Bradman, visited in 1948 – the team being dubbed The Invincibles after winning 4 of the Ashes Tests and drawing the 5th.

And it was not just during that season's Tests that Miller made headlines. In a game against an Essex side when he went in to bat with the Australians 2/364, and with Bradman after as big a sum as possible, instead of a swashbuckling performance to further demoralise the home side, Miller pulled his bat away from the first ball and was bowled for a duck.

Bradman was furious, the more so when Miller turned to the wicket-keeper and said: "Thanks God that's over," and strolled off the field. The Australians went on to amass 721 runs.

This somewhat devil-may-care attitude extended to almost every aspect of his life. He enjoyed a punt, mixed with the rich and famous as easily as he did with mates at his local pub, and enjoyed a good party.

On one tour he surprised captain Bradman by banging on his hotel door fully dressed at midnight and announcing: "You said we had to be in bed by curfew. I was – and now I'm going out." He came back in time for breakfast, and with an almighty hang-over Bradman despatched him for that day's play to the farthest point in the field. It meant Miller had to walk or jog across the field constantly after every over – until a friendly local offered him his pushbike. When Miller took up the offer, Bradman again was not amused, and ordered him off it.

On another occasion back in Australia, Miller as captain of a NSW side turned up to play still dressed in a tuxedo from the night before, changed hurriedly and when he went to bowl his first over had it pointed out by the umpire that he was still wearing his night before's dancing pumps.

Conversely, Keith Miller loved classical music, especially Beethoven, and having been seconded in WWII to Britain's RAF for his prowess as a pilot, on one raid over Germany broke off from his squadron and flew up the Rhine River to Bonn. After circling the city a couple of times he caught up with his compatriots flying home to Britain, explaining when he landed: "Bonn was where Beethoven was born. I was curious to have a look at it."
And in a radio interview with England's Michael Parkinson, Miller was asked about "pressure on the field."

He answered: "Pressure? Pressure is flying a Mosquito at 20,000 feet with a Messerschmitt up you're a--e!"

Keith Miller's name is inscribed on two Honour Boards in the Visitors' Dressing Room at Lord's, the "home of cricket" in London – one is for a Test century he scored there in 1953, and the other for taking 10 Test wickets three years later.

And he's one of only four Australians whose portraits hang in the revered Long Room at Lord's, the others being Don Bradman, Victor Trumper and Shane Warne.

Nice tributes to a cricketer whose first impression of Lord's was "it's a crummy little ground".



[] KEITH Miller plays a classic square cut. (Unknown photographer)
[] THE 1948 Australian "Invincibles" Ashes side, Keith Miller is second on right.   
   (Australian Cricket Board)
[] LONDON's Lord's Cricket Ground – the 'Home of Cricket' – which Miller initially
   Thought was "a crummy little ground." (England & Wales Cricket Board)
[] THE Pavilion built at Lord's in 1890 is today British Heritage Listed. (WikiMedia)
[] BY contrast the extraordinary almost "Star Wars" modern new Media Centre at Lord's.
   (Malcolm Andrews)
[] WHAT it's all about: the little urn containing "The Ashes. (WikiMedia)


Struth! World's Steepest Street - and it's not the rent

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says you've got to make sure the handbrake's on and the car's automatic is in P when you park on Baldwin Street in New Zealand's North East Valley just outside Dunedin – because its officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the World's Steepest Street.

Just 350m long – or should that be high? – Baldwin Street rises an average 1-in-5 metres, with the steepest part a short 1-in-3 section. And it has a concrete surface because it was feared that if it was bitumen-sealed, on hot days the bitumen could soften and slip down the hill.

And while you might think it perhaps somewhat stupid on the part of the local council to build it in the first place, in fact as was the case in many other parts of developing New Zealand, early Dunedin had no local town planners, and new settlements were simply laid out in grid formats by planners back in London who gave no thought to the local terrain.

In North East Valley's case, it was developed by a local provincial councillor and newspaper founder, William Baldwin who modestly gave his own name to the-now World's Steepest Street.

Struth! Costa Concordia catastrophe nothing to Giglio about

 In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says it's been revealed that the ill-fated cruise liner Costa Concordia, that sank after hitting a rock off the Tuscan island of Giglio in January last year, appeared to have a knack for attracting the wrong kind of publicity.

Because when a parish priest in a small Italian town told parishioners a few years before the sinking that he was going on a "spiritual retreat to reflect on his vows and to meditate and pray," it was not totally what he had in mind.

And he would have got away with it had it not been for a young niece excitedly telling the world by Facebook what a wonderful week her whole family "including Uncle (name)" was having aboard the Costa Concordia.

Concordia means "continuing harmony, unity and peace" but parishioners back home were in anything but "concordia mood" when they read the niece's Facebook entry, one commenting to the priest's local paper: "It's a bit difficult to understand how he was taking a spiritual retreat aboard a cruise ship with 4000 party-goers."

(Image: Insurance Gazette)

Struth! London takes transport history underground


In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a carriage built 121 years ago for the world's first underground railway is drawing huge interest at the London Transport Museum after being restored at a cost of GBP422,000 (AU$717,000.)


The 4-wheel First Class carriage was amongst the first-ever used on the London Underground and was somehow acquired by an Oxfordshire dairy farmer who used it as a garden shed and out-house (toilet) that he tacked on the end.


When the farm was muted for redevelopment London Transport Museum heard about the-then dilapidated carriage, and bought and stored it until funds could be found for its restoration – with the British Heritage Lottery Fund, and Friends of London Transport, finally putting up the necessary GBP422,000.


The work took 15 months at Wales' Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway workshops at Porthmadog, with its restoration also being used in training of apprentices under master carriage builders – a guild of originally 13th century cart-makers still known today as "carmen."


More than GBP700 worth of gold leaf (AU$1,200) was used on the carriage's 1st Class and other hand-worked signs, and while everything from those signs and the velvet seats look just as they did when the carriage was built in 1892, for safety reasons the original gas lights have been replaced with LED lamps in exact-copy frosted gas-light shades.


The carriage is on display at the London Transport Museum and will be rolled out for special rail heritage day celebrations elsewhere.









David Ellis


SHE'S doubtless the most-famous nanny ever, and as we roll into next month the name Mary Poppins will be on the lips of the world from Bowral in the picturesque Southern Highlands of NSW where she came into being in 1910, to Hollywood where she filled-up her famous carpetbag with five Oscars in the mid-1960s and within a year became one of the highest-grossing stars of her time.


And while Bowral will unveil a life-size, opened-umbrella and carpetbag-tottin' bronze statue to her in a park adjacent to its equally-famed Bradman Museum on Sunday December 8, around the same time Hollywood's Disney Studios will release world-wide a multi-million dollar movie about how the original movie Mary Poppins came about in 1964.


And that latter proved anything but an easy spoonful-of-sugar between a strong-willed Walt Disney, and an equally strong-willed, prickly and pragmatic PL (Pamela Lyndon) Travers, the Australian creator of the flying nanny.


Travers, whose real name was Helen Lyndon Goff, came up with the Mary Poppins character in bizarre circumstances as a young 12 year old one night in July 1910. Her bank clerk father, Travers Goff had died prematurely some five years earlier when the family was living at Allora in Queensland, and her mother had moved Lyndon and her sisters to Bowral where a formidable, no-nonsense Aunt Ellie provided them with a house free of rent.


On that July night as a massive storm swept Bowral, Lyndon Goff's mother, who had been struggling emotionally and financially since the death of her husband, suddenly ran out into the storm and, in an attempt on her own life, jumped into a flooded local creek; failing, she returned bedraggled to the house – to the horror of the young Lyndon and her even younger sisters.


As their mother retreated to her bedroom, to get their minds off what they had seen, the quick-witted Lyndon gathered her siblings around the fire and started telling a fanciful story of a magical white horse that would float down from the heavens and perform amazing deeds… making-up the story as she went along, and until the younger girls eventually slipped into deep sleep.


For months afterwards she told more stories of the magical white horse, but having in her mind how the no-nonsense Aunt Ellie "somehow always seemed to be on hand to fix things," she slowly moved her tales away from the magical white horse to an equally magical Aunt Ellie-like nanny who could fix the insurmountable – giving her the name Mary Poppins, and several years later as a young adult, finally putting her tale on paper and selling it to a British publisher.


In 1964 Walt Disney cobbled together the tale of "the flying super-nanny" with parts of some of Lyndon Goff's other PL Travers' stories, so creating the musical Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke and which today is still a hit almost 50 years on.


The Disney Studios' movie to be released in December, Saving Mr Banks is the story of how Mary Poppins came to be made, the friction between Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and PL Travers (Emma Thompson,) how the pragmatic Travers loathed aspects of the film as "ghastly" (particularly the animations and sentimentality,) cried during its premiere – and how it had taken Disney years to get Travers to even talk with him, only agreeing to do so when sales of her books had virtually dried-up, leaving her financially strapped.

The tale of Bowral's bronze Mary Poppins statue is a far happier one, having been largely inspired a decade ago by a Bowral teenager, Melissa McShane with the help of her dad Paul and the Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council, of which he is Secretary.

Since 2009 they've raised nearly $100,000 through limited-edition statuette sales, donations and government grants for the statue that has been crafted by Newcastle sculptor, Tanya Bartlett using the ancient lost-wax method.


It will be publicly unveiled (entry free) at 2pm on December 8 by NSW Governor, Marie Bashir in Bowral's Glebe Park, and interestingly is within sight of another Tanya Bartlett-created statue – that of Sir Donald Bradman who coincidentally lived just a block from Lyndon Goff, making its location, as Mary Poppins would doubtless like to observe, "practically perfect."


Further reading:  





[] MARY Poppins author, PL Travers with contentious script for the 1964 Disney movie

   Mary Poppins. (Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council)

[] Teenage Lyndon Goff (PL Travers, left) with younger sisters at the creek that helped

    inspire the book and movie classic. (Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council)

[] NEWCASTLE sculptor Tanya Bartlett (right) and Bowral's Melissa McShane with

   Tanya's wax model of Mary Poppins ready for bronze casting. (Paul McShane)

[] Melissa McShane who has been working since a teenager towards Bowral's statue

   of Mary Poppins, up-close with Tanya Bartlett's wax model. (Paul McShane)

[] IN 2011 Bowral created a world-record size human mosaic as part of fund-raising for

  the Mary Poppins statue in this town where Mary Poppins was "born," with 2115

   umbrellas raised Poppins-like.  (Clint Crawley Photography)



Mt Pilatus Train Climb in the Swiss Alps


David Ellis


WHEN Swiss engineer Eduard Locher revealed he'd got the government's OK to build a railway from the shores of Lake Lucerne to the summit of the 2200m high Mount Pilatus in the centre of the craggy Swiss Alps, folks decided that either the government was mad, Mr Locher was mad – or they both were mad.


It was the 1880s, and while rail was the newest craze in driving the equally-newest craze of mass tourism, steam trains simply couldn't climb gradients steeper than six degrees… although in America a new-fangled invention called a cogwheel railway actually climbed at an incredible 37-degrees up Mount Washington.


But Mr Locher's railway would need to climb Mt Pilatus at an even steeper rate than this: his would need rise at an extraordinary 48-degrees.


And to achieve it he would have to re-think what the Americans had done with their cogwheel, which relied on the driving cogs of the engine engaging a "rack" of teeth cut vertically into the rails… and which Mr Locher feared at 48-degrees could simply pop out with calamitous runaway results.


After much experimentation, he ultimately came up with a wheel-and-cog arrangement that had horizontal teeth rather than vertical ones, engaging into both sides of a centre rail that made it impossible for the driving cogs to disengage while either climbing up or braking down Mt Pilatus.


But although the government had given him permission to build his railway, when he asked for a tax-payer-funded subsidiary to get his cogwheel railway on track, so to speak, he got a very firm "No." Undaunted he went to private investors who willingly gave him the money – again much to most peoples' dismay – and in June 1889, three years after starting work with 800 construction workers, the Mount Pilatus Cogwheel Railway carried its first passengers up into the Swiss Alps.


To this day it is still privately operated, has never suffered a financial loss and is still the world's steepest cogwheel railway.


The first Mt Pilatus trains were steam powered, but this was changed to electric traction  in 1937, and today ten little red railcars that each carries forty passengers, take 30-minutes to ascend the 4.6km long track from Alpnachstad on Lake Lucerne, to Pilatus' summit… compared with 1hr 20m for the original steam-drawn carriages.


The view from here, 2132m above sea-level, is breathtaking – if it's not clouded-in or fogged-over – and if you've ever wanted to do a Julie Andrews and start hollering The Hills Are Alive, this is the place to do it. Visitors gaze down from viewing platforms and picnic tables, or from two hotels on this eagles' eyrie, to Lake Lucerne and its fringing postcard-pretty villages below, fields of wild flowers in spring and summer, babbly mountain streams, the city of Lucerne itself, myriad crystal blue lakes… and in one direction, no less than seventy-three mountain peaks in a row.


There's a rope suspension-bridge playground, and the tens of thousands who ascend the mountain each year by the cogwheel train, Aerial Gondolas that went into service in 1954 and an Aerial Cableway that opened in 1956, can also rock-climb, cycle narrow trails, marvel at the nimble-footed Ibex and wonder how these mountain goats don't tumble off their lofty and often wet and icy perches, and ride sledges or toboggans over lengthy mountain runs.


But most just sit and take in the views, or dine in the hotels' restaurants and cafés…  opting for traditional Swiss cheese fondues and local specialties such as roast pork stuffed with prunes, crème caramel with whipped cream… and to sip on local Swiss wines before going back down to Lake Lucerne.


The Hotel Pilatus-Kulm (Pilatus Summit) opened with 28 rooms in 1890 and the Hotel Bellevue with 27 rooms in 1960. Each boasts extraordinary sunsets followed by the sight of Lucerne and its surrounds lighting up in the evening, and stunning sunrises from guest rooms that truly will have you wanting to do that Julie Andrews impersonation…


The Mt Pilatus Cogwheel Railway operates from May to November, and the Aerial Cableway and Gondola year-round, with both hotels on the summit open year-round as well.


GETTING THERE: See travel agents about getting to Lucerne and journeying up Mt Pilatus by cogwheel train, the Aerial Gondola or Cableway, or visit






1.YOU wouldn't want a fear of heights riding the Mt Pilatus Cogwheel Railway.

2. ROOMS with a view: the Hotel Pilatus-Kulm looks down on Lucerne from 2132m

    above sea-level.

3. THERE'S also a Cable-car ride to the top of the mountain.

4. OR even an Aerial Gondola…with equal wow factor.

5. SURE-footed Ibex amaze tourists with their agility on the rocky and often wet and icy



(All images: Mt Pilatus Cogwheel Railway)




Two Ways to Phuket

While I have become a regular to Thailand, my visit to Phuket was the first time I'd stayed in this famously rumbustious resort town. No, I'm not going to dwell on the kaleidoscope of entertainment options assaulting you as you navigate bustling Bangla Road - there are better sites for that information - but rather on choosing appropriate accommodation to suit the kind of relaxation you, you partner and/or family have in mind.

The raucous New Tiger nightclub is one of the 'colourful' venues
along bustling Bangla Road (source:

To illustrate my point, I stayed two nights in each of two contrasting properties. One, a sprawling 665-room resort, the other, a secluded 16-villa private sanctuary. And, as you can imagine, there are plenty of options in between.

Apart from selecting the style of property you want to stay at, location is another prime consideration. Taxis around the island can be exorbitant by Thai standards, so you don't want to be taking them everyday to get to your activities. If you want your action close to riotous Bangla Road, then there are several branded hotels within an easy stumble from the front line melee.

Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort &

Set on a massive 75-acre plot, the 665-room Hilton is around 25 years old but has had numerous rooms upgraded as recently as 2011 in the Deluxe Plus category. Entry-level Deluxe are the same size without the recent decorative refurbishments, but are no less comfortable. Above that are the more spacious Junior Suites, but these are yet to undergo refurbishment. There are a dozen or so super-plush Hilton Suites, but I wasn't able to view these.

One of the seven buildings at that make up the
Hilton Arcadia Phuket (supplied)
The resort comprises seven distinct buildings and includes The Spa, children's club, tennis and squash courts (yes, remember them?), extensive business and conference facilities, a massive, scalable ballroom and a fitness centre. There's across-the-road access to upscale Karon Beach or you can swim in any of the three pools.

Refurbished Deluxe Plus room (supplied)

Access to downtown is via a 30-minute cab ride, not something you want to be doing every day. The resort also offer their own transfers, but these are not always available or practical.

While this type of resort is fine for families and groups, it might not appeal to honeymooners or those seeking peace and quiet. For this rejuvenating purpose, I would recommend something like:

The Bell Pool Villa

Self-contained pool villa at The Bell.
Like having your own resort. (supplied)

You can insulate yourself from as much of the outside as you want, making this almost a Howard Hughes experience.

These fabulous 3-y-o villas are fully self-contained behind a high wall and gate with private (8x4m) infinity pool and cabana. Separate bedrooms, living area and kitchen means you can blissfully enjoy your own company (or that of loved ones) while you make your own meals or have them delivered from the kitchen. Need to get out a bit? Stroll down to Zhong, the in-house restaurant, or take the free shuttle to nearby Kamala Beach or downtown Patong.

Breakfast served in your private villa (supplied)
See more images of The Bell Phuket

Perfect for couples, but expandable using the separate bedrooms, each villa can be configured to accommodate up to six persons, seven at a pinch.

There are just 16 villas, 14 standard and two 'Presidential', the latter being able to sleep 8 persons thanks to a fourth bedroom. Watch a movie on the big screen TV or use the nifty Apple TV device provided. There's a private (chargeable) wine 'cellar', free Wi-Fi and spa treatments at the exclusive in-house salon.

So, take your pick. Join in the throng or find your own private hideaway, the choice is yours.


More information on Phuket and Thailand can be always be found at:

December 15, 2013

Struth! Here's the scoop

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that if you're into ice-cream, put the third Sunday of July next year into your diary – because in America that's been celebrated as National Ice Cream Day for nearly 30 years.

And it was by presidential decree: in 1984, ice-cream lovin' President Ronald Reagan proclaimed July as National Ice Cream month, and it's third Sunday as National Ice Cream Day.

Today Americans are the world's biggest consumers of ice-cream, licking down 23 litres per person a year, New Zealanders (surprisingly?) second devouring 20 litres each a year, and Australians third at 18 litres a head annually.

Which should be good enough reason for us all to put the third Sunday of next July in our diaries for our own personal Ice Cream Day.

And incidentally, as far back as 340BC Alexander the Great's chefs mixed him snow, ice, honey and nectar as a summer cooler, Marco Polo in the late 13th century took home to Italy a Chinese recipe similar to what we now know as sherbert and which eventually evolved into Italian ice-cream, while in England "cream ice" was served to Charles I in the 17th century.

America's first ice-cream was recorded in 1744 in a letter written by Maryland Governor, William Bladen, accounts show George Washington spent $200 on ice-cream during the steamy summer of 1790, strawberry-infused ice-cream was served in The White House in 1813, while the first commercial ice-creams hit America's streets in the mid-1800s.

December 09, 2013

Back to Africa for Golden Anniversary



David Ellis


AWAY back in the 1960s when my proposal of marriage to a young blonde and beautiful Gwenda Ross was, happily accepted, our wedding became more than an event, it evolved into a marvellous 50 year adventure.


And it began in then somewhat wild and woolly Port Moresby where Gwenda worked in the Accounts Department of the ABC's then Port Moresby radio studios, while I was running their newly-established New Guinea Islands News Service at further-off Rabaul.


But because I had proposed by mail and Gwenda had accepted by mail (in those days a phone call as short as 3-minutes was around the equivalent of a week's salary,) and as I had been refused leave to get married in Sydney from whence we both originated, I flew to Moresby on the Friday, we were married on the Saturday, and we flew back to Rabaul on the Sunday.


And to our late surprise, discovered we would be accompanied by a senior ABC News executive, who'd decided he was flying to Rabaul with us "for an inspection of the Newsroom" on the Monday morning...


I will not put in writing what we, family and mates had to say about that – the more so as I had schemed with a Rabaul journo colleague to unofficially look after the 9RB News shop for a couple of days, while Gwenda and I slipped away to the remote plantation of yet another mate for a quiet retreat…


And little did we think then that 50 years on we would celebrate 50 years married life in an equally "wild" destination, but certainly a far more salubrious one than Port Moresby and Rabaul offered back in those distant 1960s.


Having tossed-in the ABC after 20 years and gone into the PR game, taking to writing travel on the side, I'd been to Africa a number of times and always loved the place.


Thus we decided on Victoria Falls for our anniversary as it would allow Gwenda to see Southern Africa and its wildlife up-close and personal, something she'd yearned to do since a teenager, while I could indulge my love of train-travel by us doing a 12-night Cape Town to Johannesburg trip on the Shongololo Express tourist train (hugely recommended.)


And we would finish with a flight to Victoria Falls with a couple of nights there at its magnificent Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, voted "Best Safari Lodge" in Zimbabwe for 17 consecutive years, and Gold Listed by Conde Nast Traveller as well, suggesting they must have been doing something right all those years….


Having booked ourselves into the main Lodge, we upgraded on arrival to the just-opened Safari Club, a separate accommodation precinct with just 16 Club Rooms and 4 Club Suites – all vast in size and unadulteratedly luxurious in indulgence. But hey, it's not every day you've been married 50 years...


Here in the Club you have private check-in, Butler Service if you want it, complimentary Afternoon Tea and Pastries from 3.30-4.30pm, complimentary Cocktails and Snacks 5pm-6pm, free Wifi in the lounge, free shuttle service to Victoria Falls and township 4km away, a private viewing deck overlooking the game corridor to the Zambezi River, and a Club Guests-only bar from 11am to late.


For dining, guests choose from the Safari Lodge's open-air Boma Eating Place with campfire soup starters, traditional Zimbabwean dishes (Warthog fillet, game stews or for bravery fried Mopani Worms,) barbecued Western- and Zimbabwean-style beef, pork, fish and chicken dishes, and decadent desserts, all to the wild beat of African music and dancing.


We chose, however, the Lodge's MaKuwa-Kuwa Restaurant for our Anniversary Dinner – being given a table at the vast open window overlooking the at-first sunset, then floodlit, private waterhole to which elephant, warthog, buffalo, antelope and myriad birds arrived, drank, and then sauntered or flew off into the blackest African night...


Dining was superb 5-star-plus Western/African, with a resident acapella group whose harmonious traditional melodies will be long, long remembered.


By day Lodge and Club guests can book everything from a visit to the Falls, white-water rafting, an elephant ride, a day-safari, go catching tigerfish on the Zambezi… or simply take-in the bushveld and waterhole's game activity from the Lodge deck.


For more details Bench International on toll-free 1300AFRICA or go to






[] VICTORIA Falls Safari lodge, with spectacular private game watering hole.

[] FRONT of the Lodge's super-luxury Club Wing for that special-occasion escape.

[] GWENDA and David Ellis celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in style with dinner

   overlooking the watering hole and African bushveld.

[] MAGNIFICENT Club Suite at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge – unadulteratedly luxurious.

[] SUNDOWNER drinks on the Club deck overlooking the private game watering hole.


(All images Victoria Falls Safari Lodge)


December 07, 2013

Struth! Show me the way to San Jose - please!

HEADING for here… (VisitMexico)
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a travel agency in the UK has accidentally sent a couple who wanted to catch up with their daughter in San Jose Mexico (airport code: SJD), to San Jose in California (airport code: SJC) - some  2,400km away from where they thought they were going.

Andrew and Julie Kelham from North Yorkshire hadn't seen their daughter Frankie since she'd taken up a job in San Jose Mexico eight months ago. The first leg of their journey, from Manchester to Chicago went to plan, but they were surprised when their second flight landed in San Jose, California – and on getting off the plane, taking a phone call from Frankie saying she was "at San Jose airport and I can't find you."

BUT ended up here. (WikiMedia)
The 20-hour flight to the wrong San Jose had cost them AU$5,700, and they then had to spend another $1,400 flying the further 2,400km to San Jose Mexico, and arriving there two days later than scheduled. The travel agency gave them $2,500 compensation and a $180 Goodwill Voucher towards their extra costs.

But STRUTH points out it could have been worse: the Kelham's could have found themselves in any of seven even more-remote San Jose's in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Texas (which has no less than three such-named towns) and Puerto Rico.

And the travel agent shouldn't be totally vilified: San Jose Mexico is on that country's Baja California Peninsula, easily confused with a click of the computer mouse with San Jose, California USA.


Khao Lak's many blends of old and new

delightful stretch of white sand at Khaolak.
POLICE Boat 813
graphic reminder of the power of the tsunami.
MOMENT of meditation to the tsunami victims
huge golden Buddha at Baan Nam Kem Tsunami Memorial Park.
MARKETS are always a highlight of a visit to Asia.
REFRESHING start to the day ... Sensimar Khaolak
Beachfront Resort offers an expansive pool area.
EXCELLENT beachside breakfasts, lunches and dinners
Sensimar Khaolak Beachfront Resort's beachside restaurant.
David Ellis with John Rozentals

AS part of her job as Leader of Guest Service at Thailand's Sensimar Khaolak Beachfront Resort, Sirawadee 'Ann' Sareethongchai regularly takes guests on tours to two nearby monuments commemorating those killed in the country's horrendous 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

It's a day she has particularly vivid memories of: Children running into the lobby of the resort she was working in at the time and asking "where has the ocean gone?" The-then towering wall of water about to engulf everything; taking refuge in the kitchen; watching terrified as the water started to break through the brick wall.

And finally clinging desperately in those rushing waters to a mangrove tree that eventually saved her life.

Khaolak, a 20-kilometre-long strip of towns, resorts, beautiful beaches and national parks along Thailand's Andaman coast, 65km or so north of Phuket, was one of the worst-hit areas. The official death toll is just over 4000, but locals estimate 10,000 could have perished.

Perhaps the most graphic reminder of the power of the tsunami is provided by Police Boat 813, an ocean-going patrol vessel that was washed over a kilometre inland from Bang Niang Beach, where it had been trying to protect a jet-skiing member of the Thai royal family who drowned in the tsunami.

PB813 is today the centre of a memorial being developed to the tsunami victims all that way inland, and well worth a visit.

More sombre and established is the Baan Nam Kem Tsunami Memorial Park in a particularly hard-hit fishing port a little further north.

Its centrepiece comprises an alley created by two walls — one a towering concrete wave, the other tiled and containing names, and sometimes pictures, of hundreds who perished.

There's also a beautiful park and huge golden Buddha statue.

And almost 10 years on, Khaolak has recovered much of its laid-back charm and become a thriving attraction for international visitors, especially from northern Europe, who chase sun, sea and a good dose of local culture without the hustle and bustle of Phuket.

Much of the holiday activity is ocean-based — pristine white-sand beaches, bright blue water, and easy access to world-class diving and snorkelling sites in the Similan and Surin Islands.

There are other attractions, too, including Takuapa Old Town that's the area's main administrative centre and which features plenty of Sino-Portuguese architecture. But it's a sleepy old burg best visited early in the morning or on Sundays, when the local markets are in full swing.

Other markets, such as those at Bang Niang, provide a diverse range of colourful and intriguing local produce — the freshest of seafood and vegetables, a fascinating array of 'butcheries,' and lots of unusual cooked delicacies.

Khaosok National Park features the world's oldest evergreen rainforest, limestone karsts (rain-eroded cliffs and peaks à la Halong Bay) and magnificent lakes and caves.

Khaolak Lam Ru National Park has both terrestrial and marine components, and a range of wildlife you may, or may not, wish to encounter — flying lemurs, Asian bearcats, macaques, black giant squirrels, Malayan pit vipers, reticulated pythons and southern big-headed frogs.

And there's reasonable shopping in the many stores strung along main roads in the townships.

As in most of Thailand, there is great value to be had. Resort restaurants will obviously cost a bit more, but you can find good quality lunch or dinner offerings in street-side cafés for no more than 120-150 bhat ($4-5). Then add $3, or sometimes less, for small bottles of icy cold Singha or Heineken beer; wine can be sometimes problematic, both in price and quality.

Accommodation is plentiful, diverse and certainly cheap by Australian standards. The quite luxurious four-star Sensimar Khaolak Beachfront Resort has low-season rates from about $130 per night for a double room, about twice that for a beachfront bungalow. That includes breakfast and access to a range of resort activities such as zumba, yoga, dance classes, etc.

It has a beachfront restaurant, expansive swimming pools and pool bar with sunken seating.

GETTING THERE: The nearest airport to Khaolak is Phuket, about 65-85 kilometres away, depending on the resort you're staying at. Thai Airways has flights from Australia to Bangkok and connections to Phuket. Some Khaolak resorts will provide transport to and from Phuket, otherwise a cab will charge $50-60.

ACCOMMODATION: Sensimar Khaolak Beachfront Resort (

(Photos: John Rozentals)

London's Kings Cross St Pancras Pullman delivers the goods

by Ian Mcintosh - Travel Agent Update

Great views over London. Amazing selection for breakfast. Get your emails anywhere. Plenty of desk space. Satellite style check-in booths.

When French based giant Accor Hotels sensed the need to cater more closely to its cosmopolitan, mobile, hyper-connected clientele it was back to the drawing board for its planning team. A computerised version of a hotel was gutted – and a new product – from the baggage lift by the front steps to satellite style check-in pods and exterior glass lifts took shape. Drawing on the expertise of an organization with 3,500 hotels under its belt, the product had to set a new benchmark for savvy travellers – be smart, functional, well located and still good value. And so Pullman Hotels was born – and the success of this brand is evidenced by the fact that already there are 89 around the world. Accor has luxury brands but Pullman had to be different – upmarket but not stuffy – hotels that had an exciting buzz from the moment a client checked in. Vast empty foyers were out – the space instead used for restaurants, bars and comfy lounges. Finally a digital package would allow clients to browse the web and check their emails anywhere in the hotel.

We booked into the Kings Cross St Pancras Pullman because we were arriving in London around 1pm from Paris via Eurostar and Fiona had an important meeting at 4pm. The first priority was to find an upmarket hotel a stroll away from the railway station with a comfy, serviced lounge area where we could sit and talk. Getting to the hotel couldn't be simpler – after exiting the station you cross the road and take the first right. No need to drag your case up the steps out the front if the doorman is busy – there is a lift on the right hand side. Check-in was quick and easy via a series of booths rather than one desk. In no time at all I was looking at london's skyline - a glass of Bergerie de la Bastide in hand, from deluxe room number 1410. What a change from the Novotel days. You get the buzz as soon as you arrive. I love big foyers - and there it is - but it is not wasted space. You are immediately greeted by the noise, sights, sounds, laughter of a working hotel as guests enjoy everything from a drink at the bar and afternoon tea to a meal or just a chat with a client.

The rooms are big for London and as you would expect fitted out comfortably with plenty of desk space, a big flat TV, ipod dock, individual reading lights - you name it. Bathroom space is used for a good sized shower - no bath thankfully. Everything is thought out carefully – right down to the safe at face level making locking simple. So how was the breakfast? In a word, brilliant - right down to the orange or raspberry smoothie shots. You could dine on the cheese board alone. It was easily the best and most appealing spread we experienced – and the most stylishly presented - in three weeks of travel. The food in England has improved out of sight in the last few years following a vigorous and much overdue campaign by VisitBritain.

Leading the team is livewire GM Jaime Faus who really has his work cut out. As well as 300 rooms he has convention facilities for 400 plus a full size theatre to keep full. Service was brisk and friendly in every department.

To Conclude: A stylish, well run, communications savvy hotel ideally sited close the London Eurostar terminal. Breakfast is a real treat. ****.5

For bookings, see Accor Hotels website

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