September 22, 2014

Struth! The world's most expensive wobbly bridge


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that within hours of the Queen in June of 2000 officially opening the first bridge across London's River Thames since the Tower Bridge in 1894, and naming it the London Millennium Bridge, locals had instantly re-dubbed it the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge – that's stuck to this day.


Because so wibbly wobbly was it back in 2000, that just two days after opening, the 325m long and GBP18.2m (AU$32m) structure was closed for two years for "sway dampeners" to be fitted to stop an unexpected and disconcerting lateral sway.


Linking the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern Museum on one side of the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral on the other, the pedestrian-only bridge quickly showed it could get up a sway whenever big numbers were crossing on it. And as these crowds would step from side to side in unison to adjust to the sway, that sway simply got bigger, and bigger and bigger…


After being closed for two years the Millennium Bridge is used safely and sway-free today by as many as 2000 people at any one time.


THEY SAID IT: "WHEN a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car – or a new wife." (Prince Philip)

Henry Ford's cargo ship house


David Ellis

WE'VE written over the years about some pretty strange things that have become people's somewhat bizarre homes, holiday retreats and even offices, amongst them a few converted passenger jets, plenty of churches, lighthouses, a couple of one-time houses of ill repute – even an ice-works and a former funeral parlour or two.

But one that got our attention in North America recently was probably the best yet in one-offs: the complete forecastle of pilot house (bridge) and the owner's and captain's quarters, as well as the deck and bow, from a-once Ford Motor Company cargo ship, and which now sits atop a little promontory on Lake Erie as the ultimate in cool-idea holiday homes.

The ship from which it came was the coal and iron-ore carrier Benson Ford, named after a grandson of the company's founder, Henry. It did sterling service across North America's Great Lakes for some 57 years – and although running aground on a couple of occasions, never suffered any major harm.

Henry Ford loved the ship as a relaxing way of visiting his factories around the Great Lakes, and to ensure his absolute in creature comforts, designed much of the vessel's walnut-lined Owner's Quarters himself, as well as a main Guests' Lounge and Bedroom, all to a degree that would do a luxury liner proud.

So grand, in fact, that local newspapers quickly defined it as "the most modern ship on the Great Lakes."

But by 1981 her days were up, and the Benson Ford was decommissioned so her name could be given to a newer ship of the Ford fleet; the hull was then re-named John Dykstra II, after the Hollywood special effects and computer genius whom George Lucas recruited to make such blockbusters as Star Wars and Spider-Man 2.

But she sailed ne'er a single nautical mile under her new name, instead languishing dockside for four years until being unexpectedly rescued by an Ohio couple – who to the surprise and bemusement of many, oxy'd-off the entire forecastle, deck and bow, and floated this strange sight 100km by barge to Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie's South Bass Island.

There the 4-storey, 20m by 20m structure was lifted by cranes to the top of a low promontory protruding into the lake, allowing its new owners to take-in the most wondrous views from their bizarre-looking new home. And by carefully positioning it with a part of the bow sticking jauntily over the promontory's edge, it gave them and their guests the impression of being aboard a ship at sea.

In 1992, six years after moving in, they applied to the local Zoning Board for permission to register their towering "shiphouse" as a Bed and Breakfast, a request that resulted in a long and costly legal battle, and which they eventually lost.

After finally conceding defeat, the couple put the place to auction in 1999, with an amazing 128 bidders from ten American States and Canada registering interest. The successful bidders were an Ohio father and son, Jerry and Bryan Kasper who've turned it today into a holiday retreat most of us could only fantasise about.

For wanting to maintain the original Henry Ford ambience, they've recreated much of the lavishness of the Ford era, the polished walnut panels glowing once-more, and rich button-stitched leather and other elaborate furnishings of his time its highlights throughout.

There are also Ford-era mementoes, curios and photographs, as well as antiques that are a nod to the inventiveness of Ford's good friend Thomas Edison, who once sailed with him aboard the Benson Ford.

The Kasper's have also renovated dining and sleeping areas including creating a yester-year family room, put full-size baths into ensuites attached to each of five refurbished guest bedrooms, added a bar adjacent to the refurbished dining-  and living-room, and a library… and as their only concession to the 21st century, modernised the kitchen to state-of-the-art.

And while many of these areas take-in expansive views of Lake Erie, it's from the pilot house atop the four-storey forecastle that the Kasper's and personal guests can take-in wondrous million-dollar sunset views across the lake, and their shore-side surrounds below them.

And they've returned the name Benson Ford to the bow: were he around today, it would doubtless suit old Henry to a T.




[] ONE of the more unusual in holiday retreats, a complete cargo ship's forecastle. (Jerry Kasper)

[] THE Benson Ford as she originally sailed on America's Great Lakes for the Ford Motor Company. (Ford Motor Company)

[] FROM ashore you can see how the complete forecastle was cut off and relocated.  (Jerry Kasper)

[] THE luxurious leather and walnut lounge. (Jerry Kasper)

[] HOME comforts of the spacious master bedroom as originally designed by Henry Ford. (Jerry Kasper)

[] HENRY Ford at the wheel of his twenty millionth vehicle, a Model A in April 1931. It is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum at Dearborn, Michigan. (Henry Ford Museum)



September 08, 2014

Bowral Tulip Time a bloomin' success


David Ellis

ADA Corbett would doubtless get a kick out of seeing what's become today of a one-time paddock in the Southern Highlands of NSW that she wrote of in 1929 as "a tip for old tins, dead cats and a blot on Bowral..."

For that old paddock is now a Southern Highlands' showpiece public park – and home to this month's annual Tulip Time Festival that's grown into one of Australia's most successful gardening events.

So successful that in the two weeks between this September 16th and 28th some 35,000-plus visitors will flock into the Southern Highlands for this now-renowned Festival with its centre-piece 100,000 flowering tulips and 25,000 specially-planted flowering annuals.

The wife of a Royal Navy Commander who spent long periods away from home, Ada Corbett was a feisty lady who never took No for an answer, peppering the press and politicians – in particular the-then Minister for Lands – with proposals from the early 1900's for that disused paddock to be turned into a "carpet square of beauty, a recreation resort and garden, and with a bandstand in its centre…"

And even though the Lands Minister had several times told her that there was no purpose in him visiting Bowral, when Ada finally brow-beat him into doing so in 1911, he confided to she and her hard-working supporters, that he was, in fact, "very favourably impressed."

So much so that on his return to Sydney, he decided that if Ada's committee could raise the first 150 then-pounds of the 410 pounds required to buy the paddock, his Department would fund the balance – a major departure from the government norm of pound-for-pound raised publicly.

After a feverish campaign to get that 150 pounds, Ada finally in late 1911 led the work herself on clearing the paddock of its straggly trees, native weeds and grasses… and those old tins and cat carcases. She also talked the Sydney Botanical Gardens into donating scores of shrubs for the new park, which she suggested be named "The King's Park" or "Edward Park" after the late King.

And while greatly admired by most for her physical involvement, as well as being secretary of the park committee, Ada Corbett's feisty nature made her many an enemy also. Some complained openly of a lack of public consultation over plans for the park after the public had put so much money into it, while others alluded to Ada being somewhat tardy in her book-keeping practices…

And when the park was finally opened in December 1914 – 100 years ago this year – local MLA Mr F.A. Badgery officially opening and naming it "Corbett Gardens," it sent some of Ada's critics into near-apoplexy.

Forty years later in October 1958 Bowral's first "Festival of Flowers" was staged at Corbett Gardens, but foundered just two years later from lack of funds. The local Rotary Club came to its rescue in 1961, donating 500 tulip bulbs that were planted by Rotarians and other service club members in Corbett Gardens, in so-doing launching Bowral's first Tulip Time.

This year's will be the 54th such Festival, with 100,000 tulips in flower in Corbett Gardens and other public areas in Bowral, Moss Vale and Mittagong – after having taken a team of twelve gardeners ten days to plant back in April.

The Festival will also feature a huge supporting program ranging from some near-40 of the Highlands' most extraordinarily spectacular private and institutional gardens open to public viewing (small entry fees go to charities,) a street parade, billy cart derby, street markets, and the Finals Cook-off for the now-famous Battle of the Bangers creative sausage competition.

For a detailed program:

FOOTNOTE: Ada Corbett left Bowral in 1912 and never saw her finished park. She died on Norfolk Island in 1943 aged 82 – writing to a Bowral friend some years before her death: "I worked very hard to perfect my idea for the benefit of all of Bowral. Now I am more than repaid (as) my work is appreciated at last; I can forgive all the unkindness, insults and worry. Some day I hope to sit in Corbett Gardens and enjoy an hour there, and think of the time it was the tip for old tins, dead cats and a blot on Bowral..."

Sadly she never realised that hope.


[] BOWRAL'S first-time Tulip Festival in Corbett Gardens 1961. (Destination Southern Highlands)

[] STREET parade to celebrate 1961's first-ever Bowral Tulip Time. (Destination Southern Highlands)

[] TULIP Time more recently… (Destination Southern Highlands)

[] CROWDS enjoy the spectacular colours of Tulip Time in Bowral's Corbett Gardens. (Dee Kramer)

[] HISTORIC Milton Park Country House & Spa's gardens dating back to the early 1900s are amongst a near-40 private and institutional open to the public during Tulip Time. (Milton Park Country House & Spa)

[] BOWRAL has come a long way since its settlement in the early 1800s. (Destination Southern Highlands)


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