April 28, 2015

Struth! World's Steepest Street One for the Books

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of  travel, David Ellis says that while Baldwin Street just outside Dunedin in New Zealand is officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the steepest street in the world, there's another in America that's steeper.

But being closed to traffic, it is not recognised as such.

Baldwin Street in Dunedin's North East Valley is just 350m long, has an average 35% gradient, and is open to anyone game enough to drive or walk it. Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the USA, however, has a steeper 37% gradient, but because it's a mere 7m long and has signs warning "Do Not Enter," is not recognised by Guinness as "a street."

And if you are wondering how Baldwin Street came to be built so steeply back in the 1800s, it was because with no local town planners, developers of the new community had to ask a company in London to draw-up plans for their new suburb… and as no one in London thought to ask about the terrain, they simply planned streets in flat grid formation.

Visitors today also note that Baldwin is one of the few streets in North East Valley to be concrete sealed: that's because when it was being built, it was feared that if bitumen-sealed, it could simply soften on hot days and slide down the hill.


[] GOOD place for a rolling start if you've a flat battery: Baldwin Street in North East Valley just outside New Zealand's Dunedin, is officially the steepest street in the world. (WikiMedia)

April 20, 2015

Struth! Shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a deck chair from the Titanic that sank 105 years ago has just sold at auction in England for the equivalent of more than AU$191,000 – but the new owner will never get to sit on it.

The Nantucket-style wooden recliner came from the First Class deck of the ill-fated liner that went down after hitting an ice-berg just five days after sailing from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York in April 1912. Fifteen hundred passengers and crew died, and 700 were rescued.

A crew member of the search ship Mackay-Bennett that was sent to look for bodies, retrieved the floating mahogany deckchair with a half dozen others, and for some reason later gave it to the captain of a French cable-laying ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

English auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said the French captain subsequently sold the chair, whose history has been meticulously recorded and authenticated, and although the new owner – a UK collector of iconic pieces of history – paid all that money he'll only be able to admire and never sit on his purchase.

"It's one of the rarest of Titanic collectibles with only seven known to exist," Mr Aldridge said. "And while it's been carefully restored and looked after, it has some seat damage and is simply too delicate to sit on."


[] NEW meaning to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic: this First Class passengers' deck chair was one of seven found floating after the liner sank in April 1912, and has just been sold at auction in England for the equivalent of over AU$191,000. (Henry Aldridge & Sons Auctioneers)

Coco Palms to renew Elvis's Blue Hawaii

David Ellis

WE'VE hinted at it before, and just six months ago even wrote bravely that it would finally happen, but every time our predictions have been stymied by factors as diverse as local government infighting, dithering developers, land rights activists, economic downturns and anti-development dinosaurs.

But now we can tell you that it definitely will happen, because last month the Planning Commission on Hawaii's Garden Island Kauai, together with the now-owners of one of the most famous resorts of all time, and Hyatt Hotels agreed that Hyatt will manage and operate the legendary Coco Palms Resort that's lain in idle decay for 23 years following a trashing by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Originally opened in the early 1950s with just 24 rooms, Coco Palms had a mere two guests on its first night. But over the years it grew to a sprawling 400 hotel rooms and freestanding bungalows amid over 18 acres (8ha) of coconut groves, gardens of tropical orchids, ferns, shrubs and a lagoon, on a site once owned by Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Deborah Kapule Kekaiha'akulou who died in 1853.

And while it achieved fame through an emphasis on Hawaii's rich culture, history and legendary story-telling – and the creation of such faux-Hawaii "traditions" as the colourful dinner-time "Call to Feast" torch-lighting ceremony that was held every evening for 40 years until Hurricane Iniki – it was management's willingness to have the resort used by Hollywood that cemented its place in the minds of holidaymakers worldwide yearning for the ultimate Pacific island escape…

The first movie made at Coco Palms was Pagan Love Song with Esther Williams and Howard Keel in 1950, followed by Bird of Paradise starring Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan in 1951, Rita Hayworth's Miss Sadie Thompson in 1953, and parts of South Pacific five years later.

But it was Elvis Presley who made the biggest impact of all with the 1961 block-buster Blue Hawaii, and in particular the scenes of he and his sweetheart, played by Joan Blackman, being paddled aboard a double-hulled canoe down the lagoon – Presley crooning the Hawaiian Wedding Song along the way, and their marriage that followed in a picturesque Wedding Chapel.

The film's soundtrack topped American charts for 20 consecutive weeks and 3,000,000 records were sold in the following 12 months.

As well, the resort was inundated with enough of the star-struck to have it scheduling 500 weddings annually for years after Blue Hawaii was released… most in the Wedding Chapel that Paramount Films donated to Coco Palms after Blue Hawaii (and which it had actually built for the earlier Miss Sadie Thompson.)

But everything came to a shuddering halt with Iniki in September 1992: winds gusting around 300kmh – and one an incredible 365kmh (227mph) – ripped every door and window off the resort and flung them with hotel furnishings into the coconut grove and up to a kilometre away. Torrential rain poured through shattered roofs and windows to flood every building, and the once show-piece gardens resembled a mulching depot.

The resort never re-opened and despite numerous owners and plans in the 23 years since, it was not until a local consortium headed by businessmen Chad Waters and Tyler Greene signed last month's agreement with the Kauai Planning Commission and Hyatt Hotels, that something concrete has finally been agreed-upon.

And rather than demolish the shattered remains of the old Coco Palms, plans are to redevelop it largely as it was, including the main block with 331 guest rooms, restaurants, bars, lounges and pools, and with the 32 original bungalows refurbished virtually as they were but with 21st century mod-cons… plus the lagoon, wedding canoe and wedding chapel all resurrected into use as well.

The US$100-million new-look Coco Palms will re-open in early 2017 and already Hyatt's been inundated with enquiries and bookings… in particular for the renovated 2-bedroom bungalow #56 that Elvis Presley shared not with some gorgeous starlet or crew member while making Blue Hawaii, but with a burly body-guard.

And locals have begun lobbying for Hawaii's most famous music historian and their "Living Treasure of Music," a-now 85-years-young Larry Rivera to be given a gig in one of the new-look resort's lounges – where he delighted guests with his ukulele and traditional Hawaiian songs nightly for forty years until Hurricane Iniki.



[] ONCE was Hawaii's most-visited hotel, Coco Palms on The Garden Island of Kauai before the disastrous Hurricane Iniki in 1992. (Hawaiian Life)
[] TODAY a ramshackle mess, but plans have finally been approved to bring the resort back to life – and largely as it was a quarter century ago. (Coco Palms Resort)
[] ELVIS Presley arrives at Coco Palms in 1961 for the filming of Blue Hawaii. (Paramount Pictures)
[] PART of what's said to be Hollywood's most-watched movie wedding ever: Elvis and co-star Joan Blackman being paddled down Coco Palm's lagoon to their wedding chapel. (Paramount Pictures)
[] ELVIS' bungalow #56– it will be restored virtually as it was  when he stayed there, and is already heavily booked for when it re-opens in 2017.   (Coco Palms Resort)
[] LIVING legend: Larry Rivera delighted guests for 40 years with his ukulele and Hawaiian songs until Hurricane Iniki, and although now 85 years young, locals want him back when the resort re-opens in 2 years. (Larry Rivera)

April 13, 2015

Lest We Forget - RAAF Aircrew remembered in German cemetary

DURNBACH War Cemetery in Bavaria, last resting place
for the ill-fated crew of RAAF WWII Lancaster LL848.
(Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
ROW after row of headstones, almost 3000 young Commonwealth
country airmen and POW camp escapees lay here.
(Aircrew Remembered)
HEADSTONES of the seven crew – four of them young
Australians in their 20s –  of RAAF Lancaster LL848 shot
down on the morning of Anzac Day 1944.
(Commonwealth War graves Commission)
RAAF Lancaster LL848 in flight soon before its last fateful
mission over Germany on that Anzac Day in 1944.
(Aircrew Remembered)

David Ellis

AS wreaths are laid at war graves around Australia and overseas on this Anzac Day, amongst them will be tributes to seven airmen whose headstones stand side-by-side at a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at the little Bavarian village of Dürnbach, in one of the most stunningly beautiful settings in Germany.

But what brings that extra tear to the eyes of those who view these graves is that not only are four of these of young Australians aged in their just-20s – but that they died instantly when their RAAF Lancaster bomber was shot down in the inky darkness of 9-minutes-past-2 on the morning of Anzac Day 1944.

And on whose graves, every year on Remembrance Sunday (that nearest Remembrance Day November 11) rather than Anzac Day, another very special wreath is laid. And it's not by family, friends, ex-service associations nor government, but by an unlikely group of other pilots – members of Germany's World War II Luftwaffe Night Pilots Association in respect of these young, one-time enemies…

We heard of these graves from fellow travel writer Malcolm Andrews who first visited Dürnbach in the 1970s while working with Radio Free Europe in Munich.

"Dürnbach lies about 45km south-east of Munich," Malcolm recalled. "It's mountains in winter are covered by snow, and in summer by the richest green – sights to have cameras clicking year-round.

"And on its outskirts is Dürnbach War Cemetery, a more restful last place one could not imagine for its almost 3,000 young men shot down over Bavaria, Württemberg, Austria, Hessen and Thuringia – or killed while escaping from prisoner-of-war camps – and ultimately brought here from their scattered graves by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission."

Malcolm and then-wife Madeleine had visited Dürnbach for a commemorative service there on Remembrance Sunday 1974, the service itself conducted by a Royal Air Force chaplain and with representatives of the United States and (then-West) Germany alongside those of most other countries involved in World War II.

"They all laid wreaths," Malcolm said. "But we were appalled to note that Australia did not have a presence – neither the Australian Embassy nor the RAAF bothered to send either representative or wreath.

THE "oldest" of the crew aboard the Lancaster was
John Sidney Braithwaite of Griffith in NSW – and he was just 28.
(Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
"We expressed our disbelief in a letter to a Sydney newspaper, and as a result the Air Force Association contacted us and asked me to buy and lay a wreath on their behalf the next time a service was planned.

"As well, ex-members of a couple of RAAF bomber squadrons planning to visit Britain in 1976 changed their itineraries to include Dürnbach… and the Luftwaffe Night Pilots Association hearing of this, organised a reception for their old foes at the Neues Rathaus (the New Town Hall) in Munich.

PICTURESQUELY peaceful now, Dürnbach
village in the mountains of Bavaria.  (Andreas Mu)
"It was an incredible sight, seeing these two groups of old men reliving their battles from 30 years before," Malcolm said. "And from that year on, the Luftwaffe veterans have laid a wreath every Remembrance Sunday on behalf of the Aussies they had fought in the skies over Germany.

"And when I asked 'But these men were trying to bomb you. How can you pay your respects to them?' They replied: 'Ah it is easy. They were only boys, just like our boys, doing their job.'"

Today Australian visitors to Dürnbach cannot miss the headstones of the seven crew of Lancaster bomber LL848 of the RAAF's 463rd Squadron – they're close to the main entrance to the cemetery.

The four Australians were the young pilot, Pilot Officer Eric Page (just 21) of Melbourne, Flying Officer John Sidney Braithwaite (the oldest at 28) from Griffith NSW, Pilot Officer Edwin Ryland Brown (23) of Hamilton Qld, and Flight Sergeant Gordon Hughie Noakes (a mere 20 years of age) from Bedgerebong NSW.

The other three crew were from Britain and Canada and are buried alongside the Australians.

LL848 had taken off from Waddington in Lincolnshire at 11.05pm on April 24 1944 with 248 other Lancasters and 16 Mosquito fighters for a bombing raid on Munich. They ran into enormous flak – over 49,000 shells according to German records – and this immediately brought down four of the bombers.

LL848 was brought down not by flak, but by a German fighter and crashed at 2.09am on Anzac Day 1944, all seven crew to remain there in foreign soil for ever more.

Lest We Forget.

Struth! Tuck into the Prince's 100 Guinea Dinner

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that after Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) had hosted a slap-up dinner in London for all of England's Lord Mayors in 1850 to promote his pet project, The Great Exhibition to be held the following year, his guests reciprocated his hospitality with a bash of their own from their public purses.

Quickly becoming known as the 100 Guinea Dinner (in today's terms around AU$11,800) it cost just under half a guinea a head – almost the equivalent of the-then average weekly wage – with close to half the 240 guests being the Lord Mayors and their spouses.

Held in the City of York, famous expatriate French chef Alexis Soyer was brought in from London to whip up their grand repast – at a time when the Great Famine in Ireland was claiming thousands weekly through starvation.

Chef Soyer's menu required no less than 400 woodcocks, 100 snipes, 45 partridges, 36 quails and 36 pigeons, 24 capons and 18 poulardes (roosters and chickens de-sexed to improve quality and flavour,) 20 pheasants, 16 regular fowls and 18 turkeys, 10 grouse, 6 plovers, 6 larks and the heads and fins of five turtles.

It took a whole day to cook and was offered from silver platters garnished with crayfish, truffles, American asparagus, croustades, sweetbreads, mushrooms, French minced fish dumplings, olives, green mangoes, cocks combs and Chef Soyer's secret-recipe "New Sauce."

And it ended with dessert of compote of pear served with bananas, raisins, melons and muscats…

Wonder why we don't get that at the club?



[] PRINCE Albert at the Royal Table for his 100 Guinea Dinner in York in 1850 – almost hidden by the bizarre over-the-top table decorations. (Contemporary newspaper sketch)

April 12, 2015

First flight for empty $200m airport


David Ellis

SPAIN's Castellon International Airport is about to finally get its first-ever commercial flights – after costing the equivalent of A$210 million to open in 2011, and apart from one charter flight last January, laying deserted for the four years since.

The extraordinary white elephant was conceived towards the end of Spain's building bubble that burst in 2008 sending the country crashing into recession, and bizarrely was built despite no Spanish domestic or international airlines saying they'd use it… and worse, without any official government approval to operate it.

And the man behind Castellon, the former head of the local provincial government, Carlos Fabra is now serving four years in prison on tax fraud charges after a court last December heard of millions in unexplained earnings – with Mr Fabra explaining that, luckily, he'd consistently won Spain's rich Christmas Lottery that's the world's biggest in terms of prize payouts.

Castellon is in Spain's north-east and with its long Mediterranean coastline and mountainous interior has been growing in popularity in recent years as a tourist destination, with most holidaymakers flying into Valencia just to the south, or Barcelona further off to the north.

It was during the 1990s building boom when money was recklessly being thrown at anything suggested, that Carlos Fabra saw the opportunity for his province to cash in on both the boom and the growth in tourism. And with it an airport that would deliver Spanish domestic and international travellers direct to his city's front door.

Making the airport concept even more attractive was the promise of a massive new holiday resort that was to be built in Castellon, but with the building boom's bust this, like so many other projects, simply never eventuated.

The Castellon International Airport was "officially opened" to much pomp and ceremony on March 25 2011, including the unveiling of an odd 25-metre high statue of Carlos Fabra that's been variously described as whimsical, eccentric, weird and gross.

And a major problem was pointed out by pilots and others in the know about the new airport's runway soon after it "opened": it would be too narrow for planes to turn around on, and so in 2012 it was dug-up and widened, adding even further to the cost of the no-planes airport.

Not that the widening made any difference: domestic and international airlines continued to let it be known they simply had no interest in landing at Castellon, making a mockery of projections that the airport would attract 600,000 passengers a year – a good percentage of them foreign tourists with plenty of Euros to spend in the city and its surrounds.

With the grass outside the terminal growing, and check-in desks and other facilities inside gathering dust, suggestions for putting the Castellon airport to good use included turning its runway into a car-racing track and the terminal a shopping mall, while its owners, the publicly-listed Aerocas, spent E26m (AU$37m) on sponsoring local sporting teams in the hope of attracting others from elsewhere to fly in and compete against those locals.

But apart from the Villarreal Football Club using the airport for one charter flight to an away game in January of this year, no one else took-up the option.

Now Ireland's budget airline, Ryanair has now announced that it will start flying from London Stansted Airport three times a week to Castellon and twice a week from Bristol in time for the 2015 Easter holiday season, and hopefully carrying 60,000 mainly holidaymakers by the end of the year.

As well Aerocas has said it's struck a E27.5m deal (AU$38m) with Canadian multi-national airport operator, SNC-Lavalin to manage and operate Castellon International for the next 20 years.

Not that SNC-Lavalin has painted an immediately rosy picture in turning around the ailing airport's fortunes. It says it's hopeful the airport will be handling 200,000 passengers a year by 2017 – including the Villarreal Football Club that has said it will switch from using Valencia Airport to Castellon for all future away games in Spain and abroad.

But it also says it needs to see 1.2 million passengers annually before the local provincial government can even look at starting to recoup its costs for the airport – and on SNC-Lavalin's own projections, this won't be until at least 2029.



[] SPAIN'S Castellon Airport has seen just one flight since opening four years ago –  will it now finally become operational? (ForgottenAirfields)
[] SIGN that's stood since 2011 to a ghost airport. (AngloInfo)
[] CARICATURE 25m high statue to the man who conceived the idea of Castellon Airport and is now serving a four year jail sentence for tax evasion. (WikiMedia)
[] WILL Ireland's Ryanair prove to be Castellon's saviour? (Ryanair)

From killers to conservationists. Are spearfishers seeing the error of their ways?

This massive male hump head wrasse taken from Saumarez Reef
(400km off Townsville) in 1964 (Fathom Magazine 1964)

Roderick Eime

When I first started ocean snorkelling back in the early ‘80s, I used to take a hand spear with me in case anything tempting came along.

Without fail, I’d manage to get two or three 30-40cm parrot fish from out of the rocks from my favourite spot an hour out of Sydney and throw them in the oven when I got home.

I’d read the great tales of hero spearfishers like Ron Taylor who I’d seen in pictures with massive wrasse, cod and grouper laid out triumphantly on the beach or hanging from hooks on the jetty.

Now, like the late, great diver and undersea cinematographer, my feelings about spearfishing have changed enormously and it’s been more than 15 years since I’ve speared anything.

The humphead wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus, is a big docile,
slow-growing fish inhabiting coral reefs throughout the
Indo-Pacific. Hunting and habitat threats have seen the
species listed by IUCN as 'Endangered'.
Image: Reef Magic Cruises
What worries me is if I’d been underwater and seen a magnificent Maori wrasse or giant grouper back then, would I have had the good sense to leave it alone? When you are presented with such a tempting target, the excitement kicks in, you’re in ‘hunt and stealth’ mode and .. bang! With spearfishing however, there’s no throwing the poor animals back.

While I would probably be ethically comfortable spearing a giant trevally or tuna, my skill level would never have permitted it. Much less now. If you are good enough to spear one of these fast and furious blighters, you’ve earned it. But a big lazy Napoleon wrasse? There’s no skill in that. It’s like hunting a dairy cow.

A few years back I had the pleasure of meeting both Ron and Valerie Taylor at a media event and they generously chatted with me about the ‘good old days’.

Ron had an epiphany years ago when the futility of spearing these beautiful big reef fish suddenly hit him and he threw away his spear fishing kit and never went back.

"I just thought, 'What am I doing down here killing these poor, defenceless marine creatures?' he told ABC radio in 2005.

"So I just packed up, went home - didn't even weigh my fish in - and never went back to another spearfishing competition.

"At the same time I was doing my photography. I was trying to get close to the fish to capture beautiful images with a still camera and a movie camera. And then on the weekend I'd go out and start killing them and that just didn't - that was wrong.

"Now I hunt with my movie camera or video camera and it's the same sense of achievement to get close to a marine creature and capture some behaviour, or perhaps a shark - a dangerous looking shark."

.. and where are all the big fish now? The Brindle Bass (Epinephelus lanceolatus or Queensland giant grouper) is listed by IUCN as 'vulnerable' and in Australia this species is protected from both line and spear fishing.

While I never reached anything like the level of professionalism of Ron Taylor, I now find myself in the same circumstance, scuba diving among these serene sea creatures just enjoying their company and if they co-operate, I’ll photograph or video them.

Similarly, I have become an advocate for ocean conservation. Seeing these massive factory ships haul entire oceans of fish out with just one net is sickening. Just so we can have cheap canned fish in the (down, down, prices are down!) supermarkets.

While I love nothing more than a whole baked snapper, oysters and a crisp pinot gris, the pillaging and plundering of our oceans on an industrial scale concerns me greatly, as it should anyone who buys and eats fish.

Forget bag limits. For how much longer can our oceans sustain fishing on this scale?

Want to know more about buying sustainable seafood?
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation Seafood Watch
    We recommend which seafood to buy or avoid, helping you select items that are fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.
  • Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide Online
    the first online sustainability guide for seafood consumers in Australia

April 06, 2015

Hang out with the ghostly judge of Wapping

David Ellis

"BEWARE The Hanging Judge," the folk of Wapping in London's Docklands area will kindly warn the visitor, because although he died in 1689 they'll point out that an encounter on a dark and lonely night with the ghost of England's most notorious member of the judiciary, can prove a very unnerving experience indeed.

For those locals will tell you that the ghost of Judge George Jeffreys does wander their streets after dark – and many will swear they've been involved in eerie late-night encounters.

And the reason they say their ghost frequents their hamlet is because not only had George Jeffreys been aptly dubbed the Hanging Judge for the large numbers of unfortunate souls he sent to the gallows, he also had a most macabre habit: he would mingle at the Wapping gallows with the ghoulish crowds who gathered there – to watch the spectacle of the public deaths of those whom he himself had ordered hanged.

More bizarrely, he would do so after first taking a few casual ales at the nearby Prospect of Whitby pub – to which he would return after the hangings for a cleanser or three before casually heading off home…

George Jeffreys was born in Wales and moved to London where he entered the Bar in 1663, rising to Lord Chief Justice twenty years later. When James II took the throne as England's last Catholic monarch, he named Judge Jeffreys his Lord Chancellor in 1685 and also elevated him to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem.

This royal patronage was not without reason: James knew he could rely on his Lord Chancellor to enforce royal policy from the bench – with bias if necessary – and when hundreds were rounded-up after the failed Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 that attempted to overthrow James (as a Catholic,) Judge Jeffreys ordered no less than 200 men to their deaths on the gallows – earning his sobriquet The Hanging Judge.

He also found that another 800 had played some part in the failed uprising against the King, and while not sufficiently enough to hang too, at least sufficient to be deported as convicts to the West Indies with their papers marked "Never to Return."

The hangings of the unfortunate 200 provided Judge Jeffreys with proverbial field days, with often multiple side-by-side executions, the crowds jeering then cheering as each detainee plunged sickeningly to their deaths, kicking and twitching for minutes afterwards because nooses were deliberately short so they did not drop sufficiently far to instantly break their necks, and thus they slowly strangled…

And according to contemporary journals, from his vantage point The Hanging Judge would watch with a frightening smile playing across his lips, before wandering the 100 metres back to the Prospect of Whitby for a few more ales to wrap up his day.

Finally when supporters of William of Orange overthrew the Catholic James II in 1688, and installed their man as King William III, James fled to France – and knowing what would befall him for his support of the deposed King, Judge Jeffreys planned to flee too, disguised as a sailor aboard a collier bound for Hamburg.

But soon before sailing he acquired a thirst and went ashore to another favourite Wapping pub, The Red Cow (allegedly so-named after its ill-tempered, red-headed barmaid) for a final drink. Half-way through he was recognised, and an angry mob descended on the pub to mete out its justice on the man who'd had so many colleagues hanged or deported.

Judge Jeffreys was miraculously saved by the Army, and committed to the Tower of London where he died a few months later from kidney disease aged just 44. He was interred in the Tower, but in 1692 friends moved his remains to St Mary Aldermanbury Church in London's Cheapside for re-internment there.

In 1941 the old 12th century church was totally destroyed during a German air raid, and despite extensive searching no trace ever found to this day of the tomb of The Hanging Judge.

The Red Cow is now named The Town of Ramsgate and is the oldest pub on the River Thames. Both it and the Prospect of Whitby welcome visitors, staff and locals readily regaling them with tales of their most famous patron… and his reputedly oft-wandering nocturnal spirit.



[] THE Hanging Judge, George Jeffreys who suffered constant kidney pain, in full
   cantankerous flight berating a prisoner before him. (Contemporary painting)
[] FAVOURITE spot at which Judge Jeffreys would macabrely take a few before
   going off to watch the hangings of those he'd sentenced to death. (Alen McFadzean)
[] IN the 17th century hangings were akin to a blood sport, with crowds jeering
   the hapless, then cheering as they dropped to their deaths. (Contemporary Print)
[] A GIBBET outside the Thames-side rear of the Prospect of Whitby Pub showing
   the deliberately short noose to ensure victims suffered a slow and agonising death.
   (Jim Linwood FLICKR)
[] ANOTHER of the Hanging Judge's favourite Wapping watering-holes, and where
   he took his last drink before capture and death in the Tower of London. (PubsHistory)

Struth! My boomerang won't come back - it exploded!

DON'T return to sender – the bizarre Russell Boomerang
Grenade proposed for the Australian Army in World War I.
(Roderick Eime)

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that bizarre though it sounds, a potential weapons idea for the Australian Army during the First World War was a hand grenade made in the shape of a boomerang.

But boomerang-like as it may have been, it would not have come swirling back onto its Army thrower: being made of flat galvanised iron and with an 85gm charge of blasting gelignite and a detonator at one end, its Melbourne engineer inventor Mr G.V. Russell reasoned that being heavier at that one end it would travel long distances in a forward direction only to target enemy trenches or other strongholds.

And certainly far more efficiently than the risky "hand bombs" that Australian front line troops were frighteningly then making themselves –old jam and bully beef tins packed with explosives.

At trials in Melbourne in August 1915 of the Russell Boomerang Grenade a watching newspaper reporter described it as "swooping down like a hawk on its target," but the Australian Grenade Training School was less enthusiastic and dismissed it as "erratic and uncertain… of no value for Military purposes."

Mr Russell successfully appealed for more trials to be allowed, but his Boomerang Grenade still did not pass scrutiny and only one has survived to this day.

And that is on show at the Australian Infantry Museum at Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley, open Wednesdays to Sundays. Details (02) 6575 0257 or www.infantrymuseum.com.au

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