June 25, 2015

The Great Ocean Road: Standing room at Split Point

Split Point Lighthouse; still standing!

Words and images by Graeme Willingham

No standing? Must be joking! The lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet on Victoria’s Surf Coast has been standing on Split Point since 1891 and is still at work.

Locally, they call her White Queen or the White Lady. She’s been the set for the hit children’s television series Round the Twist and more recently for Masterchef Series 6. Since 2005, she’s been a shining light for tourists, many of whom take a 30-45 minute tour after visiting The Great Ocean Road’s surfing precinct of Torquay and Bell’s Beach, Point Addis and Anglesea, en route to Lorne, Apollo Bay, Cape Otway (another white lighthouse), The 12 Apostles, to Port Campbell and to the collapsed London Bridge.

On the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, scores of visitors gathering around the icon structure chose not to take the tour, preferring to spend just 10 minutes taking selfies from various angles around the 34metre photo magnet before zapping off to the next selfie opportunity, which will probably be Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club’s smart new clubhouse overlooking the wide-open beach, or the monument to the returned servicemen who built The Great Ocean Road, a few more kilometres along the beach.

View -- The view along Fairhaven Beach
On my Split Point lighthouse visit, I was joined by two young men from St Petersburg driving The Great Ocean Road (“It’s scary driving on the wrong side!”), a young couple from Melbourne, and a family of four from nearby Geelong.

The original spiral iron staircase hugging the leaning wall inside has 130 steps, we’re told, which takes us to three landings where we’ll gather for a breather and a chat about the 10 shipwrecks dotted along the coast which gave rise to the lighthouse’s construction. We hear how it was built and its operational history.

For the record: the walls at floor level are about 2m thick, and finish about 50cm thick at the top; the tower is only painted on the outside so that moisture can escape internally from the concrete to prevent concrete rot; it was last painted in 2005; the light flashes four times in 20 seconds and is listed on shipping charts as Split Point Lighthouse 4 x 20; the intensity of the white light is 39,800 Candelas (CD) and can be seen for 18 nautical miles (30kms) and the red light has an intensity of 6766 CD and can be seen from 14 nautical miles.

Lighthouse and sign -- In defiance, standing tall.
Split Point Lighthouse on The Great Ocean Road
at Airey’s Inlet
At the second landing, I can sense impatience. Our small crew now just wants to reach the top, step outside and secure the view the selfie people below had denied themselves.

A stiff breeze up there meant we had to push hard on the thick metal door to step out on the metal-fenced landing, wrapped completely round the wall just below the tower’s red metal cap. Standing room only, certainly, but there’s room to edge by fellow spectators.

On this day, the low northern sun was out in patches so the views were brilliantly clear.

To the west, we looked over Painkalac Creek and along the 7km beach. The tide was in but the northern breeze had flattened what is usually booming surf. To the north, the historic slate-roofed lighthouse keeper’s cottages and the village beyond. To the east, the outcrop Eagle Rock immediately below and off to oceanside beaches of Point Roadknight in the distance. To the south, people on cliff top viewing platforms below looking back at us and out to the blue sea where a passing whale should have been putting a show for us at this time of the year. Our guide apologised, told us a humpback whale was there the week previous, the second spotted out there in Louttit Bay this season. We scan the flat sea, but there are no “telltail” signs.

She pointed out the scene’s highlights but gave us uninterrupted time to absorb this special elevated ambience and snap our photos ... and selfies.
Staircase – Original staircase, 136 steps to the top.

Tours operate daily between 11-3 with extended hours during holidays, weather permitting.

Airey’s Inlet is 90 minutes drive west of Melbourne. It has a range of eateries, a thriving brewery pub, accommodation choices (motel, getaway resort, caravan park, B&Bs), a general store and is becoming a hub for live music, arts and literary events. A Winter in Airey’s program has just been launched.

See www.splitpointlighthouse.com.au, www.aireysinlet.org.au

Photos by Graeme Willingham

June 24, 2015

Ghostly publican of New Zealand's most haunted hotel


ALTHOUGH he's only got seven guest rooms in his little Hurunui Hotel 45 minutes north of New Zealand's Christchurch, publican Travis Cooper says that with a half-dozen permanent guests, even on quiet days he's never short of company – although as he likes to put it, "they're all on another planet."

For instance, to the staff's annoyance Mary's never happier than when down in the kitchen rearranging things, Mr & Mrs Hastie just like wandering around downstairs, Murray the shearer constantly smells of lanolin from sheep's wool, there's the alcoholic Mr Wilson, and the strange lady who Travis simply calls "that woman in the long black dress…."

And while they may sound pretty-much regular enough, Travis is quick to point out one thing: they are in fact, all ghosts.

He kids us not, and to back him up, just a couple of years ago a clairvoyant who'd dropped into the hotel for lunch while on a road trip, told him she "sensed there were spirits" in the place as soon as she arrived, and asked if she could see the upstairs living areas.

After an hour and a half and never having been in the hotel before, she rattled off precise details of all six of those "permanent guests" after saying one had actually contacted her – Mary, the one-time kitchen-hand who to this day loves rearranging and hiding things that staff are sure they've placed in a particular spot.

And to surprising staff and guests with friendly touches from unseen hands…

Travis Cooper says the wandering Mr & Mrs Hastie on the other hand are far less troublesome, possibly because they built the hotel themselves back in 1860, a fact that also makes it today New Zealand's oldest continuously licenced pub.

And licencing rules in their day were interesting: Mr Hastie had to have at least eight guest beds in four separate rooms, a bar, dining and sitting rooms, and a waterproof shed with water, oats and hay for guest's horses.

He also had to have yards to corral passing stock, dips to prevent disease spreading into the Canterbury Plains, a horse for travellers to cross the Hurunui River between sunrise and sunset, prevent drunkenness or disorder at his bar, and to become a Special Law Officer "to assist police and magistrates as required."

More macabrely he had to have a morgue in case of a guest's death… while as a good citizen, he also volunteered as something of a postmaster, holding mail and newspapers for travellers and locals, and posting their mail for them when he regularly went into Christchurch on business.

Murray the shearer lived full-time in Room 1 a-near century ago, and although constantly smelling of lanolin from sheep's wool, was "a bit naughty with the ladies" – with his ghost today still reputedly of the same leaning and aroma…

The alcoholic Mr Arnold Wilson actually owned the hotel in the early 1940s… until a fatal fall down the stairs drunk. His widow later married the bar manager.

But Travis Cooper says neither he nor the clairvoyant have been able to identify just who was "that lady in the long black dress," and who's occasionally been seen in rooms and corridors.

As well as strange sightings, guests have also sworn to the sensation of having been touched by invisible hands, of sudden cold draughts in rooms in which all doors and windows are closed, the feeling of air wafting around them as if someone has just walked past… and of such bizarre things as hearing a piano playing while no-one is in the room, electrical appliances being turned off when there's been no-one near the power point, guests having the feeling of someone tucking-in the sheets around them as they've lain in bed, and even of a juke-box suddenly changing records while no-one was near it.

The Hurunui Hotel makes for a rewarding and somewhat spirited visit (NZ$55 per night Single with cooked breakfast, $90 Double – communal shared facilities,) and the more-so with welcoming hosts in Travis and his team. And they've hearty all-day country-fare including burgers, steak and chicken sandwiches, fish and chips, nachos, pies and fries, roast of the day and children's meals.

If you're intrigued and would like to get into the spirit, hop onto www.hurunuihotel.co.nz


[] THE Hurunui Hotel – oldest continuous-licenced hotel in New Zealand, and a half-dozen resident ghosts to boot.
[] PUBLICAN Travis Cooper is not surprised by anything guests tell him they've seen or felt.
[] THE charming little bar and dining room with cosy fire.
[] ONE of seven guest bedrooms in the Hurunui Hotel that dates back to 1860.
(All images Hurunui Hotel)

June 22, 2015

Struth! The real cruise to nowhere

IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in travel, David Ellis says America's going to enforce a law dating back to 1886, and which from the beginning of 2016 looks set to spell the end of the good old 2- and 3-night "cruise to nowhere."

It's provoked howls of protest from those who love sea-travel and aren't bothered about getting off in foreign ports, others who can't afford or haven't the time for longer cruises – and from some foreign shipping lines that are the main operators of these cruises, most of them out of New York.

Fancy a Cruise? Get these brochures for free

But the government says it's determined to give power to the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act, which bars foreign-flagged ships from sailing round-trips from American ports without visiting a foreign country. And while it won't say so, as foreign-flagged vessels don't have to pay normal American taxes once they leave port, it means cruises to nowhere are viewed as simply lucrative booze and gambling long weekends for foreign operators – and right in America's backyard.

So with no foreign ports close enough to include in 2- or 3-night sailings from New York, it's generally considered 2015's the swan song year of the cruise to nowhere.

(To comply with the 1886 law, even longer 7-day summertime sailings from West Coast Seattle to America's 49th State of Alaska, have for years included a 6hr stop in "foreign" Victoria in Canada, to get around being sailings between American ports only. For details about these Alaska cruises: sales@canada-alaska.com.au)


[] CRUISE lines like Holland America stop at Victoria in Canada to show they've been to a "foreign port" on Seattle-Alaska sailings. (HAL photo)

June 18, 2015

Gideons still spreading the word. A Bible in every room.



David Ellis


WHEN a couple of quiet commercial travellers were forced to share a room in the Central House Hotel in Boscobel in Wisconsin in late 1898 because it had been over-booked for a gathering of boisterous lumberjacks, they weren't to know that it was to result in the formation of one of the world's most extraordinarily pro-active Christian groups, and yet conversely its most publicity-shy.


Because after those two men, John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill realised they shared strong Christian beliefs and values, they went on to found an organisation of support for others in their profession who spent long and lonely hours away from families, living from hotel room to hotel room as they flogged their wares along the highways and by-ways of America.


And in July 1899 that small but growing group met to formally create an organisation they would call the Gideons. And five years later, to provide spiritual comfort for all travellers – be they commercial, professional, holidaymaker or otherwise – they agreed that each man would contribute towards the cost of a Bible to be placed at the Reception Desks of every hotel at which they stayed.


Then in 1908 when meeting in Louisville, Kentucky they voted to go even further than a Bible at every Reception Desk – they would put one in every room, of every hotel in America. The first 25 went into the rooms of the Superior Hotel in the boisterous little mining town of Superior, Montana and were paid for by one devout Gideon, Archie Bailey.


Today, 117 years since that fateful night on which Nicholson and Hill found themselves thrown together in September 1898, the Gideons now comprise over 300,000 Christian business and professional men and their wives in 193 countries world-wide.


And they've placed over 2-billion free Bibles and Testaments in 93 languages into places as diverse as 1- to 5-star hotels, motels and hostels, in hospitals and nursing homes, military camps, Polar-exploration bases, aboard cruise ships… and in police and prison cells housing those from overnight drunks to others awaiting the death sentence.


And currently at an extraordinary two Bibles every second.


Initially members of the Gideons met the costs of the Bibles themselves, but later Christian churches began contributing to the cause as well.


And in our own lifetime of travel scribbling, we've found only three hotels in Christian countries that did not have a Gideons Bible in their rooms.


The first was on Vancouver Island in Canada, where our hotel GM said he'd told the Gideons they could put a Bible in every room – if they also gave a book of worship for every other major religion.


"They didn't of course. But we relented," he said. "And while not in each room, we do have Gideons Bibles available at Reception."


The second was in New York City where our hotel offered us a complimentary pet goldfish in a bowl during our stay, but not a Gideon's Bible… the hotel's remarkable explanation being that "society evolves."


And more-bizarrely, at Cunnamulla in Queensland a local hotelier said that while there may not be a Bible at every bedside, they did have one for every room.


"But they're kept in the office," she told us. "At weekends when cattle station blokes come into town, some would rip the rice paper pages out of our Bibles because they reckoned they made the best roll-your-owns… now there's a note in rooms saying they can borrow a Gideons from the office if in spiritual need."


The press-shy Gideons neither seek publicity, solicit funds publicly, nor promote themselves commercially, and while it took 93 years to 2001 to distribute their first 1-billion Bibles it took only 14 years from 2002 to 2015 for their second billion.


And the big question so many ponder is: Do people actually read those Gideons' Bibles placed in so many diverse places around the world?. The answer, the Gideons tell us, is Yes – some 25% of those who find themselves in establishments with a Gideons actually picking-up and reading some part of it.


(If you are wondering the name, it was chosen after Gideon who, in the Bible was willing to do all that God wanted him to do, regardless of his own thoughts as to its subsequent results.)





[] THE first 25 of the world's 2-billion Gideon Bibles to go into hotel rooms

    were placed here in the Superior Hotel in Montana in 1908. (Gideons International)

[] WHERE it all began: an historic photo of commercial travellers at the Central

   House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin where the concept of the Gideons first came

   about. (Gideons International.)

[] THE Central House Hotel in Boscobel today. (WisconsinHistoricalMarkers)

[]  A typical Gideon's Bible placed today in 193-countries world-wide. (Gideons


[]  THE Cunnamulla Hotel in Queensland: Gideon Bibles are now kept in the office

    after guests decided the rice paper pages made the best roll-your-owns. (David



June 08, 2015

Struth! Blooming tulips on their way to Bowral


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of  travel, David Ellis says gardens across the NSW Southern Highlands will erupt into a blaze of hot pink this Spring as part of the 55th annual Tulip Time Festival in support of the Garvan Research Foundation's "Love Your Sister" Breast Cancer Campaign.


Biggest displays will be at the Corbett Gardens in Bowral where the first 75,000 of more than 100,000 tulip bulbs and 16,500 flowering annuals have just been planted, while throughout the Highlands many private gardens – some of which are spectacularly large acreages that date back 100 years or more – are also being Spring-planted for opening at the same time to the public.


The Festival will run from September 15 to 27, and as one of Australia's oldest floral events draws over 35,000 visitors to the Southern Highlands – roughly 1.5hrs from Sydney and Canberra and just over an hour from the coast.


An extensive support program will include a Street Parade, afternoon Music in the Gardens as well as an afternoon Sounds of Spring concert, a sunset screening amid the tulips of sing-along movie "Happy Feet," a huge 2-day Street Market… even a Dogs Day Out with James and Anthony from Foxtel's Village Vets Australia.


With Corbett Gardens alone having over 100,000 tulips in bloom, it's certainly a long way from when the first Festival was held 55 years ago – Corbett Gardens then sporting all of 500 tulips.


For full details go onto www.tuliptime.net.au






[] BLOOMIN' gorgeous, a small part of Bowral's Corbett Gardens during last year's Tulip Time Festival that attracts 35,000 visitors to the NSW Southern Highlands town. (Image Madylene Mendiola - WeekendNotes.com)


Struth! The 'land' of Hollywood


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of  travel, David Ellis says that what's one of the most-photographed signs in the world – HOLLYWOOD on the side of Mt Lee outside Los Angeles – was put up 92 years ago… as a temporary 18 months promotion for a new housing estate.


And it originally spelt-out HOLLYWOODLAND when put up in 1923, with 4,000 20-watt lights set into its thirteen letters, that were each 9 metres wide and 13 metres tall, and stretching a-near 140 metres across the hillside.


At night they blinked "Holly," followed by "wood" and finally "land,"  with the "land" eventually removed in 1945, and bizarrely a full-time caretaker was needed to everyday clamber over each letter to replace scores of globes that had blown overnight.


Interestingly the first movie company to call Hollywood home was a small Chicago-based maker that moved there in 1907, frustrated at being unable to complete a shoot because of its home-city's erratic weather; within just five years some fifteen others had followed, realising how ideal Hollywood was for film-making.


The rest, as they say, is history – including 90-odd years' resistance by local residents to successfully thwart developers wanting to build roads up to the sign, and to surround it with restaurants, cafés and observation platforms… so that today it can still only be viewed from a distance.






[] THE original sign spelled-out HOLLYWOODLAND and was intended to promote a new housing estate for a temporary 18 months.

[] FOR 92 years local residents have thwarted attempts by developers to build roads up to the HOLLYWOOD sign, and to surround it with restaurants, cafés and observation platforms.


(Images: discoverlosangeles.com)


June 07, 2015

Italian hermit lived for 23 years in a cave near Griffith



David Ellis


MANY a landmark named after a mere commoner has found itself given the flick in favour  of a more exalted Knight or Dame of the Realm – but  seldom has one named after one of those latter dignitaries, been re-named in favour of a commoner.


Particularly one who's past included prisoner, vagrant, wartime internee, mental hospital patient and hermit.


But that's what happened at Griffith in the NSW Riverina, where a popular lookout long named after a one-time State Governor, was re-badged by the local council a couple of years back in recognition of a reclusive Italian migrant.


And named for who he was and where he lived, rather than with his name, so that the landmark's no longer the Sir Dudley de Chair Lookout, but more-humbly The Hermit's Cave Lookout.


Valerio Ricetti came to Australia from Italy in 1914 after an uncle sensing impending war, loaned the 16 year old apprentice stonemason the money for a ship's passage to safety.


Landing at Port Pirie, Valerio soon moved to Broken Hill, got a well-paying work in the mines, boarded with a local Italian family, and fell in love with a pub barmaid.


When she wouldn't marry him, a broken-hearted Valerio left Broken Hill for Adelaide, and a first and unfortunate experience of a brothel… leaving his wallet there containing a year's savings, he returned to retrieve it but the establishment's pimp refused to let him in.


An angry Valerio hurled a rock through the window, was arrested and gaoled for five days.

Virtually penniless, he moved to Melbourne and decided to pawn his last possession – a treasured Italian leather coat. Apparently appearing confused outside the pawnshop, a stranger offered to help him hock the coat for the best-possible price, and a gullible Valerio handed it over… never seeing stranger nor coat again.


Now even worse off he drifted north, becoming disillusioned with his fellow man as he acquired only ad hoc work while following along riverbanks and railways line until arriving on a hill overlooking Griffith on a wet night in January 1929.


He took refuge in a cave on the hill, waking next morning to look down over the lush Riverina Irrigation Area – and closer, a garbage dump. He scrambled down to this and found a proverbial treasure trove for a one-time miner and stonemason – broken shovels, mattocks and axe heads, and tree branches for making handles.


Valerio returned to his cave, convinced he had "found my Garden of Eden." He built a dry-stone wall across the mouth of his cave as protection from the weather, a sleeping nook, fireplace for cooking, stone stairways, even a "chapel," and painted Christian symbols using thrown-away paints.


Slowly he hauled-up tonnes of soil in buckets to make gardens retained by more dry-stone walls and planted vegetable seeds, cuttings, even banana palms reclaimed from the dump; soon Griffith residents dubbed him "The Hermit," for whenever they approached he would flee into secreted bolt-holes.


Then in 1937 two local Italian migrants hearing that The Hermit was an Italian, went to the hill calling out in Italian. This time Valerio responded…and bizarrely found himself face-to-face with Valentino Ceccato – with whom he had boarded in Broken Hill over twenty years before.


He started spending weekends with the kindly Ceccato family, but always returned to his cave; in 1940 when Italy entered WWII, Valerio was detained after some Griffith residents reported "signal lights" flashing from his cave, and that a "radio aerial" had suddenly appeared.


But investigations revealed the "signal lights" were merely Valerio's cave lamps – and the "radio aerial" his clothes-line.


Valerio however was placed in an internment camp, then treated briefly in a mental institution in Orange as "disarranged." He returned to Griffith in 1942 to live and work with the Ceccato's on their farm, until with declining health he decided to visit his brother in Italy.


Six months later, in late 1952, Valerio Ricetti died at his brother's home aged 54.


Visitors today can marvel at his remarkable cave complex and one-time gardens that underwent minor restoration in 2008 and will undergo more work when funds can be found. For details of his now-Heritage Listed Cave, and Lookout above it, and Griffith's many other tourist attractions, contact Griffith Visitor Information Centre 1800 681 141 or www.visitgriffith.com.au






[] RARE photo of Valerio Ricetti – The Hermit of Griffith take in 1938. (Griffith Visitor Information Centre)

[] THE Hermit's hilltop cave complex with entrance to his "chapel" on the left. (Peter Kabaila)

[] ONE of his entrances to the amazing cave complex. (Peter Kabaila)

[] VALERIO Ricetti had many hideouts he'd escape into to avoid visitors. (Peter Kabaila)

[] HIS outdoor cooking place. (Peter Kabaila)

[] STONEMASON Richard Senior  undertaking initial restoration work on the Hermit's Cave; more needs to be done when funds can be made available. (Peter Kabaila)


June 06, 2015

Struth! Hoist the pizza flag for Queen Margherita


IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that according to Italian folklore it was in June 1889 that the world got the Pizza Margherita.


Not that Italians hadn't been eating a pizza made with similar ingredients before that, but it was then that this pizza got its name that's stuck for one and a quarter centuries.


King Umberto I and Queen Margherita were touring southern Italy at the time and while staying in Naples the queen, bemoaning the continual serving of rich food at the royal table, directed her chamberlain to go to the best local pizzeria – and to bring their chef back for him to cook her a pizza.


Knowing of Naples' renowned Raffaele Esposito whose pizzeria had first opened its doors in 1780, the chamberlain brought him to the palace kitchen where Raffaele made two local-favourite pizzas, and one of his own creation, for Queen Margherita to choose between.


She rejected the local favourites as too garlicky or because of their anchovies – but was over-joyed at Raffaele's own creation using local ingredients patriotically representing the colours of Italy's flag: green, white and red.


So delighted was Esposito, that he began selling this creation in his pizzeria, naming it after the queen. And to this day a genuine Pizza Margherita can only be one made with durum wheat flour, fresh yeast, water, sea salt, and a topping of the Italian flag's colours: Oregano (green,) Mozzarella di Bufala from buffalo milk (white,) and San Marzano tomatoes (red,) all drizzled with olive oil.






[] PATRIOTIC – the Pizza Margherita features the colours of the Italian flag: green (oregano,) white (Mozzarella cheese from buffalo milk) and San Marzano tomatoes (red.)


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