January 29, 2019

Nellie Stewart - Australia's first star of the stage and screen

Sweet Nell of Old Drury

NELLIE STEWART, the darling of the Australian stage in the Victorian era, was born on November 28, 1858, in Woolloomooloo, Sydney. She came from a long line of theatre folk and it was as a member of her father's travelling company that she made her debut, aged only two or three, at Coppin's Haymarket Theatre, Melbourne. Her role was that of a child in a five-act drama titled The Little Stranger.

"I can remember quite distinctly," she wrote, "being dressed in a black velvet pelisse and a pork pie hat. After I'd been on stage a few minutes father whispered to me, 'Go back to mother.' I trotted off and she gave me a big piece of toffee."

She was, even as a young girl, an all-round performer. She learnt to fence, to dance and to sing, her education was never neglected and there was no doubt whatever about her acting talent. Her big chance came in 1880.

From small character parts, she had graduated to a musical medley called Rainbow Revels, specially written for Richard Stewart and his family. This production took her to India, Europe and the USA, and it was while playing in the latter country that she received an urgent call to return to Melbourne. She was wanted there as principal boy in George Coppin's pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor. A record run resulted and after that she was cast in her first really big success - the role of Griolet, the drummer boy, in the musical La Fille du Tambour Major. She had become the toast of the eighties, the idol of Australian theatre.

Comic opera followed, and from La Mascotte, one of her most memorable triumphs, she graduated to exacting roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Now under the patronage of producer George Musgrove, whom she described as her "great and good man" she made regular appearances in them here and abroad and it was said of her that "... even in England, the home of Gilbert and Sullivan, they have never seen a better Mabel in Pirates of Penzance or a more appealing Elsie in The Yeoman of the Guard. Outstanding too was her performance of Yum Yum in The Mikado.

In 13 years of touring she sang the leading role in 35 different comic operas. Physically she was tough and she had an unfaitering belief in the legend that "the play must go on". Once when playing Jack in the pantomime. Jack and the Beanstalk she fell from the beanstalk and broke her arm. Despite the not inconsiderable pain she simply had the arm strapped up, refused the suggestion that she should hand over to her understudy and went on with the show.

She seems to have possessed the gift of eternal youth - at least when she was made up and on the stage. At the age of 41 she repeated her success as principal boy in Sinbad the Sailor and 10 years later looked stunning as the voung heroine in When Knighthood Was In Flower. During her lifetime, her age was a well-kept secret. And in her autobiography she wrote, "... the date? No, I'm not going to tell you. You must keep on guessing and I shall keep on growing younger.”

Then in 1902 came the play most surely associated with her name - Sweet Nell of Old Drury. She was 44 when J. C. Williamson starred her in the production at the Melbourne Princess Theatre and although her singing voice had gone audiences still loved her, still flocked in their hundreds to see her.
Talma & Co., photographers. Nellie Stewart. ca. 1910.
Gelatin silver photograph with hand colouring.
Elsie Thorp postcard collection of
theatrical and literary portraits. H37081/29.
La Trobe Picture Collection.

The role, after her long career in comic opera, established her as a straight actress. Her popularity was at its height; and when, in 1909, Sweet Nell was revived in Melbourne the management, says Hal Porter in his book Stars of Australian Stage and Screen, "served afternoon tea and scones to the playgoers who had been in line since eleven in the morning."

Nellie had married Richard Row in 1884. The marriage was a failure and with the directness and commonsense that characterised this woman in an age of male dominance, she packed her bags and left the matrimonial home. She never married again but for 30 years she was "the friend" of George Musgrove, long associated with J. C. Williamson and Arthur Garner in the birthpangs of the modern Australian commercial theatre. He was with her on tour in San Francisco when the great earthquake brought them close to financial disaster and later, in 1911, starred with Nellie in pioneer film-maker Raymond Longford's screen version of Sweet Nell of Old Drury. He died in 1916.

Nellie made her final stage appearance at the Melbourne Comedy Theatre as Cavallani in the play Romance. That was in July, 1930 and, according to those who remember, she looked from the stalls like a young and attractive woman. Her fans were still legion when, in 1931, death brought to an end the remarkable career of a remarkable woman.

Theatre was in the blood of those Victorian stage charmers; at least half a dozen who come to mind began their careers when little more than babies. Ada Reeve, the Gaiety girl and one of our best-loved musical and revue entertainers, made her first appearance in pantomime at the age of five. Tittell Brune, Australia's Peter Pan and a dramatic actress of considerable ability was starting out for stardom when only four and a half.

Carrie Moore, of Merry Widow fame, knew the smell of grease paint when only a child, while her earlier namesake, Maggie Moore, who came to Australia with J. C. Williamson. was seven when she made her stage debut. It is a formidable list that goes back through an era of great talent.

Source: Australia Album - The Past in Pictures. Edited by Ailsa Craig
Sungravure Pty Ltd. 1974.

January 27, 2019

Tripura – the last of India's secret destinations revealed

Neermahal Palace
Ujjayanta Palace Entrance

Chashma monkeys
Ujjayanta Palace 
Sandip Hor explores the hidden enclave in India's Northeast

"Is this the famous Lake Palace of India", asks Jenny from Australia while waiting for a boat to take us to the Neermahal Palace, an imposing edifice set in the middle of a tranquil lake in Tripura where we have arrived to attend the International Tourism Mart focused to enhance tourism to the North Eastern part of the country.

It's not unusual for first time visitors to get confused with the much-hyped Lake Palace in Udaipur in Rajasthan, both built by former Maharajas to beat the summer heat. I have seen only images of the other one, but when see in front this glistening white royal residence - crowned with several Mughal styled domes and standing on red-brick foundations, I find it as something as exceptionally beautiful and eye catching. Its reflections on the greyish lake water sprinkled with pink waterlilies amidst green foliage create a magical scene for me that I, like other onlookers, try to lock in my camera.

This 20th century built regal abode, located 50 odd kms away from capital Agartala is a highlight of tiny Tripura - one of India's 29 states tucked in the North West frontier of the nation

At first sight, Tripura appears to be different from the rest of India with the typical crowd, chaos and cacophony missing. It's predominantly a hilly, landlocked region decorated with lush green valleys, rivers and streams, spreading lakes and pristine forests. Calmness and tranquillity – a rare commodity in vibrant India – can still be sensed there. Often referred as 'Daughter of Mother Nature', the grace and grandeur of Tripura's lush green landscape is heightened by its rich human resource reflected in the ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the population, currently less than 3% of India's total of 1340 million.

As a tourism destination, Tripura finds it difficult to compete with big brothers Rajasthan, Kerala or even Goa, but the state has many attractions to lure visitors for a few days. Besides splendid nature, the 10000 plus square km land offers varied sites from royal leftovers and stimulating rock art to many Hindu temples and rich craft and culture to trigger any traveller's quest for discovery.

Tripura Sundari Termple
As per history books, Tripura achieved its golden era under the Manikya dynasty who ruled for almost 500 years until joining independent Indian Union in 1949. Their leftovers are always ranked at the top of any visitor's itinerary. Beside the Neermahal Palace, the other site of great significance is the Ujjayanta Palace in the heart of Agartala city.

Placed inside a manicured Mughal style garden on the banks of a small lake, the Ujjayanta Palace has a similar look like the famous Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, particularly when note its white fascia and neoclassical design which was very widespread during the early 20th century. Martin & Burn, a reputed Indo British company of the time built this palace. While immersed in awe, it makes everyone think why such an iconic structure remains unnoticed by the architectural buffs in India and abroad. There perhaps can't be any other reason other than lack of promotion. Today this palace, which once housed the royal family, is home to their belongings. It's the State Museum displaying memorabilia that proclaim past glory

Religious tourism is big in Tripura; the region being is a treasure trove of Hindu and Buddhist faith. The archaeological ruins around Unakoti, Pilak and Devtamura, located 170 km away from the capital, display gigantic rock-cut carvings and stone images Shiva, Vishnu and other Hindu gods and Buddhist creeds. Experts believe them to be over a thousand years old, saying how talented the local civilisation was during the heyday. There are many Hindu temples throughout the state – most significant is that of Tripura Sundari – a version of Goddess Kali. Its located in Udaipur, 56 km from Agartala where, as per Hindu mythology, one of the 51 body pieces of Mata Sati fell, thus becoming a 'pith' or a revered holy site. No visit to Tripura is complete without paying a tribute at this pious junction.
Temple City Agartala

Similarly, it will be a big miss if anyone leaves Tripura without seeing the spectacled monkeys a rare and endangered species, Tripura and some other parts of North-East India being their stronghold. Luck permitting they can be spotted in the wild. Otherwise Sepahijala Wild Life Sanctuary, 28 km outside the capital boundary, is the place to meet them. This 18 square km forest is a zoo where the star attraction is these rare types of langurs, who have white circles around their eyes as if wearing glasses. Their fashionable sights are surely a bonus of any Tripura odyssey.

Tripura is very close to neighbouring Bangladesh sharing over 850kms of land boundary with a border check-post merely a few km away from Agartala where a military showbiz around sunset time has become Tripura's newest tourist drawcard. This pageant is similar to the famous 'Beating the Retreat' ceremony at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah in northern India but obviously of much lesser grandeur. Still, it's worth watching the pomp, which basically involves trumpet blowing, uniformed guards marching and then at almost sunset lowering the nation's flags. Efforts are now being made by both governments, India and Bangladesh, to make this a major tourist attraction on both sides which is hoped to draw more tourist attention from domestic and international market in the near future.

When leaving Tripura most visitors find it to be one of India's best-kept secrets and wonder why it's still an off-the-beat tourist conclave. Surely the destination has a good resume but needs brushing up by the state and national tourism agencies to make it more attractive for travellers within India and overseas

Fact File

Tripura is bordered by Bangladesh on three sides

Getting there – Singapore Airlines www.singaporeairlines.com from Australia to Kolkata from where there regular flights to Agartala.

Accommodation – Modest accommodation at private hotels and government guest house are available, at Agartala Ginger Hotel www.gingerhotels.com  being most popular.

Local Tour Managers– Koyeli Tours & Travel www.koyelitravels.in  and Avani Travel Services www.avanitravels.com  are two of the regions reputed ground operators

More Info - Tripura Tourism www.tripuratourism.gov.in

Words: Sandip Hor
images: Sandip Hor and supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

January 25, 2019

World's largest flower auction in Holland


David Ellis

THE next time you're worrying about what flower, rose or maybe potted plant to buy for that special someone, give a thought to those in the floral industry charged with going along and buying at the daily Aalsmeer Flower Auction in the Netherlands.

Because here is the biggest flower auction in the world, and held in a building with one of the largest floor areas on earth – an amazing twenty-million flowers and decorative plants being sold here to commercial buyers every day, in a building whose floor area of 518,000 square metres is 52 hectares, or around the equivalent of 100-plus football fields.

The first Aalsmeer flower auction was held way back in 1911 in a simple local eatery – the Café Welcome – and after that, auctions moved around various sites as they grew in size over the next 60-odd years, until the current gigantic purpose-built market was opened in 1972 near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport as the-then world's biggest building by floor area.

Flowers now sold here come from across Europe, and such diversely far-flung countries as Australia, Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya, with roses (live and cut) the biggest sellers at twenty-eight per cent of all sales, three times as many, in fact, as tulips sold.

Some E4.6-billion (AU$7.3-billion) worth of flowers sell here annually using the Dutch Auction system, in which the price starts high and works its way down, with daily trading starting at 7am and being all over by 11am (Thursdays 9am.) Something like 280 battery-powered "scooters" hauling shuttles of trolleys, plus a form of miniature railway, are used to move each day's 20-million flowers around the vast building.

An elevated Visitors' Walking Gallery for viewing the flowers on display and the auctions in progress has information panels in four languages... and be prepared for a long walk to take-in as much as you can, for remember this building has a floor area of 52 hectares.


[] BUSY on the ground, some 280 battery-powered trolleys and a complete miniature-railway-like system shuttle 20-million flowers and decorative plants around the vast 52ha Aalsmeer Flower Auction building near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport daily.

January 21, 2019

Is this the world's smallest castle?


David Ellis

MENTION castles and immediately to mind spring images of vast and picturesque affairs set in fairy-tale English or European countrysides…

But near Long Compton village in England's Cotswolds a couple of hours out of London, is an officially recognised castle that rather than being famed for its vastness, is renowned instead for just how small it is.

Because with a floor area of a mere 73 square metres it is England's smallest castle, and actually more tiny than many of its neighbouring country bungalows and cottages.

And although it is called a castle, and recognised by many official authorities as a castle, to most locals it is known simply as Molly's Lodge, and comes with just one bedroom, a modest living room and dining room, compact kitchen and a little bathroom – and despite its moniker as a castle, served for a time as gatehouse to the opulent once deer-hunting property, Weston Park Estate.

But importantly it's still officially a castle as far as the British government is concerned, because it has corner turrets, mullion windows (fashionable in Romanesque architecture,) and a crenelated parapet from which arrows could be unleashed in days of yore at anyone foolish enough to try to attack.

This little castle was built in the 1830s by famed architect Edward Blore, who completed extensions to Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria in the 1840s, and also designed Government House in far-off Sydney, Australia – and with his love of castles, created that in Gothic Revival style.

And while his smallest of English castles in the picturesque Cotswolds may be tiny, it also has a separate 1-bedroom mews house that was added later from the conversion of original stables, the castle and mews last changing hands in 2017 for 550,000 pounds sterling (approximately AU$968,000.)

[] TINY as it is, because of its design this is still recognised as a castle… and officially England's smallest, with a floor area of just 73 square metres.

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