An Innocent Abroad (Japan and Russia)

To continue my jubilee quest of 50 years ago (see my previous post of 06.10.2018 – An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong):

Stopover in Tokyo

After leaving Hong Kong I had a stopover in Japan. Unlike Hong Kong where street names signs were duplicated in English, Tokyo streets were all in Japanese. Understandably, they made no concessions to Australian tourists. Oh, how I wish that Google Translatehad been invented then! And there were no or Google Maps: not even an internetto share my frustrations with my Facebookfriends. So after spending two nights in Tokyo and Yokohama YMCA’s, I took the easy option and booked a bus tour to Mount Fuji and environs.

October 1968 – cone of Mt Fuji

The beautiful Japanese countryside was a welcome relief from the throngs of Tokyo and Yokohama.

Stopover in Moscow

After a rattling 10 hour flight across Siberia, the Russian Aeroflot airliner touched down in a chilly Moscow where the trees were wearing their autumn garbs, the skies were grey with clouds, the Muscovites were donned in their thick black coats, and their faces were already set grimly against the onset of winter. But it was not only the weather that was cold, for in 1968, it was still the Cold War with the West. I could still feel the excitement at arriving in an alien territory.

October 1968 – Moscow – Red Square crowds

Even so, Moscow was a beautiful city and one steeped in history. I again took the easy option and boarded a sightseeing tour.

Destination London

When I touched down at Heathrow, I immediately felt at home. I was greeted by friends who spoke Australian, and who introduced me to familiar sites that I had up until then only been able to read about in books and travel brochures. The first night I was taken to Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros. I have been in love with them ever since.

I hadn’t fully realized the solitude that necessarily accompanies the lone traveller. Nor the anxiety of travel: of having to deal with timetables and unfamiliar situations. It’s something the travel agent didn’t deem necessary to relate.

From the perspective of 2018, I wonder how I could have been so naive and unprepared for my journey – just throwing my clothes into a port on the morning of departure from Brisbane. No travel money, no travel books. I was focused on my destination in London. I forgot that travel, like life, is a journey not a destination. Young people today have it easy. All their travel information is online – so much so that they almost don’t need to actually travel at all.


An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong)

It’s fifty years ago this month since I first ventured overseas. I was one of the many young Jet Setters taking advantage of the flight specials that were made possible by the introduction of Boeing’s 707 Jumbo Jets. My ultimate destination was London, which in 1968 was ‘the centre of the universe’ to so many of us. But it was in Hong Kong that I chose to spend the few days of my new life away from my home in Brisbane. 

Hong Kong in October 1968 – the view from Victoria Peak
The stalagmites of Hong Kong today

As you can see from these images, the place has changed a bit over the past half century: The Star ferry is no longer the only means of communication between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (well you can’t actually see the tunnel now hiding beneath Victoria Harbour; nor the fact that Hong Kong has now passed from British control back to China.)

I have always harboured a desire to return to Hong Kong one day, but with the passing of the years, shopping is no longer on my holiday itinerary; nor is the zing of a booking into a luxury hotel; nor is the vibe of a megatropolis. My enthusiasm has waned, but if I every do make it back there, even as a stopover, I expect that Hong Kong will surprise me in some new and unexpected way.

Peel Island’s Future

A Google Earth Image of Peel Island

Currently, control of the island is gradually being handed over to the Quandamooka People, so the future is in their hands. As I see it, the island would make a wonderful showpiece for their culture and traditions, as well as for the historical remnants of European occupation. The Quandamooka may however decide to ‘close it down’ to tourists. I hope not, because Peel offers a unique learning experience for anyone visiting the Redlands, of which Peel is an important part.

The main obstacle to its tourism prospects is the lack of access to the island. As previously narrated, the jetty was demolished in the 1990s, and finding the money for a replacement has proved a hurdle since then.

There is one hope, though, and this lies in the closing of the mineral sand mining on nearby Stradbroke Island.  To help compensate for the loss of the island’s main source of employment, the Government is making $27 million available to boost tourism. Surely some of this money could be made available to constructing a jetty on Peel Island and so include it in tours of North Stradbroke Island.

Alternatively, a landing barge could be used to run up on the beach at Horseshoe Bay, and from there a minibus could transport visitors quickly around the island.

Peel’s future depends on such decisions that have to be made in the coming years.

a landing barge of the type that could be used at Horseshoe Bay

Weather or not in Ireland

Weather-wise, on a good day Ireland can be magical but on a bad one, it can be just as dreary as anywhere else! Fortunately for this visit, the weather Gods were merciful, and the rain held off for most of the week.

Phyllis walking down memory lane at Dromagh
Phyllis walking down memory lane at Dromagh

Our purpose this visit was to spend time amongst our memories in the North Cork towns of Mallow and Kanturk. They did not disappoint.

Kanturk - off the beaten tourist track, but a nice base for our explorations
Kanturk – off the beaten tourist track, but a nice base for our family explorations

When the sun did shine, we did the tourist thing and visited Killarney and in particular, Muckross House: still one of my favourite places on earth.

Muckross House at Killarney
Muckross House at Killarney.

For me, it ranks with Stourhead, near Bath. (see blog of Bradford on Avon) for sheer grandeur.

The View from Muckross House
The View from Muckross House

Tomorrow, we will have finished stitching together our patchwork of memories and will head back to Australia and our normal daily lives in the present tense.

Ireland from the air
Ireland from the air

London Bitter Sweet

Kensington Gardens
Kensington Gardens

Part of the idea I had when I came to London this visit was just to sit in Kensington Gardens and watch the grass grow while sunning myself in the gentle English light.

Oxford Street in the rain
Oxford Street in the rain

However the sunny weather Phyllis and I had experienced last week in the west of England sadly did not accompany us eastward to London. Yet in many ways reaching the capital felt like coming home: the overfamiliar landmarks, the crowded trains of the underground, the public Laundromat,…and the bleak cold weather that heralded in the first days of the English ‘summer’.

Tube station on London's Underground
Tube station on London’s Underground

Being back in London again after I first arrived here 48 years ago was a bitter- sweet experience: it was wonderful for us to tread the footpaths of the West End once again, but sad to realise that our bodies just couldn’t manage them as they once did so easily.

We visited our old Boots shop in Victoria Street where we had both worked but found it to be overrun by a mass of building work. As if to give a nod to the old days, some of the buildings’ facades were being preserved, but little else.

Facade in Victoria development
Facade in Victoria development

However Phyllis’ former flat at 33 Moreton Place, Pimlico and mine at 10 Nevern Square, Earls Court remain unchanged, still slumbering quietly as they have done in our dreams.

Bradford on Avon

Phyllis and I have spent the last week visiting our wonderful friends, Paul and June Bailey, at Bradford on Avon (not to be confused with the Bradford of North England or the Avon of Stratford on Avon). Here are some images from this wonderful area of England:

Bradford on Avon - Silver Street
Bradford on Avon – Silver Street
Bradford on Avon - footbridge
Bradford on Avon – footbridge
Bradford on Avon - Saxon Church
Bradford on Avon – Saxon Church
Bradford on Avon - Saxon Church - Phyllis pontificating
Bradford on Avon – Saxon Church – Phyllis pontificating
Bath - Great Poultney Street
Bath – Great Poultney Street
Bath - Poultney Weir
Bath – Poultney Weir
Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury - Manor House
Avebury – Manor House
Avebury Manor - exercise chair
Avebury Manor – exercise chair
Mere - trout farm
Mere – trout farm

Next week: London!

Travelling People

Travelling People album image
Travelling People album image

Recent speakers at my Probus club have reminded me of the travelling days of my more youthful times. They spoke of expeditions ranging from Lightning Ridge and Carnarvon in outback Australia to traversing the Sahara Desert in a Kombi van.

My own youthful travelling days were not nearly as exciting: I flew to London in 1968 on a working holiday. But I did meet my future wife, Phyllis! When I first met her, I was very impressed with a vinyl record album of hers by the Irish singing group, the Johnstons. Phyllis’ favourite track was called ‘I Never Shall Marry’ (I didn’t take the hint), but I loved the title track ‘Travelling People’ and, although I was not an Irish tinker on which the song was based, I certainly identified with the lyrics: ‘I’m a freeborn man of the travelling people, Got no fixed abode, with nomads I am numbered…’ It was 1968 after all!

As I write this week’s blog contribution, I am reminded of this song as I contemplate another sojourn away. Phyllis and I are once again returning to the UK and Ireland, probably for the last time; and although we won’t be using the traditional tinker’s mode of transport (and I don’t think they are now ether) I like to think that we are still travelling people, and at our time of life, it shouldn’t be any other way. For as the song ends… ‘Your travelling days will soon be over.’

The Majestic Hydro Majestic Today

The Hydro Majestic - escarpment view (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)
The Hydro Majestic – escarpment view (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)

Further to my blog of 5th September, I was fortunate to be contacted by Ellen Hill, Communications Consultant from the Escarpment Group who has just sent me a large amount of information and photos of the Hydro Majestic since its recent renovation, four images of which I have included here. I must say that they exceed all my expectations, and are in keeping with the original specifications of the outrageously over-the-top design of its creator, Mark Foy.

The Hydro Majestic's Cat's Alley at Dusk (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)
The Hydro Majestic’s Cat’s Alley at Dusk (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)

However, for historians such as me, it’s the hotel’s guests who breathe life into its buildings. Its famous visitors have been well documented: opera singers Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Clara Butt; munitions heiress Bertha Krupp, who donated a Bechstein grand piano to the hotel; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, for whom the Blue Mountains were the inspiration for ‘The Lost World’; and more recently, Russell Crowe who was asked to remove his baseball cap while dining in the Great Dining Hall in 1994; boxer Tommy Burns who set up a training camp at the Hydro Majestic ahead of his world title fight against Jack Johnson in Sydney in 1908, running for miles on mountain tracks in preparation; and, perhaps best known, Australia’s former first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton – he had retired from politics and was then a justice of the High Court – who died of a heart attack at the hotel while holidaying there in 1920.

The Hydro Majestic's Wintergarden (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)
The Hydro Majestic’s Wintergarden (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)

But there must have been countless other interesting guests over the last century: honeymooners, health enthusiasts, wealthy Sydney businessmen enjoying a lost weekend, and just ordinary people. It’s their stories that I would like to collect, so if you know of any, please let me know!

Delmonte Accomodation Wing at Hydro Majestic Hotel, Blue Mountains. Room 404. (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)
Delmonte Accomodation Wing at Hydro Majestic Hotel, Blue Mountains. Room 404. (photo courtesy Escarpment Group)

What’s in a Name?

Hydro Majestic Hotel in 2007 (photo courtesy Aadam.J.W.C.)
Hydro Majestic Hotel in 2007 (photo courtesy Adam.J.W.C.)

While travelling in the Blue Mountains from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, one has to pass through the village of Medlow Bath, whose main claim to fame is its Hydro Majestic Hotel, built in 1903 by Sydney department store mogul, Mark Foy. The hotel sits on an escarpment overlooking the Megalong Valley. The mere mention of such names still brings a thrill of excitement and a yearning to return there again for another look-see.

Hydro Majestic Hotel- view of Megalong Valley
Hydro Majestic Hotel- view of Megalong Valley
Hydro Majestic Hotel – view from the dining room
Hydro Majestic Hotel – view from the dining room

In 2003 our family stopped in for morning tea, and we discussed then how the somewhat neglected building would look after refurbishment.

Hydro Majestic Hotel - Trevor and Edwina in 2003
Hydro Majestic Hotel – Trevor and Edwina in 2003

We called again in 2010, but were dismayed to find the place deserted, and the gates firmly padlocked, without any word of explanation. Was this the end of our dream?

Then just last week, an article appeared in the Australian Design Review announcing the reopening of the restored hotel to its former glory. The details can be found in the following link:

I’m not sure about the red walls. The family says it reminds them of the Overlook hotel from ‘The Shining’ movie. Now that’s a bit scary, but it would add more atmosphere to the place. Must go back there again soon, but hope Jack Nicholson doesn’t appear (especially if he were rugged up like Phyllis’ photo.)

Hydro Majestic Hotel - Phyllis in winter woolies
Hydro Majestic Hotel – Phyllis in winter woolies

Oh, and just what is in a name? Well, Medlow Bath was originally known as Brown’s Siding (how colonial Australian!), while the name Megalong Valley is derived from an Aboriginal word thought to mean ‘Valley Under The Rock’. The Hydro Majestic Hotel stems from the hydropathic therapy (health spas) that the hotel originally boasted, and no doubt from the majestic views that it commands from the escarpment overlooking the Megalong Valley.

A Tale of Two Homesteads


Werribee Mansions, Victoria
Werribee Mansions, Victoria

My recent visit to Melbourne’s Werribee Mansions was enhanced by a calm, sunny day: just perfect for exploring its beautiful gardens and interesting sculptures scattered throughout them. The mansions’ neighbours are an open range zoo and an air-training field. (Not a good situation if one is forced to bail out into a tiger enclosure).

Werribee Park Mansion was built by Scottish pastoralists Thomas and Andrew Chirnside between 1874 and 1877 in the Italianate style. Its residential and working buildings supported a large farm workforce. The rooms open to the public include the billiard room, the main bedrooms, the reception rooms and part of the kitchen. The Mansions have been used as film sets on several occasions, perhaps most notably for all the interiors used in “The Pirate Movie”. I remember this movie well because my then teenage daughter, Karen, had an obsession with it (or perhaps if was with its star, Christopher Atkins).

The Pirate Movie
The Pirate Movie


The sheer size and scope of Werribee Mansions serves as a reminder of the immense influence and wealth the pioneer pastoralists had in the early days of European settlement and expansion in Australia. In viewing Werribee Mansions, I was struck by the similarity it shares with another relic of Australia’s pioneering days – Glengallan Homestead, just outside Warwick near Brisbane.

Glengallan Homestead, Warwick, Queensland
Glengallan Homestead, Warwick, Queensland

When Alan Cunningham discovered the Darling Downs and the way to the Moreton Bay settlement through what is now known as Cunningham’s Gap in 1827, he opened the way for pastoralists to squat west of the Divide. The first of these were the Leslie Brothers with their 8,000 sheep in 1840. With them was a young stockman, Scots born John Deuchar. Over the next twenty years, Deuchar rose to prominence as manager of a number of sheep stations in the Warwick area. In 1857 he married the 16 year old Eliza Lee and they enjoyed an extended honeymoon in Europe. Deuchar had entered into a partnership with Henry Marshall at Glengallan, a property just outside Warwick, and on his return he set about improving the wooden houses that made up the Glengallan homestead. In 1867 he commenced his stone house to grand designs, but failed to understand the fickle nature of the Australian climate. After several bad seasons, he was broke and died insolvent in 1870.

Perhaps, if Nature had been more kind to John Deuchar, Glengallan Hmestead would have been as grand as Werribee Mansions, but sadly his dreams were cut short, as can be evidenced by the unfinished crenulated walls of Glengallan today.

Glengallan Homestead - side view showing its crenulated wall
Glengallan Homestead – side view showing its crenulated wall