While my charango gently weeps …

Charango: It looks like a wooden armadillo. You know, those critters always getting skittled on South American back roads. Anteater-like, shell-dwelling rodents that musicians like to behead, gut, slap a fretboard on and then a poultice of nylon or gut strings.

Well, no animals were hurt in this musical experiment, if that’s any consolation. Perhaps an endangered timber or two — I can’t vouch otherwise. What happens in Bolivia, where this was made, is all mystery to me.

Not that that’s where I found this charango — the 10-string fake armadillo. I brought it for $US300 on the streets of neighbouring Cusco, high up in Peruvian Andes. Pig of an instrument, too.

I’ve fooled around with guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis, banjos, citterns, fiddles, mando-cellos, ch’ins, bandurias, balalaikas, instruments I couldn’t even name.

I’ve re-tuned them, de-tuned them, battered them with brass, glass and chrome slides, distortion pedals, wah-wahs, tube-screamers, samples and patches . . . all sorts of nonsense. Tortured the neighbours a good bit too, I confess. But this charango’s a tricky proposition.

I’ve watched all manner of Andean pan flute band and thrash-strumming charangeur, I’ve seen some remarkable jazz and tango extracted from the instrument. It gets me dabbling about with the creature. Confused as all get-out, mind you.

The instrument has 10 strings in sets of two, four of them in unison, one an octave apart _ in the middle of the sets. The two sets either side are roughly in the same high-pitched settings.

Rather than climbing from low to high in pitch, this thing starts high, descends and then rises up again. Basically, two sets are tuned like a mandolin, or tenor banjo, or violin _ in fifths, reconciling on the seventh fret. Four sets, one of them overlapping, are like the highest four strings of a guitar. Go figure.

I show this box of mystery to a mate who’s handy with all manner of musical critters. His eyes light up: “Murph, what a gem!” Yeah sure, I think.

“I can’t scratch a tune out of the swine. It rolls about, jumps octaves, tricks you every second note. Sounds great until you play three notes in a row,” I reply.

My mate smiles back, inscrutably. He then proceeds, gently — you don’t rush these things — to work his way through  Rondo á la Turk  on the charango.

I slide back into my seat for the ride. I don’t know what I was expecting.  Duelling Banjos, The Devil Goes Down to Georgia , some O’Carolan . . . anything but Mozart’s impossible  Rondo á la bloody Turk.  Last time I saw anyone playing that on strings it was Phil Emmanuel, Tommy’s brother.

But, nope, this was a Tuesday night, at Geelong’s Irish Murphy’s pub — barely anyone around — and a bloke sitting in the corner.

Take a bow, Geoff Sinbeck.

Singapore House, image and photo, above Eastern Beach.

Eastern Beach’s Singapore House … on the record

SINGAPORE, 1862: It’s grainy, indistinct and blurry – about what you’d expect from a photo of a structure snapped off in 1862. But it’s startling nonetheless.

What you see, from a distance, is a long, double-storeyed structure, its ground floor well shaded by a deep verandah, overlooking a precipitous cliff with a rude goat-track path leading down its sharp face.

A rough pencil sketch from the same era shows in greater detail, if not greater accuracy, the same building, presumably a few years earlier for it lacks the distinctive verandah.

But the twin jetties reaching out into Corio Bay at the base of the cliff in front of the building leave no doubt it’s the same structure. A short-lived condominium which for a while was clearly among the best property Geelong hosted.

Singapore House, or Singapore Terrace, on what is today Eastern Beach Road, near the corner of Swanston Street, was a complex of nine adjoining buildings inhabited by more than 70 residents in what was described as “a respectable sphere of life”.

It’s fair to assume they were people of means and that developer Alexander Fyfe’s housing project, built in 1855 of timber imported from the Far East, turned him a reasonable profit.

Looking out to the water, the You Yangs and on a clear day to Mount Macedon and the Dandenongs, the building had the best view in town. This was long before peppercorns, cypresses or any other trees blocked the vista.

In fact, it wasn’t far removed from when Aboriginal humpies adorned what is now the entry to neighbouring Eastern Park at the end of Corio Street, then a roughhouse waterfront thoroughfare of stores, pubs and brothels.

In at least one of those pubs, the public bar counter doubled up as a coroner’s autopsy slab when the need arose. Bottoms up, as they say.

For many years, but now long forgotten, Singapore House was remembered as scene of the greatest and worst fire Geelong ever saw. A little like Black Friday of 1939 if you like: wicked but consigned to a history largely beyond living memory.

Looking over old pictures at The Geelong Club a while back, I tripped to the pencil sketch of the Corio Bay waterfront from Eastern Beach to Moorabool. It’s undated but I’m guessing it’s somewhere around the original club’s inception in 1859.

The sketch features names for the various buildings it depicts. Not unlike another famous picture of early Geelong’s waterfront, painted by Wilbraham Liardet from the Western Beach aspect.

It points out Corio Villa, Dr Day’s house, police quarters, pilot houses, Fyfe House, a stone wall, Bayview House — now the derelict Ritz Flats — the Volum Brewery and Macks Hotel.

Front and centre of this simple tableau, however, near the corner of Swanston and The Esplanade, is the extraordinary structure of double-story timber terrace houses.

Now I’ve tracked down a photograph. The only photograph as far as I can ascertain.

It was commissioned in 1862 by the Geelong council and features, hard and high left, in a scene of waterfront Geelong snapped from Eastern Beach. It must have been taken just weeks, perhaps days, before it went up in flames on March 18.

Welcome to Singapore Terrace.

Hope your insurance is paid up, though. For within just seven years, in March 1862, “the greatest ornament of the Esplanade overlooking the Eastern Beach” was burned to the ground.

It was a waterfront inferno to match any New Year’s Eve fireworks since, maybe even the clipper Lightning’s conflagration on the bay a few years later in 1869.

The fire started between floors and, fanned by a strong, hot north-north-westerly, proceeded to demolish the buildings, leaving all its occupants homeless.

Reports said the saddest sight was the “throng of bewildered and terrified women and children rushing from the houses”. Some were appalled at the enormity of the threat facing them, one was overjoyed at evacuating her “little ones scatheless”.

Residents and bystanders watched on, gobsmacked at the furious afternoon spectacle and the firefighting industry battling to contain the blaze. Fire brigades from Geelong, Newtown and Chilwell and their engines, buckets, hoses 60 metres up from the beach couldn’t stop the blaze from turning the resinous timber the terraces were built of from turning white hot and collapsing.

Lucky thing was no-one died in the fire. No so lucky were domestic pets — presumably dogs, cats and budgies — and chickens. Oh, and evidently, someone’s pet monkey expired as well.

Oddly enough, however, rodents that had been plaguing the area cleared out a day or two before the fire. A case, as the Irish firebrand Flann O’Brien might have noted, of rats leaving a sinking chimp.

Wagga weds Werribee

Wedded to Wagga and Werribee

He was the lad from Euberta, in dusty southern New South Wales. Cricket, tennis, rugby, rowing, scholarships and a packet of Viscount a day were his vices. He was the bomber-jacketed new agricultural scientist on the block.

She was the lass from Werribee. Good Catholic gal, a Sacred Heart boarder, daughter of a leading agrostologist and PA to the manager of the State Research Farm. She lacked any decent vices bar a drop-dead, killer smile.

Wagga Wagga meets Werribee.

Almost like a CJ Dennis poem. But on this day 62 years ago, Jim put paid to his claim that young Maureen was a bit of orright.

As far as he was concerned she was a cracker. So he married her on Guy Fawkes Day to make the point. Sentimental bloke, this one.

They tied the knot beneath the soaring timber trusses of St Andrew’s Catholic Church in Werribee. Maureen’s dad had joined the dearly departed a few years earlier so her uncle gave her away. Jim’s ailing and elderly uncle officiated the nuptials but, sadly, joined ranks with the dearly departed as well a few days later.

After honeymooning in Adelaide, the city of churches, the happy couple set to manufacturing a sizeable clan – eight all up.

They weren’t lucky with numbers five and six – losing the first sadly at birth, the second in a thunderclap of pain just shy of 18. But the others have fared well, even prospered, and they’ve ushered a further 13 offspring into the clan. And a great grandson too.

Without exception, they’re shaping up well and, mercifully, not a one of them’s been lost yet. One did go walkabout in the Himalayas for a spot but, otherwise, all are present and accounted for.

The path of Maureen and Jim’s 57 married years was paved with laughter and sorrow, hard work and achievements, with setbacks and recoveries. The full spectrum of human emotion. Life.

No-one in the family can forget Jim’s famous hat-trick captaining the SRF cricket team, his one and only ton (110 in 38 minutes) with the willow when his second-born entered the world, or the duck the day his fourth-born arrived.

Likewise, Maureen’s fevered battle with the tiger snake in the irrigation channel or patching up her bleeding first-born when he smashed through the glass front door – the whelp deserved every one of his 30 stitches for putting her through that.

Um, yeah, sorry ‘bout that, Mum.

Footnote: Jim joined the dearly departed too, five years ago. Maureen’s still charming us. 


On the road to Machu Picchu

TRAVEL: Inca Trail wraiths on road to Machu Picchu

MACHU PICCHU: The wraiths slide down the cliff, clinging to the blue mossy granite, slinking toward the eerie stone structure that is Phuyupatamarka.

Chilly tendrils of mist reluctant to give up the earth, they whip down and over its ancient concourse, scrubbing it with a ghostly ether. They then race up the yellow grassy headland towards me.

The tendrils launch themselves at me, enveloping my throat, my arms, my body, and whispering threats I can’t understand. I freeze as they race past me toward a soaring cliff’s edge and more interlopers who have invaded their ancient enclave.

In the rarified air of the Andes, 10,000 feet above sea level, the ghosts of the ancient Inca kings are reminding me they don’t like visitors. Or so I think. Suddenly, an updraft, born far below _ a mile below, in a small town anxious to scrawl its destiny in the sand _ shatters the icy fingers and blows them to the four winds.

Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen but my imagination’s running riot. It’s been like this for days as I trudge past rocky ruin after beautiful rocky ruin, in the cloud forest of Peru’s High Inca Trail.

Looking down at faraway Aguas Calientes, I wonder if the vapours stalk its townsfolk too, mistaking them perhaps for shades of the marauding Spanish man-horse beasts who whipped the Incas into submission with arquebus, religion and disease 500 years ago.

Not all of the Incas succumbed, though. Learning of the slaughter at Cuzco and elsewhere, and fearing their own, many withdrew to the faraway reaches of the mountain jungles.

The most famous of their abandoned hideways is where I’m headed. The lost city of Machu Picchu. Spirits willing.

Discovered in 1911 by a professor from Yale, Machu Picchu is hard to get to. Five days by foot across stony frozen passes, along vertiginous crevasses, past brightly-coloured wild orchids, in the shadow of serrated snow-capped peaks, suspension bridges, wild rivers.

The trail is beautiful going but tough. Treacherous rocky paths and staircases — one foot wrong and you’ll do an ankle, knee or worse —  are constant pitfalls for the unwary. I limp in, up and over the Inti Punku/Sun Gate ridge, knees considerably worse for wear.

It’s little wonder the wicked Pizarro brothers never found Machu Picchu. Outsiders would only ever find it by accident, which is exactly how Hiram Bingham did so a century ago.

In 1911, Machu Picchu was an overgrown ruin Bingham mistook for Vilcabamba, believed the last stronghold hideaway of the Incas. His stunning find sent an electric shock through the world of archaeology.

The day I arrive, it’s still red-hot _ a favourite in a huge world-wide 100-million vote for the New 7 Wonders of the World. The place is buzzing with hundreds of tourists pouring over the site, 2350 metres above sea level.

Down in Aguas Calientes celebrations are in full swing. Cusqueno beer, pisco sour cocktails and cachasa caiparinhas you might drive your car on are all disappearing fast. Raucous Santana riffs are stripping the lurid paint from the town’s walls, so too the village brass band and classical music blasting from the town square’s stage. Even builders are dancing on the church roof.

The following day, it’s officially listed as a maravillo  —  in company with the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Rome’s Colloseum, the ancient city of Petra, Rio’s Christ Redeemer statue and Mexico’s Chich aacén Itz aacá.

I get back up the mountain by 7am to beat the rush, which I do by about 10 minutes.


train wreck

Train wreck: the old ’73 comes to grief

North Geelong, August, 1873: TALK about bursting your boiler. This is what happens when a train’s  means of power and propulsion, the boiler, breaches its pressure co-efficient.

A goods train bound for Ballarat was passing the Telegraph Bridge at what was then called Kildare at 11 in the morning when a ‘terrific explosion’, viz, the bursting of the boiler, pitched the locomotive on its side, presently a spectacular image of mangled engineering.

Drinkers, staff and residents in the nearby Telegraph Hotel, pictured at the rear of this scene, would no doubt have emerged startled by the noise and anxious about the fate of the train’s operators.

While the engine was lumped on its side, the tender was thrown across the rails, and six trucks and vans were heavily damaged – one of the trucks ended upside down against the embankment.

The derailed train presented a picture of destruction and confusion. Not so much confusion, however, that the bloke pictured here front and centre of the wreck wasn’t happy to pose proudly for the camera. His serious-looking colleagues appear more anxious about the damage effected and how the track might be cleared.

The explosion threw the engine driver, owner of the impressive moniker Auguste de Pazanan, and fireman Thomas Macnamara from the engine. They landed on the embankment and were lucky not to sustain serious injury.

The trucks and their contents, including rod iron, timber and cases of oranges, presented a scene of ruin and industrial/agricultural chaos.

Workmen were engaged all day and night repairing the track and crowds of spectators watched proceedings. Twenty of the workmen came from Williamston and at night some of the timber from the smashed trucks was piled up for bonfires – providing the necessary light for work to continue.

It’s hardly the only disaster to hit the Geelong line. In fact, the line was christened with a disaster.

The official maiden voyage, on June 25, 1857, with the governor Sir Henry Barkly and entourage (his suite, as it were) in the first carriage of the train, journeyed went from Geelong to Williamston and back.

Five hundred guests packed into 10 carriages – government department bosses, train company execs, industry captains, shareholders, the press and other hangers-on. It was a monster occasion, one with some 2000 people at the official dinner that evening in a makeshift dining hall – the railway station’s passenger shed.

But not before tragedy struck. The train pulled out of Geelong 10.30am, all parties laughing and carrying on, and made its way to Cowie’s Creek where the railway company’s superintendent of locomotives, Henry Walters, was standing on the engine holding on to an iron upright. The train was nearing the bridge opposite the Ocean Child as Walters turned about to check the rear of the train.

His head belted a timber beam on the bridge and he fell off the train. Doctors tried what they could but Walters was dead inside four hours.

But the show had to go on, and on it did, reaching Willy by 12.10pm and returning to Geelong by 2.20pm.

Not bad time considering what some present-day football trains can achieve. Mind you, it did stop for water and coal at Werribee.


Chartwell: Old Winston’s aching piles …

Chartwell: It looked an impressive housing estate. On paper, at any rate. There was Oxford Street, that first-rate London shopping thoroughfare. And Mayfair Avenue, after some of the most expensive real estate in London.

There was Downing Street, for the British prime minister’s residence; The Mall, for the Horse Guards Parade and the thoroughfare leading to Buckingham Palace; Finchley Court, after the seat held by Maggie Thatcher.

Who wouldn’t want a piece of this real estate? Back in the mid-1980s, there certainly were people who wanted in. Mind you, the property was a bit out of the way, plonked as it was on the outskirts of the Shire of Melton at Mount Cottrell. Well north of Werribee, south of Rockbank and, well, a long from anywhere.

But it was Woop Woop with ambition. After all, the subdivision was named Chartwell after the family residence of Winston Churchill. A name that also assumed some Ponzi prominence in Geelong a while back. To the best of this scribe’s knowledge, however, it’s no relative. Mind you, there do appear some rather similar problems.

The folks who invested in this Chartwell soon found the development wasn’t entirely to their liking. Basic infrastructure — roads, gutters, footpaths, water — failed to come through and before they knew it their precious blocks of land were little more than dust-bowl sites stranded in yet another of the many failed residential subdivisions dotted across the state.

Still, a handful forged ahead and built their homes, sans facilities they’d earlier anticipated, and today a small clutch of long-established houses can be found at this particular Chartwell.

But they’re few and far between and the streets and courts and avenues that were obviously intended to become a suburban idyll never quite made it there. Roads are still unsealed and facilities thin on the ground, notwithstanding a CFA station you’ll find the Melways has sited squarely in prestigious Mayfair.

For unassuming Melton, it’s another connection with the illustrious Churchill of Chartwell. An old aeroplane that sat for many years on a farming property north of the township was reportedly used to fly the British statesman to the Yalta conference with Roosevelt and Stalin in February 1945, where the Big Three tried trying to figure out the governing of post-war Germany.

A fight-flight metaphor might be applied to those who invested a pile in the Churchill pile here in Geelong — about the governing of their post-Chartwell finances.

That’s Chartwell Enterprises, of course, not the Chartwell estate where, among the streets, you’ll also find a Wandsworth St. Wandsworth, incidentally, is where the largest prison in London is situated.

Funny that.

A Bali volcano, a witch queen and a palace mystery

TRAVEL: DOUBT if living in the shadow of a Bali volcano is everyone’s cup of tea. Especially one that’s  properly blown its stack in ready living memory and poised to do so again any minute now.

When you’re a peasant farmer living a subsistence existence in eastern Bali your residential options aren’t many, though. Even so, the grey Gunung Agung, set to erupt again, 50 years after its last eruption — about 15 seconds ago in geological terms — is revered rather than feared.

The gentle Hindus living in the shadow of Agung believe it was formed from a fragment of the cataclysmic splitting of Mount Meru — the cosmological spiritual axis of the universe — by the god Pasupati. At 3140 metres in height, 10,000 feet or so, that’s a fair fragment.

Geologically, Agung is impressively known as a stratovolcano. Standing at its base, driving about in its penumbra, basking in the sun in the rice fields around it — however you interface with it — its omnipresence is undeniable.

Visitors arrive by bus, motorbike and chartered taxis to witness its towering attitude, many of them happily scoffing banana fritters for breakfast before launching into a bike ride back to Bali’s cultural heartland, Ubud.

Pea-green rice paddies, terraces and palms, villages and villagers, it’s all very picturesque. The bonus is bugger-all puffing because it’s all downhill, for the main part anyway. And at the bottom, there’s invariably a Bintang or two awaiting the desiccated pedaller.

And really,  who’s normally going to worry about a volcano in Bali? Ummm, yeah. Of course, the recently smoking Mount Rinjani on neighbouring Lombok was of concern, too, and with good reason. But it’s funny how it, and other ash and pumice-belchers in Indonesia, don’t generally stop the tourists or locals going about their business. Go figure.

First time I encountered Agung was 20 years ago, climbing a multitude of steps in the blazing heat at its Besakih foothill temple. Its impressive nature drew me back recently, as did the surrounding countryside with its glistening terraces, sighing palms, snake-fruit orchids, forests and humble villages. I’d forgotten the rocky, tortuous roads, which have improved markedly but with a commensurate increase in traffic.

I headed south and east in Agung’s shadow, searching for a royal water palace I’d once visited in Amlapur. My old photos showed exquisite stone sculptures, a multi-tiered fountain, terraced gardens, stone bridges — a gorgeous collision of colour, art and water fed by natural springs.

When my taxi ushered me to the site, however, I was bewildered. Nothing seemed the same. Not a skerrick. The buildings were unrecognisable, the entire shape of the water palace totally unfamiliar.

But the hydro-folly, which dates to 1919, was remarkable nonetheless. It boasts exquisite floating pavilions and carved stone walkways, palms and lotus ponds, flowers, grassy terraces, arches, statues, royal furnishings and photographs of its builder, the King of Karangasem, with all his 24 kids. Prolific bloke, that one.

It was built around a pool, the Kolam Dirah, once part of a punishment site for black magic practitioners and named for a legendary witch queen who fought it out with the king of what’s now East Java back in the 14th century. These days, the only detainees in the water palace appear to be dozen inquisitive and out-of-place deer kept coralled in pits. It’s considerably more salubrious than in the past.

Like the surrounding countryside, it was battered by the 1963 Agung eruption along with an earthquake in 1979, which all but destroyed the place. World Bank funding has helped restore the palace to its original glory and a steady succession of taxis and tourists keep the turnstiles clicking. Visitors can stay on site in villas if they so wish. With Agung to the north and the sea and Lombok’s Rinjani to the south, its outlook is spectacular.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure how I’d got it so wrong, though. This was not the water palace I visited at Amlapura before and, with precious little Balinese in my kitbag, no-one I met could understand my confusion or offer an explanation. Back in my hotel, at neighbouring Candidasa, I consulted a couple of dog-eared guidebooks and Dr Google before finally getting to the bottom of my mystery.

Turns out I Gusti Bagus Djelantik, the King of Karangasem, built not one but two water palaces. I was at the Taman Ujung water palace. The one I was missing was Tirta Gangga. Both of them are in Amlapura and only a few kilometres apart. My driver had simply gone to the palace he thought I wanted.

So go figure. Two of the things. I suppose it’s a kind of royal equivalent to stumping up a couple of cars for your teenage kids. When you’ve got two dozen fractious rug-rats, why wouldn’t you build two swimming pools? You can’t throw them in a volcano if they’re acting up, can you?

Then again, when you’re a king …


TRAVEL: Rocking the tourist trade on Koh Samui

There’s tourist dollars in stones, stoners and supernatural oddities in the jungle paradise of Koh Samui.

Soughing palms, sun-scorched beaches, waterfalls, elephants and croc farms might be the island’s ostensible attractions but it’s giant granite boulders and plain weird that underpin the tourist trade too.

At Wat Kunaram, in the island’s south near Ban Thurian, for instance, I find Buddhist devotees praying to Luang Phaw Daeng, a monk who’d predicted the day of his death at age 79 back in the 1970s.

The monk’s corpse sits upright in a large glass case, his head assuming a rock star aspect with sunglasses shielding his no-doubt spooky looking eyes from scrutiny. He fed himself a special diet that’s purportedly responsible for his body’s mummified state ever since.

It’s zombie-creepy but the religious ectoplasm floating about lends the show a nice Zen aspect. Monks chanting in the temple to the rear, and another bright and colourful new temple next door, extend further gravity to what has to be a con.

The jovial monk at the Big Buddha temple at Bo Phut is a different matter. For a few bob, he happily half-drenches me, splashing water over my head and repeating “Goolark, goolark!” at great pace for a couple of minutes. I tell him I’m on my honeymoon and he nearly falls off his perch laughing.

His “goolark” seems to come to fruition the next morning with a phone call from home with a tidy new contract. The financial reporting season also turns up a larger-than-expected return on a few stocks I’ve squirreled away.

Driving south to Lamai, I find Hin Ta and Hin Yai — two rocky protruberances loosely resembling a penis and a female pudenda. Grandpa Rock and Grandma Rock are an immensely popular tourist drawcard with stalls, spielers, restaurants and hotels all around.

Sex might sell in the fleshpots of nearby Chaweng, the island’s capital, but here it sells well in the diluted version of geological anatomy.

A fat Japanese bloke poses on the ground, lying on his back with grandpa strategically positioned to emerge erect from his midriff. Giggling European girls pose with fingers pinching poor old pop in the background. The Muslim girls are up for a laugh, too. Others place their young children in front of grandpa for a family happy snap.

Camera tricks and dick tricks corroborate in a tropical puppetry of the penis.

The Samuis like their rocks. My hotel at Lamai, the Beluga, is built around them. In addition to its fluorescent indigo, lime, blue and red lighting, the hotel features smart, glazed rocky faces metres high and metres long in the walls of its rooms.

My bathroom is a rocky cavern with a shower and a dunny and a few tiles. Quite remarkable, too, if not especially sexy. I feel a bit like Fred Flintstone.

The hotel is Greek-inspired Thai contemporary architecture. All blazing white stone, sparse vegetation – a central frangipani and a palm or two only – and built by a Frenchman named Roman. Go figure.

Night falls and my neighbours have erected a pair of wooden teepee frames, adorned with fairy lights, and a swag of turquoise bean bags, atop the granite tor adjoining our two hotels.

So I sit on the beacon rocks as the sun tumbles behind into the jungle and fishing boat lights emerge on the horizon. Frosty Singhas complete the experience admirably.

I discover a strange bar among the giant seaside boulders beside Grandpa and Grandma. It’s a reggae bar cum tree-house cum memorial to Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

Not a straight line in the place and two beers under your belt you become a serious leg injury liability. Drop a match and you’d all be toast.

But the place is rather brilliant. Cushions galore, ladder steps everywhere, crooked branch handrails, red and yellow lighting … it’s a kind of Peter Pan Lost Boys cubby hut meets Pirates of the Caribbean Isla de Muerta bar.

It’s called The Rock Bar, of course. Looks like an underground bar buried under dried palm fronds until you delve inside, whereupon it takes on a high-rise aspect from its tangled base between several shoreline rocks.

The scent of cannabis glides up, over and through the bar’s multifarious levels. A Thai-Jamaican band has set up just inches above the incoming sea.

Inland at Na Mueang waterfall, an 80-metre cascade in a pretty jungle hideaway, visitors skid and slide over slippery rocks as they seek out their perfect snapshot. Auto apertures can’t cope with the dark foliage and brilliant sunlight, though, resulting in indistinct silhouette shots.

Long-suffering elephants, swaying sadly in their chained misery, are coerced upriver to the falls with loads of tourists on their backs. The river’s anything but a sandy passage. It’s rocks, rocks and more rocks, and they’re working for peanuts, and bananas.

One slip by the pachyderm and everyone’s cactus. Except the operator.

Nearby is local tourist trap Valentine’s Rock, which you can pose beneath for 100 baht, alongside hosts of heart-shaped sculptures. Get your toes nibbled by fish in a pond, too, if you fancy.

If you like your rocks hot, you can climb up the hill to a café with a balcony lookout over Lamai and its ever-encroaching palms and jungle, and fishing boats out to sea. A fistful of wooden hashtag signs await your photo-selfie opportunity: #lovely #viewpoint, #hi and the likes.

The German honeymooners who ask me to snap a photo of them have a #inlove sign. Where’s a #frankfurt sign when you need one, I wonder.

On the way back down the hill I realise I missed the Valentine park’s central sculpture — a two-metre wooden penis. Punters are milling about for photos and selfies.

Seems some smart cookie got through Samui Tourism 101 with flying colours.







Selling property: Reveal that true sense of place

Selling a property and looking for that extra edge to attract potential buyers?

Maybe you need to lift your game beyond listing just the normal features and attributes of said property.

New owners like to know about their prospective pile’s story. Its background. How it fits in locally.

Older houses often boast curious and unusual stories; layers and colours, if you like, across the years.

Dig about and find what stories there are to your house, to its occupants, its neighbourhood, and you could have a serious additional selling attribute.

Sure, features, location and price are all important. But just think, if you’re buying a new house wouldn’t you like to know its story?

Sense of place is valuable. So value it.

The following is an example of how you can tell such a story.

Oh, and another tip — use a professional writer to do the job. It can make all the difference.


Cypresses and currawongs, bunya bunya pines and peppercorns, art deco and heritage are part of the furniture around Eastern Beach.

So too, heritage properties, bluestone pavers, the smell of the sea, history dripping from the fig trees and 100-mile views across glistening waters to faraway hills and horizons.

Peep inside a few houses and you’ll find all manner of collectibles, old architectural renderings, glorious cornices, fireplaces, verandahs, cast-iron and polychrome masonry, observatories …

It paid to be observant in early Geelong. Eastern Beach oversaw the merchant trade that grew Geelong as it plied its way across Corio Bay below, right from the port’s earliest Point Henry days and the shaky-looking jetties off Yarra Street.

Police quarters and pilot houses were positioned high on what is now Eastern Beach Road. Until 1960, it was Victoria Parade. With no trees impeding their view, the inhabitants of these quarters had first sight of ships entering the bay.

Painters such as Mossman and Liardet, in the 1840s, depicted Eastern Beach as an area apart from the centre of Geelong. It was lightly wooded and a solid uphill walk from the Corio and Yarra streets CBD. But then, everywhere in Geelong was an uphill walk those days.

It wasn’t long before the town’s well-to-do took up residence there: Fyfe, Day, Douglas, Solomon, Harding and numerous others all found their way over time.

Alexander Fyfe, one of its earliest developers, built the illustrious but ill-fated Singapore Terrace there. Just near Swanston Street; nine magnificent units of imported cedar and housing more than 70 wealthy residents.

That was in 1855. In 1862, sadly, the whole project came crashing to the ground in a terrifying blaze.

But Eastern Beach didn’t lose its allure.

In the late 1880s, an exquisite etching of Eastern Beach by artist Melton Prior was published in the London Illustrated News.

The area was clearly a prosperous Antipodean idyll, populated with wooden bathing sheds and sailing ships. Elegant, coiffed ladies, well-dressed gentleman and happy cherubs lolled and strolled about the grassy cliffside paths. Two-storey mansions punctuated the background.Things didn’t come much better in Victorian times.

By the 1920s, buildings such as the Walbaringa Maisonettes, Windlesham and Rosehaugh brought new inter-war architectural blood to a precinct where accountants, merchants, auctioneers, solicitors and retailers had long occupied federation and Victorian cliffside homes.

Rosehaugh, at present-day 48 Eastern Beach Road, was built by William Reid after he bought the site as fenced land from the estate of John Price in 1923. The Reid family kept the house until the late 1960s when it was bought by Clive Hill. It changed hands again, more recently, to its present owners, who hail from Victoria’s southwest.

Less than a stone’s throw from the historic iron prefab Corio Villa, which sold for an undisclosed sum in 2013 after being advertised at more than $5.2 million, Rosehaugh is an extremely rare property to hit the market.

When the Californian bungalow-styled Rosehaugh came into being, then as now, big changes were afoot in Geelong.

The Market Square clock tower was removed, after nearly 70 years in the town’s centre, Bert Rankin was given the nod to skipper the Geelong Football Club ahead of their first VFL flag. Carji Greeves took out the first Brownlow Medal, after Charles Brownlow died months earlier.

A new bridge was built over the Barwon, Ford started building a new factory at North Geelong, the Phosphate Works too. The Joy Ark on the waterfront was being dismantled, its frame to be re-used building The Palais.

Meanwhile, City Hall was clamouring for a clean-up of the rubbish tip further out around neighbouring Eastern Park, presaging the start of building on the art deco swimming enclosure at Eastern Beach. Things were looking up for the area, and by and large they’ve remained up ever since.

Mind you, salubrious as Eastern Beach might be, it’s not been without its peccadilloes.

Running squabbles between police and hoon hot-rodders were long a fixture of the area. No so these days. And a certain former mayor resident along the cliff-face once campaigned for a casino on the waterfront, basically in front of his home, before he was bundled away behind bars for nicking millions that he blew on gambling.

There’s also the story of another former mayor, and a senior local public servant, both resident on the estimable Eastern Beach, as the road is abbreviated, clashing nastily over fenceline encroachments, reportedly with sizeable firearms drawn in the standoff.

One of the more curious tales involves Dr Day, John Day, whose home was beside the site that would become Rosehaugh. Day experimented with all sorts of things; ozone, hydrogen peroxide, turps, benzene, petrol, essential oils inter alia. He ran up diagnostic blood tests and other clever 19th century medical advances.

Day’s antiseptic work led to the world’s first toilet deodoriser. A chemical version, perhaps, of the gnarled ancient peppercorns lining the former Victoria Parade once widely viewed, in the days of nightsoilmen, as repellent to insects and other nasties.

They’ve certainly helped maintain that salubrious aspect of Eastern Beach, those pretty, heavily-scented beauties. And make no mistake, this address is still salubrious.

Very salubrious.



Storyteller: Tell us a story, your story …

So here’s a few questions you probably ask yourself more often than you want.

How do I make my business more attractive? How do I make my sales staff more interesting to clients? How do I make advertising and marketing pitches sing?

Sound familiar? They’re pretty fundamental, everyday questions.

They shouldn’t be.

You’ve probably tried tackling them with more advertising. With a greater presence on social media. With louder, amped-up websites.

And you might have enjoyed a reasonable degree of success, too.

But somehow, for all your good work, things seem to have levelled off. Plateaued.

Now you need something new, something fresh, to win new traction for your business.

But ideas are thin on the ground. That “Eureka!” moment’s just not happening.

Maybe it’s time to revisit an old friend:


Yes, sure, you’ve done content up to your eyeballs. Like everyone else, you know content is king. And like everyone else you’ve made sure your content is informative, short and sharp, easy to understand.

But unlike everyone else, are you offering something different?

This could be the real question you need to address.

This especially so now, when content has developed a certain sameness across more than a few industry sectors.

And while everyone’s bombarding everyone with – yawn — friendly banter, yawn, oh-so-clever maxims and generic insights, and muzak life tips, well … it all becomes white noise after a while.

People switch off. They’re sick of it, frankly.

And your content can be a crossfire casualty.

Ask yourself, would you read your content if it wasn’t about your business?


So what to do?

Maybe it’s simpler than you think — if you get creative at telling your stories.

The internet loves the unusual, the quirky. It’s screaming out for the unusual, for the entertaining, the whimsical and engaging.

Your clients might appreciate a new perspective.

You don’t have to stop what you’re doing. Just finesse it a little.

Make it a little more fun, more engaging. Utilise the fun side, the quirky aspects, the human side, of your business.

Not sure just how to do that?

Talk to a storyteller. An experienced, professional writer.

You might just be surprised at how good a story you’ve never shared.

And so might your clients.

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