Saturday, April 26, 2014

Travel Test: Sydney to Canberra by Rail

Sydney - Canberra

ABB XPLORER: NSW TrainLink. KTA-19-R 375 kW engine, 19 litre turbo-charged made by Cummins 

NSW Railways is government owned and has no loyalty scheme per se unless you consider the discounts offered when purchasing weekly, monthly or yearly travel tickets.

Saloon - economy class carriage D seat 39 (window) . 
Armrest to armrest: 43.18 centimetres, Seat space: 45.72 centimetres, Legroom: 43.18 centimetres. Recline: 28 degrees from the upright position. Fully booked train.

Left on time at 12:12.
Arrived Canberra (Kingstone) 16:25 (a few stops along the way to pick-up or set-down passengers), just 2 minutes behind schedule.  

On the XPLORER, the economy seat configuration is 2-2. 

One item of hand luggage and two pieces that are either checked into the luggage compartment or stowed at the end of your carriage.You can check in two items, each weighing between five and 20 kilograms and not more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. If you would rather not check your luggage, you can take two items on board with you, as long as they don't weigh more than 20 kilograms or measure more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. Space is available for carrying bicycles, folding bicycles, surfboards, skis and snowboards, condition apply. 

Loads of leg room, and space for carry on. Seats just a comfy as in the air, although the extra space makes them feel moreso. Huge picture windows give a further sense of space. Plenty to enjoy with the view for daytime travellers.

Having booked the ticket online, there is no check-in at the platform except for baggage. Reservations must be made. No standing passengers are allowed. After booking, simply approach and board the train. Several on-board announcements ensure that non-travellers alight prior to setting-off. Customer service personnel are polite and attentive, with any delays or unexpected stoppages (livestock on the track) being immediately communicated to passengers. There is no food service as such, all being served via visiting the buffet car (see below). Free filtered water is available via a tap in each carriage, adjacent to a toilet that is big enough to sleep in with a baby change table. There is however, no on-board wi-fi, which could come in handy as mobile phone coverage is sparse between regional towns...and in tunnels. No USB charging points are available, although there is a 240v powerpoint in the toilet, and some in the carriage used by cleaners. Power surges are reportedly common, so they are not recommended for charging mobile devices.

Tickets are checked once underway. A electronic copy displayed via a mobile phone or tablet is accepted, which I did.

BYO iPod. No entertainment system on-board, but loads of kids come armed with an iPad. There is a 30 page magazine, "The Link", found in the seat pocket covering a few travel stories, and the buffet car has puzzle books, colouring pencils, other magazines and daily newspapers for sale (as well as items such as headache tablets).

At the start of the trip, a PA announcement is made regarding the choice of hot meals, after which the attendant moves through the carriages taking orders. The cost of the meal is $9, the most expensive item on the menu. Wine and beer is also available. The meals will take 1 hour before another announcement is made indicating they are ready for collection from the buffet car. Less mobile passengers can have their's delivered. Other items are also available, including pies, croissants, pasta, salads and muffins. Prices are reasonable, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. The buffet closed for 30 mins between Bundanoon and Goulburn, and was closed 30 minutes before reaching our destination.
Time spent in transit on this trip roughly equals time spent heading to the airport, checking in, clearing security, boarding, flying and disembarking. The longer travel time on the train is offset by the ticket fee being almost 1/3 that of a late booked flight. Australia should have a high speed rail service connecting capital cities, especially between the nation's capital with Sydney and Melbourne. But the trip via this train was easy going, with plenty of time for a nap (as opposed to the in-air travel time of 23 minutes in a plane), and comfortable space to get some work done. Not having to travel there and back in a day, this train was a comfortable and cost effective alternative.

Tested by Tim Stackpool, who travelled at his own expense.

Monday, June 17, 2013

29 Million Google results in 1 week

Last week, my good friend (and client) ultra-marathon swimmer Chloë McCardel attempted her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Although thwarted 11 hours into the 170 km swim by severe jelly fish stings, the direct preparation for the swim took around 9 months.

The publicity required to support such a swim was intense, essential, and formed an integral part of the entire strategy. The resulting media coverage, and the subsequent online trends, say much about the shifting power of the media, but also cement much about what we should already know.

In the months prior to Chloë’s attempt, a search of her name returned about 10,000 results on Google. At the peak of interest during her swim, that figure rose to a staggering 29,000,000. And while the ‘power of the internet’ and discussions on social networks and blogs contributed to that figure, the vast majority of the search returns were due to mentions on sites owned or controlled by traditional media. That is: TV, radio and newspapers.

This demonstrates that even in this exciting age of online media, the fundamental core of traditional publicity foundations must not be overlooked when mounting a promotional campaign. 

While the penetration enjoyed by ‘new media’ works to the advantage of every publicist, the mere fact that so many ‘traditional’ media outlets also have a significant online presence, insists that any campaign must never brush-aside traditional media as being irrelevant or old fashioned. Clever publicists use all opportunities to leverage further interest, and depending of the budget, the allocation of the ‘spend’ must consider the multiplication effect gained using conduits that already have significant market presence. 

This should all sound very familiar.

It sounds a lot like the modus operandi of PR people prior to the rise of online. 

Tim Stackpool manages ultra-marathon swimmer Chloe McCardel’s media and publicity. For a free copy of Tim’s Top Ten hints for Better Publicity, visit here

Monday, February 11, 2013

James Bulger - 20 Years On

Were he alive today, little James Bulger would be 23 years old this year. But it was as a toddler in the UK that James went missing from his mother’s side in February 1993 while shopping at the Bootle Strand in Liverpool. A couple of days later, his remains were found on the railway tracks a few kilometres away in Walton. Beaten and assaulted, the horror story continued when the suspects in James’ murder were identified by security footage as being two 10 year old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. 

Devastating the community and James’ family (his Mum and Dad subsequently split), the perpetrators’ families also had to move, assuming new identities, while their respective sons undertook ‘rehabilitation’ in prison.  The pair was found guilty on 24 November 1993, making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern English history. They were sentenced to custody until they reached adulthood, initially until the age of 18, and were released on a lifelong licence in June 2001. In 2010, Venables was returned to prison for violating the terms of his licence of release.

Twenty years on, the mourning continues for little James, his memorial lies at the local Kirkdale Cemetery, where his grave is found under a tree with a note that reads "James's Special Place".

The questions remain today: “How could this have happened?”, “What sort of children are they?” And “where is our moral fibre?”

The events were a sad indictment on society in that place at that time: high levels of unemployment, low or no incomes, a great divide in social classes, and a lack of care for those already considered ‘lost’. While taking a young life would be hard to ever forgive, the subsequent lives of Venables and Thompson have not been pleasant either. Thompson, hidden beneath an assumed identity, lives under constant parole, while Venables, always considered the most impressionable, has been returned to prison for subsequent violations, succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse. Rumours of them having been ‘exported’ to Australia were categorically denied by the UK and Aussie government.

So now, so many years on, we wonder if society has learnt anything from the treatment of these offenders, undertaking the most heinous of crimes at such a young age. Does anyone really appreciate the consequences of their actions at such an age? Can a broad approach be taken against such actions, or must each be considered case by case?   

And while liberal advocates might argue that Venables and Thompson were too young to be tried as adults, or that the judge should never have released their names or photographs, the ultimate sympathy can only go to James’ family, virtually destroyed by those events 20 years ago, and the change in the attitude of all parents who subsequently became more cautious and suspicious whenever taking their toddlers on a trip to the shops after the events of February 12, 1993. 

We often quote certain dates as being those of when “the world changed”. That was one of them.

requiescant in pace James Patrick Bulger. 16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993.

(pic: James Bulger. It was released by his Mother to the police and the public in the hunt for her son's killers)

Monday, November 5, 2012


With Summer weather hitting the Australian shores, there are plenty of ex-pats heading home, along with the regular influx of welcome visitors from the colder climates. When travelling as a tourist, plenty of time is spent planning the visit to ensure the best parts of the city are experienced. Here are some of my favourites:

There are a couple of free walking tours that you can take around Sydney. This is a great way to learn about the history and haunts of this city, given by long-time Sydneysiders, or stay-too-long visitors who want to share their experiences with fellow travellers. Each tour runs for at least two hours and stops at most of the sites that are worth visiting, or re-visiting at length later. Take your pick of: or

The guides are paid via tips, so please be generous.

Sydney Buses operates a free shuttle bus service in the central business district (CBD), running in a loop to make it easier for people to get from one end of their CBD location to the other, and in between. You can board these high frequency buses from any bus stop marked with the green shuttle logo. Each bus is an accessible bus that can be used by people in wheelchairs or with other accessibility requirements, and parents or carers with prams.  Called Route 555, the free Sydney CBD Shuttle runs every 10 minutes. The service operates in both directions on a loop from Central Station to Circular Quay via Elizabeth and George Streets. Hours of operation are:
Weekdays: 9.30am to 3.30pm, with a late finish of 9pm on Thursday evenings.
Weekends: 9.30am to 6.00pm.
Here’s a map of the route.

While a walk across the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a spectacular experience, it can be a budget breaking exercise for the thrifty traveller (if you can afford Bridgeclimb, do it!), but there is no cost to take a walk along the deck of the bridge via the pedestrian access way. The most spectacular route is from the northern end (alight from the train at Milsons Point) and then head back into the CBD. You’ll experience the most amazing views down the harbour, watch the commuter ferries criss-cross from Circular Quay and see the Sydney Opera House from a spectacular perspective. As you reach your destination, for just a few dollars, you can climb the southern pylon, which has quite a good museum, and will take you almost as high as the Bridgeclimbers, offering an even greater photo-opportunity.

Sydney has an amazing array of beaches that are free to visit and enjoy, some very accessible from the city. While for many tourists, a trip to iconic Bondi is a priority (take the train to Bondi Junction, and a bus will take you the rest of the way), a visit to Manly beach will probably be more fulfilling, as many professional surfboard riders prefer this beach to Bondi. From Circular Quay, take a 30 minute ferry ride to Manly Wharf (a wonderful experience in itself). From there, walk along The Corso, a pedestrian precinct lined with shops, which leads to one of the best beaches in Sydney. Be careful not to mistake the bay at Manly Wharf for the main beach. Although it does resemble a Mediterranean-type beach, it is the ocean beach at the other end of The Corso that is famous with surfers worldwide. 

Darling Harbour is a tourist precinct with plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and an Imax cinema, but there is also a comprehensive children’s play area with water games, climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox (what we Aussies call a Zip Line). It will keep the kids entertained for hours for free, and there’s plenty of sophisticated distractions in the area to keep the grown-ups entertained as well. On most Saturday evenings, there is a free fireworks display launched from barges on Cockle Bay, just a 2 minute walk from the playground. The fireworks are synchronised to music, and prove to be very popular with families all year round. 


While not exactly free, if you are with children under the age of 16, Sunday is the cheapest day to travel around Sydney for just $2.50 per person. This ticket allows you to travel all day on Ferries, Buses and Trains on the Sydney network, North to Newcastle, West to Lithgow and South to Wollongong. It’s amazing value, and a great way to see loads of sights around Sydney (and further) at very little cost.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Time Machine at Old 505 Theatre

I have to admit I do love the works of H.G Wells. Without dwelling on his literacy catalogue too much here, the vision in the writings of the man astound even today. When it comes to his work: The Time Machine, I am a sucker. The 1960’s movie starring Australian Rod Taylor is one of my favourites (it won an Oscar for best special effects), and the more recent film incarnation featuring (another Aussie) Guy Pearce is worth the nod, notwithstanding the obvious deviation from the original plot.

Perhaps lesser known, but no less compelling is Mark Lee’s one man performance of The Time Machine (adapted by Frank Gauntlett ), in no way under described as a tour-de-force.  The current season running at the Old 505 Theatre at Surry Hills, is not Lee’s first in the role, which he debuted in 2000, but the performance is no less compelling, enthralling and engaging. Over 90 minutes, Lee plays The Traveller, recounting the story of his 8 days in the future to members of the audience who are drawn into the performance as if they were visitors to the traveller’s own living room at the turn of the 20th Century.

With a minimum of props, but accompanied by dramatic lighting, Lee propels himself through the gamut of emotions ranging from love, despair and sometimes madness. Mark Lee is a technically fine actor, to the point where watching him makes you wonder where the man ends and the character begins.

To start the performance, the traveller appears regaled in fine late nineteenth century garb, immaculately groomed and confident. Disappearing back stage for 90 seconds, the traveller reappears, dishevelled, shaken and apprehensive about the ordeal he is about to recount.

This is beyond theatre of the mind, and is telling of Sydney’s theatre heart that is often missed or overlooked by the mainstream audience. The journey actually starts, not when the actor first appears on stage, but when first arriving at the venue. Anyone aware of Hibernian House near Sydney’s Central railway station might be aware of its grand façade, but it houses what must be Sydney’s most eclectic collection of fringe artists and creative thinkers. An unassuming doorway, missed by the quick walker along Elizabeth Street, leads to the building’s foyer, ravaged by free thinking urban art (read: Graffiti). It is confronting to the unexpectant visitor. 

Wandering along the hall, the interior of the lift to level 5 (where the theatre is located) is similarly violated.  Pushing aside thoughts of this being a slum, following the signs to the theatre, you could be forgiven of thinking you are in the wrong place. The common property is not salubrious, not maintained as one might expect.

But this is the realm of performance and art. Common concepts are put aside in this landscape where journeys only ever begin and never end.

The Time Machine performed by Mark Lee reminds us about human nature, about segregation and about how times have never really changed since Wells put pen to paper (nor in the future) when it comes to how human beings view each other and their order in life.  Apart from witnessing a superb performance, you come away reflecting on society today, which is exactly what Wells intended.

The Time Machine
Directed by Gareth Boylan

Starring Mark Lee

Old 505 Theatre-

505, 342 Elizabeth St Surry Hills

Wednesday 20- Saturday 23 June, 8pm

Sunday 24 June, 7pm
Wednesday 27- Saturday 30 June, 8pm
Sunday 1 July, 7pm

Tickets: $25/15 available via Moshtix.

Doors: open 1/2 hour prior to performance

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


If you are planning a visit to Australia, live in Australia, or just want to understand how the country came to be as it is, watching a collection of Australian movies might prove to be an interesting insight. In no particular order (and for various particular reasons) here's a list of 10 Australian films that you must see.

Breaker Morant (1980)
During the Boer War, Australian soldiers served under British sovereignty, and followed orders that led to their execution. This film tells the story of those soldiers, of whom lawyers today still feel should be pardoned.


During World War 1, Australian soldiers served under British sovereignty, and followed orders that led to their massacre (see a pattern emerging..??). This film tells the story of those soldiers.

Mad Max
(1, 2 and others, 1979 onwards).

Post apocalyptic yarn that rev-heads love and which captures the vast expanse of Australian cinematography. Mel Gibson's watershed role (Aussie accents were dubbed over by US performers for the initial US per this video:).

Evil Angels
(aka a Cry in The Dark) 1989.

What did happen to little Azaria Chamberlain in Outback Australia? Perhaps Meryl Streep has the answer.

Oranges and Sunshine

British politicians thought it a good idea to export unfortunate kids to Australia after World War II. It will make you angry.

Crocodile Dundee

For no other reason apart from what it did for Australia...and Paul Hogan.


When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, a group of Aussie journalists were captured and killed. Official explanations indicate they were caught in the crossfire. This films depicts the events as most Australian's believe them: that they were victims of war crimes. Tensions between Indonesia and Australia remain over these events.


A Baz Luhrmann film starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman. If nothing else, it will give you a history lesson.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

We've never really treated indigenous Australians very well.

The Dish

An internationally successful film which presents a somewhat humorous account of an Australian observatory's role in the Apollo 11 moon landing.

For a comprehensive list of Aussie films visit:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

If only the Killing Fields were just a memory.

The recent sentencing of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, to life imprisonment for crimes he committed during the regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, is a reminder of this sickening era of human history and the foul nature that some men can inflict on their fellow brothers.

From 1976 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge, lead by Pol Pot, forced Cambodians out of the cities and into the fields to live a virtual subsistence existence, while decimating nearly a quarter of the country’s population through starvation, overwork and execution. Kaing Guek Eav was sentenced for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and over the torture and deaths of thousands of people at the notorious S-21 prison. Al Jazeera's Stephanie Scawen, reporting from outside the court in Phnom Penh, described some of the atrocities committed: "Bloodletting was quite common... Others had their hands tied behind their backs and were strung up on exercise bars. When they went unconscious they would be dunked in water, and the process was started again. It was a horrendous regime.”

While it’s unfathomable to imagine the full extent of the circumstances suffered by the population, it’s not hard to find documentation and evidence of the disregard and contempt that people like Pol Pot, Duch and others, such as Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary had for their fellow citizens.

One day, if you take a trip to Cambodia, you’ll be confronted by the history of that country’s “Killing Fields”. A 1984 British film of the same name is one of the best known movies that depicts the story of two journalists, Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg who were working in Phnom Penh at the time. Historical and biographical as it is, it is truly a horror film. The role of Dith Pran was played by a survivor of the regime, a doctor named Haing S Ngor. His own account of those years was penned in his book “Surviving the Killing Fields”, a compelling read. In it he describes how he pretended to be a taxi driver when the Khmer Rouge swept to power after a civil war, as being an educated man made him an enemy of the state. Having won an Oscar for his portrayal of Dith Pran, his first acting role, I met Haing a number of times during his promotional visits to Australia. Ironically, after surviving the Killing Fields, he was shot dead in Los Angeles by a street gang. I was gutted to learn of his death.

Beyond the violation committed against the population at the time, a number of foreigners also underwent torture and death, sometimes for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. New Zealander Kerry Hamill was a yachtsman sailing in the Gulf of Thailand in 1978, along with buddies Canadian Stuart Glass and Englishman John Dewhirst,

They anchored at Koh Tang Island to shelter from a storm (Kerry’s girlfriend Gail had recently left the yacht to visit family in Hawai’i). Unbeknownst to them they had entered ‘Kampuchean’ waters. Neither did they know of the horror story that was unfolding on the mainland.

Along with John Dewhirst, Kerry was seized and tortured for two months at S-21. After signing confessions taken under duress that “admitted” CIA affiliations, they were executed on Comrade Duch’s orders. Their third companion, Stuart Glass was shot and killed when the boat was initially captured.

Kerry’s younger brother, Rob Hamill, an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, has travelled to Cambodia and elsewhere to retrace the steps taken by his brother and John Dewhirst, speaking to eyewitnesses, perpetrators and survivors. His documentary, Brother Number One, is a retrospectively haunting tale that tells the story from another deeply personal perspective, made no less incisive by the passing of years.

After the genocide of Jews attempted by the German Nazis in World War II, it’s staggering to consider how something so similar could occur a mere 30 years later. But then, occurring again with the conflict in Bosnia 1992 – 1995, and in Rwanda in 1994, where another similar fate befell 800,000 souls.

It’s a lesson that never seems to be learnt.

If only it were true that history never repeats.