Best day of my life: Bill Acklin

BILL ACKLIN Dunedin city councillor
BILL ACKLIN Dunedin city councillor
Continuing last year's Summer Times quest to find out what was the best day of people's lives (except the birth of their children or the day they met or married their partners), another eight Otago residents tell their stories.

I have been lucky enough to have had a lot of good experiences in my life and the one I would like to share is my first visit to Vanuatu to provide entertainment.

It started with a phone call from a Dunedin person, whose sister, based in Port Vila, was looking for an Auckland entertainer or band. As it turned out, the music required was exactly that of the Chelsea Set band I had not long joined. I didn't even know where Vanuatu was.

My band-mates and I quickly looked up an old map and found ''the New Hebrides'', which, of course, became Vanuatu when it gained its independence in 1980.

The excitement set in as the old Chelsea Set - Reg Booth, Alan Mckay and I - were about to become an international act. According to the brief, not only were we to provide dance music for a couple of functions, we were to ''entertain'' while the attendees basically ''sat and watched''.

That gave us the jitters, as we weren't that type of act. However, after much consideration, we dragged out an old Phantom of the Opera act, which the band had done in previous years, put together a Blues Brothers routine, a Grease routine and made an audience-participation item out of Mustang Sally. A lot of rehearsal followed and, on October 31, 1992, we were on Air Vanuatu, heading to the little island in the Pacific.

The 737 had only about 30 people on board and, given its night-time departure, it was termed a ''Champagne'' flight. And it was.

We were like little children on our first adventure away from home.

The flight was delayed by four hours, so we didn't land until 1am.

We were picked up at the airport by the people who had booked us and taken to Le Lagon Resort. It was very dark, as their infrastructure was somewhat lacking, compared with what we were used to here.

It was warm, humid and had that smell of wet soil in the air.

After an arrival drink, we hit the sack, not really knowing what the place looked like.

In the morning, I left my chalet to see the most beautiful blue lagoon, stunning green lawns, trees and other vegetation and couldn't believe we were in such an unspoiled paradise.

It was then time to sort out the very basic equipment available for the functions.

A lot of MacGyver tricks were put into action, and the indigenous Ni Vanuatu people were extremely interested and helpful as we started building a stage and windbreak and getting everything in place.

They became even more excited once we started sound-checking, as there is not much in the way of Western bands or entertainers in Vanuatu.

Come the day of this Melbourne Cup event, the afternoon for ladies only, we started with background music, but after the lunch was finished, it quickly turned into a much revved-up party. Everyone was dressed to the nines and getting right into the swing of the day.

Our special acts were well received.

By 5pm, the men were arriving and the function headed towards dinner mode.

Even though it had been a full-on day already, adrenaline seemed to keep everyone going. Darkness fell and the lights in the sideless marquee started to glow.

Dancing continued until 11pm. It was the longest gig we had ever played - 11 hours. We returned to Vanuatu another five times over the decade, although the first of anything is arguably always the best. Thank you Port Vila!