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.
BILL ACKLIN Dunedin city councillor
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
The flight was delayed by four hours, so we didn't land until
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
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!