Riverside meanders

 The common thread today was the floodplain of the Murray River, where the red gums towered majestically in unusual shapes, depending on the way the floodwaters had shaped them. Sunlight filtered and gleamed on the trunks.  
The township of Tocumwal had been bypassed by passenger trains but the Lions members served us a classic morning tea in the station staff room. Meanwhile, a modern diesel locomotive engine stood ready to cart containers across the river and down to Port Melbourne.   
Rainbow bee eaters fluttered high in the red gums, catching insects. Three paused briefly on a branch and I managed to zoom in on their vivid colours.

 

From a bird hide on Quinn Island, we observed a friar bird attending to its nest, suspended in the shape of a Viking ship and tastefully decorated with blue twine.

  
Further upstream, we came upon a narrow bridge with a three-tonne load limit. David assured me that the Prado weighs only two tonnes, so we were all right. We carefully eased the 4WD over the wobbly planks to the other side.

   
It was the first day of the fishing season and fishers in little tinnies were trying their luck for Murray cod.

 

Kookaburras kept an eye out for edible movement. A platypus wriggled its flat tail in the snags near the riverbank, but I wasn’t quick enough to capture them on record. All about was spring activity.

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Foodies’ delight on Cobram Farm Gate Trail

A farm gate visit to three properties near Cobram provided some tasty Christmas presents. First stop was Cobrawonga Estate and Nursery, where we sampled Luke’s native plum jam and wild bush dukkah and toured a dry country garden with a creek running down the centre.

   
 
The owner’s wife had rag-doll cats, which were cute and laid back.

  
Next stop was Byramine Homestead, one of the oldest homesteads in Victoria, built by Elizabeth Hume (sister-in-law of the celebrated explorer) in about 1840.

  
They served a delicious lunch.

  
Then it was on to Rich Glen Olives, which gave us an insight into the diversity of products which can be made with olive oil, including beauty products. Being with Red Hill Probus, we admired the painting of Red Hill that hung behind the counter.

  
They also stocked other local produce including a delicious soft Boosey Creek cheese. What better way to finish the day than a Monday night two-for-one deal for Diamond Club members at The Top Pub, founded 1897.

  

Turtle and Koala by Murray River at Cobram

  
A short-necked turtle ignored us as we tootled by, heading upstream on the paddle boat Cobba.

Riverboats don’t need a wooden helm these days. The skipper of the Cobba uses a remote control. A diesel engine drives a generator that powers each paddle wheel separately, so each paddle can be controlled independently, at different speeds or direction.

   

The Cobba paddle boat moored at beach on River Murray, Cobram. The Murray is Australia’s longest river system, defining some of the boundary between the states of Victoria and New South Wales and finally emptying into Bass Strait in South Australia.
 
A pleasant cruise from Cobram up the Murray River took us under a historic drawbridge, past houseboats, then alongside an island sanctuary where koalas looked down at us from red gums above century old post-and-rail fences.

   
Disused drawbridge on River Murray, built in the days of paddle steamers and sailing boats.

 
Koala in red gum on Quinn Island, now a sanctuary.

   
Houseboats moored at the anabranch at the end of Quinn Island.

 
Post-and-rail fence from early twentieth Century stands above eroded bank of Murray River on Quinn Island.

Coffee with blogger – virtual world becomes reality

  
For a year I have been following Two years in the Atlantic, a blog by Paul Tyson. This morning he stepped out of the screen and met us for St Helenian coffee at the wharf, as usual, when the RMS is in port, the place was buzzing. We enjoyed a good chat and arranged to catch up that evening at Tasty Bites restaurant up on Half Tree Hollow.

Naval officers were wandering in white garb, having returned from a service at Napoleon’s Tomb. Disappointly, a naval march through town had been cancelled. Something to do with the scouts being unavailable. Everybody seemed to know except us. The bush telegraph works well on St Helena but you need to keep updating info by talking to locals.

As this is our last full day on St Helena, David and I climbed Jacob’s Ladder. If we were stiff the next day it wouldn’t matter as we could rest on the ship. The day was still and we had good views of the two naval ships and RMS St Helena anchored offshore. I carefully (it’s so steep) sat on a step halfway up to take a photo and on the way down, even dared to bend down to retrieve a beer bottle that someone had left behind the night before. I put it in my little backpack and put it in the bin at the bottom.

  
We then drove up Ladder Hill for some more sightseeing at High Knoll Fort, one of the many historic defence set-ups on the island, perched high on the hilltop.

  
I wanted to buy a commemorative T-shirt from Longwood House, so we dropped by. The French were hanging out on the back terrace but the gift shop was shut. Michel saw me and miraculously, Angela, the shop manager appeared and opened specially. 

We bought take-away hamburgers at Reggies and proceeded to Millenium Forest to meet Harry from the National Trust. We had agreed to help dig holes as the French were going to plant 200 endemic gumwoods for the Bicentenary. We managed quite a lot of holes and worked up a good sweat, when who should arrive but two minibuses of sailors from the naval ships to lend a hand. We retired to the visitors centre for a well-earned cuppa and the navy had almost finished planting by the time the French arrived!

   

That evening, Peter collected us as we’d returned the car, and drove us up Ladder Hill one last time. The gang of seven gathered for one last meal on the island. We met Paul Tyson and his family who were just leaving and had a cheery meal of island fish and chips.Peter and Bill left for the long drive to Farm Lodge and Philip drove we three from Fowlers plus Patsy back to his apartment, The Forge, where we chatted over coffee, sitting out on his verandah over.ooking a pretty moonlit garden where impatiens flourished.

Philip and Patsy walked us home as Philip does his emails after midnight at Patsy’s mother’s house. The internet is free after midnight for those with an account. It was the end of a good evening.

Saving St Helena’s unique cloud forest

  
Patsy called in this morning bearing gifts of pink sponge fingers. She had heard that Lamingtons were part of the Aussie diet and wanted us to know that St Helenians have an equivalent – different colour and shape but same principle of sponge dipped in icing rolled in grated coconut. St Helenian women are good at baking – there is no cake shop, so it’s the only way they can serve goodies for events.

Like all travellers, we had to commit some time to washing our clothes. We then visited the museum at the base of Jacob’s Ladder, where I photographed a cannon salvaged from the Dutch White Lion, a seventeenth century wreck. It had been preserved because it was covered with peppercorns, which formed part of the cargo.

  
I bought a certificate for successfully climbing Jacob’s Ladder. Providing such certificates to climbers supplements the museum’s budget. The RMS St Helena is back in Jamestown Harbour, having returned from St Helena. This means that Jamestown is abuzz with visitors, including salvors from two naval ships. We find ourselves giving advice to the newbies re Jacob’s Ladder, the necessity of buying bread early and other essentials of life in this remote outpost.

Jason (he’s the one who showed us High Peak the day before leaving the island) had asked government ranger Mike Jervois to show us St Helena’s unique cloud forest in The Peaks National Park. We drove a different way via Francis Plain, where the Royal Navy were playing cricket against St Helena on the oval at Prince Andrew’s School.

  
The cloud forest is formed because the leaves of the endemic cabbage trees take in moisture from the clouds which regularly cloak the peaks in the highest part of the island. The Environment Management Division has extended the area of forest by clearing flax and replanting indigenous flora propagated from its adjacent nursery.

   
  The plant above is black cabbage.  
She cabbage (a different species) is shown above.

 And this is jellico. The leaves are edible and taste a bit like celery.

  
The cloud forest provides habitat for a diversity of invertebrates, including this blushing snail.

We returned via St Pauls Cathedral, which is near Plantation House. In the dusk it looked quite atmospheric.

   
 
As we continued via Half Tree Hollow, the smooth Atlantic Ocean shone like silk beneath the filtered sunlight.

 A a treat we dined with Australian teachers Peter and Bill met on the ship. Five courses included island gammon followed by creme brûlée at Farm Lodge, a fine country house deep in the interior. Marijke and I posed on the chaise lounge used by Napoleon. Hosts Stephen and Maureen’s complemented the gracious setting.

  

From The Briars to The Briars like Alexander Balcombe

  
For Marijke and me, Tuesday 13th October was a highlight of our nine-day visit to St Helena. While on the Royal Mail Ship, we had received via the captain, a letter inviting us to a “Presentation”, signed on behalf of the Head of Government, Sean Burns. Back in Australia, the mayor of Mornington Shire, Bev Colomb, had asked us to deliver a picture of The Briars, Mt Martha to the people of St Helena as Alexander Balcombe, who founded The Briars had named his property after his family home of The Briars, St Helena.

  
After a short speech about the connections between the two properties, Sean presented us with a framed photograph of The Briars Pavillion, St Helena. I in turn said a few words about the Napoleonic collection and natural beauty of The Briars Homestead and Park, Australia and presented him with a framed sketch of the homestead.

  
 Marijke told people (in French) about her play about Napoleon which starts in The Briars. There was great interest and we are hopeful that it will be performed at Longwood next year.

  
About 50 people crowded into the Pavillion, including hosts Sean and Marina Burns, (who actually live in the back rooms behind The Briars Pavillion). 

  The French Consul, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, said a few words as guardian of The Briars (which Balcombe family member Dame Mabel Brookes gifted to the French Government in 1957). Other guests included Napoleon’s descendant, Prince d’Essling, the rest of the French visitors, Australian expats on St Helena as well as Briars Pavillion guide Trevor Magellan with his wife Myrtle.

  
The speeches were followed by a slap-up island morning tea and photos on the steps. We look forward to reporting with Marijke on this event to fellow Briars guides and Mornington Shire Mayor Bev Colomb after we return.

   
 In the afternoon Marijke and I walked to the Heart-Shaped Falls behind The Briars, which Napoleon is said to have enjoyed viewing during his two months stay there. Surprise, surprise, we met the French returning from the same hike.

Then in the evening we attended a concert with a Napoleonic theme at St James Church, along with most of our new friends from RMS St Helena Napoleon aka Merrill in costume participated in a moving excerpt from a Stanley Kubrick film on Napoleon including his time on St Helena. The English professor who works with the Fondation Napoleon, Peter Hicks did a rousing piano piece of the battle of Marengo. He then had to rush off to a formal dinner on board the HMS Lancaster.

We chatted with others over another generous island supper of home-made goodies. It turns out that the vicar of St James, Father Dale visited The Briars Australia three years ago and put a comment in the visitors’ book. I hope that this is the first of many exchanges with St Helena in years to come.

Donkey walking and a Regency Ball

  
We now have a shiny rental car, which facilitates exploring St Helena independently. Today we took part in weekly donkey walking. Fifty years ago, donkeys were an important part of St Helenian life, used for transporting the island’s flax crop and taking vegetables to market. Today, the flax industry has been replaced by synthetics and trucks transport veggies, so the some of the surviving donkeys are cared for in a sanctuary and taken for walks on a weekly basis. We joined four families to do this.

 
It  was windy and misty at High Peak, and my donkey, Cheeky Face, took off on a particularly windy corner, but luckily she stopped at the next patch of juicy grass. At the end of the walk, we gave them a carrot and cleaned the mud off their hooves.

 After lunch at Reggies Takeaway near the airport, Dave dropped me off at the top of Jacob’s Ladder and I descended tentatively while he carefully steered the car down, giving way to upcoming traffic. It was windy so I held tight to the hand-rail. It looked a long way down and very steep! I didn’t dare let go to take a photo – not like me at all.

We spent the afternoon glamming up for the Regency Ball, pert of the celebrations for the Napoleonic Bicentenary. The French had gone all out with their costumes and Napoleon put in an appearance. It was an enjoyable evening and gave us the opportunity to meet Marina Burns and her husband, Sean Who is Head of Government. They will be our hosts on Tuesday at the Briars Pavillion.

   
 

Written on Friday 9th October and posted now that we have access to wifi.