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.

Vanuatu post cyclone Pam – rebuilding

A fortnight ago we visited the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, arriving two months after Cyclone Pam devastated some of the islands. We had a warm welcome and found the recovery well under way, with schools functioning, albeit sometimes UNICEF tents for classrooms. Many of the village houses had tarpaulins covering their roofs, while the inhabitants waited for palm leaves to grow so they could re-thatch them.

It is a beautiful, unspoiled country and the village that we visited appreciated the learning and sporting materials that we brought for the school.

We thoroughly enjoyed the adventures we had: paddling in outrigger canoes, visiting traditional villagers and learning of the rich cultural traditions that predate European contact.

We would certainly recommend Vanuatu as a destination for anyone seeking an informative and enjoyable tropical sojourn. 

Exploring Koorie art shelters

Today we visited three different rock art shelters near and in the Grampians: Bunjil (East of the Grampians), Billimina and Manja on the western slopes. Each had its unique attributes, Bunjil, situated in a rocky outcrop, featured the legendary creator of the world with two dogs, while Billimina included dozens of “tally marks”, possibly recording visits or other events. Nearby were the Jardwadjali Falls. The dominant images at the Manja site were handprints. By then the sun was setting, bringing out the red colours of the rocks.

The western sites had been impacted by bush fires several years ago, but I did love the red sundews with their low white flowers.








These pilgrims are taking their time

Today it rained on our parade, but luckily our schedule involved a walk of a mere 15km. We met fellow pilgrims from Queensland and kept each other company, sharing Camino experiences and tips. We passed a statue of St James – I wonder what he would have made of our chatter about wi-fi connections and the value of downloading maps to get GPS on the Way. Two men crossed an ancient stone bridge under an umbrella, one bearing a small floral cross. Why? There is so much to learn. We arrived at Melide around lunchtime and after checking in, found a restaurant and treated ourselves to “Pulpo Gallego”, the local octopus speciality. It’s good to be finally using the raincoat and warm gear we carried all the way from Oz.20140519-160609-57969389.jpg








This evening in Madrid – the fiesta of San Isidro attracts thousands

Well, we started towards the old Cathedral of San Isidro, and in a few minutes, three women walked in front of us wearing beautifully embroidered shawls and carrying silver staffs. They were soon joined by men in identical suits carrying a standard for their brotherhood “hermanidad”. We kept following them until they went into a door, together with members of a band, carrying brass instruments. Round the corner, crowds were starting to build up and police were mobilising. We managed to position ourselves across the road from the church, behind some shorter people, thus securing a great viewpoint. The band struck up and clergy and officials in bright robes processed out of the church, followed by an effigy of the saint’s wife and then Saint Isidoro himself. We joined the crowd who dispersed in Plaza Mayor, before heading to a smaller plaza, Santa Anna for dinner. This has been a highlight of the trip.









Happy Christmas Aussie Backyard style

Wishing our 107 followers a happy Christmas with these photos from the backyard party at our son’s a couple of days ago. The bubble machine made for some happy snaps.

The girls jumped for joy in the quest to catch a bubble in their hand.

While the homemade gingerbread house was rapidly demolished.


As the Christmas tree lights twinkle in the window, we wish you all a happy day tomorrow and beyond.

Under One Moon – Even in Brilliant Sunshine

This afternoon we visited Richmond Housing Estate for the Under One Moon Festival celebrating Melbourne’s cultural diversity. In the grounds of the Estate was a stage surrounded by tents with stalls and displays. We were treated to performances of Beijing Opera, Japanese umbrella dancing, African dancers and various Timor Leste performers, including some men in magnificent feather headdresses. There was also a dragon dance, with frisky dragons running among the crowd afterwards. Small shelters were built by the Papuans and those from Timor Leste. Those present were invited to make lanterns for the parade to be held in the evening. I made an attempt and was told that the result was acceptable, thanks to some help from teenagers who seemed to have the hang of it.

Although we had to leave before the evening parade, it was a good day. Thanks to my fellow Mandarin student, Maria, a resident at the Estate, for the invitation. Photos: David StreetImageImageImageImageImage