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.

Conserving the endemic Gumwoods on St Helena

 This morning I visited Jeremy Harris, director of the St Helena National Trust and gave him bundle of info from his Australian counterpart. With over 900 listed sites on the island as well as conservation work and caring for cultural artefacts such as shipwreck salvaged items and finding a fitting way to recognise the remains of hundreds of bodies of slaves who were “freed” on St Helena, only to die of the mistreatment they had received at the hands of people smugglers.

I decided to “purchase” two gumwood trees for the Millenium Forest project to restore some of this lost resource. Three hundred years ago the island had a Great Forest, which was cleared for timber. Much of the island was later invaded by various introduced plants. The ground was rock solid with very little topsoil, but with a scoop of gelatinous wetting agent at the bottom of the hole and generous amounts of “grey water”, we planted our seedlings this afternoon and agreed to come back on Thursday to help the French, who aim to plant 200 for the Napoleonic Bicentenary.

After this physical labour under the guidance of volunteer leader Harry, we photographed the endangered Wirebird running around the golf course before doing another Post Box walk, this time across rugged coastal slopes to Cox’s Battery.

 Just in case I felt the need for more physical exertion, I decided to climb up Jacob’s Ladder and down. The ascent took 20 minutes and the descent a bit less. The Royal Naval vessel Lancaster gleamed in the setting sun. She has just arrived for the celebrations.

We deserved the pasta dinner that Marijke created!


Fair on Longwood Green and climbing Flagstaff Hill

We had no time to sleep in after all the fun of the ball last night, as we had  decided to attend the bilingual service conducted by St Helena’s bishop at St John’s, up Market Street past Patsy’s mother’s shop, Romans. It was a steep climb in our Sunday best. The sermon, readings and all the hymns were in English, with some pointers to give the French the idea of what was going on. We met a Deacon, Catherine who we were to run into later in our stay as she is involved in other Island activities.

We wended our way back home via The Run, the creek that goes down through town to the wharf in a rock sidewall. It was a peaceful retreat with finch like birds flitting about.

 Then into the car and out to Longwood Green, where  a fair was in progress. A sailing ship had been put in place for the children and we had fish burgers with our friends.

The island craft of flax weaving was demonstrated. 

Despite the cloudy and windy conditions, we decided to climb Flagstaff Hill, which is one of St Helena’s 20 Postbox Walks. Down in town it was much warmer and I only had a cheap poncho for protection. We crossed a vast and windy plain where Boer soldiers had been held during the Boer War. It wouldn’t have been a pleasant spot.

This glamour photo shoot is me protecting myself from wind and rain. I needed my hands free for balance, so the bag is round my neck like a chaff-bag on a draught-horse.

The solemn event of the day was wreath laying at Napoleon’s Longwood Tomb, but embarrassingly, we arrived late and only saw the wreaths laid by the VIPs, including the French ambassador, Monsieur Mendelson, Napoleon descendant Prince d’Essling and the St Helenian Governor, His Excellency Mark Capes.

Delighting in the independence of the car, we drove down the new steep road to Rupert’s Harbour, which will be the island’s container terminal.

Even on a Sunday the road was hair-raising. Then drinks at the nearby Standard Hotel with Patsy and Philip and Marijke and leftovers from the ball together, our first and only dinner party at Fowlers Town House. Already we feel at home.

Coorong walk after rain

The Coorong is a system of lakes behind the dunes in the southeast of South Australia. It includes samphire swampland and melaleuca. This morning, we pulled into the Coorong National Park at Chinamen’s Well, which we had visited six weeks ago coming over from Victoria. Suddenly the rain stopped and we leapt outside to tackle a nearby walk: the Nakun Kangun, which runs for 27km along the Coorong.

Some of the walk was through melaleuca forest (see above), past samphire lakes.

There were delicate orchids if you looked carefully.



We continued to Kingston SE, which has a cool historic lighthouse.

Finally, we are in Robe, where we have caught up with family in the first house we have been in for nearly seven weeks.

Remarkable walks

Mt Remarkable National Park, just south of Port Augusta in South Australia, is well named. Although it is on the Goyder line and turned out to be unproductive for grazing, it supports huge river red gums. Apparently, the secret is Mambray Creek, which only flows in wetter periods, has underground counterparts which the deep-rooted gums are able to access and siphon upwards.

We did three walks and the first was among the gums, which continue to thrive even after they are hollowed out by fire and termites. Can you see David, cleverly concealed inside this one?

Along the river were native pines as well as gums, affording a pleasant shade.

After a caffeine fix, with sandwiches in our backpacks and we headed off on a second walk, this time to Sugargum Lookout.Ironically, the view from the lookout was almost obliterated by sugar gums!

However, a historic shepherd’s hut proved a pleasant lunch stop.

The spring wildflowers were beginning, including this native hibiscus:

Bulbine lily:

In the late afternoon we tackled a short walk to the ruins of the original homestead, where generations of lessees had struggled to make a living grazing sheep. The cemetery provided a moving reminder of how harsh life was for families, with several graves of children.

Threatening clouds and the lure of King Island Blue Ash cheese with a pre-dinner drink called a halt to play and we returned to the caravan, but not before I had uploaded yesterday’s blog near the park entrance, which had 3G connection.

Welcome to Cape Le Grand – with a lucky hike

The Seafront Caravan Park at Esperance has a 1:00pm checkout time, so we set the alarm for 6:30am and took the 4WD down to Cape Le Grand National Park. We knew that Lucky Bay facilities were closed for upgrade works, but we hope to see the “whitest beach in Australia” by hiking in. This we did, over granite rocks with spectacular views and a variety of wildflowers. Lucky Bay itself was a bit of a disappointment with a lot of dead sea grass covering the section of beach that we reached, but we could see the white sands gleaming alluringly in the distance, we just didn’t have time to reach them.

The wildflowers included chittick;


A tea tree with large blue flowers;

And sticky tailflower.

When we returned to the car, we found that the ranger had closed the track we had been on between the time we left and the time we got back. So we were lucky to have made it to Lucky Bay. We celebrated with coffee from a vacuum flask and fruit, before picking up some last minute shopping, filling up with diesel fuel and towing the van out right on 1:00pm.

We camped last night at the start of the Nullarbor Plain, among salmon gums that gleamed like rubies in the setting sun. The myriad stars shine above and the campfire warmed our spirits. We love the isolation and sense of total freedom.


Cutting the corner via Yanchep

As we had toured the southwest corner and Perth a few years ago, we decided to just go down the Indian Ocean Drive, head inland to Yanchep National Park, take the Perth freeway and turn east to the town of Northam.

The morning was clear and we awoke to the best view in Guilderton, right on the estuary of the Moore River. Pelicans were fishing from the sandbar and the sun reflected off the limestone cliffs.

We headed along the scenic coastal route to the village of Two Rocks, past a lot of new development at Yanchep, which is obviously a sea change destination. 

Yanchep National Park, an intriguing walk down memory lane. The 1930s buildings reminded me of Wattle Park Chalet, near our former home in the Melbourne suburb of Burwood. There was even an old tramcar, like our children used to play on at Wattle Park. 

We had coffee at the tea rooms, so our macho off-road hero (David) was forced to endure pink table cloths and plastic pink roses. The chocolate rum and raisin was a rich treat.

We took a walk around the shortest of several trails. It took us through karst bushland with collapsed limestone caves and tuart eucalypts with Carnarby’s cockatoos and kangaroos. 

We had a healthy prosciutto and salad sandwich in the van before trundling down the Reid Highway around the edge of Perth and 100km east to Northam. We are back near the historic pipeline that brings water from a dam at Mundaring to the gold town of Kalgoorlie.