Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I have been working on Round 3 of the Round Robin Fabric Book, and in the past month I have had the pleasure of working on Jan's book with a Christmas theme. Jan's challenge/inspiration picture was of some rather cheeky looking shepherds. Jan stressed that she wanted bright, glitzy and cheerful type interpretations, with no subdued country colours. Now I have never been quite sure what "country colours" are, because I have seen all and any sorts of colours worked into country themes - but I can relate to Jan's wish to create a happy little book to have on the coffee table to enhance the mood of celebration at Christmastime.

For my page, I found a piece of silk (not hard in my place, where lots of silk cast-offs find sanctuary). It was a cheerful red colour similar to the red in Jan's picture. I then got out my Shiva oil paintsticks for the first time. I placed the silk over the lid of a carved wood box I have had for ages, and rubbed the gold stick over it to create an "impression". I held my breath - but I was really pleased with the results!

I then decided to create a Christmas wreath. Using some of my silk paper (a medium I am finding increasingly useful) I cut out and applied some background foliage, then delved into my beads for leaves and flowers and berries. I had a couple of years when I fiercely hunted down all sorts of leaf and flower beads. Hope the supply does not run out before I do!

An angel charm was conveniently split in half to provide the 2 angels facing each other at the top.

The finishing touch was a row of my handmade fabric beads along the bottom.

Below is the interpretation done by Jane from Havelock North in NZ. Isn't it beautiful?

Friday, April 25, 2008

On this Anzac day of 2008, one naturally thinks about those who were very much "in the thick" of danger and sacrifice during the war. When we honour those veterans who march today, we are not just honouring a group of elderly men and women, we are really honouring a large number of very young men, only some of whom had the chance to grow old.

During World War 2, our home here at "Devon" was actually the headquarters for the N.Z. 36th Batallion, who were stationed here on Norfolk Island. There were also personnel from the Australian Department of Main Roads, working on the airstrip and also representatives from the U.S. forces, who had been the instigators of the idea that an airstrip was needed on the island for tactical reasons.

The New Zealand Colonel lived here in our house, and there were encampments in our woodland in front. If you scrape around, there are still old bottles to be found there. Along our driveway, there is a very old pine tree, and halfway up it there was a lookout and some phone/radio equipment, and the wires were still dangling from it until recent years. Next door at Devon Cottage, the drains and greasetraps of the "Mess" can still be seen.

The "Lookout tree" -sadly showing signs of age. We may need to bring it down soon.

From the valley behind us, water was actually pumped right up to the base of Mt Pitt, from which it was gravity-fed down to various encampments around the island. Only a couple of years ago, while mowing near our washing line, we shaved off a little more than usual, and revealed the old metal pipe that had been used. This seems amazing nowadays, because we do not have any town water system, each household providing their own from rainwater tanks and wells.

The Devonwoodland today - the site of great activity in wartime days

When the NZ contingent arrived here, they were looking around for a suitable house to commandeer for the headquarters. Evidently, the choice was narrowed down to either "Hillcrest", which belonged to great-aunt Maria Heaps, and which is to the back of us, and "Devon." Bernie's sister Norma tells how she was staying overnight at Hillcrest with Aunt Maria, and they were eating scrambled eggs at breakfast time. They saw the Colonel walking down the path, and Maria, who feared losing her home, said "Oh dear, I cannot eat any more....I feel sick!"

Maria Heaps in younger days - a true "lady."

Fortunately the news was good for her - the choice had been the Devon house. Devon, which had been built in the early twenties, belonged to her sister Charlotte, but had always been let, mainly to Burns Philp managers. I believe she received a rent of 15/- a week for the property while it was occupied by the army. Charlotte had continued to live in the old family home "Greenacre" over the road. After the war, she actually moved into one of the old army huts in the Devon grounds, and this was modified into a modest but comfortable cottage for her, and became "Devon Cottage" where our son John now lives.

Charlotte Bailey outside Devon Cottage, which was created from an army hut. To the left of her is "Tiri", who lived for a while in the woodland in a hut that was probably left behind afer the war.

Another army hut was also placed right beside Devon, and after the war was incorporated into this house. One of the rooms is now my sewing room, and the other is the laundry!

Devon homestead in earlier days, before the army hut became part of the house known as "the annexe".

Devon was first occupied by Colonel Barry, and later by a Colonel Cockerell. Two or three years ago, during our Annual Readers' and Writers' Festival, Bernie and I donated sponsorship in the form of a week's accommodation at Fletcher Christian. Our sponsored writer turned out to be a Rosemarie Smith, who is the granddaughter of Colonel Cockerell, and who lives in the South Island of New Zealand. While she was here, she also did some research into a convict forbear, who had received his freedom and also received a grant of land while he was here. Amazingly, the grant of land had encompassed the very land where Devon is now! So not one, but two of her antecedents had a very special connection with this place.

I should also tell you more about Maria, who was able to continue living in her lovely home at Hillcrest. Now Maria and Charlotte's father George Bailey was English born, and after moving to New Zealand, had come to work in the Melanesian Mission here in the 1870's and had married an island girl Emily Christian. The girls had been brought up to be "ladies", having learned things like music, painting and needlework as girls. That is not to say that they did not know anything about hard work. Cousin Marie clearly remembers Aunty Maria carrying big bundles of haygrass to feed the house cow, and saying with a sigh "So much work, and only one pair of hands!"The Hillcrest Homestead- sadly this burned down about 14 years ago.

Maria and her husband Dick knew how to entertain elegantly, and there would be wonderful afternoon teaparties in the grounds of Hillcrest. She delighted in inviting the army officers to tea or dinner at her home. She became a great favourite among them as did a number of island ladies who were able to provide a homely atmosphere and some home comforts to these men who wer so far from their own homes, not least the opportunity for them to sample their fine home cooking as a change from uninteresting army fare.

A teaparty at Hillcrest in grander and more elegant days

When the troops put on entertainments, it was an opportunity for them to return the favours. Along the road, nearer to Fletcher Christian, there is a sort of natural amphitheatre. Two large army lorries would be put end-to-end to provide a makeshift stage, and they would put on Variety concerts. A staff car would be sent to Hillcrest, and Bernie remebers her sitting up in the car "like the Queen of Tonga" being transported to the concerts.

Nowadays, I often look out to the woodland, and can imagine it as a hive of activity, the misty figures of those young soldiers wandering around, busying themselves or just relaxing. I can imagine small groups of them up the pine tree, from which there would have been a view of Kingston to the south. Perhaps they were also thinking of home, several hundred kilometres further to the south east. It is said that it was a good place to "escape" and have some "time out." I think about Bob Selby, who only died fairly recently. He met his sweetheart here on Norfolk Island, and returned here to live later. He used to tell me how he rode into Devon on his motorbike to deliver messages and cables.

But when I think about wartime sacrifice, I also think about the sacrifices made by others too. The parents, spouses and families left at home, often without news for long periods of time. And those whose lives and homes were taken over for war purposes. Now Aunt Charlotte and Maria fared fairly well, and the presence of the army personnel provided quite a bit of life and variety to their rather isolated existence on this remote little island. Many consumer goods were probably in short supply, as in other places, but there was still land and rich soil to cultivate and fruit to pick, and the fact that the island could still feed itself as well as large numbers of troops says a great deal about hard work and hospitality in this community.But here on Norfolk, many had their homes and lands taken from them for the building of an airstrip. The building of the airstrip - the first aircraft landed on Christmas Day 1942 - brought enormous changes to the island, some good, some bad. What was certain was that life would never be the same again.

"Devon" - temporary Force Headquarters and home for the Colonel

Saturday, April 19, 2008


This seems to be the Year of the Choko on Norfolk Island.

We are all eating them - in great quantities. Now, don't start pitying us for the lack of variety in our diet. We are eating them boiled, steamed, sauteed, microwaved. They are being sliced and diced into casseroles and stirfries. Some are finding their way into fritters and chutneys, while still more are being clothed white sauce. They are being tarted up with stocks and herbs and spices. And some of the young and tender ones are even being consumed raw.

Why this sudden enthusiasm for the humble choko, you may ask?

Well, there is little else in the salad and vegetable line around. Weather conditions have not been kind to the home and market gardeners this year. Some years the dry conditions make growing difficult. This year, constant fog and rain and overcast conditions have wiped out many crops, fungus has been rife, and even the those things that have survived have failed to mature and ripen without the necessary sunny days.

If we lived in Australia or New Zealand, we would be importing our vegetables from other places. But quarantine restrictions mean that almost everything is home and locally grown on Norfolk Island. Now that is what you could call a healthy and sustainable way of doing things. But if the season is bad here, then everyone is affected.

So this is the time when the chokos come into their own. They seem to thrive in these conditions. They may thrive in the good years too, but just get ignored in favour of abundant tomatoes and lettuce and broccoli and carrots etc.

This year, anyone with a choko vine has plenty of friends. They get handed round at meetings and get-togethers, shared between neighbours, left on doorsteps, and fill the vegetable and fruit racks in the stores. In the same way, recipes for different and interesting ways to cook them get shared around too. Actually, the choko is not a bad vegetable. It may be a little bland, but if it is not overcooked, it has a pleasant crunch, and absorbs the flavours of the foods it is cooked and served with.

Many years ago, Bernie and I had a learned Judge and his wife to dinner. One of the vegetables I served was chokos. They looked at it in some puzzlement, and asked what it was. I think they had their suspicions, but needed to confirm that I had dared to serve a common choko, a vegetable that in their minds belonged on vines that climbed over backyard dunnies. Both admitted they had never tasted choko before. I cannot recall whether politeness overcame their obvious feelings of distaste.

My dear friend Paulette grew up on one of the islands in Vanuatu. She recalls that when she was a girl, the chokos almost grew wild in the bush around their home. When one of the fruit dropped to the ground, it would take root and shoot up a new plant. They grew so thick they were almost like bushes rather than vines. Paulette said that you learn a great deal about how to grow things by observing how they grow in nature.

Now Paulette loves the seed of the choko, and I agree that its nutty taste makes it the best part. People save the older chokos with large seeds for her to eat. She tells how when she was young, she and her friends would go into the bush with their baskets, and pick the chokos in large quantities. They would take a knife and discard the flesh, and take home baskets of just the seed part to cook!!
My first acquaintance with chokos was when I was growing up in Kensington in Sydney. We lived in a 2 up 2 down block of flats, which was one block in a whole row of about 12 blocks. One backyard went behind the whole row. The man upstairs, a Bert Hislop, had a very healthy choko vine growing on the back paling fence. Because we lived not very far from Randwick Racecourse, and there were a lot of stable complexes in the streets around, there was always a good supply of manure. The chokos were shared around the neighbours. Sadly, in those days, no one had enough imagination to cook them in any way other than boiling them, and perhaps putting a white sauce over them. It may be a suburban myth, but it is said that this prolific but humble vegetable used to sneak its way into apple pies, because it was hard to tell the difference from the texture and appearance.
Apart from a brief period about 25-30 years ago, I have not had much luck in growing a choko vine until recently. I have planted several dozen over the years. They get so high and then die off. Bill Edward told me you should plant two together, diagonally facing each other, and the growing end pointing downwards. Someone else said the easiest way to grow a choko was to toss it over your shoulder into the bush and forget about it. In other words, it doesn't matter how hard you try, if it doesn't want to grow where you have planted it, it won't.
This year I have finally managed to grow not one, but two vines. And they are beginning to produce fruit! Soon I will be able to share some around. But perhaps by then, we will have a variety of vegetables available again, and everyone will be saying, with a sigh of relief "Thank goodness I don't have to eat another choko for a while!"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

THE CLASS OF 1930/40

They say that inside every older person, there is still a little boy or girl.

Well, judging by all the giggling, cheek and mischief going on, all those boys and girls were definitely present when a large group of ex-pupils of the Norfolk Island School got together last night at the Castaway. And plenty of them are still displaying a great deal of youthful energy and zest for life too. Over 40 ex-pupils who attended the school in the first half of last century were there - with a few spouses - and even a couple of ex-teachers (including me), albeit from a later era. It is not difficult to gather a group like this together in a place like Norfolk - so many have chosen to live out their lives in the place where they were born - and who can blame them? And relative newcomers like myself (42 years this year) can only envy and admire the wonderful camaraderie, sense of humour and joy that comes from those wonderful shared memories!

These pictures will hopefully show you what fun we all had - but I wish I could turn on the sound for you too!

The evening began with a roll call (from ex-headmaster Ian McCowan), followed by the pledge in front of the Union Jack (all standing at attention).

Then the words of the Norfolk Ode were handed round - this is said to have been composed by a headmaster in the early 1900's and is sung to the tune of Advance Australia Fair. This was where some become quite aware of the deficiencies in eyesight that comes with age!! But having sung it repeatedly while at school, the words were familiar to most!
Next we marched in to dinner - in two lines of course - although I am sure the raggedy formation and the noise would have earned these pupils a slap or two with the ruler round the legs all those years ago.

Later in the evenings, there was a presentation of prizes, announced by Ian and actually presented by today's school principal Frank Stanton. There was a great deal of hilarity as the recipients received their certificates - "First in the 3-legged Race", " Second in Composition", "Outstanding achievement in Woodwork," "Most talkative boy in class" etc- and then unwrapped their prizes which consisted of some pretty outdated books and other amusing items obviously gathered from garage sales and the Waste Management Centre over a period of time!!

Marion and Edith model the hats that Edie Christian has made for them.

And Borry cannot resist trying one of them on too!

We even had a couple of Royal V.I.P's call in.- but I cannot say they lent a great deal of formality or dignity to the occasion!!

Tom and Vera enjoy a dance

Bill and Byron share some stories

And Nicky, Ann and Plute have a chuckle over the prizes!

Dot and Naomi share a laugh

And Ken and Wiggy provided the music - not a tuning fork in sight!

And Vonnie accompanies them on the spoons!!

Kath pretends to be coy - but not Mera!!

Dolly's face tells it all - we had a wonderful and memorable evening in the true Norfolk spirit of fun and sharing!

Thank you Edie and Susan and those who put so much effort into getting everyone together and making sure it was a really happy time. You are wonderful examples of what a fine Norfolk Island education can produce!

Monday, April 07, 2008


On a little island, surrounded by ocean, it is inevitable that fishing will play a large part in our lives, both as a source of sustenance and as a recreational activity .

The days when taking a bamboo rod down to the rocks or the pier was an absolute necessity if you wanted something to eat for dinner are gone, but the odd feed of trumpeter or trevally which you have caught yourself, or which has been given by a friend or family member is still much appreciated, adding variety to the diet and helping the food budget.

Nowadays, Norfolk's many boat owners like to take their vessels out for a few hours into the open sea, both for recreation and to catch fish from the island's rich waters. A bin or two of Kingfish or Red Emperor are handy to fill the freezer for future needs, or may be sold to restaurants and hotels, or handed round to family and friends.

Increasingly, especially as the island promotes active adventure and eco-type tourism, our visitors are going out on half-day charter fishing trips. Unfortunately, these are always subject to the vagaries of the weather, but those who do go always enjoy the experience!!
"Ultimate Lady" comes unusually close to Cascade Pier, in order to re-fuel. I believe she is taking on 10 000 litres!

Now the fishing experience has reached a new level with the "Ultimate Lady", a New Zealand vessel designed for deep sea game fishing . "Ultimate Lady" will be basing herself here on the island for several months of the year. The idea is that customers will fly to Norfolk Island, and while here travel in the "Lady" for 5 or 6 days at a time out to the Wanganella Reefs, rich fishing grounds which are closer to the island than New Zealand, and which are largely untapped. Record numbers and weights of marlin and other large fish have been recorded in recent times.

I stress that the game fishing is strictly on a "Catch, Tag and Release" basis, and is therefore ecologically sustainable.

This is a luxury vessel, with a number of double rooms with ensuites! The daily cost is quite hefty - around $1 000 per day - but when you consider that it covers accommodation, food, transport, entertainment, equipment, tuition etc, that is not too bad.
Our local paper reported that couples would travel here to the island, and while the men went off on their fishing expedition, the women could stay on the island and shop. Now, that sounds rather sexist to me! Nevertheless, the venture will certainly add to and enhance our image as a desirable tourist destination, provide economic benefits to the island businesses, and hopefully attract some welcome interest and attention from big-game "fisherpersons" from overseas.
In a couple of weeks, a group of American journalists etc. are going on one of the ultimate fishing trips. Our son John and his mate Sput, who have been ferrying the crew to and from the pier, have been invited to join them.
We are really looking to hearing all about it first hand!

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