Cruising the Pacific

After leaving Kona we looked forward to five days at sea before reaching Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango). Five days at sea with nowhere to go and nothing to do – not really.

This cruise in the western half the Pacific Ocean starting in the northern hemisphere, at Hawaii, the most remote island group in the world, crossed the equator (and the International date line) heading generally southwest in the South Pacific to home.

With temperatures in the mid to high twenties (Celsius) it is easy to succumb to a routine of just relaxing next to one of the two pools, lying on a deck chair, catching a passing waiter for a cold Hawaiian beer in between eating, eating, Happy Hour and more eating.

But there is also a lot to do and while I do not like to subscribe to simplistic slogans, I would like to think that I could finish the cruise fitter not fatter even considering the many temptations.

Routine is always important, isn’t it? So starting the day with a visit the Fitness Centre each morning was good before deciding how best to enjoy the day. Among the available daily options chosen were: lectures by excellent speakers on a series of astronomy and relevant history/geography topics, Microsoft workshops with lessons on the various software, movies and variety shows in the large World Theatre, the string quartet plus piano at the Lincoln Center Theatre (in association with the New York Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts), and more.

We have a number of excursions ashore lined up during our stops at the various islands and we are presented with talks about each one so that we can make the most of our visits.

As I type, the string quartet is playing a series of movie classics including “Windmills of my Mind”, “The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and Star Wars themes. Next I will pick up Jenny from reading her good book before repairing to the back pool for a swim, possible drink or two, maybe more reading for a while and generally relaxing.

Cruising at sea is about relaxing but that doesn’t mean doing nothing all day…

Visiting Hawaii

Our Pacific holiday started in Hawaii, visiting for the second time after some six years absence.

Waikiki and Diamond Head

There is an almost infinite number of ways to spent one’s time on the archipelago that is the Hawaiian Islands. Having briefly visited most of the major islands on our last trip, on this occasion we opted for a relaxing stay in Honolulu at Waikiki.

Arizona Memorial

Waikiki is all about tourism with its beaches, hotels, restaurants, shopping and attractions. The most popular tourist attraction is Pearl Harbor with the Arizona memorial and “Mighty Mo” (the battleship Missouri).

“Mighty Mo” Missouri

The sunken Arizona is a war grave to hundreds of servicemen and naturally a hallowed site to Americans, as Gallipoli and the Western Front memorials are to Australians. Any visitor would be touched by the tragedy of the event commemorated. I had visited the Arizona previously and was equally moved on this second visit. The tour of the Missouri was the first time for me.

The battleship Missouri is the impressive vessel in itself, but also its decks witnessed the ceremony of the signing of the Japanese surrender in 1945. Our tour guide explained how despite the Japanese fears that this event would herald harsh recriminations by the United States and the Allies, General Macarthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, essentially just proclaimed an end to hostilities and a future peace.

Japanese Surrender 1945

Among those present on board in Tokyo Bay that day representing Australia was General Sir Thomas Blamey. One of the officers representing the United Kingdom had only days before been released from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and was present despite his weak and emaciated condition. The symbolism of his survival through the horrors of that captivity was particularly poignant for me because my own father had spent three and a half years in Changi and on the Burma Railway.

Back to relaxing in Waikiki. In addition to morning swims at the beach we enjoyed the hotel pool with its café and the nearby Maui Brewing Co. restaurant and bar. We sampled a number of restaurants and a delightful sunset dinner cruise complete with Mai Tais and Hawaiian entertainment. There was also the obligatory shopping, seeking shoes, beach and golfing wear.

There always seems to be something happening in Honolulu. We were told the Waikiki has many street parades and during our visit the colourful rainbow “Honolulu Pride” parade attracted large numbers of participants and spectators.

Honolulu Pride parade

After several relaxing days in Honolulu we boarded the MS Noordam for our 19 day island-hopping cruise back home to Sydney.

Day 1 – Lahaina, Maui

We opted for a submarine excursion to view the coral reef and old ship deliberately sunk off the coast. The distinctive native yellow tang and larger parrot fish were among the multitude of sea life living off the coral reef and the artificial one provided by the ship. It was an exciting experience diving to 130 feet in the purpose-built craft.

This was followed by a snack of delicious calamari and French fries washed down with some local beer and a Singapore Sling.

Then there was more swimming in one of the ship’s two pools, followed by happy hour, dinner and finally a pleasant session with a string quartet plus piano playing classic ballet numbers.

Day 2 – Kona

Like yesterday there was a shuttle service of the ship’s tenders to and from the island. Today we joined a glass-bottomed boat trip over the in-shore reef and got an even closer look at the sea life through crystal clear waters.

A short dip at the man-made beach near the pier was followed by another visit to the local lunch spot overlooking the shore where again we chose calamari with a different local beer and Pina Colada.

Another swim was enjoyed on board on our return. We set sail during “happy hour” saying goodbye to Hawaii as the clouds rolled across and the mountains behind the town and a bright rainbow rose from the shoreline appearing to wish us well on our voyage home.

Goodbye to Kona and Hawaii

After another delicious dinner we finished another enjoyable day by again listened to the string quartet this time playing their “American Songbook” highlighted by Rhapsody in Blue.

Bathurst Connections

Together with millions of other Aussies I recently tuned in to watch some of the Bathurst 1000 motor race. I like many viewers am not a devotees of Supercars but still get a lot of enjoyment out of this “great race”. It is a unique event mainly because of the challenging circuit at Mount Panorama which is a public road when not used for racing. The Mount Panorama Scenic Drive on the outskirts of Bathurst was opened in 1938 and the first motor race was conducted that year.

Mount Panorama, Bathurst

Bathurst was the first inland settlement in the British colony of New South Wales, proclaimed in 1815 at the end of Cox’s Road over the Blue Mountains. It was named by Governor Macquarie after Henry Bathurst, the then Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Henry was the third Earl Bathurst and hailed from Bathurst Manor in Sussex.

Until the “great race”, the city’s main claim to fame was probably the discovery of gold in the area and becoming the centre for Australia’s first gold rush from early 1851. The Bathurst 1000 has certainly brought further prosperity to the City.

Well, back to the 2019 race. This year the winner was one of our antipodean cousins, Scott McLaughlin, with fellow Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen coming second. It was again a most exciting and spectacular race with the cross-Tasman rivalry only being overshadowed by that between Holden and Ford.

The rivalry across the “ditch” between the two nations, who could be accused of being obsessed with sport, extends to almost all codes including cricket, sailing, rugby league, soccer, netball, but is usually epitomised by contests on the rugby field. The World Cup currently has the public’s attention but it is the annual Bledisloe Cup contests that continually embodies this local rivalry. The Bledisloe Cup trophy was donated in 1937 by Lord Bledisloe the Governor General of New Zealand, so that this competition started at about the same time as racing at Mount Panorama.

Bledisloe Cup on display in Sydney 2014

Lord Bledisloe, an avid rugby fan was President of the Lydney rugby club near his family home in Gloucestershire, a position he held for some 70 years until his death. He took his passion with him to New Zealand and surely would be happy with what he started.

Lydney was near the ancient hamlet of Bledisloe, which is recorded in the Domesday Book during the reign of William the Conqueror and which gave its name to his title. But the interesting connection is that Lord Bledisloe’s name was Charles Bathurst, a relative (second cousin three times removed) of the namesake of our wonderful City.

Sydney Metro Northwest OR Public Transport Pub Lunch

Does a group of retired civil engineers who have known each other for some 55 years need an excuse to meet for a pub lunch? Of course not, but having other elements of common interest for the get-together can certainly add to the enjoyment of the day.
Previous lunches have tended to be city-based and focussed on heritage aspects of our beautiful Sydney (see my blog of 18 June 2018). However, for our latest outing it was proposed that we give it more of an engineering theme with an on-site inspection of the newly completed Sydney Metro Northwest.
Coming from all over the metropolitan area as we do, a convenient rendezvous and starting point for our excursion was the Occidental Hotel in York Street near Wynyard. We have visited this establishment previously and enjoyed the atmosphere in this 1850s building. When all assembled, refreshed and our gold Opal cards in-hand we set off by train to Chatswood where we were able to merely cross the platform to board the waiting Metro train.
The train itself was like one continuous carriage with no internal doors. It sped along at 80 kph through the tunnel section of the trip and we were able to easily walk to the front of the train to check on the driver, but he/she must have been on a coffee break. There was a staff member aboard and she performed an excellent public relations role, answering all our questions and assuring us that she could take control of the train if ever required.

A Metro Station

The Elegant Skytrain

Once out of the tunnel the train could travel at up to 100kph along the elevated “skytrain” section while we enjoyed the vista of north-western Sydney all the way to the end of the line at Tallawong station.
After giving the rolling stock our tick of approval we detrained at Rouse Hill to get a closer look at the appointment of that modern station and the construction of the elevated structure as it swept away to the west above Windsor Road.

Windsor Road at Rouse Hill

A short stroll along that road brought us to the old heritage listed stone building that was the “Mean Fiddler Inn”. Dating from the 1820s and variously known as the Royal Oak Inn, the Queens Arms Inn and the White Hart Inn, it served as a popular watering hole between Parramatta and Windsor/Richmond.

The Mean Fiddler

Now known simply as The Fiddler after “cleaning up its act” (Daily Telegraph 25/10/2014) for being known as New South Wales’ most violent pub. Today it caters for the local community and is much more family friendly. We lunched and enjoyed the Irish pub atmosphere complete with Guinness pie, amidst the historic eclectic decore.
Our luncheon outing was completed by retracing our steps to the City.
We were all greatly impressed by the both engineering and operational aspects of this new public transport facility, and looking at the planned future expansion of the network it promises to be a big step towards meeting Sydney’s transport needs.

The Marco Polo, “Bully” Forbes and the Livingstons

The Marco Polo was in its time called the “fastest ship in the world”. She was a 1625 ton three masted clipper ship built by James Smith and Co. of St. John, New Brunswick in Canada and launched in 1851. In 1852 she was bought by James Baines of the Black Ball Line and refitted for passengers specifically for the Australian packet service of assisted emigrants.

Thomas Robertson (1819-1873) Courtesy of State Library of Victoria

The Illustrated London Times described the Marco Polo: “her lines fore and aft are beautifully fine…she has an entrance as sharp as a steamboat [and a] bottom like a yacht; she has above water all the appearance of a frigate”

The master engaged for the Marco Polo was Scotsman Captain James Nicol “Bully” Forbes. The first voyage to Australia departed from Liverpool on 4 July 1852 and on board were my Scottish 3x great-grandparents James and Isabella Livingston and their five children.

Extract for Marco Polo’s passenger list

The Marco Polo sailed from the Mersey bound for Melbourne in July 1852 with some “930 government emigrants” on board, 661 were Scottish, and arrived at Hobson’s Bay in Port Phillip 68 days later on 18 September. The ship almost immediately returned to England arriving back in Liverpool on Boxing Day, after a 76 day voyage; the whole return trip being less than some ships took in the trip to Australia.

The regular “Admiralty Route” to Australia consisted basically of following the 39th parallel across the Indian Ocean after replenishing supplies at the Cape of Good Hope. This provided mariners with a single straight course to steer. In the first half of the nineteenth century the voyage from England to Australia averaged 120 days. The length of the journey was a deterrent to many prospective emigrants.

Clipper ships, like Marco Polo, as well as being able to attain high speeds under ideal conditions were also able to make progress when most vessels were becalmed (in the equatorial doldrums of the Atlantic). However there was another factor that contributed to Marco Polo’s record breaking voyage. Instead of following the Admiralty route Forbes adopted a course based on Towson’s “great circle” theory.

John Thomas Towson was a scientific examiner of masters and mates at Liverpool. He realised that because the earth is a sphere the shortest route between two points on the earth was in fact a curve and not a straight line. He termed this curve the “great circle”.

The apparent direct route across the Indian Ocean (following the 39th parallel) was longer than the “great circle” route which in practice became a series of chords on that curve. Adopting this required great skill using both the sextant and the chronometer so that would masters know precisely when to alter course (along the next chord). In 1847 Towson’s published his “Tables to Facilitate the Practice of Great Circle Sailing” and he was awarded £1,000.

The great circle to Australia led into Antarctica and hundreds of kilometres south of the Cape of Good Hope. In practice this was modified due to the extreme weather conditions, big seas and the risk of collision with ice bergs. However the winds of the roaring forties and to further south also made progress much quicker.

Bully Forbes was not the first to use Towson’s theory with Captain Godfrey in the Constance in 1850 ventured far south following Towson’s theory and reached Adelaide in 77 days. Few other such voyages followed until the record voyage of the Marco Polo after which the great circle route became more the norm especially in the rush by emigrants to get to the Victorian gold fields.

“The Marco Polo completed the round trip to Australia a total of twenty-five times in the fifteen years after the first voyage bringing around 150,000 immigrants to Victoria.” However, “Bully” Forbes virtually ended his master’s career in 1855 when attempting to set a record for the voyage to Australia in under 60 days in the 2600 ton Schomberg. This ship that he captained ran aground on a sandbar near Curdies River at the approach to Bass Strait.

My Scottish Livingston ancestors James and Isabella, who sailed on the Marco Polo, hailed from the village of Laroch in Argyllshire where their five children were born. James had been employed in the slate quarries in the Ballaculish area.

Why James decided, at the age of 47 years to leave home for Australia with his young family might never been exactly known, the Victorian gold rush had started and he received assisted passage.

The voyage to Australia was known to be an arduous one, but at that time many people, and probably the Livingstons, were conditioned to hardship.

One emigrating couple (from Somerset) wrote:

“The conditions [on the ship] were clearly not intolerable…if you lived on 7s 6d a week in a cottage built of mud and straw with an earth floor and a thatched roof, relieving yourself at the bottom of the garden into a pit with a rough seat bench over it, drawing your water from a well which might be several hundred yards away, and cooking your food over an open fire”.
(Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard)

There was a measles epidemic on board. 52 people died, 46 of whom were children under four years of age.

The following are extracts for Marco Polo’s passenger list showing: Livingston family: James, Isabella and young children,
and, single male: son, James.

It appears that both James and Isabella “reduced” their ages in these records possibly to meet eligibility requirement of assisted passage.

After arriving at Port Phillip on 18 September 1852, little is known where and how they lived, although it is likely that headed for the gold fields. Only a few years later in 1858, their daughter and my 2x great-grandmother Ann was married to Richard Robins Warren at Sandhurst (now Bendigo) and in 1863 James registered a mining claim there.

In later life James and Isabella lived at Kerang in northern Victoria and are buried in the local cemetery in unmarked graves. They lived to the ripe old age of 80 and 88 years old respectively.

References
*Charlwood, Don, “The Long Farewell: A history of the first migrations to Australia”,
1998, Burgewood Books, Warrandyte
*Empire (Sydney, NSW: 1850 – 1875), Wed 29 Sep 1852 , Page 2 , MELBOURNE SHIPPING.
*Western District Families – Stories of Pioneering Families From the Western District of
Victoria, https://westerndistrictfamilies.com/tag/marco-polo/
* Thompson, John, “Hell or Melbourne in 60 days”

Our Joycie Violet

You may not have met our Joycie Violet.

She started life in 2010 at Valley Heights with Chinese ancestry but the ability to adjust well to our Australian way of life, and now residing happily at Picnic Point.

She loves our summer months but arguably looks her best at this time of year. Today is an especially fine sunny winter’s day at 22 degrees and with a gentle breeze. So, as I sit on the deck I can enjoy the golden shower of leaves that make a golden carpet where there was green lawn. Joycie Violet’s close neighbour (Crepe) Myrtle has lost her beautiful pink flowers and then her bronzed leaves some time ago and stands naked. Now it is Joycie’s turn as her vibrant green coat turn golden and then falls. Joycie always seems to cling onto her coat as long as possible and the warmer-than-usual autumn appears to have further prolonged her desire for modesty.

This magnificent, much-loved centre-piece of our small yard, grown from a stick in the Blue Mountains now surpasses her progenitor as a fine example of her species.

Within a short time she will also stand completely unadorned and allow the winter sun to intrude into her domain. Her carpet of leaves will be cleared away, maybe before grandchildren can rake them into piles for jumping into. This fun has provided some connection for these children to the great grandmother they never knew.

Our Joycie Violet is a gracious lady and a fitting reminder of her namesake Violet Joyce Bruce who left us nineteen years ago.

Our Darling River in a Land of “Droughts and Flooding Rains”

I do not class myself as a “greenie” (a person who campaigns for protection of the environment) but my environmental conscious was pricked when in the last two days two separate news items brought home to me the need for urgent action. I felt obliged to write this blog.

The first item was the latest Australian Story on the ABC called “Cry Me a River” about the plight of the Darling River at Menindee near Broken Hill. The current situation along our once darling river (without capitals) is a result of Government authority decision-making, emanating from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, in conjunction with the current severe drought conditions.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority was established after the millennium drought, regarded as our worst ever drought. The Basin Plan 2012 was prepared under the Water Act 2007 by the Authority. The following is an excerpt from the Plan:

“5.02      Objectives and outcome for Basin Plan as a whole

(1)       The objectives for the Basin Plan …

(2)       The outcome for the Basin Plan as a whole is a healthy and working Murray‑Darling Basin that includes:

(a)       communities with sufficient and reliable water supplies that are fit for a range of intended purposes, including domestic, recreational and cultural use; and

(b)      productive and resilient water-dependent industries, and communities with confidence in their long‑term future; and

(c)       healthy and resilient ecosystems with rivers and creeks regularly connected to their floodplains and, ultimately, the ocean.”

On 24 December 2018, WaterNSW noted on their website that:

“A Red Alert level warning (high alert) for blue-green algae has been issued for the Darling River at Louth and Trevallyn, located in the Far West region.

Both sites are located upstream of the Menindee Lake system where multiple Red Alerts are already in place.”

As we know, the situation resulted in three major fish kills that occurred in the Darling River near Menindee in December 2018 and January 2019. The resultants Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling river system has found that river allocations were driven by politics, and called for a complete overhaul of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It argued that a scientific approach must be taken in determining how much water should be returned to the environment. (new.com.au on 1 Feb 2019)

As the champion of the Australian Story, a young Kate McBride indicated that all the decisions and actions were apparently quite legal but asked the question of whether they were moral. Irrespective there was undoubtedly a failure here in regard to the “outcome[s] for the Basin Plan” and it is only hoped that as a community and nation we can do something about this matter.

The Darling River is of special significance for me because my great-grandfather, Henry Harrison Briscoe lived and worked around Wilcannia from the 1870s. Later with his family he spent several years at other places along its banks like Louth and Bourke. Paddle steamers used had the Darling for river trade (except in drought times) until about 1880 when more reliable roads and railways were established. The river played a significant role in opening up the outback.

During a recent visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales a painting by William Charles Piguenit caught my eye. Painted in 1895 it is called The flood in the Darling 1890, depicting when the town of Bourke was submerged by floodwaters. I understand that despite the current drought there will more than likely be other floods on the Darling, but the difference between the scene in this painting and the present reality was striking.
“The flood in the Darling 1890” by W C Piguenit (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

The Darling will never again be as navigable as it was in those early days, but it still has important social, economic and environmental contributions to make, and on which many rely. I hope we can learn to love our darling river again.

The second item was the United Nations report on the decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, but maybe more about that later…