Visiting the Land Down Under

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
October 22, 2015

Following the first leg of our Australian adventure, Capt. James Cook Chapter Regent Carolyn Benn and her husband, David, picked us up at the airport on Wednesday evening, Sept. 2nd and gave us a driving tour of downtown Sydney.  We walked around the Opera House and Mrs. MacQuarie’s chair, a sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench, on a peninsula in Sydney Harbor.  The bench was hand carved by convicts in 1810 for Governor MacQuarie's wife, Elizabeth. Folklore has it that she used to sit on the rock and watch for ships from Great Britain sailing into the harbor.

Sydney is centered on a lovely harbor and we were very impressed with the ferry system.  On Thursday we enjoyed riding the ferry to Manly, the area in which the Benns live.  We strolled along the streets and watched surfers from the beach.  David gave us a tour of the North Head Sanctuary which was an area important to the defense of Sydney during World War II.  This area also served as an immigration and quarantine center for those whose health would not permit their passage into the country.  High above a cliff is a cemetery where over 240 were buried during the smallpox epidemic.  Can you imagine traveling across the world to a new country, only to die of smallpox?  As we were leaving the area, we encountered an Echidna, resembling a porcupine but a relative to a spiny anteater.  It was definitely not something I wanted to pet…

Carolyn had arranged for a visit to the Manly Art Gallery and Museum where Dr. Annette Gero was exhibiting some of the war quilts she had acquired which were made by soldiers and prisoners of war from pieces of uniforms, army blankets and other military fabrics.  The quilts in the exhibit dated from the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15), the Crimean War (1853-56) and World Wars One and Two. Annette explained that she was not a quilter, but loved the history which could be learned from quilts.  We walked across the street to the Benn’s home overlooking the harbor were we enjoyed a delicious dinner with the Benns, Annette, and Gaila and James Merrington.

On Friday morning we visited the State Library of New South Wales where the curator provided a fascinating glimpse of the logs, drawings and maps of Capt. James Cook.  The Library has an impressive collection of documents and items from the Cook voyages and we all enjoyed seeing them and learning more about the voyages.  In fact, Capt. Cook’s maps were so accurate that they are still used today.  Although Australia was first discovered by the Dutch in 1606, it was claimed for Great Britain in 1770 when it was discovered by Capt. James Cook. Following Britain’s loss in the American Revolution, they needed a place for their convicts and settled Australia as a penal colony beginning in 1778. Learn more here.

After enjoying tea in the lovely Shakespeare Room of the Library, we visited the Hyde Park Barracks Museum nearby in which 166,000 men, women and children were held between 1788-1868.

That evening we rode the ferry a short distance to the other end of the Harbor Bridge where we enjoyed a cocktail reception at the home of Vivian Valbuena and her husband, David Buxbaum.  Their view of the Opera House and Bridge was magnificent!  Carolyn displayed the Origins Map, a study of when the chapter members’ families arrived in Australia, the area from which they came, the method of travel and where their patriot ancestors were located.  Some of the members have been in Australia since it was settled 5 generations ago, others had ancestors arriving during the Gold Rush of the 1850’s and several moved there as adults.

Saturday morning the Chapter meeting was held at the home of Organizing Regent Charlene Bradley and her husband, Graham. Some of the members attending traveled hundreds of miles and Texas Daughter Laura Ann Dresser flew in from Papua New Guinea to attend the meeting. Carolyn opened with the meeting with a version of The Lord’s Prayer from 1776.  Dare Skinner gave the acknowledgement of country, a traditional greeting of respect of the original custodians of the land.

Carolyn showed the “Swim the River” video in which indigenous people are encouraged to seek education in order to break the cycle of poverty and substance abuse. The chapter is generous with their resources and supports Outback indigenous projects, the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney, an inner city women’s refuge and CAYLUS, Central Australian Youth Link UP to improve the quality of life for young people in Central Australia. Charlene gave examples of some of the household items which could be recycled and the ways in which it would directly benefit the community.

Following my address, Carolyn presented a generous contribution to the President General’s Project and in turn, I gave Carolyn a certificate for 100% participation in the Project. It was a pleasure to present awards which the chapter received during Congress. Carolyn gave me a Kangaroo charm from the chapter and a hand painted silk scarf.  She also presented a Boomerang charm from Captain Matthew Flinders Chapter in Melbourne.  We regretted that the ladies from Melbourne could not join us.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch with the members and their husbands at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron while watching a sailboat race in the harbor. We adjourned to the terrace for a Memorial Service for past Chapter Regent Wendy Deniher.  Laura Ann joined us on the water taxi as we returned to our hotel for dinner.

Sydney is a beautiful city and we loved walking downtown, traveling by ferry, and the cool air.  The weather was superb as it was one of the first days of spring. The members explained that even in the summer (our winter), they have frequent cool breezes from Antarctica.

The most photographed sites in Sydney are the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.  The Bridge opened in 1932 and is the world’s largest steel arch bridge. Steve and I climbed it on Sunday, 440 feet above the harbor.  The climb to the top of the bridge took over an hour, but as our guide said, it took only 3 seconds to fall down...  

Steve has a cousin living in Sydney and she joined us for dinner Sunday night. Carolyn and David returned us to the airport Monday morning and we said our goodbyes.  We headed back to Texas with fond memories of Australia and the wonderful members we met in the Land Down Under.

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