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This page includes some of stories shared by our members in MEMBERS CORNER.

Robin Huctheon 18 October 2021


When in 200 BC the first emperor of China, Chin Chi Huang Tih, wanted to prolong his life he took the advice of his courtiers and swallowed a glassful of mercury. Not once, but frequently. It did not work out well as the terracotta warriors at Xian testify..

Yet Chinese people are culinary extremophiles, and their banquets attest to the fact that everything that crawls, wriggles, walks, runs, swims or flies is likely to end up on the table for lunch or dinner at some time.

So we have snake soup, sharks fin soup, birds nest soup, the private parts of tigers and bulls, the horns of rhinos, deep fried scorpions, and locusts, chickens feet, ducks tongues, bears paws, civet cat, bats,   pangolins….the list is endless as a visit to any dry market will testify. Every fish in the sea finds its way to the wet markets. You and I of course settle for humdrum sweet and sour pork and the like.

In my early life in Hongkong I shared a ground floor flat with a colleague who was once asked to baby-sit a small honey bear for a friend. This person had acquired the bear on a visit to a local market, rescuing it from  the table of some wealthy gourmet, and over a period of months had domesticated it to the point that it was as much a family pet as a dog or cat.

The honey bear stood about a metre high, had long claws, a voracious tongue, sharp but well disciplined teeth and the most beautiful eyes. He settled in comfortably with his new owner. He was named Noodnik.

As young bachelors we entertained, and one night invited a couple of friends to dinner. Malcolm was an Army captain who arrived kitted out as for a mess dinner. His wife Brenda was resplendent in a beautiful silk gown. Her hair was a work of art and her crimson nails were manicured to perfection.

After dinner she sat in the lounge chair before a roaring log fire and sipped coffee with the elegance of a lady of refinement.

My flat mate turned to her and said “Have you met Noodnik?”

“I don’t believe I have,” replied Brenda as the fumes of a post prandial brandy wafted past her delicate nostrils. She held out her right hand to the incoming Noodnik and suddenly became aware that the visitor was not quite human, was covered in black hair, had a long protruding pink nose, three centimetre nails and a tongue that was about to lick the extended hand.

The scream that followed must have been heard over all of mid levels Hongkong and at that point our dinner party ended abruptly and decisively. Captain Malcolm leapt up to shield his wife from attack in a manner reminiscent of the defence of Rorke’s Drift.

Noodnik enjoyed the experience, slurped up the spilt brandy, was about to rescue a discarded cigarette, when, like the young lady at the ball, the clock struck midnight and life returned to normal. Our guests had long since disappeared.

Noodnik was returned to his owner in due course, but later found a comfortable spot In the local zoo, where it lived happily for many years.

The only casualty of the night was that we lost our place on the Christmas card list of Brenda and Malcolm.


Ron Johnson 18 October 2021

Napoleon was interested in Australia

Recent research by Australian historians from Adelaide and Western Australia into French archives have shown just how near the British came to losing Old Sydney Town. As one Australian researcher said “I don’t know why this research hasn’t been done before”. We have been so immersed  in the English story that only recently has it been found that the French claimed Western Australia very shortly after Cook claimed the East Coast

Napoleon at the age of 16 wanted to join La Perouse’s voyage of discovery in the South Seas. La Perouse rejected the young Corsican as unsuitable. Napoleon loved history and geography, and admired Joseph Banks as a scientist.  When he was exiled to St Helena in 1815 he was allowed a small library and he chose to take the journals of Captain Cook, whom he also admired.

His interest in Australia was shared by his wife, Josephine. At their home Malmaison, south of Paris, she had a collection of Australian fauna and flora with an open air zoo and a hothouse. Amongst the wattle and bottlebrush, there were kangaroos, wallabies, emus and black swans, her favourite

The French had a long term interest in the Pacific. King Louis XV, two years after Cook’s voyage along the east coast of Australia , sent St Alouan to explore the west coast of Terra Incognito further. St Alouan entered Shark Bay, named by Dirk Hartog year’s earlier. There he hoisted the Royal flag of the Bourbon monarchy, a line of soldiers fired a volley into the air, and the French claimed  possession of the west coast. They then buried two bottles. In one bottle, French coins were put; in the other a document claiming sovereignty of the land. The coins were found in 1998, the other bottle was never found. This procedure was an accepted international way of claiming land. St Alouan died before reaching home. There was no follow-up. The claim’s validity has never been challenged nor contested

Some years later in 1802, Napoleon, now sole ruler of France, ordered Nicholas Baudin to explore and circumnavigate the  Australian continent. The story of the Baudin mission has two threads.

He did his job very well. His two ships produced excellent maps. The southern part of Australia he named Terre Napoleon. His maps were quite the equal of those of Flinders who has received much more acclaim. The two men crossed each other in the Great Australian Bight each going in the opposite direction on their journey along the coastline of Australia. His exploration brought back to France over 2500 species of fauna and flora. Many officers on Baudin’s two ships lost their sleeping cabins to house the animals and were not happy. In Baudin’s instructions was an order that he record any harbour sites. Although France and England were at war once more in 1803, Baudin spent three months in Sydney. This was possible because his two ships had been issued a passport by authorities which entitled them to put in at any port for supplies, rest, repairs and be given hospitality. They didn’t know they were at war again with England

Here the second thread in the story begins. Under cover of excessive bonne homie, Francois Peron the chief scientist on the expedition, was talking to everyone asking innocent questions. Farmers, officers, government officials, Governor King, sailors, boatmen, convicts you name it. He built up a considerable dossier of valuable information about old Sydney Town, including its geographical location and topography. La Sueur, the French artist, drew extremely accurate drawings of all the important buildings. The French knew the importance of knowing where to place artillery. Governor King was suspicious and hastened to claim Tasmania, probably forestalling an intention of Baudin. King was unsure what his area of governance was but no one else should be allowed to claim the empty spaces!

Peron presented his information to the Governor of The Isle de France (Mauritius) and a final report was given to the French government. He said the British occupation of the continent was an insult to all Europeans and it should be destroyed while it was easy to do so. He gave a plan to the government. He said the Town was easily attacked since it was undefended from the North or the South. Two frigates could block the harbour’s entrance. The soldiers were of poor quality and had low morale. The convicts would rise against the English and the aboriginals would join on the French side. He later said the colony should be captured and occupied. Peron pointed out that Sydney was a strategically   important base for the exploration and command of the Pacific as well as trade with South America India and China. Still is!

Was Baudin ordered by Napoleon to spy on Old Sydney Town? Peron hinted “yes  that was so”. There is no other evidence of that. But maybe?

At the battle of Trafalgar 1805 Napoleon lost control of the sea and the English relentlessly blockaded French ports. Napoleon turned his back on the ideas of invading England and set about conquering Europe. Generally the English knew what Napoleon was up to at sea. But the man who said “imaginative dreaming is essential for leadership” was not a man to give up.

In 1810, he ordered the Governor of Isle de France to assemble a fleet of ships and a body of troops to capture Sydney. The English gained intelligence of the plan and destroyed the French fleet off Mauritius ( Isle of F).

In 1814 the French made another attempt. It was to be a joint French American expedition. This renewed the French American alliance which had successfully won the American War of Independence. The Americans were now in a trade war with Britain, the War of 1812. A combined American and French fleet of 5 warships, a supply vessel were to sail across the Pacific and assemble at Twofold Bay Eden in NSW with 1300 soldiers, sailors, cavalry and artillery. The aim was to come up the Hawksbury River, seize Windsor and its garrison. The colony’s food supply would then be in French hands. The Irish convicts would rebel and Sydney would be in French hands.   The attempted invasion never got off the ground. It was probably because Napoleon was fighting for his very existence after the retreat from Moscow in 1812 and the rising of a European coalition against him.

So we could all be speaking French!!

Ron Johnson

MA (Oxon), MEd (Sydney), Dip Ed