Island Life Magazine Ltd February/March 2009 - Page 56

life FEATURE A PIECE OF ISLAND LIFE DOWN UNDER By June Elford Photo - Phillip Island - Cowes Jetty Australia is the largest island on earth and 32 times larger than Britain. It sits on the other side of the world but there are some surprising links between Oz and the Isle of Wight. The temperature gauge on the car registers 34°C as I drive into Brisbane. It’s December and summer in Queensland with the poinciana trees in the city’s suburbs ablaze with scarlet-red blossom. So why start with the city of Brisbane, state capital of Queensland and named after Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor General of New South Wales from 1821 – 1825? The clue lies on Ventnor Esplanade. Sir Thomas served with Sir Willoughby Gordon under the Duke of Wellington during the War of the Spanish Peninsular and the two men became close friends with Sir Thomas often visiting the Island and staying at Sir Willoughby’s home, ‘The Orchard’, at Nito n Undercliff. Sir Thomas was an amateur astronomer and the Duke of Wellington is reputed to have remarked “He (Sir Thomas) kept the Time of the Army” - the General was later appointed President of the Edinburgh Astronomical Institution. During one of his visits to the Island he gave a gnomon, or sundial, to Ventnor and today it stands on the Esplanade, an 8 ft. (2.4 m.) high cast iron spike topped with a gold-painted ball. 56 When the sundial was set up in 1851 the pole cast a long shadow at noon across the road to a circular plaque on the opposite wall recording Sir Thomas Brisbane’s gift to the town and Ventnor’s latitude and longitude. The shadow cast by the sun at twelve o’clock was so accurate that the people of Ventnor could set their clocks and watches by it until ‘The Gaiety’ (formerly known as ‘The Pavilion’ and later an amusement arcade) was built and the wall opposite the sundial was demolished. The stone was moved further down the road but during repair the figures showing the Ventnor’s geographical position were altered. Finally, the stone was rescued by Ventnor Heritage Centre where it’s housed today. Look for the gnomon on the Esplanade and next to the spike you’ll see stones set in the pavement showing the correct representation of where the meridian line falls at noon (GMT) and to the left of the gnomon a square replica tablet with the inscription: Presented by Sir Thomas Brisbane Latitude 50° 35.8 N, Longitude 1° 12.6W In later life Sir Thomas retired to his estates in Scotland until his death in 1860. Sadly, all his children predeceased him including a daughter, Eleanor Australia, who had died aged 29 years at Ventnor. Leaving Brisbane, I follow the trail to New South Wales and Ryde on the Parramatta River, the third oldest settlement in Australia. In 1839 when George Edward Reever Turner and his wife Margaret arrived from the Isle of Wight to take up his appointment as minister to the church, the settlement was called ‘Kissing Point’ because heavily laden boats passing up the river bumped or ‘kissed’ the rocky outcrop at Kissing Point. Margaret Turner so disliked the name “she spat the dummy”, as the Australians say, and changed the name to Ryde because it reminded her of home. The new name was officially adopted in 1840. Other settlers arrived including the Popes from Newport, Isle of Wight. G.M. Pope was the settlement’s first postmaster and he also opened the ‘Ryde Store’ while a younger son built the first courthouse. The original Popes are buried in the graveyard at St. Anne’s church and their descendants still live in the town where you can find streets The Island's new funky radio station www.wightFM.com