TALK GIVEN BY BILL BRABAZON ON THE BRABAZON FAMILY CRUISE NOVEMBER 2007
About 18 months ago, when Moira and I first decided to come on this cruise, I rather stuck my neck out when I e-mailed Chris and offered to give a talk to the Brabazons in our group. He was far too much of a gentleman to reject my offer, and left it up to me to talk for 20-30 minutes and left the subject matter over to me.
So here we go. First, I'll introduce myself, tell you a little about my home country and the Brabazons there, then go on to talk about a journey Moira and I made to a significant Brabazon spot in Europe.
My name is Bill Brabazon. I was born 81 years ago in a town called Whangarei in the north of New Zealand's North Island. When I was 4 my father died, and my mother, sister and I moved to Auckland, 100 miles south, and that has been my home since. I received all my schooling there, then graduated in medicine from the University of Otago, in the South Island, in 1951.Back in Auckland, I spent 3 years learning my trade, as it were, in the local hospitals before setting up in general practice in the Eastern Suburbs. I retired finally from medicine 6 years ago.
During my hospital years guess what! I met Moira, one of the nurses at National Women's Hospital, we got married , and now, nearly 53 years later, she is still my favourite nurse. We had 2 daughters and 3 sons, and now have 10 grandchildren, some of them scattered round the world a bit, but we are lucky that one son, 2 daughters and 4 grandchildren live in and around Auckland.
Moira and I sold our family home nearly 3 years ago, and are very happily settled in a retirement village in the same part of Auckland where we have lived all our married life.
Some years ago, when we were traveling in Europe, we spent a pleasant evening with 2 ladies who lived in Toronto, but had come originally from Spain. We must have made frequent references to our country during the evening. Anyway, as we said good-night to them, one of them turned to me and said "Tell me something: vhere iss NZ?" Perhaps you know more about NZ than those 2 ladies. Some of you may have been there.
If so you will know that it is a long and narrow country in the South Pacific, sitting roughly in a north-south direction, consisting of 2 main islands. Both have rather long Maori names, but are known universally and rather un-imaginatively as the North Island and the South Island. Some would insist that there is a third island, the West Island, but quite frankly it is rather a long way to the west, 1200 miles in fact, and most people know it by its other name, Australia. But that's enough of that talk! We really do love our Aussie neighbours, except perhaps when they are beating us on the sporting field, which seems to happen just a little too often. In particular Moira and I have the greatest love and respect for Ann Shevill, who has done so much to bring our world-wide Brabazon family together. But I digress.
NZ is a self-governing country within the British Commonwealth. The capital city is Wellington. The Head of State is the Queen of NZ, Elizabeth II, who of course is the Queen of England too. She is represented in NZ by an officer called the Governor-General. In actual practice we make all our own laws and decide our own foreign policy. Our flag is blue, with 4 red stars representing the Southern Cross, and a Union Jack in the top left-hand corner.
There are some, including our lovely lady Prime Minister, who would like to see NZ a republic with a different flag and our ties to Britain severed. I am not one of those people.
NZ has had known human habitation for about 1000 years. The first inhabitants were a Polynesian race, which we know today as Maori, who by wonderful skills of navigation and seamanship fond their way there in a series of migrations from other smaller Pacific islands. They settled mainly in coastal areas of the North Island, where it was warmer, and plenty of food available, especially in the sea. Nevertheless, they seemed to have plenty to fight about. Inter-tribal warfare was rife, and the vanquished were subject to cannibalism
The British were somewhat reluctant colonizers at first, but without going into the details of the matter, a treaty was signed between the Queen's representative, on the one hand, and the chiefs of as many Maori tribes as could be accessed around the country, and NZ became a British colony in1840. This Treaty of Waitangi is seen by some as the great founding document of the nation, by others as a source of disharmony and tension, as people can't agree as to the true interpretation of the document, written in English, but also translated into Maori by the missionaries.
Some outright warfare took place in the 1850's to 70's between Maori and Pakeha (the Maori word for a white man), and there is still some lingering ill feeling, in spite of extensive inter-marriage. There are in fact no pure Maoris still alive, though Maori culture is alive and well, and they are doing their best to preserve their native language, more a cultural thing than a practical reality though.
Over the 19th and early 20th centuries NZ gradually became more self-governing and less dependent on Britain, We participated actively, and without hesitation, in both World Wars, with heavy loss of life.
Until 1945 our population was predominantly white, of British and Irish stock, with maybe 10% of the people being Maori, and those living mainly in the North. In the post-war years there was a wave of Pacific Island immigration, mainly from the Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga, and this provided labour for growing manufacturing industries, especially in Auckland and Wellington. In more recent times we have had a lot of Indian and Chinese immigrants, and in fact Asians now comprise about 10% of the population of Auckland.
We are a small country with only 4.2 million people, fewer, I believe, than Australia's largest city. 80% of the whole are concentrated in the main urban centres, especially Auckland (1.1/4 million)
Unlike Australia, our mineral resources are scarce, and we still depend a great deal on exports from the farm, paper mills, and in recent years, the vineyard. If they are selling any sauvignon blanc from Marlborough on this ship you should try a bottle.
Tourism is very important to us, and I'd like to make a plug for that too. Though NZ is a small country, there is a wide variety of scenery and other attractions without going too far when you get there. The North Island has glorious coastal scenery and beaches, and interesting thermal activity round Rotorua, with a bit of Maori culture thrown in. The lakes, mountains and glaciers in the South Island are legendary. Probably the best time to come is February, March and April, our late summer to early Autumn. But come for 2-3 weeks: I have met so many Americans who think they have "done" our part of the world by spending 2-3 days in Australia and the same in NZ, and not done justice to either country. One word of warning though: if you take a rental car, keep to the left!. We follow what may seem a quaint British custom in that respect, as with many other aspects of life.
Our main cities are not without interest, and have their own distinctive features. For instance Auckland has something of a cosmopolitan character these days. It has been built on a narrow isthmus containing about 50 small extinct volcanoes and is almost surrounded by sea This is in the narrowest part of the North Island, so much so that the city extends from one coast to the other, and to the north and the south. To the east of the city is a gulf of semi-sheltered water studded with islands and something of a yachtsman's paradise. It was a fitting home for several years for the America's Cup, the world's most sought-after yachting prize.
It's a long time, even in geological terms, since NZ became physically separate from the great southern continent of Gondwana, of which Australia was also a part. So we have our own very characteristic fauna and flora. Luckily this does not include snakes, and no-one has ever been stupid enough to introduce them. But many of our distinct native animals are either extinct or endangered. Into the endangered category comes that strange-looking, nocturnal flightless bird we call the kiwi, which has become our national symbol. In fact we refer to ourselves as Kiwis. I believe some of our less affable Aussie neighbours have other nicknames for us, but I don't propose to mention them in mixed company!
As for Brabazons in NZ, there have been 3 separate lots.
John Brabazon and later his brother Joseph settled in the high country of the South Island in the 1860's for a time, and worked on a large sheep station for Samuel Butler, a notable English author. Butler wrote a book called Erewhon (Nowhere spelt backwards, or almost so), set in a fanciful country thought to be NZ's Southern Alps. Mt Brabazon in that region is named after John. Butler and the Brabazon brothers ultimately returned to England, leaving no descendants in NZ.
Another Joseph Brabazon came to Auckland from Ireland with his large family about 1890, and was headmaster of several schools in the Auckland area .In the depression of the late 1890's he took off to Australia, and we met several of his descendants when we attended a reunion in Australia organized by Ann Shevill several years ago. Joseph Brabazon left behind him in NZ a couple of married daughters, but no sons to carry on the name. Descended from one of the daughters is Jan Barnes, a very keen Brabazon genealogist.
So that left only one other Brabazon family in our country, our own. My grandfather John emigrated from Ireland in the 1870's, and went farming in Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of the North Island. He had several daughters but only one son, William, my father, to carry on the name. I too was an only son, but have done my bit in fathering 3 sons and having 6 grandsons bearing the name.
I want to tell you now about a visit Moira and I made in Europe..
You will know that all Brabazons round the world trace their descent to Jacques le Brabanzon, who, before he accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066, lived alongside a little lake called the Lac de Barbencon, now situated in modern-day Belgium. We decided some years ago that the ultimate Brabazon pilgrimage would have to be to this little lake. Ann Shevill had been there, and we thought we would give it a go
The opportunity came in November 2005. We had just completed a bus tour of Normandy and the Loire Valley, followed by a few days to ourselves in Paris.
We didn't know a great deal about where we were going. We did know that the lake was in the district of Hainault, that adjacent to the lake were the ruins of the family castle, that the lake was 7Km from the nearest village, Beaumont, with no public transport between the two, but that there was a regular bus service between Beaumont and the nearest city, Charleroi. Before leaving home I had found out on the internet that at the lakeside there was a café, picnic spot and children's playground, and I had taken note of the phone number.
So,
From Paris we took a fast train to Brussels, and from there a local train to Charleroi, where we had booked ourselves in for two nights,
Charleroi is off the tourist beat, but not lacking in interest. The King Charles from which the name is derived was the King of Spain in the 17th Century, and this part of the world was ruled by Spain, then at the height of her power. It was a small town until the discovery of coal at the time of the Industrial Revolution. It now has a population of 60,000, and is one of the principal towns of Wallonia, the name given to the SE part of Belgium, where the language used is French, as opposed to Flanders in the NW part of the country, where they speak Flemish. We soon got to realize that there were racial and temperamental, as well as linguistic, differences between the people in the two parts of Belgium. Furthermore, I understand the situation is worse now than we realized, so much so that the viability of Belgium as an entity is somewhat in doubt.
I don't know a word of Flemish, but that didn't matter in that part of Belgium, and some knowledge of French proved to be useful when I rang from Charleroi. I spoke to the only contact I had, the proprietor of the café by the lake, whose name was Stephan. He spoke no English at all, but when I explained to him who I was, and why we wanted to go there, he gallantly offered to meet us at the bus stop at Beaumont the next morning at 10.41.
The bus ride was through very pleasant countryside, which would have appeared even better if the bus company had bothered to clean the passenger windows once in a while. At least the driver could see through his windscreen, which was reassuring. On arrival at Beaumont there in his car and true to his word was mine host from the café, Stephan Pollaert. Stephan, who has lived in the area all his life, was very pleasant company. He told us that there was no taxi at Beaumont (contrary to what we had been told by others), so it is as well that we had made that contact. We really felt that, even if a rental car company had taken us on board, we were past the stage of driving on the wrong side of the road, in spite of managing quite OK when we were younger.
The lake was tiny (almost a large pond), but with a charm of its own, and the weather (bad the day before) was beautifully fine. Apart from the little café, there are a few houses and the remnants of a castle, which is being restored. Stephan called the owner over to see us and the latter took us to see his mammoth restoration project. The castle had been bought a year previously by a Dutchman, Wouter Bymoer. Wouter, a fluent speaker of English, was a well-to-do businessman who retired in his mid-50's, and with his wife Lies he had begun the daunting task of restoring it, with pretty well no other assistance.
Wouter presented us with a little book detailing the history of the castle. My interpretation of the French text, which I did my best to sort out after we got home, is that the older part of the castle is at least 950 years old, and that my ancestor Jacques would have lived there prior to setting off for England in 1066. The castle survived a major fire in 1406, and the Barbencon family continued to occupy the castle till the end of the 17th Century. At that stage the family took off for Spain, where the line persists to the present day.
The castle though, under various owners in turn, is still there, and still bears the name Barbencon. Some damage was caused during the French revolution, the area at the time being part of France. At the outbreak of the 1st World War the castle was occupied as the HQ of a French infantry brigade, but not for long. It was soon to be over-run by the Germans and used later as an air force base. It was interesting to read that the final liberation of the castle and adjacent village in November 1918 was per favour of a combined English and Australian division commanded by a Major-General Strickland. The local inhabitants never forgot to their dying day the victory celebration the general turned on for them in the castle.
But to return to our trip.
Wouter and his wife were living in an old tower of the original castle, and had already restored other parts of the tower and fitted them out as luxury holiday apartments, which they were marketing in Holland.
Another part of the castle dates from the 19th Century only, and the inside of this part was destroyed by fire in 1966. It is this portion that they intend restoring as their ultimate residence. Wouter is an eager beaver , and combines his natural Dutch inclination for hard work with obvious skills as a bricklayer, carpenter, plumber and electrician, with a bit of archaeology thrown in! He was very generous of his time in showing us over his huge project.
Incidentally, Wouter commented that he doesn't get on well with his neighbours, who refer to him as the mad Dutchman. They can't come to terms with the intensity he applies to his restoration work, while his attitude towards his French- speaking Belgian neighbours and their laid-back lifestyle is rather contemptuous---"a thoroughly lazy lot!"
We had lunch in Stephan's establishment and he took us back to the bus at Beaumont
Well, What a day it was! We had taken a bit of a gamble which could have resulted in a tame anti-climax, or even total disaster, and it was anything but! The beautiful day, the lovely little lake, the ancestral castle under restoration, and the warm welcome given by Stephan and Wouter to total strangers, combined to make the 3 November 2005 one of the outstanding days of our lives.
And this story has a nice little post-script. Only a month ago we received at home a surprise visit from a young couple who had spent a year in NZ on a working holiday and were about to return home. Ben came from France and Delphine from the village of Barbencon. Stephan had given her our name and address when he knew she was going to NZ. They spent a delightful hour with us. We were absolutely thrilled to see them, as we would be if any of you here were to turn up on our doorstep.