Barbados: More than a beach
Roslyn Russell, National Museum of Australia, 15 September 2010
CAROLYN FOSTER: It’s lovely to see you all this afternoon and welcome to the Friends lounge. We’re absolutely delighted this afternoon because we have Roslyn Russell to speak to us. Ros is many things to the Friends. She is the editor of our Friends Magazine; she’s the editor of the Australian Federation of Friends of Museums Magazine; and she’s a historian and a museum specialist and has been working part-time at the Museum as a curator in gallery development and more recently in public programs - so she knows a lot about this institution. Ros has been working in the area of history and museums for over 20 years, both in Australia and overseas, and is the author of several books on Australian history.
In late 2005 Ros was commissioned to develop the content and interpretation for the Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery of Barbados in the capital Bridgetown. She has visited more than ten times to learn more about its history, its people, culture, past and present. Not only has Ros been jetting around the world, I think it’s Friday she goes to Germany. She has been to Iran recently. Some of those things are partly because she is the chair of the International Advisory Committee for UNESCO on the Memory of the World. We’re absolutely thrilled that Ros has been able to come today to talk to us. Some of these wonderful things here are her personal artefacts. Please welcome Ros.
ROSLYN RUSSELL: Thank you, Carolyn, for your kind words of introduction and thank you all for coming today on what is turning into a lovely day in Canberra but it’s lovelier probably, especially after our long, cold winter, in Barbados. As Carolyn said, I have had about five years’ worth of association with Barbados over the last half decade. I went there to work. I didn’t know much about Barbados, apart from the fact that it was a favourite holiday place for Brits and that they play cricket there. What I found out when I went there was that it was very much more than a beach, more than a holiday resort. It’s a place with an enormously rich history, a fascinating culture and wonderful people, some of whom are now amongst my closest friends.
Just a bit of background. I was commissioned, as Carolyn said, to work on the interpretation of the Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery in Bridgetown. I met the director of the Barbados Museum, Alissandra Cummins, who is also the President of ICOM [International Council of Museums], in China in 2005. She said to me, ‘Oh, you do exhibitions, you could do one for us.’ I thought how unlikely would that be, someone from Australia going all the way to Barbados to do exhibitions. But she asked me to apply for this particular job and I did, and I got it - more about that later.
Right now I want to do a bit of recapping. I am sure some of you have probably been to Barbados or know a lot about it but, just for those who are not as familiar as everybody else with the place, there are a few facts and figures I would like to talk to you about. Barbados is little. It’s a small island. [image shown] It looks a bit like a leg of lamb. It’s located right at the edge of the Antillean chain, and that inset map with Africa shows you it’s the closest of all the Caribbean islands to Africa. There is not much in the middle between Barbados and Africa.
Here are some facts and figures. It’s the easternmost island of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, right out beyond the major island chain that runs north to south. It has a total land area of 430 kilometres, so it is 5.5 times smaller than the ACT. It is 34 kilometres long and has a maximum breadth of 23 kilometres, but you can still get stuck in a traffic jam trying to go through Bridgetown. The highest point is Mt Hillaby, a mere 340 metres above sea level, so it is relatively flat. It doesn’t have the high mountains of the volcanic islands such as Saint Lucia. Eighty-five per cent of the island’s surface is coralline limestone so it’s not a volcanic island, it has a coral base and 80 per cent of the land is planted with sugarcane. Its population in 2006 was just under 280,000. So it’s a pretty small place but it has a big noise, a big voice in the Caribbean - a bit more about that later - and also a big voice in the world of tourism. Barbados is almost a byword for Brits as the place to go to for a holiday. I remember a song came out in the 1980s: ‘In the sun/ I will come/ to see Barbados.’ That was probably the only thing I knew about Barbados before I had a stronger connection with it.
That’s the land. [slide shown] This is from a slight elevation looking over the St George valley towards Bridgetown and the Caribbean Sea. It’s very green, undulating agricultural land, very productive land. The flower in the front is called the Pride of Barbados [or Caesalpinia pulcherrima] and it’s the national flower of Barbados. It’s divided into parishes. Like all the British-North American settlements, they start off with the parochial system as a basic unit of local administration and often of voting. The vestry was the first unit of representation in these colonies. The parishes are very distinctive. Remember how small this place is - each parish has a distinctive accent and it really does; we proved it. It starts at St Lucy in the north and goes down to Christ Church in the south and all the other saints in between. The capital city is Bridgetown down in the south. There are two other major centres: Speightstown and Holetown. It used to be called Little England or Bimshire. It’s very, very English, which sounds odd when you consider it has such a warm climate and is a very different sort of place. But the built environment of Barbados carries that idea, so do the people in many ways. You just have to go around some of the parish churches in Barbados to see why it’s called Little England. This could be somewhere in England [image shown].
QUESTION: You said it was a coral island. Where did they get the stone?
ROSLYN RUSSELL: Coralstone. This is St George’s Church. You may not be able to see it, but the banner in that corner is a Mothers Union banner. It’s very much like a parish church in the UK. This is St John’s Church, another one of the famous coralstone churches in Barbados. One of the graveyard memorials there is for a man who was the last of the Palaeologos line of the Christian emperors of Greece, and others of various people - very much like our churchyards, and churchyards in England, except of course for the palm trees.
This is the Atlantic coast [image shown]. There are two coasts, the Caribbean coast and the Atlantic coast. At the Atlantic coast the sea is deeper and darker and rougher. There is surfing there. I was standing when I took this photograph with a Barbadian friend of mine looking out over the ocean and she said, ‘There’s nothing between here and Africa,’ and I thought ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing.’ This is very much part of the story of Barbados’s early history: its proximity to Africa in relation to some of the other Caribbean islands.
This is Codrington College [image shown], once part of an old plantation but now turned into a theological college through a foundation. The Codrington family is a very famous family who owned a number of plantations, not only in Barbados but also some other Caribbean islands.
Here is Lord Nelson in Bridgetown [image shown]. It is standing in what used to be called Trafalgar Square - this all happened before Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London. So Lord Nelson was in statue form in Bridgetown before he appeared in London itself. The reason being was that Lord Nelson’s British fleet chased the French out of the Caribbean - or at least far enough away not to be a problem - during the Napoleonic Wars and the Seven Years War, and also Nelson was a great supporter of the slave-owning interests, so the grateful planters of Barbados erected a statue in his honour. This, of course, is very controversial since the place has become one of black majority rule. There have been furious debates about whether they should pitch Nelson into the Careenage, which is the waterway that runs into Bridgetown, but he’s still there and they view this statue as part of their history too, so I think he’ll probably stay there for a while. The square is now called National Heroes Square.
This is the base of Barbados’ wealth: sugar and slavery - one produced by the other. Remember I said that Barbados was the closest of all the Caribbean islands to Africa. In the triangular trade where ships went from the English ports to Africa, to the ports of British North America to offload slaves, Barbados was the first place where the ships stopped and made landfall in Bridgetown. The slave market in Bridgetown was the first place where people had a chance to buy the strongest, best looking and most healthy slaves. Barbados was the killing fields. It was a really tough regime. For a long time they worked them almost to death, until they realised that it was much more profitable to breed from them and actually breed a labour force. So after a while they had native groups - a population of slaves growing up in Barbados and didn’t need to import so much from Africa, although slaves continued to come from Africa well into the nineteenth century.
There is a wonderful place called George Washington House. George Washington made his only overseas visit to Barbados, caught smallpox and survived, which made him immune to smallpox when the Continental Army copped it during the war of independence. He observed first hand the slave system in Barbados, the breeding slave system. He again took this back to Virginia and adopted it there in Virginia. But when he died, he left a clause in his will to free his slaves. We don’t quite know what was going on in his conscience then, but he certainly learned some lessons in Barbados. George Washington House has a very good display showing the system of plantation slavery, and a representation of the slave market and punishments for slaves, because pain and punishment were what the slavery system was all about. Slaves were branded. This is a brand that is held in the Barbados Museum [image shown]. One of the great ironies of history is that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel owned plantations in Barbados and people were branded with the word ‘Society’, which is an awful thing to think about. Punishment for infringements was severe - terrible choke collars and things, balls and chains, shackles. These are some artefacts still surviving and kept in the Barbados Museum collection.
Work in the canefields was really tough. It was a hard, hard life and people were worked almost to exhaustion, particularly in the tropical conditions in the canefields. That picture shows a man wielding what they call a cane bill, a hook that cut the cane, but it was also a tough life in the boiling houses because it was hot where you were stirring the molten sugar in these terribly hot conditions.
Slaves lived in this kind of place [image shown]. This is quite a substantial slave dwelling, a lot of them were less substantial than that. This is a stone-built one at Tyrol Cot - a bit more about Tyrol Cot later on – which was the home of one of Barbados’s leading politicians. This is some earthenware on the table. [Image shown] Here are two plantation great houses: one is called Bayleys plantation on the right-hand side and the other is called Thicketts. These places were sites of one of the great slave rebellions. Every now and again the slaves rebelled. Someone would be able to read and they would find out something about what was going on in the wider world. What was going on in the wider world was that in 1807 - you will probably remember that three years ago we had the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. So the slave trade itself was outlawed but slavery wasn’t. But there was still an agitation going on to abolish slavery itself. Some of the more educated slaves read the newspapers and said, ‘Look, it’s time we asserted ourselves.’ At Easter in 1816 there was a slave rebellion that began at Bayleys plantation and spread through the whole of the island, particularly down the south part of the island. It was put down with the usual severity. The West India Regiment was brought in and I think about 300 people died, one soldier and 300 slaves and supporters, and there were a number of executions afterwards. We will talk a bit more later about one of the National Heroes who emerged from this particular conflict. This is a picture of a sugar mill now at George Washington House, Bridgetown.
On to the story that really took me to Barbados, which was the story of their Parliament. Parliament in Barbados is old. It’s the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth after Britain itself and after Bermuda. It was founded in 1639 by a group of the landed interest in Barbados who formed a parliament and set up representative institutions in the country. Of course of themselves - there was absolutely no representation, need I say, of the majority of the population who were black slaves and people of colour who were what they called Free Coloureds, people who had bought their liberty or who had been manumitted or released from slavery. This is a monument to the first place where the first Parliament was held, called the Sessions House in Bridgetown [image shown].
[Image shown] This is the site of my labours, the West Wing of the Public Buildings in Bridgetown where the Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery is housed in the lower floor of that building. Where the windows are sticking out in the rounded end is the National Heroes Gallery. The Museum of Parliament is a bit further along towards the clock tower. These buildings were built in the 1870s, completed 1872, and housed the government offices, the post office and things like that. The other side of the complex is Parliament itself. The Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery is in the bottom of this building.
This is from the Senate Chamber in the Parliament section which has the coats of arms of the Speakers, people with names like Alleyne and Beckles whose names are very common in Barbados today because, as you probably know, the practice was to give slaves the names of the plantation owners. So there are many people called Alleyne and Beckles, and other names of well-known plantation owners in Barbados today, because these were the landed interests, the people who actually owned the plantations at that point.
The organising principle for the Museum of Parliament came from a statement by this man, Errol Barrow, who was at that stage in the 1960s Premier of Barbados, when he was saying that Barbados was ready for its independence. What he said was:
So a long continuity of parliamentary institutions. He went on:
They are incredibly proud of this long tradition that goes back to 1639 and is maintained to this day of the same parliamentary institutions, as had started at the beginning are still with us today but have passed completely over to people from quite a different ethnicity. He gave that address to the Barbados Constitutional Conference in London in July 1966. By November, Barbados was independent and Errol Barrow became the first Prime Minister of independent Barbados.
So to the Museum of Parliament - this is what I was doing. I was there to work out how to tell this story and how to fit it into a fairly small space in the Public Buildings you saw before. First of all we decided to have a timeline. It is always nice to have a timeline to give people the logic of the history. These are examples of the timeline that goes around the walls of this stone-built building. It is again built of coralstone with amazingly thick walls. We used those walls to put the linear story of Barbados around the walls of the gallery.
Right at the beginning there are key moments in Barbados’s history. We start off in 1629 with the establishment of the parishes, because the parishes were key to their electoral system; then in 1639 the Parliament; and in 1652 the Charter of Barbados. This is a very interesting story because this is a story that comes out of the British Civil War. The Commonwealth Fleet of Oliver Cromwell in fact laid siege to Barbados. There were Roundheads and Cavaliers on the island and the two factions were opposing. They made a pact with the Admiral of the Fleet finally when they managed to talk him around to take the siege off that they could have a charter establishing their liberties, which basically said they could have no taxation without representation – well before the American Declaration of Independence. The Charter of Barbados was a very important document in their history.
Then there were Confederation riots in 1876. This was a movement where the British Colonial Office tried to confederate the Windward Islands with Barbados. The slaves [sic – should be ‘the black majority of Barbadians’] thought this meant they would get the plantations and they rioted - again another big disturbance - but that led to some reforms in their representation. In 1937 a similar thing happened. Barbadians were very poor. They wanted trade unions to help them organise politically and economically. A trade union organiser came from Trinidad, and here they tried to deport him [image shown] and there were riots in which over 20 people were killed. Yet it also led to another commission of inquiry that began the process of achieving democratic reforms. 1946 was the Bushe Experiment, a limited experiment in self-government for Barbados. In 1951 responsible government [sic – universal franchise], and 1966 was Independence. This is the framework; these are the key moments that are going to be explored through this exhibition.
Right at the beginning of the exhibition we have a video of Errol Barrow saying those words you saw before, about how Barbados had gone from a place ruled by one particular ethnic group to one that was now looked after by another. We tell the story all the way through the exhibition, of this transition from slavery through to limited franchise, through to full franchise, through to self-government, through to Independence and modern Barbados. What our designer decided to do was not to have too many showcases. There weren’t very many artefacts. There are some but not very many, but to use this structure as a spine through the different rooms because Barbadians are very strong on woodworking. He thought a structure like this to express the woodworking talents of Barbadians was better than text panels just put up on the walls. It worked really well. There are showcases incorporated in that as well where things are mounted vertically.
Behind it is a model of what is called a chattel house. I will say more about chattel houses a bit later on. They are the typical Barbadian vernacular architecture. That’s there in the museum because it’s a monument to the people who were killed in 1937 in the riots and their names are written on the chattel house wall.
We used the windows at the ends of each of the rooms. There are two major rooms in the Museum of Parliament with big window embrasures at either end and we used those windows to tell the stories of these two major disturbances that then led to further reforms. It also tells the story of independent Barbados, the achievement of independence and the swearing in of the first Barbadian Governor-General. The Museum of Parliament tells that whole story. It finishes off talking about the way Parliament is run in Barbados today, about how people vote - those kinds of democratic education – particularly for Barbadian school children to understand how the voting system works and things like that.
Then we have almost like a tunnel that goes between the Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery. We were wondering what to do with this, and we thought we had to do something to give the context to the whole story, because the Heroes’ stories start to tell similar stories but they are individualised and personified in that next gallery. What was the context for the lives of the Heroes, the lives of Barbados and for the whole of the history? Of course it starts off with slavery. Slavery is the big story. We have a mural by a Barbadian artist called Omowale Stewart, representing the life of slaves. The central image shows the people working in the fields, but also people being punished by cruel instruments of confinement that were imposed on people if they didn’t behave themselves as the plantation owners would have liked.
The second mural, which is not quite finished in this picture but it was nearly there, is by Coral Bernadine and it shows Emancipation. Emancipation came in 1834. All the slaves in the British Empire were freed by order of the Queen in Parliament. But - there’s a but - they were then bound apprentice for an indefinite period at first to their former owners. So they still had to work for a certain amount of hours a day for the plantation owners and so on. Finally in 1838 full apprenticeship stopped and full independence came in. Behind that hand it shows the breaking of the chains and there is a group of people, a boy with the drum. There is a famous folk song in Barbados called ‘Lick’n lock up dun wit/ Hurrah fuh Gin Gin’, and that means lick, whipping, lock up, being confined in a plantation dungeon finished with ‘Hurrah fuh Gin Gin’, hurrah for Queen Victoria. ‘The Queen come from England to set we free/Hurrah fuh Gin Gin’. I won’t sing it - I can’t sing - but it’s a little song that talks about this story. A very famous image in Barbados is of a little boy with a drum and people following behind singing ‘Lick’n lock up dun wit/ Hurrah fuh gin gin’.
Then we come to the [National] Heroes Gallery. We took a different approach in this gallery entirely. The first gallery tells the story in a fairly traditional way with text panels, artefacts and the usual things that museums do. The National Heroes Gallery took a different approach. We invited ten Barbadian artists to come and apply to create icons – to represent non-realistic representations of each of the ten national heroes of Barbados. I won’t go through all the names because they won’t be familiar to you, but I will talk about a few of them in a minute. There are ten National Heroes who were proclaimed in 1998 on what became National Heroes Day, which is at the end of April every year. The man who did the announcement was Chief Justice Sir David Simmons. The banners around the place pull extracts from David Simmons’ speech to explain what the National Heroes Gallery is about. This one is one that covers the whole gallery, talking about the debt that Barbadians owe to the National Heroes:
The room is further divided into four themes that the National Heroes fit into: Faith and Freedom, Democracy, Social Justice, and Excellence. There are two or three grouped into most of these, with one exception and that is Sir Garfield Sobers, who is the sole representative of Excellence because of his cricketing prowess. Each of these banners for these themes has another quote from Sir David Simmons’ speech.
I will just talk about a few of the Heroes very quickly. Bussa was the hero of the 1816 slave revolt. You saw the picture of Bayley’s plantation earlier. This is a memorial stone that has been unveiled at Bayley’s plantation talking about the 1816 riots and the slave uprising led by Bussa. Bussa was actually an African. They were still importing some African slaves even in the nineteenth century. This is quite late of course in the slavery period. These people got together and they decided to have a rebellion. A negro woman called Nanny Grigg encouraged them and said that ‘they were all damned fools to work for that she would not, as freedom, they were sure to get … and the only way to get it was to fight for it, otherwise they would not get it.’ Nanny Grigg was a bit of a stirrer, and she encouraged the men to set forth on this ultimately ill-fated rebellion where they were crushed. But it started the ball rolling, the whole process of rebellion and disenchantment, certainly its expression.
We don’t know what Bussa looked like. He was an African slave. There have been various representations of him. The most famous of them is a sculpture by Barbadian sculptor Karl Broodhagen, just outside of Bridgetown. It’s a sculpture of a slave breaking his chains. It’s called the Emancipation statue but everybody calls it Bussa. One of my friends, on the night that President Obama was elected, went out at 3 o’clock in the morning and put a sign on the Bussa statue, ‘Obama plus hope’ - says everything about the way his election was responded to by black people across the world. There is Bayley’s plantation again, the site of the Bussa rebellion.
Another lady who fought the slave system was Sarah Ann Gill, the only woman amongst the ten Heroes of Barbados. She was a Methodist. Methodists were unpopular, to say the least, in Barbados because they were seen as being anti-slavery. Their opponents burnt their churches down. She held services in her house. The house was attacked. She was a real heroine. The missionaries took off, understandably, but she persuaded one to come back and said, ‘Look, I am staying here, I’m here, you should come back,’ and he did. She’s honoured as the only woman National Hero for her stance against slavery and the defence of the Methodist faith in Barbados. This is from her tombstone at James Street Church in Bridgetown.
Clement Payne is the man I talked about before with the 1937 riots, the man who came from Trinidad, who had Barbadian parents but he was deported on the pretext that he wasn’t born in Barbados. His deportation led to huge riots, as I said, where people were killed. He spoke to the people though in Golden Square, which is this place here in Bridgetown and there is a monument there to him. He is also one of the National Heroes of Barbados.
There is one of the sculptures. This is the sculptor Don Small putting the finishing touches to his sculpture, his iconic sculpture for Clement Payne which shows an opening door to represent the way that Clement Payne’s actions opened the door in Barbados to political reform. There is a little detail of people listening to Clement Payne speaking.
Sir Grantley Adams is a huge figure in Barbados. When you fly into Barbados you fly into the Grantley Adams International Airport. He’s an enormous figure. He was a lawyer and a politician, founder of the Barbados Labour Party and the first Premier of Barbados and the first and only Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation. That little flag behind the bust, an orange circle with wavy blue and white, that is the flag of the short-lived West Indies Federation. This was a federation of the Anglophone countries of the Caribbean that was established in 1958 and was based in Jamaica but of course had a Barbadian as its Prime Minister. It didn’t last. It was pretty hard to put together all those islands. Think about how hard it is to run our Federation when we all live pretty much, apart from Tasmania, on the same land mass. Here’s a whole bunch of islands that are quite widely separated by sea.
What ensued from the West Indies Federation was CARICOM [Caribbean Community], which is the economic union of the Caribbean. So there was a result. Sir Grantley Adams was the first and only Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation. He was an enormous figure in Barbados and very much venerated. This is his study at his home, Tyrol Cot, which is not far from Bridgetown [image shown]. It’s a National Trust of Barbados property that you can go to today. It’s a fascinating place to visit because it’s a complete mix of a cultivated English gentleman - he studied in England, I think he studied at Oxford - he has a wonderful library and wonderful English china but also on the same table there are African artefacts. It’s a really interesting place to visit and a very elegant home.
This is a bit of a contrast. Martineau House is one of the places where the Barbados Labour Party was formed under Grantley Adams’ direction, and that is Tyrol Cot on the other side of the screen. In the grounds of Tyrol Cot is a chattel house village. I said I would mention what chattel houses were. Chattel houses were the houses owned by slaves. They are what we would call portables. You built a little timber house, put it on some coralstone blocks, just sat it on it, and when you needed to move to another plantation or whatever, you just picked it up and you took it and plonked it down on some more coralstone blocks in your next destination. Of course they don’t move them around much any more. They are very adaptable. You can add on. You get a lot of chattel houses that have two, three or four gables as they add on a bit more when they get a bit more money. Some of them have lovely barge boards and trim, like the one over on the right-hand side [image shown], some quite elaborate chattel houses. They are a much-loved architectural form in Barbados but of course being replaced now by modern housing.
QUESTION: How would one move?
ROSLYN RUSSELL: I don’t know how they did it. I think they just took them apart and then rebuilt them. They certainly did move them. They never had proper foundations. You can probably pull the walls apart and move them across that way. There are still plenty of chattel houses in Barbados but there is also a lot of modern development now, needless to say.
One of the great heroes of Barbados is Sir Garfield Sobers, and this is the cricket story because cricket in Barbados is almost seamless. It’s a great cricketing nation. The Cricket World Cup was held there a few years ago in Kensington Stadium. Sir Garfield Sobers was chief among many great cricketers who emerged from Barbados, people like the three Ws - Sir Clyde Walcott, Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Everton Weekes - who all made their debut at Lords together in 1948 and were a huge influence on bringing West Indies cricket to world prominence. They came out to Australia and played here. People were tremendously fond of them. They had a huge reception in Australia.
Anyone who knows anything about cricket knows about this great all-rounder, Sir Garfield Sobers, who is a legend in the cricketing world. He in fact captained the South Australian cricket team at one stage and married an Australian and was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen at the Garrison Savannah after he left competitive cricket in 1974. He is the only National Hero who is still with us today, but he’s still a voice in cricket in the West Indies. Of course since then there have been others, people like Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and people like that who still keep the Barbadian flag flying in terms of cricket in the West Indies and in the world. Barbados is a very religious place and full of churches, this particular island is full of churches, but cricket is another religion in Barbados. If you go to Barbados, you have to brush up your cricket. I very quickly learnt to read the cricket news when I was going there so I could talk intelligently to my Barbadian friends, because they expected you to know what was going on in the cricket.
These pictures show Sir Garfield Sobers’ childhood home. It’s been renovated quite a lot. His story is a very typical one for a Caribbean cricketer. He grew up in a fairly poor area called the Bayland. The Bayland is the area around Carlisle Bay just near Bridgetown. There is a street called Bay Street that runs along it, and the Bayland is just behind that. He got his start in life by having cricket coaching and playing cricket at the Police Boys Club that is right on the edge of Carlisle Bay in the Bayland. He was a role model for many young Barbadians - that you could come from a poor background and by achieving excellence in cricket you could really make your mark in the world and make your nation proud of you. And are they proud - they are incredibly proud of Garry Sobers. This is the sculpture done by a sculptor in Barbados, Wayne Onkpra Wells for the National Heroes Gallery, again not representational; it is an abstract version of a cricketer hitting a cricket ball [image shown].
This is a picture of the opening night of the Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery in November 2006. It was a beautiful night in Barbados. All the buildings are illuminated as they are every Independence Day at the end of November. The Barbados Police Band played outside the Parliament, and the Prime Minister opened the National Heroes Gallery and Museum of Parliament of Barbados that night. It had been a wild ride for that year because I started on 3 January that year when I landed in Barbados – and this is late November. So it was quite an interesting little passage. It was a wonderful occasion, and certainly the lovely night and illuminations really enhanced the scenery, as did the Police Band who were very good.
We will just have a bit of a look around the place. We have looked at the history and a bit of how it was interpreted. This is Bridgetown [image shown], the principal town in Barbados, currently under examination I believe for World Heritage status. I haven’t heard the result of that just yet. I certainly know the nomination has gone in to the World Heritage people.
This is the Careenage, the waterway that comes into Bridgetown off Carlisle Bay, some warehouses and a lot of shipping. Barbados is a place where people go on holidays. It is not just a place of history, it’s a place where people take deep-sea fishing holidays, snorkelling holidays and all sorts of water-related activities – messing about in boats.
That’s a picture of the Parliament building. That’s the Public Buildings with the Museum of Parliament on that side with the clock tower and Parliament on the other side of that courtyard: This is the Independence Arch - it speaks for itself – which was erected after Barbados became independent in 1966. It is just opposite across the Careenage from Parliament. A bit of vernacular life [image shown], just behind Parliament is the Old City Bar and the fruit market. You can walk out of the august surroundings of Parliament straight into the life of the people of Barbados buying their fruit and veg, going to the rum shop and that kind of thing.
This is a synagogue, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue [image shown], which is a fascinating place. It’s one of the oldest synagogues in the new world. The story is that Jewish people from Recife in Brazil fleeing the Portuguese inquisition - that’s how far back it goes - fled from Brazil to Barbados and brought with them the technology for efficient sugar production. There has been a Sephardic Jewish community in Barbados for quite a long time then gradually it died out. They had a burial ground there.
There is a very interesting Australian link with this community. Many of you will have heard of Sir Moses Montefiore, a very famous Victorian Jewish philanthropist and financier. Part of his family lived in Barbados and were part of the Sephardic community. One of them was Eliezer Montefiore who came from Barbados to Adelaide to join a family business. He then went to Melbourne where he assisted Sir Redmond Barry with the foundation of what was then the National Art Gallery, now the State Library of Victoria, Museum Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria. He then went to Sydney where he was the second director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. So from this place here, this passage out here, he became a leader of culture in Australia. It’s a very interesting little link. It’s not the only one we have had with Barbados. It’s a wonderful old synagogue. There’s the fabulous museum next to it which is beautifully done. If you ever go to Barbados I really recommend you look at the Nidhe Israel Museum. It’s a gem.
This is the Garrison Savannah [image shown] where the troops used to parade in the days of the British Empire. It’s a wonderful ensemble of Caribbean Georgian architecture. The tower over there is the Main Guard of the Garrison. A lot more of the Garrison now houses the Barbados Defence Force. These are more buildings around the Garrison Savannah. That will one day be the National Gallery, we hope. The yellow building is George Washington House, which has been beautifully restored by an American foundation with the help of Barbadian authorities and government as well. It is also well worth a visit.
This is the Barbados Museum and Historical Society which is housed in the old military prison that is on the Garrison Savannah. It’s built four-square around beautiful courtyards, very solid. It’s actually brick built rather than coral stone, but it’s a lovely building. And here are a few of the exhibits. This one here with the hammock is an exhibit on the Amerindian people who originally inhabited Barbados. There were none there at all when the first settlers arrived in 1627, but there are excavations and some historic archaeological sites associated with the Amerindian people. That object [image shown] is what is called a ‘monkey’ – a monkey is a Barbadian water jar. The nature of the clay keeps the water very cold, and they say the best water comes out of a monkey. I have a little model monkey there in one of those showcases.
There’s a model of a Bajan bus [image shown]. People used to get into these open-sided buses and jostle around the island’s roads until fairly recently. There is one of those famous Bellarmine jugs [image shown] that were often exported from the Low Countries. There’s an African Gallery because Barbados understands that people’s origins - they are very strongly Barbadian but they are African; their roots are in Africa; Africa is the mother country. They have a wonderful gallery, only about five or six years old, that explores the African background to the majority of Barbadians. That’s a lovely textile and that’s a couple of carnival costumes. The one that is mostly red comes from Nigeria, and the one with the raggedy bits is what it evolved into in Barbados as the culture diversified. There’s a dripstone water filter, another water filtering device that purifies the water from the top to the bottom, and some wheeled carts on the other side.
Barbados has an annual cultural festival. Like most Caribbean islands they have a carnival, only this isn’t the carnival before Lent, as it is in some of the Catholic countries of South America, this one is CropOver. This is when all the crop is gathered in they have a festival that is held all through June and July with the culmination in the first weekend in August and it’s a national holiday. These are revellers. They get dressed up in all their skimpy costumes; they dance, they parade around the National Stadium and then they go out onto what’s called Spring Garden Highway and culminate a kilometre or two further up the road.
The grand finale of CropOver is Grand Kadooment, which is a real spectacle. As you can see, there are all these different bands [image shown]. There’s a band competition but also they are surrounded by all these revellers in amazing costumes. Some of them are quite extraordinary. There is a gentleman there all painted up as a lion. You see some interesting things at Grand Kadooment. It’s a really authentic holiday in Barbados.
There is another Australian connection, just to bring us up to the near past. I came across it through the agency of my colleague and friend Alissandra Cummins, the former home of a man called Frank Rickwood who was a former BP executive and who was actually the person who gave rise to the term that you may remember – ‘the quiet achiever’. BP, being under a bit of a cloud these days, that is probably not something you would think about. But if you remember that slogan that BP used to use, ‘the quiet achiever’, apparently Frank Rickwood was the quiet achiever, the originator of that term. He explored for oil in New Guinea, then he went helped to build the Alaska pipeline and lived for a long time in New York but he also lived in Sydney for quite a long time.
He retired to Barbados and had a property in the north of the island. He had a lovely home, wonderful artworks and things like that. But the biggest revelation to me was going out into the outbuildings. This is one of them, the old stables of Frank Rickwood’s property in Barbados, and discovering a most amazing Melanesian collection. Here we are on the other side of the world, at least two days’ flight from Papua New Guinea, and here are Asmat bisj poles, Malanggan masks from New Ireland and a whole range of other New Guinea artefacts that he had collected. It’s a lovely collection - an extraordinary thing to see in Barbados - and be shown over by his family who are all Australians. It was one of those Australian moments where you meet up with people on the other side of the world. It was quite extraordinary to see that collection in that context.
Finally, what you have all come to see - the beach. This is Dover Beach. The name gives away the story of Little England again, doesn’t it, with people having a holiday in the sun in Barbados. This is the beach stall where you can buy things, and I bought this lovely scarf at that stall. This is on the beach at Palm Beach. This is what they call the Soup Bowl up on the Atlantic coast in St John parish. This is a surfing spot where people come to surf in this part of the world. There are these stone formations, a bit like what used to be the 12 Apostles until several of them have fallen down at Port Campbell. There are similar stone monoliths in the sea just off the beach at this location. This is the boardwalk that runs from Accra Beach for a couple of kilometres. It’s a fabulous thing to go for a walk on, see the Caribbean Sea coming in, watch the wildlife and see little crabs running around, birds and things like that. If you are lucky, you will see a hummingbird. It’s a great treat to see a hummingbird. And this is sunset over the Caribbean Sea. Thank you. [applause]
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Date published: 7 October 2010