A Short Imprisonment on Norfolk Island

Day 5 Monday

We had a bit of a mix up this morning. We found out yesterday that our tour of Colleen McCullough’s home was on Monday not Tuesday. So, a little bit of re-organising and we were doing the house tour with a walk through 100 acres reserve and then Two Chimney Winery and a Progressive dinner.

Colleen McCullough was born in 1937 in Wellington, in the Central West region of New South Wales, of an Irish father and a New Zealander part-Māori mother.

Before her tertiary education, McCullough earned a living as a teacher, librarian and journalist. In her first year of medical studies at the University of Sydney she suffered dermatitis from surgical soap and was told to abandon her dreams of becoming a medical doctor. Instead, she switched to neuroscience and worked at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney.

In 1963, McCullough moved for four years to the United Kingdom; at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, she met the chairman of the neurology department at Yale University who offered her a research associate job at Yale. She spent 10 years (April 1967 to 1976) researching and teaching in the Department of Neurology at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. While at Yale she wrote her first two books. One of these, The Thorn Birds, became an international bestseller and one of the best-selling books in history, with sales of over 30 million copies worldwide.

The success of these books enabled her to give up her medical-scientific career and she settled for the isolation of Norfolk Island. McCullough died on 29 January 2015, at the age of 77, in the Norfolk Island Hospital. She was buried in a traditional Norfolk Island funeral ceremony at the Emily Bay cemetery on the island.

She left her estate which included a house and gave her husband the right to occupy the house for his life I believe. She met her husband, Ric Robinson on Norfolk and married in April 1984. He may have been a naughty boy or so a rumour I heard form the locals has it.

I guess by Norfolk Island standards the house may be a glamourous house. I found it ordinary from the exterior, eclectic in some of its interior and ostentatious in some rooms. Our guide was the housekeeper who seemed to be bored with showing tourists through her house. There was fine glass ware in the dining room but it remined me of the displays in DJs, there was expensive wall papers and expensive looking Asian furniture, but it did not tell me about the author until we got to her office and library. A plain working office and an extensive library of old research books which we could not enter but only observe from the door. The bookcases lined the walls and then were set up in rows. I doubt there was anything other than books and bookcases in the room. There is a covered patio where ferns in baskets hang from the ceiling annoyingly low amongst which also hung Tiffany stained glass lamp shades. We congregated on the patio seating in the available chairs and basically looked at the ferns, the lamp shades and each other for what must have been 30 mins. Our guide answered random questions with short, clipped responses then suddenly arose and led us from the patio through other rooms. I found it weird.

Finally, we left the house to go to the summer house/gift shop where over-priced copies of her books were on sale. Then we boarded the bus to return to the Baunti Tours office. No photos of the interior of the house were permitted but I got a few of the exterior and surrounds which follow.

Colleen McCullough’s house on Norfolk.

We filled in the rest of our time with a walk through the Hundred Acre reserve. Given the wet weather we should have known better as we had to scrap our shoes to be rid of the mud from the walk. The reserve is not natural species, but a former farm replanted mainly with Norfolk pine. A walking track through Hundred Acres Reserve leads to Rocky Point. Home to an observation post during World War II, it’s now a favoured fishing spot among locals. From the cliffs we could see the seabirds as they sweep and soar against the backdrop of the wave-lashed coastline. In the distance, the rocky outline of Phillip Island is visible. However, we were always on edge fearful of slipping in the mud or falling into a Boobie nesting hole.

The most remarkable thing was the avenue of Moreton Bay figs planted along the road passing the reserve. Enormous trees with huge root systems forming a beautiful esplanade of trees. My photos show these trees and their size.


From there we travelled to the other side of the island to visit the islands only winery – Two Chimneys Winery in Two Chimneys Rd. The tasting room looks like a house with vines in a small vineyard on 3 sides. When we entered there was another couple already tasting the large variety of wines on offer. Yes, I was surprised there was a large variety as there was not much more than ½ acre of vines. Rod was behind the tasting bar so I asked him about the winery.

In May 2002, Roderick, Noelene and Sarlae Buffett McAlpine explored the opportunity of establishing a Boutique Vineyard on the eastern side of Norfolk Island.  In 2003 they planted their first vines on family (Buffett) land at Steeles Point and commenced “Two Chimneys Wines”.  The vineyard enjoys a soft maritime climate and volcanic basalt soils. The vineyard consists of five varietals, Chardonnay, Semillion, Verdelho, Merlot, and Chambourcin. The property is part of the original grant of land to the Buffet family following their arrival as one of the Pitcairners in 1856. The Winery/Cellar Door was officially opened on 13 July 2006.  The building is Norfolk Island style and constructed throughout with Norfolk Island Pine. The Cellar Door opens onto large verandahs that overlook the vines.

After tasting a few of the white wines on offer the truth emerged. Many of the grapes used come from the Hunter region outside Newcastle Australia, which Rod uses to create nearly all of their wines and has it bottled there as well and shipped to Norfolk. Only the Chambourcin grapes is mould resistant which is why they only make the Chambourcin on Norfolk. So I tried the Chambourcin and its not too bad. After about 1 hour there and with no sign of any other customers we said farewell to Rod taking a bottle of very expensive Chambourcin with us.


That evening we were booked for the progressive dinner. Now amongst friends this concept works nicely so long as you have a dedicated dickhead to drive you from location to location. I was interested to see how this concept was going to operate in a group of 40 strangers visiting 3 different homes for a three-course dinner.

It all started with three buses. We met at Taylors Rd across from the Pine Tree tours office and randomly bundled into one of the three coaches. Coach 1 went one way coach 2 another and coach 3 (our bus) went another way again to pick up guests who had paid that bit extra to get picked up from their accommodation. The we met up with Coach 2 again in Queen Elizabeth Avenue to both travel to Collins Head Rd. Each of the three homes was in this Rd so Coach 1 stopped at home 1, Coach 2 stopped at home 2 etcetera. Then Coach 1 stopped at home two for mains and then home 3 for dessert and so on for each coach.

So logistically it should work. However, these are family homes, and they are not designed for accommodating and cooking for 20 people. So they were uncomfortably small and the meals were very homely. As with all homes some are delightful and others, they are less than desirable, and the meals were the same. An unforgettable night and not in a good way. Would I do it again – No! But you have to try it just for the experience.