THE Briars homestead has been blessed with its second French connection. The first was a family link to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a house guest of William Balcombe (1779-1829) at his house The Briars, on the island of St Helena, while he was in exile in the early 1800s.
Balcombe’s son, Alexander (1811-77), went on to establish the Mt Martha property with a land grant in 1840. He and his wife built a rough-hewn slab house – also called The Briars, in 1842 – making it one of the oldest pastoral properties on the peninsula.
Now, six French teenagers – four boys and two girls aged 14-17 – have just completed a six-week conservation program at The Briars.
From various towns and regions in France, Ninon Martin, Paul Pelletier, Slanislas (Stan) Brung, Romain Christophe, Salome Lanos and Antoine Chauvin, took part in gardening and conservation work, fed the farm animals and helped with children’s programs.
The Briars senior ranger Jarrod Ruche said the teens were willing to get their hands dirty. They pruned plants in the property’s heritage apple orchard, which has 700 varieties developed up until the 1940s, and assisted in the heritage vegetable garden, which cultivates plants from the 1800s.
“This has been a wonderful opportunity for them as there are not many properties like The Briars,” he said.
The students hope to put their experience to good use back in France. Paul said he was enjoying practising his English and working in the outdoors. He thought the animals “cute” but the weather, naturally, cold. He hopes to study science. Ninon said she was visiting “for many reasons”, such as practising her English, “discovering other countries”, and “meeting” the animals.
Earlier, the six spent time assisting BERG conservation group members clean up Mt Martha beach. “They were a fun group, excited to be here and keen to see Australia’s ‘weird’ and interesting animals,” BERG’s Suzanne Ryan said.
“They spent a morning helping us and learning about what we are doing, as well as collecting rubbish in the July coastal group working bee.”
The group is staying with host families organised through the Southern Cross Cultural Exchange, Mt Eliza.