Although diplomatic relations between Nepal and Australia have existed since 1960, it was ambassador Diane Johnstone, affectionately known as ‘Call-me-Di’, who set up in Kathmandu from a cosy rented house in Thapathali in 1986 with a guitar-playing husband. The succession of early incumbents in the representational role were marked by life-changing events during their tenure – separation, divorce, engagement and marriage – including one emotional liaison with a Bollywood superstar that ended in tears. Over the decades, the mission has achieved many milestones in humanitarian and development aid, technical assistance and trade support.
The popularity of Australian wine in Kathmandu dates back to one inspired ambassador who offered to import cases for his diplomatic friends — and before the days of wine being available in the open market, he had many friends. Eventually both governments noticed when the embassy wine order exceeded that of much larger missions in London and Paris, dryly pointing out that every official Australian in Nepal must have been consuming about three dozen bottles a day. Aussie producers had the last laugh however, with their brands still established today as Nepal’s wine of choice amongst the chatterati.
We wanted to do something special to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Gallipoli on 25 April 2015. Thousands were gathering in Turkey, including the Prince of Wales and a ministerial delegation from Nepal. The UK had observed the outbreak of World War I with a dramatic moat-ful of 888,246 ceramic poppies around the Tower of London, representing all British and Commonwealth fatalities.
Hoping to achieve a similarly grand gesture, the Gurkha commander conspired with us to ship 120,000 poppies from the British Legion in London, the idea being to carpet the grounds of the Australian ambassador’s home with a sea of scarlet. Each paper poppy raises at least a pound each but, thanks to British Gurkha generosity and skilled negotiations, boxes of poppies were delivered to the Australians with the Kiwi consulate paying only a nominal amount. At the last minute, however, the ambassador’s wife vetoed the idea on the grounds that it would be hard to tidy up afterwards and make a mess of her garden.
The surfeit of poppies, plenty for future events, was soon erased from minds on that unforgettable 25 April five years ago. I had just returned home to Budanilkantha, kicked off my shoes and settled on the terrace with my laptop and the dogs when at 11:56 am the earthquake struck. Terracotta tiles rained off the roof, my car careened violently beneath the magnolia tree, and in the distance far below a pall of dust rose eerily above the assaulted city.
No doubt, we all remember exactly where we were and how we felt at that fateful moment on Anzac Day 2015, when our lives were rocked forever.