My Kingston & Cocktails With - John Pilbeam and Yvonne Webber


My Kingston & Cocktails With - John Pilbeam and Yvonne Webber

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Print this page Email A Friend!

John Pilbeam, Australian High Commissioner with responsibility for the Caribbean [based in Trinidad & Tobago] since February 2016, and his wife Yvonne Webber are making the final rounds prior to heading home. SO bids its own fond adieu at the Spanish Court Hotel.

Which countries did you have direct responsibility for?

Fourteen countries — Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago. But also another 16 Caribbean territories — we have quite a few Australians living in Cayman Islands and BVI to whom we're responsible for providing consular services.

There was once a high commission in Jamaica. Why was it moved to Trinidad?

Yes, the Australian High Commission in the Caribbean was first established in Jamaica in 1974, immediately before Commonwealth Heads of Government — including the Australian prime minister at the time, Gough Whitlam — met in Kingston in 1975. It moved to Barbados in the 1990s — the Canadians had some space in their High Commission there and we decided to move in with them to reduce costs. Then in 2006 the high commission moved from Barbados to Trinidad & Tobago. I'm not sure why it was moved then, but another Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting was held in Port of Spain in 2009, and our then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd visited Trinidad & Tobago for the event,

What do you reckon is your legacy?

I guess that's for others to determine, but I'm proud of some of the assistance Australia has been able to provide in the region. Australia responded quickly to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. We've been major supporters of the efforts of the Antigua & Barbuda Red Cross to aid the Barbudans, first as evacuees and now as the Barbudans are returning. There's still a lot of work to be done — I helped open the island's restored basketball court only last month. Similarly, after Maria, we first helped Dominica with bottled water and hygiene kits, and moved to providing tarpaulins and generators before building 80 core houses for vulnerable Dominicans through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) We're now helping Red Cross in Dominica with an emergency communications network. We try to keep working on these problems until they're sorted. Now we're doing work with the IOM to increase agricultural production in Guyana's western border regions where remote villages are supporting large Venezuelan populations. This is hard work for our small staff but I'm really happy with what we've been achieving.

Cricket, and perhaps netball aside, what else does the region have in common with Australia?

I'm not sure I accept the premise of the question.

If there's one thing Australians and West Indians agree on it's that cricket and netball are pretty important. Both sports first taught the people of Australia and the people of the Caribbean to respect each other. There's immense affection for the Caribbean in Australia, especially among older people — the “tied test” generation — and cricket — and in later years netball — lie at the base of that.

Australia is of course a tropical country — close to a third of Australia lies within the tropics — so we have a lot in common on that score. Climate change and global warming are problems we face together — warmer water bleaches our coral reefs, more frequent extreme weather events devastate our coasts; we're facing more droughts and floods. At the micro level, our tropicality means that Australia is, for instance, the only developed country to have a cocoa industry. So the high commission took the opportunity last year to host a regional symposium in Port of Spain on modern Australian cocoa farming techniques. Similarly, we supported another symposium on our approaches to land care in St Kitts last year.

Australia also has a big interest in helping its immediate neighbours — the smaller islands of the Pacific with their problems. Many of these problems affect Caribbean island developing countries also.

What has been your favourite Caribbean food?

I have a weakness for ackee and salt fish with roasted breadfruit on the side, whilst my wife is fond of escoveitch fish with bammy.

When and where was your first posting?

Kingston, Jamaica. I arrived on 19 June, 1976. Our first posting together was to Papua New Guinea in 1981. Yvonne taught English at the Port Moresby International High School for almost four years.

Who do you most admire?

I suppose you really can't go past Jesus Christ.

Who is your most iconic Caribbean personality?

Sir Frank Worrell.

Were you to enjoy a final dinner party with five Caribbean personalities (living and or dead) who would they be and why?

Might leave that one to Yvonne — her dinner parties are legendary:

Mia Mottley, Dennis Scott, Michael Manley, Jackie Hinkson and Miss Lou.

What would your message be to a room full of youngsters eyeing a career in the Foreign Service?

Go for it — you'll meet lots of people who see things very differently — and that'll help you discover your true self

What would you tell your 13-year old self?

Don't take yourself so seriously!

Last book read?

Beyond a Boundary by CLR James.

Bus, taxi or train?

Train — you can walk and stretch and it's easy to read a book.

Rum or Beer?

A hard one — but if the rum's from the Caribbean, I'd take it every time.

Cricket or tennis?

Cricket. Team sports are always more interesting. They're more like life — different people working together to win.

What, if any, plans are currently on the drawing board?

None really. Go home. Live a quieter life. Read a few novels. Do some challenging crosswords. Help people I've been neglecting while travelling the world.

Finally, what's your personal credo?

Mistakes are our best teachers.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon