seulement sur une île

Posted on May 31, 2008
Filed Under culture | 2 Comments

From that moment onwards I never again put on those shorts. Instead I wore a five-inch strip torn from an old pareu. I wore it native style, one end fastened round the waist, with the other end hanging down in front, then passed between the legs, down behind, the end being tucked under the waist band. Done properly, it will remain in position all day, whether you are working, swimming or fishing.

For me, Robinson Crusoe is one of the great characters of fiction, and for a very simple reason, I want to be him. To be free at last of all the restrictions of society, able to fend for oneself on a bountiful island, replenishing soul, body and mind with nature’s harvest. To exist without money, laws or culture inventing yourself purely in terms of the demands that your environment makes on you. Such purity must be bliss and though I have no doubt that the reality is different from the fantasy, I still entertain such visions. Tom Neale is one man who has done just this thing. He lived most of his life on an island in the Cook archipelago with his two cats, some chickens and an awful lot of coconut palms.

It wasn’t until 1952 that he had an opportunity to book a passage on a ship passing close to Suwarrow, now uninhabited since the end of the war. The boat dropped him off with two cats and all the supplies he could scrape together on the islet of Anchorage, about a mile long and a few hundred feet wide. Neale had a hut with water tanks, some books and a badly damaged boat left over from the coast watchers. They had also left wild pigs and chickens on the atoll. The pigs were a liability as they destroyed vegetation and made planting a garden impossible. Neale built a hunting stand in a tree and speared the pigs over the course of several months. He planted a garden, domesticated the chickens, and repaired the boat. For the most part he lived on fish, crayfish, chicken, eggs, paw-paw, coconut and breadfruit.

Ten months after arriving at Suwarrow, Neale had his first visitors: two couples on a yacht, who had been advised of Neale’s existence by the British Consul in Tahiti and asked to call in to check up on him. They stayed a couple of nights. The visitors gave Neale a new plan: to rebuild the pier which had been built on Anchorage during the Second World War, but which had been wrecked during a hurricane in 1942. It took six months of hard labour. Neale celebrated the end of the job by taking a day off. Within 24 hours, his barometer started dropping, and a major storm hit the islet. The following morning, the pier was gone.

In May 1954, over three months after the storm, Neale was on the other side of the atoll in his boat when he carelessly threw his anchor overboard, putting his back out. In agonising pain, he managed to make his way back to his hut where he lay semi-paralysed for four days. A couple of people on a yacht called in, not knowing of his existence, and were able to nurse him back to health. When they left, they promised to send a ship back to collect him, and two weeks later, a ship sent by the Cook Islands government arrived to take him back to Rarotonga.

Clearly he led an unorthodox life. He has written a book which is sadly out of print, though I am eagerly awaiting one of the four copies that Amazon has left called “An Island to Oneself” but you can read extracts on the web. Its old fashioned stuff, the yarns of a man alone in the midst of a vast sea battling with storms, injury and accident because he was so in love with the beauty of his home and the freedom of his way of life. Still, if thats a little too extreme for you, you could always buy the island.


2 Responses to “seulement sur une île”

  1. Cat Sparks on June 1st, 2008 1:47 am

    Beyond the Coral Sea, p165:

    In 1903 a nudist colony of sun-worshippers and avante-garde ‘proto-hippes’ led by a Berlin musician named Engelhardt lived a pagan lifestyle on the remote island of Kabakon in the Duke of York island group (Papua New Guinea). Sexual jealousies flared, and the limited diet of bananas and coconuts devastated their health (Engelhardt was nicknamed Mr Kulau or Mr Coconut by the locals). He was murdered in mysterious circumstances and the colony soon disintegrated.

    from one of my favourite travel writers, Michael Moran.

  2. admin on June 1st, 2008 1:58 am

    Awesome! Is that like Die Bruche?

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