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Today's quote:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What price paradise?

Cyclone Ian moving towards Vava'u and Ha'apai in Tonga


In an age of anxiety men seek a refuge. Because of some deep urge, constant throughout history, troubled men traditionally dream of islands, possibly because the smallness of an island invites the illusion that here the complexities of continental societies can be avoided, or at least controlled. This is a permanent, world-wide dream.

When the island chosen for refuge happens to lie in the South Pacific, a colourful body of romance often helps to make the idea of escape an absolute obsession. Then, if the chosen island is reputed to contain lovely and uninhibited girls, the obsession is apt to degenerate into a monomania. And if the girls are Polynesians, the dreamer is truly lost.

... Citizens of many nations who have grown weary of atomic bombs, dictators, taxes and neurasthenia ... are united in their conviction that only in the fabled islands of the South Seas can they find the fulfillment that their own society denies them. Were each of the islands a continent, there would still be insufficient room for the defeated people of the world who require refuge.

In the 1930s there was in Australia a learned gentleman who clearly foresaw that a great war was about to break over the world. He had no desire to participate in this foolish war, but he had to conclude from his studies that Europe was going to explode and that the resulting fires would involve Africa and much of Asia. With extraordinary clairvoyance he deduced that Australia, left unprotected because the military men were preoccupied with Europe, would surely become a temptation to Asia and would probably be overrun.

Wishing to avoid such a debacle, he spent considerable time in determining what course a sensible man should follow if he wanted to escape the onrushing cataclysm. He considered flight into the dead heart of Australia, but concluded that although he could probably hide out in that forbidden region, life without adequate water would be intolerable. Next he contemplated removal to America, but dismissed this as impractical in view of the certainty that America would also be involved in the war.

Finally, by a process of the most careful logic, he decided that his only secure refuge from the world's insanity lay on some tropical island. He reasoned, "There I will find adequate water from the rains, food from the breadfruit and coconut trees, and fish from the lagoons. There will be safety from the airplanes which will be bombing important cities. And thanks to the missionaries, the natives will probably not eat me."

Fortified with such conclusions, he studied the Pacific and narrowed his choice of islands to the one that offered every advantage: remoteness, security, a good life, and a storm cellar until the universal hurricane had subsided.

Thereupon, in the late summer of 1939, one week before Germany invaded Poland, this wise Australian fled to his particular South Pacific refuge. He went to the almost unknown island of Guadalcanal --- which, as we now know, saw some of the bloodiest fighting in WWII.

In 1970 I lived in Rabaul in New Guinea where I worked for a firm of chartered accountants. I stayed there for barely a year but another accountant, working for the same firm, was destined never to leave. For him the old aphorism came true that "if you spend more than five years in New Guinea you were done for, you'd never be able to get out, your energy would be gone, and you'd rot there like an aged palm."

Rabaul, built on the edge of a flooded volcano, was completely destroyed in 1994 by the falling ash of a major volcanic eruption. My accounting-colleague had to flee the town and lost everything as did another friend who had settled in nearby Nonga.

And now, it seems, my good friend Horst is sitting right in the path of Cyclone Ian which is bearing down on Tonga's northern islands of Vava'u and Ha'apai with winds of 200 kilometres an hour, gusting up to 290 kilometres an hour.

Ian is a slow moving cyclone, which leads to greater destruction, and heavy rain, thunderstorms, flash flooding, heavy swells and sea flooding are also expected. It's the first in this cyclone season, which runs from November to March, but already it has been categorised as the worst in fifty years.

Horst's native hut on the beach of Uiha Island

Like other people who in their days of hope or torment fled to their obscure Guadalcanals, where, they were convinced, perpetual ease and fulfillment awaited them, so Horst has lived his dream for the past nineteen years in a flimsy hut on the tiny island of Uiha.

I hope he and his flimsy hut, built on a tiny coral head in the middle of nowhere, will survive Cyclone Ian.