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Friday, January 31, 2014

In the aftermath of Cyclone Ian


Sabine and Brian of Fins'n'Flukes in better times

 

Totally fluked, this is the end my friend! Thank you to everyone who made it what it was! We stood up to a lot over the years but Cyclone Ian was just too much. Ich bin fertig oder Ich haben fertig, Ich vises nicht."

So wrote Brian Heagney on January 16th on Fins'n'Flukes' facebook page.

And he continued, referring to what was left of their dive boat 'Moana' (pictured below), "Many of you may have experienced magic moments off the side of Moana. She was completely destroyed by Cyclone Ian, literally thrown out of the harbor onto the wharf. Our hopes and dreams smashed with the beams and we are afraid we do not have the personal will for recovery from this one. Thank you to everyone who supported us in a Tongan adventure in spite of an inglorious end.".

I had written about Sabine Frank and Brian Heagney's new venture in Ha'apai in the Kingdom of Tonga in a previous blog. Having left Europe several years ago in order to travel the world, they had met in Ha'apai and in 2009 started their own business, Fins 'n' Flukes, a small divebase and hotel, situated on Lifuka Island.

I had on several occasions emailed them to help me contact my friend Horst Berger who has no internet access and to prepay a meal and a drink and a bed for him at their establishment when he comes to Lifuka. Their response was always a "Thanks but no, thanks", including to my most recent one which they replied with a terse "We're in Europe, sorry", which may have been just as well because, while they were away, Cyclone Ian destroyed much of the Ha'apai chain of island, but especially their island of Lifuka,

I never met Sabine and Brian in person, and I have no idea why they should have been so adverse to assisting a fellow-expat in their island paradise, but nobody deserves to return, as they have just done, to the total destruction of their business and their dream of a life in paradise - click here (and click on 'NEXT' above the photo to cycle through the whole album).

Meanwhile, I have had one very short and very hard-to-hear mobile phone conversation with Horst during which I was able to give him the claim numbers for the two WESTERN UNION money transfers I made in recent days. The WESTERN UNION website still shows both transfers as being "ready to be picked up at an Agent location in your Receiver's area". This may mean that Horst is still marooned on his small island and hasn't been able to come across to Lifuka where the WESTERN UNION office is located, or the WESTERN UNION office has no internet access to mark the transfers as claimed, or, indeed, the whole WESTERN UNION office has been destroyed as well. More will transpire in the days and weeks ahead and I will keep you informed.

 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Frozen Desire

 

I first thought about money in 1978, in the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. I thought about bank notes, collected in bundles and held by twine, and delivered to my hand, in an unsealed airmail envelope, on the last Wednesday of each lunar month. I had had money before, handled, spent, hoarded, won and lost money, but never in such quantity or in so exotic and repellent a shape. I had come to the city not to accumulate money but to evade it, or rather to delay my induction into manhood; and yet here I was, sheathed in air-conditioned sweat, signing for ten thousand Saudi Arabian riyals in bills, the price of a month's labour, boredom and misery.

In those days I worked at a newspaper I'll call the Saudi News. It was in a plywood building at the end of the airport runway, and the newspaper and the building and the airport have since vanished; for they were embarrassing physical reminders of an earlier epoch in Saudi history, the years before 1973, before money. The quadrupling of the dollar price of crude oil at the end of that year had detonated the world's trading system, and money was streaming into Saudi Arabia as once the silver of America into Spain. The burden of world history had passed to a few pale, fat men gliding like phantoms at noon towards their Lincoln Town Cars. The Muslim civilisations of Egypt and India, with their ancient architecture and civil sentiments had become worthless. Europeans and Americans waited for days in the anterooms of dozing assistant deputy under-secretaries of state. The British, who had once set up and knocked down these princelings, wheedled and bribed with the best of them."

This description of life in Jeddah in 1978, just four years before I went to live and work there myself, contained in the "Introduction" to Frozen Desire, had me hooked before I even got to the first chapter of the book. Its mention of "the treadmill of the heat", and description of the time "after Friday prayers when we all coralled into an open space downtown to witness a beheading", "the escarpment behind the town, with trucks grunting around the hairpins on the road up to Taif", and the "blizzard of Arabic greeting ('My darling', 'My sweet')", almost made me feel that I was "inhaling the damp of early morning" in Jeddah once again when "occasionally, as I walked home, there was a fugitive breath of wind, or I found myself in a fabulous suburb that had not existed the week before, raised like a volcanic island in the eruption of money".

But the heart of the book is all about money: the meaning of it and the worrying about it. At least the latter part is reassuring as everyone does it. Unlike other anxieties, money-worries are universal. The author tries to discover why money matters. All the obvious reasons are devastatingly simple; this book shows us why it isn't in fact simple at all.

I became increasingly fascinated by the aphorisms and quips which decorate this book. It was Oscar Wilde (always the master) who defined a cynic as a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; also enjoyable is Somerset Maugham's "Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five". There are many more, and they are more than just entertaining: in some ways, these apparently throwaway remarks get closer to the heart of this scary subject than all the learning contained in this book, fascinating and highly readable though it is.

 

The stuff that dreams are made of

Click to open pdf file in separate window

 

Robinson Crusoe is one of Western literature's greatest stories. The shadow of Daniel Defoe's book falls over every island. Crusoe persuades us that islands are more liberating than confining, more contemplative than lonely, where we are "removed from all the wickedness of the world."

Well, you don't have to spend '€2,900 per person on a share twin basis' to turn yourself into a latter-day Robinson Crusoe. My friend Horst, who has lived for over eighteen years on a tiny island in the Kingdom of Tonga, welcomes the occasional visitor, so if you want to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience of living like a latter-day Robinson Crusoe, email me at

riverbend[AT]batemansbay.com

and I put you in touch with Horst (but, please, be patient as Horst has no internet access and mail to and from his island is slow).

 

 

... and then there were three!

 

If you didn't know it already - in which case you had better check your passport or even your pulse -, last weekend was Australia Day which seems to have become an almost entirely booze-driven national day.

Campers across the river 'entertained' us for much of the night with their inibriated "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi" which appears to be the abbreviated version of 'Advance Australia Fair" for those who didn't make it through Year 7.

For one day and one night, while her owner was attending an Australia Day party, little Bella was with us. She is a wonderful little dog but, because she was missing her owner so much, she found it very difficult to go to sleep. And so did we. And, of course, the repeated "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi" from across the river didn't help.

This morning we woke up to a glorious sunny day and an altogether peaceful river. All those overpowered 'mine-is-bigger-than-yours' boats are back where they belong, in Canberra's driveways and garages, and the river is once again ours - until next year!

 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Australia Day 2014

 

In this Land of the Long Weekend we are about to have another one: Australia Day 2014. It's a fitting time to think back over what will next year become my 50th anniversary of coming to this wonderful country!

Not that all those years merely passed me by and can be ignored nor the mistakes undone or the stupidities uncommitted again. And neither can I forget the shames and humiliations, the treacheries and betrayals as well as the prides and accomplishments and brief moments of happiness which I now call experience and which are supposed to be my recompense for the youth and the health and the energy left behind as I bounced through life, spending more time on planning my next weekend than on how I might spend the rest of my life.

While my decision to leave the "Fatherland" was made as hastily and as much on the spur of the moment as every other decision I have made before and since, it has worked out exceptionally well. I am proud to call myself an Australian and to call Australia my home, and to do so not through some accident of birth but because of my own deliberate decision and years of hard work!

Thank you, Australia!

 

P.S. I guess not everyone will celebrate Australia Day. Here's one response I received (name and email address withheld to protect the guilty ☺ ):

"Proud to be an Australian. Pigs Fucking Arse. My forebears were the first to settle Sth Aust. Even have a hill named after them . They would turn in their graves and would revolt in disgust if they saw what inhabits this country today. Should have kept the white Australia policy. Multiculturism does not work, even Angela Merkel and David Cameron admit that fact. Having said that, some of the white trash low lifes and trogledites [sic] add another sad and unfortunate mix to the burgeoning cesspool of human waste in this country. Sad but true !!! On that note i'm going surfing where i would rather take my chances with the sharks."

Another email gone from my rapidly thinning address book. Very soon I'll be talking to myself! ☺ "I talk to the trees... that's why they put me away"

If the cap fits, wear it


Click on image to read cap's inscription

 

This humanoid has to use an android for its daily dose of the internet as the laptop developed serious start up and stay up problems. Using the android's on-screen keyboard gives one a good excuse for not being a ten-finger typist; indeed, there is barely enough room for one finger and then only if it is as pointy as a knitting needle. If Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is to be believed, future generations may only have two thumbs to play computer games and just one index finger shaped like a stylus to operate an android.

The lay-out of the on-screen keyboard is a revelation in itself: the colon and semicolon are relegated to a separate numeric keypad and thus are no longer part of mainstream grammar. Instead, a ready-made smiley, that 'metacommunicative pictorial representation of a facial expression', is very much centre stage. But, I am ☺ to report, the question mark is still there, perhaps in deference to that infectious Australian habit, now so prevalent with young people, of turning every statement into a question.

As I seem to be spending all my money on repairing the ride-on mower, I won't be buying a new laptop for a while. Unless I can pass the hat around! ☺ Which is not very likely after my recent experience with donations for Horst Berger: I had assumed that if several dozen people donated the equivalent of a caffe latte (or two), I could be sending Horst enough money to rebuild his cyclone-devastated 'fale Tonga' as well as letting him know that there are plenty of people who care about his isolated island existence.

With the exception of a notable few who donated the equivalent of a whole month's worth of caffe latte, most people responded with deafening silence. Perhaps they reasoned that "he had chosen that life style; nobody made him do it", and protested my likening them to the protagonist in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. Well, if the cap fits, wear it!

Anyway, so far I have sent two lots of $500 to Horst. Meantime, there have been two more donations from friends who were out of reach in their remote location or had been on holidays - see below - which will allow me to send a third, and last, remittance to Horst. It may be some time before I receive his response which I will post on this blog.

Donations collected to help Horst Berger
in cyclone-devastated Tonga:

1) Peter Goerman AUS$450
2) Chris Jefferies, Canada, AUS$120
3) Frank Köhler, Germany, €20
4) Matt Muirhead, Owner VILLA MAMANA, USA, US$175
5) Werner Seifert, Germany, €20
6) Andrew Holt, Australia, AUS$200
7) Anonymous, AUS$100
8) Ralph Christen, Papua New Guinea, AUS300

 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Who was Sigurd Kibsgaard?

 

Our weekly trip to Ulladulla is always something to look forward to: a long swim in the heated pool, lunch at the local Chinese, a bit of shopping, and a stop at the Lions Park at Burrill Lake for the dogs.

I was sitting on a bench by the lake, reading my latest op-shopped book, Frozen Desire - An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money by James Buchan, when I looked down at my feet (bits and pieces of me are beginning to fall off, so I keep checking ☺ ) and saw this:


"The Vikings are coming!"

Who was Sigurd Kibsgaard? I'm more into Kierkegaard myself but I guess Sigurd Kibsgaard was not your average Ocker either. Judging by his name, he must have been a latter-day Viking from Norway who somehow finished up in Ulladulla as member of the local LIONS CLUB.

Don't we live in a wonderfully multi-cultural country?

 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another day in Paradise?

Ha'apai Holiday from finsnflukes on Vimeo.

 

Well, maybe not! Although the sun is shining again, the damage caused by Cyclone Ian will take many months, if not years, to repair. This video is from Fins'n'Flukes, operated by Brian and Sabine.

Horst has no email address but he pops in at Fins'n'Flukes when he comes to Lifuka once a month for his mail and other essentials. So I thought I email to Brian and Sabine the two WESTERN UNION Money Transfer Control Numbers, without which Horst cannot draw out the money so kindly donated by caring souls for the rebuilding of his 'fale Tonga'.

Their automated email reply was prompt: "Sorry but we are in Europe." I hope when they return they will find their whale-watching and beach house accommodation business still in one piece. Shortly after my visit in 2006, they had turned the old and grandly-named Niua'Kalo Beach Hotel into a charming little hostelry which now competes with the only other guesthouse and eatery in town for the limited number of people who find their way to this remote island group.

(For more on this, click here)


Yours truly at the entrance to the old Niua'Kalo Hotel in 2006

Well, that leaves me no choice but to email Craig and Magda at the Mariner's Café. I am on dangerous grounds here as the Irishman Brian and his German partner Sabine don't talk to the South African Craig and his Polish partner Magda, and vice versa (so much for there being no vice [versa] in Paradise!).

I don't know whether this is because of old rugby rivalries between South Africa and Ireland or because Germany invaded Poland, or simply a case of 'Business Competition in Paradise'.

Let Horst sort it out: as neutral Austrian he talks to all of them! ☺

 

P.S. There are three other "resorts" nearby: Sandy Beach Resort and Matafonua Lodge, both on Foa Island, which is north of Lifuka Island and linked to it by causeway, and Serenity Beaches Resort on Uoleva Island in the south. I wonder if they survived the recent cyclone unscathed. And then there is Villa Mamana on tiny Telekivava'u Island, some 37 miles south of Lifuka. It's been boarded up for years and nobody lives there anymore.

P.P.S. Meantime, I received this email from Serenity Beaches Resort: "I am writing on behalf of Patti Ernst of Serenity Beaches Tonga. I am her daughter, Laura. They recently took a direct hit from Category 5 Cyclone Ian. They passed right through the eye of the storm. Thankfully, both she and Semi made it through safely and without injury. They did have some property damage, though it appears that they fared much better than the developments on the surrounding islands. They are currently in the process of clean up and repair. They do not currently have internet and probably will not for at least a few weeks. She will be in the United States in a few weeks and will be able to contact you herself at that time. Until then, I am trying to help with communications."

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

This big pig went to Moruya Market

 

We drove the twenty-five clicks to Moruya for some shopping at the Saturday morning market along the Moruya river. Big turnout as usual!

We bought baklava and pita bread from an Eqyptian vendor with whom I practised my almost-forgotten smattering of Arabic, two kilos of honey from an authentic bee-keeper, and, from a stall-keeper who sold nothing but baseball caps, I bought a cap inscribed with the words "Grumpy Old Man". I am sick and tired of being mistaken for Robert Redford!

Walking back to the car, we passed The Reading Room, except this time we didn't pass it but stepped inside. And what a find it turned out to be! It's a bookshop-cum-café which has regular Book Club meetings as well as readings and, twice a month, a Musicians Meet.

It was like a café littéraire of yesteryears and I could have sat there all day! And almost did! (that's me in the checkered shirt) Two cappuccinos later I was still engrossed in The Essential Dave Allen, so Padma suggested I put up the $2 and buy the book so we could take a leisurely drive along the Moruya River *).

It's 3 o'clock on a very hot Saturday afternoon and we're back at "Riverbend". Padma has gone to the village hall to help Betty with her Trash'n'Treasure sale and I'm deep into The Essential Dave Allen.

 

*) Of course, I didn't just pick up one book but three more: Hunting Pirate Heaven which is a voyage in search of the lost pirate strongholds of the Indian Ocean; No Chopsticks Required, a family's unexpected year in Shanghai; and James Michener's The Drifters which was one of those life-changing books I read in the 70s and which I now give as present to people half my age. In fact, I may send this one to Horst even though, with over 800 pages, the postage is a bit of a killer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The jar is safely back on the shelf

 

As soon as I had sent the first lot of $500 to Horst, my BHP shares went from Wednesday's closing price of $35.93 to today's close of $37.89.

My wife, who is a practising Catholic and believes in the second coming (although not mine! ☺ ) and all that stuff, immediately said, "You see, you do good things to others and good things happen to you!"

I had forgotten to tell her that, after I had given a local fire victim a cheque for $500 the week before, the same shares dropped from a high of $38.20 to said $35.93. Could it be because they hadn't cashed it yet?

Anyway, all that H2SO4 did a wonderful cleansing job on my inbox ☺.

 

 

Postscript

Donations collected to help Horst Berger
in cyclone-devastated Tonga:

1) Peter Goerman AUS$450
2) Chris Jefferies, Canada, AUS$120
3) Frank Köhler, Germany, €20
4) Matt Muirhead, Owner VILLA MAMANA, USA, US$175
5) Werner Seifert, Germany, €20
6) Andrew Holt, Australia, AUS$200
7) Anonymous, AUS$100
8) Ralph Christen, Papua New Guinea, AUS300

 

The appeal is now closed. I sent Horst $500 yesterday, and will send another $500 next week. To all those who contributed, my heartfelt thanks. Those who want to add their individual contribution can do so via WESTERN UNION to Horst Berger, Felemea, Uiha, TONGA. I am sure, Horst will contact you individually once communications have been re-established.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tonga calling!

 

I've just had a call from Horst Berger in Tonga! He and his family survived Cyclone Ian with nothing more than the clothes on their backs! Their house is gone, their belongings are gone, and so is everything else on the tiny island of Uiha.

I've told him that I am right now sending AUS$500 to WESTERN UNION's office at Pangai on Ha'apai's main island of Lifuka. He thanked me profusely! I couldn't see his tears, but I could hear them!!!

Despite the far from overwhelming response from my friends, I shall try to collect more donations as I want to send another $500.

You may feel smug to have that $20 (or whatever) still in your wallet but let me tell you, you don't feel anywhere near as good as I do. I know I have helped another human being in his darkest hour and it makes me feel very, very good! You should try it one day!

 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Here's your second chance!

 

There are only a few times in our lives when we can directly help some of our fellowmen in need. Those few moments of grace give us a chance to share our own good fortunes, face to face instead of through anonymous relief organisations, with those less lucky. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee ..."

The cyclone which smashed into Ha'apai in Tonga last weekend destroyed some 75% of all houses in the town of Pangai on the main island of Lifuka. Communications with the outer islands have still not been re-established but it must be assumed that villages there have fared far worse.


Horst Berger's 'fale Tonga'

My Austrian friend Horst Berger lived in a 'fale Tonga', a native-style hut, in the tiny village of Felemea on Uiha Island. I use the past tense advisedly because after Cyclone Ian there won't be anything left of his fale or his meagre belongings.

Horst lives a hand-to-mouth existence on a tiny pension which he shares with his Tongan wife and two teenaged children. To rebuild his fale - and his life - will probably cost him close to a thousand dollars in our money which he simply hasn't got. So far my first appeal for donations has received surprisingly few responses:

 

1) Peter Goerman AUS$450
2) Chris Jefferies, Canada, AUS$120
3) Frank Köhler, Germany, €20
4) Matt Muirhead, Owner VILLA MAMANA, USA, US$175
5) Werner Seifert, Germany, €20
6) Andrew Holt, Australia, AUS$200
7) Anonymous, AUS$100
8) Ralph Christen, Papua New Guinea, AUS300

 

 

 

Please add your own name to this Who's Who of nice people

 

I could easily send him the money myself. However, I want him to know that there are other people who think of him in his time of need. So if you feel you want to contribute, however little, here's your second chance:

Send your donation to my PayPal account and I will remit the lot to Horst via Western Union when communications have been re-established. You don't need your own PayPal account to make a donation. Simply go to the PayPal website and send your donation to my email address

riverbend@batemansbay.com

It's as simple as that! And it will make you feel good as well as Horst!

 

P.S. Sometimes, people need to be bashed over their heads to re-discover their humanity. I am bashing!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Passing the hat for Horst Berger in cyclone-devastated Tonga

 

Cyclone Ian has totally devastated the tiny island group of Ha'apai in Tonga. The Austrian Horst Berger lives there on the even tinier island of Uiha. Or, rather, he 'lived' there, past tense, because there won't be much left of his small hut which was right in the path of cyclone Ian. And what the 250km/hr cyclone didn't blow away, the storm surge would have washed away.

Just how big a catastrophe this worst-in-fifty-years cyclone has been won't be known for weeks, if not months, as all communications are down, including the postal service which is terribly slow and inefficient even at the best of times.

Horst mentioned in his last letter - which took two months to get here! - that he would be saving up for a set of dentures in the new year. They cost $500 which he simply hasn't got and I had already thought of taking up a collection for them.

However, after this cyclone, he'll need a lot more than just a pair of dentures: his hut will be gone as will be most, if not all, of his meagre belongings.

I don't know how many good-hearted and generous people are out there who may want to give Horst a bit of a hand and donate some money with which to finance the rebuilding of his hut. I hope there will be many.

I will collect all donations in my PayPal account and remit them to Horst via Western Union when communications have been re-established. You don't need your own PayPal account to make a donation. Simply go to the PayPal website and send your donation to my email address

riverbend@batemansbay.com

It's quick and simple. I am sure that Horst will be thankful for every cent, not only because it will help him financially but also because it gives him much needed moral support to carry on.

All incoming donations will be recorded on this blog. My own contribution is already there:

 

1) Peter Goerman AUS$450
2) Chris Jefferies, Canada, AUS$120
3) Frank Köhler, Germany, €20
4) Matt Muirhead, Owner VILLA MAMANA, USA, US$175
5) Werner Seifert, Germany, €20
6) Andrew Holt, Australia, AUS$200
7) PUT YOUR NAME HERE!
.
.

 

 

 

Please add your own name to this Who's Who of nice people

 

Please email me if you have any problem with PayPal. And many thanks in advance for your generous help!

 

 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Opportunity shop knocks!

 

Even during my restless years, I belonged to several book clubs, including Reader's Digest and TIME-LIFE, whose publications cost the usual $29.95 (plus postage & handling) which then was a week's housekeeping money (or the cost of a lavish dinner-for-two to which I never treated myself).

When it was time to relocate, I would put the books into boxes (which cost money) and the boxes into storage (which cost more money).

Then, twenty years later, when all my travelling was done, I got the boxes out of storage, only to discover that many of those books I had so carefully boxed and stored, could be bought at an op-shop for 10 cents, or perhaps 20 cents, but never more than a dollar. (And ditto for all those vinyls, those fragile black things handled with kid gloves lest they got scratched. They are on sale now, unscratched, for just ten cents!)

If I had my time over again, I would buy nothing new as I can hardly image a world without op shops. Generally staffed by kindly older ladies, they're little rays of sunshine amidst the primarily drab and boring shopping experiences of the twenty-first century. Apart from large, wildly expensive department stores like David Jones and Myers, where else can you go that sells such a wide variety of goods? If you're lucky the ladies might even offer you a cuppa and a biscuit.

Throughout history people have always worn second hand clothes and treasured pre-loved things. In most families (and in my family in particular!), younger siblings (and I was the youngest!) have long been the recipients of their older sisters' and brothers' hand-me-down clothes, while donating unwanted garments and household paraphernalia to the needy has been practiced by those who are more privileged. While once upon a time such benevolence was generally practiced informally, over the last several decades shops dedicated to selling pre-loved wares have sprung up in cities and towns, large and small, all around Australia.

I can't remember when I discovered my first op shop. I remember once seeing a funny shop with funny-looking people going in and out but it was quite some time later, when op shops had gone mainstream and into main street, that I entered a store which had that peculiar odour created by used clothing and household items within.

In days gone by, if I needed a new belt to accommodate that expanding waistline, I would have gone into a men's wear store and happily paid $20. These days, I go into an op shop and choose from a range of real leather belts with real brass buckles, and never pay more than a dollar. As for books, I have found books I never knew existed and never paid more than a dollar for them.

Once such treasures are discovered, it boosts one’s endorphin levels, thus creating euphoria which can last for hours or days, depending on the perceived value of the find (and relative purchase price). A word of warning though: repeated discoveries of this nature will lead to the addiction of op shopping!

Luckily, I am not alone when I go for my op shop fix. Just look at ilovetoopshop.blogspot.com.au or opaholic.blogspot.com.au or opshopmama.blogspot.com.au or ayearattheopshop.blogspot.com.au or ... - come on, do your own GOOGLEing!

There are even organised op shopping tours - see www.opshoptours.com.au - and a nation-wide register of op shops.

And here is a trailer of a seven-minute short film that captures the essence of the op shop culture that Australians have come to love:

It's an endearing portrait of three spirited elderly ladies who come across an unusual donated object in an op shop, and each goes through a journey of self discovery as they try to decipher the purpose of the object. The film brings strings of surprises and abundance of humour, a familiar scenario which op shop volunteer workers and shopper alike encounter with their daily discoveries of quirky donated goods.

When the going gets tough, the tough go op-shopping!

 

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.

 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The ebay of real estate

 

Remember when Mark Twain's trickster-hero Tom Sawyer is given the irksome chore of whitewashing his auntie's fence? Tom would much prefer to let someone else do it. To achieve that, he pretends to enjoy the job so much that his friends want some of the fun. They beg Tom to let them help, to paint a few strokes at least. Tom refuses, then finally gives in - on the condition that his friends pay him for the privilege of painting the fence.

Tom Sawyer's innocent con game has become the big business model of the twenty-first century. It's called GOOGLE, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and ebay. And now www.realprivate.com.au!

The genius of them all is what is respectfully called user-generated content. All are founded on the premise that users will do all the "work" and even pay for the privilege.

Statistics show that over 70% of buyer enquiries come from online property websites, the biggest being www.realestate.com.au. Access to this website is jealously guarded by commission-charging real estate agents who are the only ones allowed to advertise on it.

www.realprivate.com.au are licensed real estate agents who, for a small fee, allow private sellers to present and sell their homes directly on www.realestate.com.au without paying any further commission. How do they do it? They get the private sellers to conduct their own property inspections - after all who is better qualified or knows their property better than the sellers?

The www.realprivate.com.au website has already sold 1177 properties and another 558 are currently listed for sale (including mine). At an average listing fee of $500, that's $867,500 for letting other people whitewash this particular fence!

Tom Sawyer, eat your heart out!

 

P.S. I may not be able to write anything for the next few days as the wife has asked me to assist her in organising a one-day seminar for the NWICOE - see here.