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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flying a kite

 

There was a time when it took several days for a cheque deposit to be cleared because the cheque had to be physically taken from the bank where it had been deposited to the bank on which it had been drawn.

Banks in each locality would "exchange cheques" on a daily basis, taken in cheques from other banks which were drawn on them and swapping them for cheques taken in by them but drawn on other banks. Then, within their own branch network, they would once more send off the cheques which were drawn on them but on a different branch.

All this could take several days; precious days which were used by some clever bank customers to artificially inflate their bank balance by "flying a kite", as the practice was called. It may go like this: a customer has two accounts, each one in a different location. Distance does matter - the farther apart, the better - , so let's assume the 'ideal' situation of one account on the east coast and the other on the west coast.

A cheque drawn on the west coast account was deposited in the east coast account, boosting the east coast account's balance from which real money could be withdrawn. At about the time when the west coast's account could be expected to be 'hit' with the cheque in transit from the east coast, an east coast cheque was deposited in the west coast account to cover it, and ad infinitum.

As a young ledger-keeper with the ANZ Bank in the 60s, I was trained to look out for a pattern that might suggest that someone was "flying a kite" and to bring it to the bank manager's attention. Once discovered, such customer was politely asked to take his business elsewhere.


How long will this game of Liar's Poker continue?

 

Greece finally joined the euro in 2001. Two years earlier, the country was barred from entering because it did not meet the financial criteria. No matter: with the help of Goldman Sachs, the Greeks simply cooked the books.

Having falsely claimed to have met standards relating to manufacturing and industrial production and low inflation, the Greeks were allowed in. Funds poured into the country from across Europe and the Greeks started spending like there was no tomorrow.

Fiddling on a Herculean scale — from the owner of the smallest shop to the most powerful figures in business and politics — is as much a part of Greek life as ouzo and olives. How so? Simple: they are allowed to state their own earnings for tax purposes, figures which are rarely challenged. And rich Greeks take full advantage. Astonishingly, only 5,000 people in a country of 12 million admit to earning more than £90,000 a year — a salary that would not be enough to buy a garden shed in Kifissia. Many residents simply say that they earn below the basic tax threshold of around £10,000 a year, even though they own boats, second homes on Greek islands and properties overseas. And, should the taxman rumble this common ruse, it can be dealt with using a ‘fakelaki’ — an envelope stuffed with cash. There is even a semi-official rate for bribes: passing a false tax return requires a payment of up to 10,000 euros (the average Greek family is reckoned to pay out £2,000 a year in fakelaki.) Even more incredibly, Greek shipping magnates — the king of kings among the wealthy of Kifissia — are automatically exempt from tax, supposedly on account of the great benefits they bring the country.

When the former Greek President George Papandreou called for a crackdown on these tax dodgers — who are believed to cost the economy as much as £40bn a year — he resorted to bizarre means to identify the cheats. After issuing warnings, government officials said he would deploy helicopter snoopers, along with scrutiny of Google Earth satellite pictures, to show who has a swimming pool in the northern suburbs of Athens — an indicator, officials said, of the owner’s wealth. Officially, just over 300 Kifissia residents admitted to having a pool. The true figure is believed to be 20,000. Suddenly there was a boom in sales of tarpaulins to cover pools and make them invisible to the aerial tax inspectors.

Athens' state-of-the-art rapid transport system is, in effect, free for the five million people of the Greek capital. With no barriers to prevent free entry or exit to this impressive tube network, the good citizens of Athens are instead asked to 'validate' their tickets at honesty machines before boarding. Nobody bothers. And the transport perks are not confined to the customers. Incredibly, the average salary on Greece’s railways is £60,000, which includes cleaners and track workers - treble the earnings of the average private sector employee here. The overground rail network is as big a racket as the EU-funded underground. While its annual income is only £80 million from ticket sales, the wage bill is more than £500m a year — prompting one Greek politician to famously remark that it would be cheaper to put all the commuters into private taxis.

Greek pastry chefs, radio and television announcers, hairdressers, musicians playing wind instruments. and masseurs in steam baths are among more than 600 professions allowed to retire at 50 (with a state pension of 95 per cent of their last working year’s earnings) — on account of the ‘arduous and perilous’ nature of their work. Why radio and television announcers? Because they're at risk from the bacteria on their microphones. Of course!

For more than five years now, Greece has been Europe’s biggest concern. Instead of focusing on employment, or immigration, or the challenge of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the continent’s attention has been on a country that represents 1.8 per cent of the eurozone’s economic output. It would be interesting to calculate how many hours Angela Merkel has dedicated to Athens in the past five years. Imagine President Barack Obama taking part in high-level talks for months on end, where little was on the agenda except the state of Tennessee. That, in effect, is what Europe’s heads of government have been doing.

In these five years the world has changed. China and India are undergoing profound transformations. The jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) represent a new and serious threat to the west, as does Mr Putin’s revanchism. But European leaders, instead of devoting their summits to the question of how to best defend their economic and military interests, agonise over what to do about Greece.

Five years of negotiations have achieved virtually nothing (the few reforms that had been adopted, like a small reduction in the inflated number of public sector employees, have since been reversed by the Syriza-led coalition). It is pretty clear that the Greeks have no appetite for modernising their society. They worry too little about an economy ruined by patronage.

Trying to save Greece has become an exercise in the absurd. Greece is bankrupt. Most Greeks know that. It can never repay its debts, no matter how many deals with creditors are pulled out of a hat. The country is now run by a radical left party whose ministers have close to zero executive experience. Their executive experience nonetheless exceeds their diplomatic experience. This stands at less than zero — and it shows. The party, Syriza, includes people who want to re-fight the Greek Civil War (1946-49) in the belief the Communists will triumph this time.

Greeks don't consider themselves part of Europe. When I lived and worked there in the 80s, Greeks about to travel to Germany or the U.K. would tell me "We're going to Europe". Well, they've been to Europe; let them leave again because, while Greece may need Europe, Europe doesn't need Greece.

 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Going for a swim at Cocomo Village

 

The only license required to flog real estate in the Kingdom of Tonga is a poetic one. Consider this introduction to Cocomo Village in the article 'What Life is Like In Cocomo Village':

"Yawning and stretching would be the first thing you might do to start your day in Cocomo, and even before the next thing, you will be curiously drawn to the veranda to assimilate that most incredible view, just to reconfirm you actually made it out from behind the office cubical and not still dreaming. How about breakfast on the awesome veranda? Always the choice since it is where we can consume nature’s most fulfilling gifts, her natural foods and the sight of her beautiful emerald islands set in vivid blue waters under azure skies. That combination can cure cancer, literally. This routine sets the stage for every new day. Breakfast is on; fresh eggs from down the lane or just fruit, maybe from your own trees, delicious. It all tastes better than the store bought and is so much healthier and cheaper too. Lemon grass tea for me please, or some fresh squeezed juice, all for free—whoopee, the billionaire has nothing on me."

Strange, not a word about a swim in the blue South Pacific! I mean, that's what you're there for, right? Jumping straight off the cliff is what Steve McQueen would do but he died in 1980 - and so might you if you took this quick route to an invigorating dip.

Abseiling for a swim anybody?

No, for you it's a "stroll down the lane" until "a little further down the way and you will come to the old village" where "the lagoon is at the end of the wharf" ...

Hunga Jungle

... or, in more prosaic terms, a sweaty scramble through undergrowth for several miles and, depending on your age and agility, several hours from your Potemkin Village (marked on the aerial map with a yellow cross) to the said wharf (marked with a red cross).

A long walk from yellow (the location of 'Cocomo') to red (the only access to the island)

Don't ask me how far it is: I don't think anybody has ever bothered to survey the island. I mean, there's nothing there so why bother? The whole island is said to be a thousand acres so figure it out for yourself.

The only access to the island

Luckily, to get down to the wharf it's all downhill. Just make sure you save enough strength for the return journey because there aren't any stretcher-bearers and the nearest cardiac arrest unit is 2,500 km away in New Zealand.

In the meantime, enjoy your swim at Cocomo Village!

 

P.S. Other Hunga Island posts are here and here.

P.P.S. Looks like good ol' Robert Bryce is running out of steam on Cocomo and has started up another dream scheme, this time nearer to his new hide-out in Fiji: see www.landbuddy.com and www.gonativefiji.com.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Today 112 years ago

Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4 * Part 5 * Part 6

 

Eric Blair was born on this day in 1903. You may know him better as George Orwell, the British author responsible for such classics as "Animal Farm" and "1984", two books which, more than anything else, have shaped my view of the world.

Books are more than just ink on paper; they are knowledge, inspiration, experience, entertainment, motivation, and a very beautiful form of art that feeds our souls. Books open our eyes to new experiences we may never experience in real life. A person who has read a thousand books has lived a thousands lives.

 

P.S. And here's a special treat: the full-length movie "A Merry War", an adaptation of George Orwell's novel "Keep the Aspidistra Flying":

... but it's always better to read the book; here it is! Just consider some of these wonderfully Orwellian quotes from the book:

“The mistake you make, don't you see,is in thinking one can live in a corrupt society without being corrupt oneself. After all, what do you achieve by refusing to make money? You're trying to behave as though one could stand right outside our economic system. But one can't. One's got to change the system, or one changes nothing. One can't put things right in a hole-and-corner way, if you take my meaning.”

÷

“This life we live nowadays. It's not life, it's stagnation death-in-life. Look at all these bloody houses and the meaningless people inside them. Sometimes I think we're all corpses. Just rotting upright.”

÷

“[...] you can get anything in this world if you genuinely don't want it.”

÷

“What he realised, and more clearly as time went on, was that money-worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion-the only felt religion-that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success. Hence the profoundly significant phrase, to make good. The decalogue has been reduced to two commandments. One for the employers-the elect, the money priesthood as it were- 'Thou shalt make money'; the other for the employed- the slaves and underlings'- 'Thou shalt not lose thy job.' It was about this time that he came across The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and read about the starving carpenter who pawns everything but sticks to his aspidistra. The aspidistra became a sort of symbol for Gordon after that. The aspidistra, the flower of England! It ought to be on our coat of arms instead of the lion and the unicorn. There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows.”

÷

“He wondered about the people in houses like those. They would be, for example, small clerks, shop-assistants, commercial travellers, insurance touts, tram conductors. Did they know that they were only puppets dancing when money pulled the strings? You bet they didn’t. And if they did, what would they care? They were too busy being born, being married, begetting, working, dying. It mightn’t be a bad thing, if you could manage it, to feel yourself one of them, one of the ruck of men. Our civilization is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras — they lived by the money-code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They ‘kept themselves respectable’— kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do. The aspidistra is the tree of life, he thought suddenly.”

÷

“For after all, what is there behind, except money? Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books, money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O lord, give me money, only money.”

÷

“He had reached the age when the future ceases to be a rosy blur and becomes actual and menacing.”

÷

“Poverty is spiritual halitosis.”

÷

“To settle down, to Make Good, to sell your soul for a villa and an aspidistra! To turn into the typical little bowler-hatted sneak—Strube’s “little man”—the little docile cit who slips home by the six-fifteen to a supper of cottage pie and stewed tinned pears, half an hour’s listening-in to the B.B.C. Symphony Concert, and then perhaps a spot of licit sexual intercourse if his wife “feels in the mood!” What a fate! No, it isn’t like that that one was meant to live.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Taim bilong Rabaul

Grahame Ward and Peter Logan at the Royal Papuan Yacht Club in Port Moresby

 

Peter Logan, a friend from my days in Rabaul in 1970 where he worked at Rabaul Garage selling cars for John Dowling, recently travelled back to Papua New Guinea to meet up with another friend of ours, Grahame Ward.

Rabaul had been my jumping-off spot in the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea when I arrived there in early January 1970. It was everything I had expected of the Territory: it was a small community settled around picturesque Simpson Harbour. The climate was tropical with blazing sunshine and regular tropical downpours, the vegetation strange and exotic, and the social life a complete change from anything I had ever experienced before! And to top it all, I loved the work which offered challenges only available in a small setting such as Rabaul where expatriate labour was at a premium.

This is a beautifully produced book; click here or here for a preview

1970 was an eventful year in Rabaul. The Mataungan Association had stepped up its struggle over land rights and was causing the Australian Administration much grief. Prime Minister John Gorton visited in July and, as Gough Whitlam, later wrote: “He was greeted in Rabaul by an audience of 10 000 who were as hostile as our 11 000 (on an earlier visit) had been enthusiastic. Tom Ellis, head of the Department of the Administrator, gave Gorton a handgun.”

I worked for Hancock, Woodward & Neill, a small firm of chartered accountants: the resident manager, Barry Weir, his wife Muriel as secretary, and two accountants, Peter Langley and Grahame Ward, plus myself. Graham was a real character who was destined never to leave the Territory. 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's main street Mango Avenue

He and an accountant from another chartered firm and myself shared a company house (which was really an old Chinese tradestore) in Vulcan Street and a 'hausboi' who answered to the name of Getup. "Getup!!!" "Yes, masta!" Each of us took a turn in doing the weekly shopping. I always dreaded when it was their turn as they merely bought a leg of lamb and spent the rest of the kitty to stock up on beer! We spent Saturday nights at the Palm Theatre sprawled in our banana chairs with an esky full of stubbies beside us. The others rarely spent a night at home; their nocturnal activities ranged from the Ambonese Club to the Ralum Club to the RSL. When they were well into their beers, mosquitoes would bite them and then fly straight into the wall! Then, next morning, they were like snails on Valium. How they managed to stay awake during office hours has always been a mystery to me!

The Palm Theatre was the social hub on Saturday nights; the town would dress in
their finery and gather to see great epics like 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Ben Hur'

When the tradestore lease terminated, Grahame and I moved into adjoining flats above New Britain Bakery in Mango Avenue until the stale smell of bread and the noise of the nightly baking drove us away. We next took up quarters at the mess hall of the Public Works Department along Malaguna Road where Grahame Ward, Peter Logan, an alcoholic spray-painter by the name of Brian Davies who worked for Rabaul Garage, and I shared a 'donga', each of us occupying a separate room connected by a long verandah, with the ablution block at one end.

On that verandah, right next to my door, stood an old beer fridge beside an old wicker chair. This chair was always occupied by Brian who never wore anything other than the same pair of paint-splattered overalls (I think he even wore them when taking a shower which he did every Sunday, whether he needed one or not ☺). After a hot working-day during which he had quenched his thirst with paint thinner, Brian would sit all night on the verandah and work his way through the contents of the beer fridge (as we all know, alcohol doesn't solve any problem, but then neither does milk). I will always associate the sound of a creaking fridge door and the soft popping of bottle tops with those tropical nights in Rabaul!

Rabaul was considered the most beautiful town in PNG and the 'Pearl of the South Pacific' until 1994 when it was destroyed by the twin volcanic eruptions of Mt. Tavurvur and Vulcan.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of that period in my life as I didn't own a camera then. Maybe I ought to have bought one instead of the worthless mining shares which my fellow-accountants had talked me into "investing" in - read more here.

The address says it all: Box 187 P.O., Rabaul, New Guinea, T.P.N.G.

During my time in Rabaul, advertisements began to appear in the local POST-COURIER for the Bougainville Copper Project. I applied to the project's construction managers Bechtel Corporation for the advertised position of Senior Contract Auditor and was invited by the Project Administration Manager Sid Lhotka to attend an interview at Panguna. It was a case of vini,vidi,vici and within a month I was flying back to Bougainville to start work with Bechtel (but thereby hangs yet another tale.)

I've sometimes wondered what would have become of Grahame had he come across to Bougainville. I had a job lined up for him in my contract audit group at Loloho looking after the construction of the Arawa Township, Loloho Port, and Loloho Powerhouse. He actually flew over for the interview and said he would return within the month but never did.

I guess when Grahame returned from the interview on Bougainville, Mark Henderson, who by that time had taken over from Barry Weir as partner, offered him a few extra dollars (which, in Grahame's currency of the day, may have been the equivalent of several cartons of SP) and Grahame was happy to stay. It is also possible that he may not been cut out for the pace on Bougainville where we worked a minimum of 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Grahame Ward was never to leave Rabaul - well, not until September 1994 when the town was totally wiped out by a volcanic eruption. By that time Grahame had already got married to a PNG citizen and had become a PNG citizen himself and moved to Port Moresby. He remains there to this day, little changed in looks (further proof that alcohol is a great preservative ☺).

I wished I could've been a fly on the wall and listen in as he and Peter Logan talked about the good ol' days.

 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My facebook followers

 

When facebook first came out, I started an account but realising how little editorial power I had over it, I immediately closed it again. Ever since that time facebook has kept asking me to come back.

But I no longer need facebook. I now make friends outside of facebook by applying the same principles: every day I walk down the street and tell everyone I meet what I have eaten, how I feel, what I did the night before, and what I will do for the rest of the day. I also give them pictures of my family, of my two dogs and of what I have done in the garden. I also listen to their conversation and I tell them that I love them.

And it works! Already I have three persons following me: two police officers and a psychiatrist.

 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Traumfischer (Fisherman of Dreams)

 

A year or two before I travelled to Tonga for the first time, a German television producer asked for two volunteer families to live for three months on the tiny island of Ha'ano in Ha'apai which is just six kilometres long and has 400 inhabitants spread over four villages.

Some 400 families volunteered from which the producer picked Steffen Kinder's and Uwe Armbruster's families, with altogether five children and even a grand-dad. They lived on the island in primitive conditions, cooking on an open fire, working in a neighbour's plantation, and, of course, there was no fridge, no TV, no supermarket. Constant rain for the first three weeks, in the constant humidity the smallest cut becoming a festering sore, and an invasion of lice and fleas and cockroaches were some of the downsides of living in a South Sea Paradise.

Their experiences were documented in the film "Traumfischer" which ran on German television and is also available on DVD. Gabriela Kinder's final comments, "Wir wären gerne länger geblieben, aber dorthin auszuwandern stand und steht nicht zur Debatte. Ich würde viele Dinge, die ich sehr schätze, vermissen, zum Beispiel klassische Musik, Konzerte, Theater, Museen und auch Kneipen. Deswegen würde es uns auch eher nach Italien ziehen, falls wir einmal aus Deutschland weggehen sollten." ["We would have liked to stay longer but to permanently settle there was out of the question. There are too many things I would have missed, for instance, classical music, concerts, theatre, museums, even our corner-pub. Should we ever consider leaving Germany, it'd be to some place such as Italy."]

Of course, I immediately ordered the DVD from Germany. Now that it is also available on YouTube (well, parts of it), you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and background music free of charge even though you may not understand the language. Mind you, we might be lucky third time 'round when 've vill haffe our vays to make you dummkobf sbeak it'

 

I'm running out of rain gauges

 

The antediluvian patriarch Noah would've loved this weather: water, water everywhere; enough of it to sink (up to the top of my gumboots anyway).

"And after the flood, Noah became a husbandman and he planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and was uncovered within his tent."

With the watertanks overflowing, I may follow Noah's example, 'uncover' and, glass of wine in hand, slip into a hot bath. Cheers!

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

He's good; he's very good - and I bet he's on a handsome commission!

Dae Payton in full swing (did I get his name right?
doesn't matter as it probably isn't his real name anyway)

 

But he's not on the island of Hunga. And that anonymous patch of sea in the background is not in Tonga. Nor has he ever been to Tonga, if his suggestion that it's 'just a plane ride from LA' and the way he pronounces Hunga and Neiafu are anything to go by.

Needless to say, those "outstanding medical and dental facilities" and "great restaurants" don't exist nor www.mybestplacestoretire.com (click for an archived copy here). Anyway, if his pronounciation of Hunga made you hunger for more, here it is:


Still the same shirt; still the same shit

I've just checked here and cannot find Dae Payton among the 70-odd "investors" who since 2009 have parted with well over US$600,000 for the privilege of leasing a 785-square metre block of land in this non-existing "Cocomo Village" which is yet to welcome its first resident.

If you want to see the real Hunga, here are some authentic photos:

Different, huh? Great place for abseiling with or without a rope ☺ I visited Hunga Island in 2006 and, let me tell you, a more God-forsaken place you couldn't find! - click here

Anyway, if you're really into serious bullshit, here's the full 'sales pitch', straight from the Marquis de Rays who was a much better bullshit artist than Dae Payton ever will be:

"Food? Nouvelle France was composed of land that ached from its burden of succulent riches. A man had merely to call and the natives would rush the produce of the fields to him. The ugly days of buying things from mean shop attendants were ended. Food was everywhere.

Money? The seas abounded in trepang, a crawling slug which could be gathered even by children and which sold in China for $750 a ton. The softly rolling land in from the beach was crowded with mahogany and teak. Copra could be made with almost no effort, since Chinese would do all the work. Vessels of all nations would put into port, hotels would florish and the citizens of Nouvelle France would reap an enormous profit.

Amenities? When the adventurous colonists reached this paradise they would find schools, churches, stores, factories, a railway, docks, and a lighthouse which would aid large European vessels putting into the colony for trade. There would also be fine roads not less than fifteen feet wide between properties." (You will have to read the rest in James Michener's book "Rascals in Paradise" but I think you get the general drift.)

(Actually, the latter-day Marquis has an even more convincing way with words - click here. 'Gilding the lily' is perhaps the kindest phrase to describe it. But wait, there's more: click here.)

This video shows the westerly approach from the oceanside to Hunga Lagoon; the eastern entrance through the Blue Lagoon is too shallow for bigger boats (you need a biggish ocean-going boat - and a good lifejacket because things can get rough! - for the more-than-one-hour voyage from Neiafu to Hunga). Towards the end of the clip you see Steve Campbell and Caroline Hudson's Ika Lahi Gamefishing Lodge (which has been for sale for many years; its website www.tongafishing.com has been archived, so it may no longer be operating) and Chris and Mary Pollard's "One'atea", a holiday rental property, on the only stretch of beach which allows access to the island and to the top of the island where huddles a comatose group of mainly old natives who depend for their livelihood on remittances from their relatives working overseas. There are some very beautiful islands in Tonga (especially in the Ha'apai group of islands) but this almost inaccessible volcanic rock is not my idea of a tropical island!

P.S. Looks like good ol' Robert Bryce is running out of steam on Cocomo and has started up another dream scheme, this time nearer to his new hide-out in Fiji: see www.landbuddy.com and www.gonativefiji.com.

 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Cocomo is where to go when you see the curtains start to move"

Robert (70) celebrating the 13th anniversary of taking care of business
(his words, not mine - click here)

 

Ever since I met real estate salesman extraordinaire Robert Bryce in Tonga in 2006 I have kept an eye on Tongan real estate which is subject to its own laws, or rather, no laws. Read more about it here.

Let me get one thing straight: I have never bought anything from Robert but I like the guy. I mean, anybody who's been around for as long as the Beach Boys and writes prose like this and even invokes the world's greatest maritime disaster to sell his wares must be dedicated.

In his own way, Robert is a dreamer which eminently qualifies him to sell his even less-than-Potemkin Cocomo Village dream to other dreamers such as Charlette and Barry from Manitoba in Canada, and Nicolas and Candice from Wyoming, USA, who want to spend their winters in shorts and T-shirt. Shareholders come from all over the world: USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Holland, Vietnam, Slovenia, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden - see here and follow the instructions; to view the number of shares held by each shareholder, click here or here.

(Please note that these company registry extracts are not up-to-date but perhaps as much as one or two years old. As a German-born Australian, I also note with pride that only a handful of dreamers from my country of birth and my adopted country have fallen for this Potemkin Village. The majority 'investors' are USA citizens which proves that an American fool and his money are soon parted ☺)

Anyway, quite a United Nations - IF they ever get together! At the moment, after the project has been in existence for almost six years, there is still nothing, absolutely nothing, and nobody lives there, although it is said that Philippe Sunnen (from Luxembourg) and Betsy Anh Stringham (from the U.K.) and their nine-month-old daughter are building an earthbag house.

I found their photos on this webpage (since removed; all I could find was an archived copy here which must be the same Cocomo Village Management Ltd that looks after the project - or rather, did, because, according to Nico Neubauer's blog of 19th March 2016, Betsy and Philippe and their little baby in January 2016 moved to Uruguay to try their luck there. They didn't even last twelve months!)

Strangely, I didn't find Philippe Sunnen's name among the shareholders, nor the names of the two most ardent promoters, Robert Bryce and John Geering Snook, which reminds me of my mother's warning, 'Never trust a skinny chef' ☺).

(Correction: Both Robert Bryce and John Geering Snook had a thousand shares each issued to them for the nominal total price of US$1 in January 2011 - see here - , presumably for 'services rendered'. However, their names are not shown on the share register. Anyway, Robert Bryce is unlikely to return from his present-day domicile Fiji to take up residence in Cocomo Village, while John Geering Snook is a rapidly approaching octogenarian who'd be tempting fate to try to climb to the top of the island.)

(Ooops! Correction to the correction: Both Robert Bryce and John Geering Snook sold their thousand shares each in March and May 2011 for US$4,950 and US$5,000 respectively - see here. Just goes to show, they, too, have to live and can't eat a view however high off the cliffs ☺)

But coming back to dreams, there's nothing wrong with them (they're better than nightmares ☺). I dreamt my own when I bought a block of land on tropical Magnetic Island off Australia's Queensland coast in 1979. Dreaming of one day building a house and living there kept me going while I kept going through dozens of jobs in fifteen different countries.

I eventually sold the land twenty-five years later, with the house still unbuilt but with a tidy profit (an investment should at least double in value every ten years; if it doesn't, call it anything you like but not an investment), because I was lucky enough to discover, before I had succumbed to relentless mosquito bites, cyclonic winds, heat rashes, intellectual and dietary privations, and sheer bone-breaking hard work, that I no longer needed the dream.

US$5,970 up front and a monthly US$35 (paid in perpetuity or until you go insane and throw yourself off the clifftop or return to your native homeland, whichever comes sooner) is small money to keep your dreams alive in order to keep yourself alive during the cold Northern winters, so go ahead and dream your dreams. Just don't expect them to come true!

 

P.S. No tour-guide exists yet of Cocomo Village because Cocomo Village doesn't exist (not yet; and perhaps it never will) or of Hunga Island which is so remote it may as well not exist. The nearest to a "tour-guide" would be the story of "Charles I, Emperor of Oceania" in James Michener's book "Rascals in Paradise". Ignore it at your peril! ☺

P.P.S. For the latest update on Cocomo Village, click here.

P.P.P.S. Looks like good ol' Robert Bryce is running out of steam on Cocomo and has started up another dream scheme, this time nearer to his new hide-out in Fiji: see www.landbuddy.com and www.gonativefiji.com.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lots of people have lots of friends

left-to-right: Ian, Kathy, Padma, moi. The pink ladies in the back are raising money for Moruya Hospital; we're still waiting for the call
to say that we're holding the winning tickets.

 

But that's only because they find the word 'acquaintance' too hard to spell. However, I think I can rightly claim that Ian and I are good friends and our friendship has endured the test of time, perhaps because we don't meet all that often.

Today was one of those rare days when we met for lunch at the Tuross Head Country Club. We talked about everything and anything and time just flew.

Now I'm back at "Riverbend" and ready to start on another book, Rorting - The Great Australian Crime by Malcolm Brown. It's all about travel rorts and other financial abuses by Federal politicians (what? corrupt politicians? never! I mean, you can rent them by the hour but you could never buy them, could you?); a salted gold mine in Borneo (read Kerry B. Collison's book "Indonesian Gold"); the Fine Cotton Affair (one of those alleged to have been involved, Peter McCoy, was my client in Canberra where he ran the highly successful night club, the "Private Bin"; I read somewhere Peter declared himself bankrupt claiming to have become the victim of online scammers); tax evasion in Australia (a national sport, second only to Greece, the pinnacle of which were the bottom-of-the-harbour schemes); the life and times of Christopher Skase (watch "Let's Get Skase"); corruption in the justice system; the corrupt practices in local government and the building industry; and the grasping for insurance pay-outs and other windfalls.

More to talk about next time Ian and I meet up again!

 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My kind of Boat People

Translation: At last the right kind of refugees!

 

I have written to the Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon. Peter Dutton MP, requesting that, for purpose of the arrival of asylum seekers, "Riverbend" be excised from the migration zone of the Australian mainland.

This should allow this boatload to be landed here before they freeze to death which would be a terrible, terrible waste.