Tuesday 12 November 2019

Paradise, but would you live on Pitcairn?

Bounty Bay, on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific.
Bounty Bay, on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific.
Poster for the classic movie "Mutiny on the Bounty"
WELCOME: Nadine Christian from Pitcairn Island

Nick Bramhill

It's the tiny island settled by the mutineers of HMS Bounty in 1790, but now, tiny Pitcairn Island has appealed for skilled Irish workers and their families to make a 14,000km trek and settle on the volcanic outcrop in the South Pacific

Pitcairn, though beautiful, is one of the most isolated locations on the planet and only the most self-reliant need apply.

Ten years ago, it was also the centre of a major criminal investigation centred on child sexual abuse which led to the conviction of a number of the menfolk on the island.

Chiefs of the tropical outcrop, which lies 2,325km from Tahiti in the South Pacific, are concerned about the island's future, having seen its population fall from 233 in 1937 to just 48 today.

But they are confident they can safeguard the far-flung jurisdiction, which has no airstrip and is the last British overseas territory in the Pacific, with a new initiative aimed at boosting the number of inhabitants to 80.

Speaking from her home in Pitcairn, Nadine Christian - a published author whose husband is a direct descendant of leader of the infamous mutiny, Fletcher Christian - has called on Irish people, particularly engineers and IT specialists, to consider moving out permanently to the sun-kissed outcrop.

Ms Christian, a 40-something mother-of-five originally from New Zealand, said Irish families would be particularly welcomed, adding that the island even throws a St Patrick's Day party every year "with glasses raised and emerald green worn proudly".

But she warned would-be emigrants to be prepared for a hard life of self-sufficiency and a sense of isolation very different from anything they've experienced before.

She said: "I know the myth of cocktails under the coconut trees, hot and lazy days relaxing on the beach, but it's truly nothing like that.

"We're so isolated that every day is a test of our endurance. There is firewood to gather to heat water, gardens to tend to, bread to bake. And if you lapse for a minute on just one of these things, you'll have no hot water and no fresh food.

"And you have to be very aware that you're all alone here in the middle of the ocean with no immediate rescue if you're very ill, or have a sudden need to munch on a burger from McDonalds.

"In saying that, the rewards are great - fish so fresh from our pristine waters that it tastes like no other, no pollution and no nine-to-five rush."

Ms Christian said that life was transformed for the better for islanders shortly after she moved there in late 2002 with the arrival of the internet, which is now ubiquitous in the family homes in Adamstown, the island's only village.

And appealing to Irish people to consider a move to the rocky outcrop, she said: "The Irish are renowned as hard-working people, with close-knit families much as our own. They'd fit right in.

"We have a need for those experienced in all walks of life, from engineers to IT experts. The internet and phone system means we're only a phone call or an email away from city life, so we're not as totally cut off as we once were."

Isolation has also led to other unsavoury and disturbing problems. In 2004, seven men living on Pitcairn Island went on trial facing 55 charges relating to sexual offences involving underage girls. All but one of the defendants were found guilty on at least some of the charges and served sentences.

The following year, another six men living abroad were tried on 41 charges in a separate trial in Auckland, New Zealand. All have now completed sentences.

Despite an increase in tourism, mainly from passing cruise ships in recent years, experts have predicted that unless the population is quickly boosted, the current generation could be the last to live on the 3.2km-long isle, as it will become impossible to sustain public services.

Ms Christian added: "There are around 50 islanders, 10 more or so off-islanders - the policeman and his wife, doctor, teacher, governor's representative and the like.

"We're an ageing population, so the importance of either Pitcairners living abroad to return or immigrants wishing for a different way of life, is essential. We want to grow our population to at least 80. It's a sustainable number and would breathe a life-gush of air into the place.

"The alternative is something we are not thinking about. We cannot. We have to entice people to the island."

Pitcairn, the only inhabited territory of the four that make up the Pitcairn Islands, is most famous as the refuge of the mutineers from HMS Bounty.

In January 1790, the Bounty mutineers arrived on the inhospitable outcrop after a long search for a remote hideaway to escape the death penalty and start a new life.

Led by Fletcher Christian, the party was made up of eight other British mutineers, six Tahitian men, 12 Tahitian women and a child.

Once they were settled on the island, the Bounty was burned to prevent escape and detection.

But their island community proved to be anything but a safe haven. Chaos and bloodshed ruled the first years, largely due to the English mutineers' slave-like treatment of the Polynesian men.

The situation worsened when a mutineer demanded that one of the Tahitians give up his wife, following the death of the mutineer's partner in a fall.

A cycle of murder and revenge was triggered and by 1794, all six Tahitian men and five of the nine mutineers, including Fletcher Christian, had been killed.

Many residents of the island speak a blend of simplified 18th-century English and Tahitian called 'Pitkern'.

Sunday Independent

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