Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 42 - August/September 2011 > An Island Now - But Not Forever (by John Morris)

An Island Now - But Not Forever

by John Morris

An Island Now - But Not Forever

Tuvalu is one of those places that if you blink twice you have missed it. Tuvalu (once known as the Ellice Islands) which lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii is truly a tiny place. Its land area is 26 square kilometers made up of a mixture of reef islands and true atolls. Tuvalu is the 4th smallest country in the world by land area, and the third smallest country by population with only the Vatican and Nauru having smaller resident numbers.

The "islands" are all low lying. The highest point is 4.5 metres above sea level and concerns have been expressed over recent years on the impact of climate warming on sea levels and the effect that this might have on Tuvalu. Tuvalu was an active and vocal participant at the 2009 Copenhagen World Climate Change conference, where, somewhat sadly, no firm results emerged from the days of verbal thrust and repartee.

The capital of Tuvalu is Funafuti. The Funafuti atoll is huge with varying sized islets scattered around the outline of the atoll. The atoll is some 25 km from north to south and 18 km from east to west. The township uses the same name and occupies the biggest land mass in the country on the eastern side of the atoll. Some 5,000 people live on the island where you will find the international airport and port facilities, business centre and shops, government offices and the nation's parliament. Some of the town roads are paved, with coral sand roads the order throughout the rest of the country.

The airport is quite fascinating. It was constructed by USA naval Seabees during WW2. Coral and other materials were excavated leaving big pits that have never been re-filled other than in a pilot project. Land used for growing pulaka and taro was destroyed. Flights to Tuvalu were twice a week from Fiji, Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I visited Tuvalu. The air strip was used for many activities, sports predominately. 15 minutes before the plane was due to land a siren was operated and everybody cleared off the strip. No one went back to the alternative uses of the strip until the plane took off on its return flight. The only alternative to the plane is by inter-island ferry with 2 vessels providing 3 or 4 trips to and from Fiji each year.

I visited Tuvalu in 2001.  I had been asked by the Trans Pacific Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to evaluate a proposal to lift the church and construct a community centre under the raised building. The church was small and located on a campus together with a school and teachers' and minister's housing. Construction was concrete block walls on a concrete slab with a metal roof. Fit out was simple but neat. The concept to lift the building was not feasible; there was no equipment available to do the work, to bring equipment in from Fiji and return it would be extremely costly, the coral sand "soils" would make it difficult to foot the lifting equipment and skilled personnel would be difficult to attract to the location. An alternative that would work, still expensive but less so would be to construct a second storey, move the church out of the ground floor and relocate it to the upper floor and convert the ground floor to provide facilities for community service activities. Sketch plans were developed on site, with further work undertaken both in Sydney and Fiji.

I had a chance to look over the capital. A taxi ride of 1 hours was enough to view the majority of Funafuti town. Graves were constructed above ground and brightly decorated as is Polynesian custom. Gardens were sparse both in number and size. The coral "soils" are low on nutrients and composting is required to provide a little feed for individual plants. A couple of hours on the lagoon took me to one of the undeveloped southern islets. The winds had picked up and the return run in the "tinnie" was hard and wet.

The country is lucky if it gets over 1,000 visitors each year. The major attraction is the coral and fish life. The major detraction is that the island group is so far away from anywhere.

Kolombangara is a volcanic island in the New Georgia Islands group of the Solomon Islands. The island has a distorted circle shape with a diameter of some 15 kilometres.
PICTURE: "Kolombangara seen from space (false color)" (1)

"The island is a stratovolcano that reaches an altitude of 1,770 metres (5,810 ft) at Mount Veve. The island forms part of the southern boundary of the New Georgia Sound; to the northwest the Vella Gulf separates it from Vella Lavella and Gizo, while to the southeast New Georgia lies across the Kula Gulf. West-Southwest of Kolombangara is Ghizo Island, upon which the Western provincial capital Gizo is located. The volcano is readily climbable. It is also very quiet with no record or evidence of recent eruptions.  The island is heavily forested, with few inhabitants. Kolombangara has two notable settlements, Ringgi and Mongga, the former being the larger. The most significant industry on the island at this time is logging, with the largest of these based at Poitete". At Kukundu, the SDA Church has located a school serving local day students and boarding students. I was asked by the principal and the accountant to visit the site and report on building condition.  The visit occurred from December 30, 2002 - January 7, 2003.

Gizo is the Western Solomons provincial capital. It was a pretty basic township. Rain and mud dampened my feel for the place. Most of town was closed being New Year's Day but I was able to find one shop open for some odds and ends. The hotel in Gizo was open for business though it was obvious that not a lot of people were staying there.  An inter-island passenger ferry was tied up at the side of road, water apparently deepens suddenly allowing berthing. We had just started on the trip to Kukudu when the outboard motor failed- appears to have been a bushing on the prop. Another boat was sought and we flew across the waters to Kukudu. The rain had passed and the sea was mostly smooth with moderate waves. A canvas cover was provided under which to stay dry. We arrived at Kukudu at about 1.30 PM. Moved into the transit flat. 0 star level only, but clean and tidy.

I slept under a mosquito net for the first time that night. Not enough ventilation for tropical areas for me but I guess that you can get used to it, better than being bitten. Next day I went for a twenty minute walk along the coast to the village where the mission boat (MV Varivato) is berthed.  Both the appearance and the shipboard aroma reminded me of time spent in Milne Bay in 1966-67 where on a school building project we moved up and down the bay on the Vinaritokae. The ship had a good ship smell, the diesel permeated the atmosphere. There is a slipway there also and the mission hopes to increase the capacity of it to allow for the servicing of other fishing vessels in the area. The ship was being cared for by a Captain and crew (4 in total). The local administration was experimenting with commercial work to fund the ship's operations profitably.

A brief walk up the airstrip completed the tourist exercise. The staff and I went out for a picnic lunch to John Kennedy's island (Kazoo or colloquially "Plum Pudding Island") where he "landed" after his PT-109 torpedo boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese vessel. Japanese forces established a garrison of over 12,000 men on Kolombangara and as a result of the battle on the sound, were isolated with US forces bypassing the island.

Looking back on the island from one of the adjoining islands, the profile of Kolombangara is that of a sleeping Queen Victoria.

Norfolk Island is another small island of the Pacific Ocean. I had won a bible knowledge quiz for which the prize was 2 tickets to Norfolk. A suggestion to leave our 2 girls with their grandparents was met with strong objections - we were not serious and the 4 of us went (1981).

The island has an area of some 35 square kilometers. The coastline is essentially cliffs with a couple of sandy bays breaking the cliff lines. There is no harbour for shipping requiring vessels to stand off the coast at Kingston on the southern shore or Cascade Bay to the north east and off load via lighters or whale boats to the relevant wharf. The weather dictates which facility is used. Once on the island, movement is easy with around 80 kilometres of paved roads and readily available hire cars. One unique feature of island traffic rules is that cows have right of way.

Most visitors to the island travel by air with regular services from Australia and New Zealand daily. Annual visitor numbers are averaging around 35,000. Flight times of over 2 hours make Norfolk an easy place to get to.

Captain James Cook on his second voyage to the South Pacific sighted and named the island. Shortly after the "First Fleet" arrived in Sydney in 1788, the island was settled as an extension of the Sydney settlement, with use of the island ceasing in 1813 due to cost and access problems. In 1824 settlement again occurred as the destination for the worst offenders from the Sydney penal settlement. The operations were closed down in 1855. The next settlement phase occurred in 1856 with the movement of Pitcairn Islanders from that island where the population increase was putting undue pressure on the island resources. Some families returned in 1858 and 1863. The Norfolk population continued to grow and today there are restrictions on who can live on the island as a result of its limited area and resources.

One feature of our visit was a trip by an outboard powered boat around the island and across to Philip Island to the south. The greater part of the island finishes in steep cliffs, with an occasional small beach breaching the cliff line, in addition to the coral reef protected Kingston beach and wharf area. One rock on the island's eastern side has an opening through which our boat was able to pass at speed. A number of buildings remain from the penal era at Kingston. Some have been restored and are in current use. Others remain as a vivid reminder of life and its difficulties at that time. The island is quite a picture. Undulating farmlands occupy much of the centre of the island. To the north is the Norfolk Island National Park centered on Mount Bates and occupying about 10% of the island where you can find remnants of the forests that once covered the island. Norfolk Island pines grow straight and tall over much of the island. The timber was found to be too soft for ships' masts which assisted in preserving many of the trees. The timber has a soft honey hue and is eminently suitable for housing construction.

Philip Island is a total contrast. There was virtually nothing there. The island vegetation was denuded by rabbits and pigs introduced during the penal era to provide an alternative food source. On our visit there was a small project underway to eliminate the animals and restore the island vegetation.

The earth is itself an island slotted into one side of the Milky Way Galaxy. It is just like the proverbial pimple on a pumpkin though millions of times so. It is a little difficult to understand how a God who created this world, and the galaxy in which it is located, and the "umpteen" galaxies that can be seen through telescopes today can be personally interested in each one of us.

But note the following:

"But now thus saith the Lord that created thee O Jacob. And he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; though art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when though walkest through the fire, though shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Isaiah 43:1,2 

"..thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully substance was not hid from thee when I was made in secret.." Psalms 139:13-15.

And looking forward to a new earth:

"Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God". Revelation 21:3

The earth - no longer the isolated island but the focal point of the universe.




(2)  Bible quotations are from the King James version of the Bible.

This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2011 by John L Morris.  Used by permission.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 42 - August/September 2011 > An Island Now - But Not Forever (by John Morris)