Report 10 - 16 December 2008 - Another year, another location!
At the beginning of 2008 the name Nauru was just a long forgotten
memory of a 1976 National Geographic article about a remote Pacific
island whose inhabitants had the highest per capita income of any
country on Earth - at the time.
Then, in May, when my former employer decided he couldn't take any
more of the Indonesian government (specifically the Department of
Works) hypocrisy, I was suddenly looking for a job and, through the
network, I heard about the job in Nauru, and the Nat Geo article was
My new employer is a Melbourne based construction management
company, Reeves Construction Services, and our Client is the Australian
Government Agency for International Development - AusAID. We are
building a new Secondary School near the airport - just above the 'e' in
Yaren in the satellite photo opposite.
It's hard to describe Nauru and the Nauruans in a few words as there
aren't many countries whose entire populations have gone from
subsistence to riches and almost back again in such a short time while
also losing almost all their means of subsistence and culture along the
way. Although most of the population hasn't actually lived in Australia
the influence is unmistakable from their accent (apart from a small
percentage who don't speak English) to the supplies in the shops and
even to their sense of humour.
Nauru is just a few kilometres from the equator and it is very hot and
very dry. (See the Nauru Information page for all the statistics.) It
used to have a typical tropical rainfall pattern and an interior with
tropical vegetation, but the discovery and export of rich phosphate
deposits removed all that together with up to five metres in elevation
off most of the island.
The present 13,000 or so inhabitants are made up of original Nauruan
descendants and a lot of expats, many permanent, from other Pacific
islands, China, the Philippines and Europe (some via Australia and New
Zealand) and several mixtures of the above, However some of the pure
Nauruans, and some who think they are, are very territorial about the
scarce resources, including jobs, and try to make things very difficult
for those who weren't born there, particularly the Chinese who run all
the restaurants and many of the small shops.
Almost all the inhabitants live just above sea level around the coastal
fringe or a few metres higher on roads that branch a little way inland.
The exception is one small community that lives round a small inland
pond but this is also just above sea level and the lake is brackish but it
is just about the only fertile area in the whole island,
Apart from cable TV from Fiji (sixteen channels with about eight
watchable) there is no real entertainment for expats in Nauru. There
are two hotels but only one of them has a reasonable bar where some of
the expats meet up each Friday night. The main local 'entertainment' is
the almost nightly Bingo!
Nauruans are famous for weight-lifting and they have won many medals
in the Commonwealth Games. In fact their present President, Marcus
Stephen, himself won a total of seven Gold and five Silver Medals.
However Australian Rules Football is the main national sport and the
local competition, where the teams are based on the country's
Districts, was keenly contested up until recently when a particularly
violent final resulted in many serious injuries. After a year or two
without a competition they are now ready to start again with a
different basis for team selection.
Our own exercise is limited to Hash House Harriers every Tuesday
evening and occasional walks along the remaining tracks on the fringe of
the mined out areas. Some of these tracks, and hence many Hash trails,
still have original vegetation and make quite pleasant walks.
There are plenty of nice beaches but they are not suitable for swimming
because of the exposed coral pinnacles that extend right out to the
edge of the reef. There is a small harbour near the hotel where it is
safe to swim but only for the really keen. The hotel swimming pool, like
the nine hole golf course, has not been operating since the Australian
government closed down the illegal immigrant processing centre nearby.
There is some very good game fishing just offshore but the boat hire is
too expensive for it to be a regular hobby. However, since the water is
very shallow, though rocky, right out to the edge of the reef many locals
can be seen out there every day using rods to reach the deeper waters.
There is one main shop that stocks up approximately every six to eight
weeks when the ship arrives and smaller shipments arrive irregularly on
the twice-weekly plane. Hence most of our spare time is taken up with
frequent short shopping trips to try to find the essentials after the
plane arrives and before the local Chinese buy up everything for their
restaurants and shops. Almost everything is imported from Australia,
except for a small amount of fruit and vegetables from the Solomon
Islands, and the prices are almost double Australian prices.
We eat out occasionally but with only Chinese restaurants to choose
from the lack of variety isn't a great incentive, even though the food
quality is reasonable and cheaper than the we expected considering the
price of food in the shops.
Viv has quite a problem keeping herself busy in the days. Normally
she would walk a lot but there are so many dogs on the roads that she
doesn't feel comfortable - even thought most of the dogs look too
frail to hurt anyone. But there have been cases of people being
bitten so you can't be too careful. There has been talk of a stray
dog cull ever since we arrived but it hasn't happened yet. We are
often barked at when we go walking in the evenings and a weekends
but we usually carry a big stick in the worst areas and so far we
haven't had a problem. A few weeks ago we took part in a round the
island walk. It is about 16 km and it took about 3 hours. We did it
between 5.00 and 8.00 pm when most of the dogs were off duty!
My project is a new Secondary School designed to give the young
people of Nauru some hope for their future through qualifying for
further training at other institutions in the Pacific, Australia and
New Zealand. Work is proceeding slowly as we have to train almost
all the workers in the basic trades because many of them have minimal
work experience. Nauruans brought in other Islanders to do their
work during their wealthy times. So they have a lot of catching up to
do in work quality and work ethics but, so far, they have been quite
good, cheerful workers and they are keen to learn.
There were also teething problems getting the project going before I
arrived and so work started very late and then there were delays due
to the late arrival of the ship carrying most of the mobilisation gear.
Now the latest hold-up is the discovery of an unexploded artillery
shell from WW2 right in the middle of the site. Fortunately we can
still work in the outer areas of the site and we are hopeful that it
will be removed before the New Year.
At the moment we are back in
Australia for a short break.
We chose this time of year so
that we could attend
Samantha's graduation, even
though we would prefer to come
in January when things are back
to normal. It's been a long haul
but now we can finally call her
She has elected to do her
intern year in Townsville so
it looks like this will continue
to be our base for at least
Particularly since Kimberly is still working here for a local
architectural company. Her latest interest, in which she has had some
very good results, is in producing 3D graphics for marketing new
projects. She hopes to continue her studies in that area when she
moves back to the Brisbane area in a year or so.
In the meantime we will head back to Nauru at the beginning of
January and hope that things will settle down so that we can get into
some sort of routine. There have been promises of a new, reliable
mobile phone service soon but, like so many things in Nauru, we'll
believe it when we see it.
After all, one of the most common phrases heard amongst expats is
when explaining away a fanciful story as 'only another Naurumour'!
|Satellite photo from a few years ago showing the hardy
vegetation that has grown back over the mined area.
Since the photo was taken new 'secondary' phosphate mining
has commenced and the bright white, coral pinnacles are again
in evidence in the interior of the island or 'topside' as the
area is called locally.
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