Thursday, May 17, 2007

All about the unheroic slog

Aah production work. It’s not glamorous that’s for sure, and it’s always a moveable feast. But it’s all that’s been happening on There once was an Island since Briar and Zane got back, so there’s not much else to talk about right now.

You’re probably wondering what’s been happening and why it’s been so important that no one has updated the blog for the last millennium, and the simple truth is that it’s all about the bottom line. Along with Briar and Zane, I know that there are only a finite number of hours in a week, and when a good chunk of them are spent engaged in other work, work that can offer a paycheck, the time spent on the film shrinks and often comes a poor second.

Here's what's been happening - more or less: Immediately on their return from the island Briar and Zane walked into different short-contract editing jobs, which took up pretty much all of their waking hours. Fortunately I work four evenings a week at, and so that left – gosh – a whole 7 days and three nights into which I could squeeze work on the film – who needs sleep?

We started editing a promo reel at ImagesPost about the time that Briar and Zane got back, something that was only possible because of the amazing generosity shown by Paul and Grant who run the facility. The lovely Prisca Bouchet started helping us with the monumental task of digitising and editing a very large amount of footage, and I found that my plans to get funding applications started had to be put on hold to get as much footage logged and digitised as possible.

After much titivating the promo was duly finished and dispatched with our application for post-production funding to the Screen Innovation Production Fund and we’re waiting to hear what the results of this will be. In the meantime we’ve shown the DVD to several people, got feedback on it and have added titles and subtitles. Zane is in the process of grading it properly and we hope to be sending off copies to a number of networks and distributors soon.

After work on the promo, Prisca has come on board as our editor. She's great to work with, extremely talented, passionate about editing and willing to work for free. There's nothing more we could possibly ask for!

If we get SIPF or any additional funding we’ll be able to head off to the island again, and perhaps this time take a scientist to explore what exactly is making Takuu and its neighbouring atolls sink so quickly. We’ve been offered an opportunity to tag along with some ham radio enthusiasts. Derek Cox, Hans Hjelmstrom and Stig Nyman are heading out to the atolls as part of a project to broadcast from the farthest reaches of the world and are chartering a yacht to do so. I’m for anything that could mean avoiding the scheduling challenges presented by the Sankamap so it sounds good to me!

In the meantime Briar is working about 4 jobs, I’ve got a giant pile of writing to do for the project and a mass of funding to assess and apply for, none of which seems to be happening, and when he’s not doing our promo, Zane’s off developing a number of additional projects of his own.

That about gets you all caught up. I’ll try and post something again soon. Here's pic of Rose and Briar to keep you going.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Last voyage on the Sankamap

Contemplating the joy of sailing and the sadness of leaving, Zane has written the following. For a final taste of Takuu keep reading to the bottom. The final departure seems to me as tragi-comic as the initial one from New Zealand but, really, much more moving...

Ahhhh the Sankamap... It probably seems strange how much we refer to the ship in the blog and the fact that we do so by name. But once you've been here and seen how important this ship is and how its very character influences the lives of so many, you quickly start to think of it not so much as a thing but as a living breathing being. She was built for the PNG government around 18 years ago (I'll try and check this date the ship looks and probably is older), specifically so that the Atolls could be regularly serviced, and the plan worked well for a while...For a while it was a great little cargo ship that was air-conditioned, had a cook for the cabin passengers and a working shower. It could take about 130 passengers and, I would estimate, about 50 tonnes of cargo.

However from the outset it was doomed. It was originally designed with two cargo holds and two loading cranes, but then in order to save a few million Kina the decision was made to reduce its length by 10 metres. That reduction in length was achieved by simply cutting out one of the cargo holds and cranes. The money saved supposedly disappeared into some dodgy individual's pocket never to be seen again. As a result, the ship can't really carry enough cargo to be economically viable and, what's more, its sea handling has been ruined by the fact it’s so much shorter than it was designed to be and hence it doesn't ride very well. If you look at the photo of it you'll notice how stubby it seems to look due to the missing length in between the bow and the superstructure.

Despite being handicapped at birth, the Sankamap has had a busy and colourful life. She was used to run troops around during the crisis and even played a role in repelling rebels when they attempted to invade Buka Island from Bougainville by crossing the narrow Buka passage. Armed troops lined the side of the ship, which was tied up on the Buka side, and waited silently while the rebels attempted a night crossing. Then when the rebels were mid passage the troops opened fire. I don't know many details of the event but I can imagine it was a bit of a slaughter. The Sankamap got a bullet hole to show for her part in the successful ambush. This story is one of the seemingly endless supply Richard had about the ship.

The Sankamap has been the main lifeline to the Atolls off Bougainville for the last 20 years. At present management of the ship is in the hands of a company from Nukumanu (Tasman Island, one of the Atolls around Takuu). I'm still unsure as to whether the actual ownership of the vessel is in the hands of the company or the government but nevertheless there are a lot of people unhappy about the current set up.

You would assume that with control of the vessel lying in the hands of people from the Atolls the islands would be getting good service. However this is not the case, as the ship now has to put profit first in order to survive whereas before, while profit may have been nice, the first duty of the ship under her government-run management was to provide a service and that service was aimed at looking after the residents of the five outlying atolls. Under the new regime and its need to try and generate profit, the quality of the service to the islands has reduced and servicing and maintenance of the ship has sunk to the bare minimum. Gone are the air-conditioning and any of the creature comforts enjoyed by passengers in years past. The ship has numerous rust holes, many of which are dangerous for the passengers, and others I suspect seriously affect the seaworthiness of the ship.

The Sankamap regularly runs to Buka, Rabaul and Lae but only infrequently to the Islands as it has to try and earn enough in order to be able to afford what is a loss-making trip. As the most isolated of all the Atolls, Takuu suffers the worst from this fact. In the case of the other islands, either the Bougainville mainland or the Solomans are within fairly easy reach, but Takuu, in the middle of the atoll group, has no easily access to off-shore facilities for getting supplies or in case of emergencies.

In case we haven't mentioned it in previous entries, the Sankamap is pigeon for Sunrise and it is literally pronounced “Sun come up”. Despite the positive name, this ship is probably the single biggest problem that the Atolls face. A regular and well run service to the islands would create the ability for the islanders to set up their own businesses. These would help them to fund the ship’s trips to the Island and to fund and import better amenities for the island such as medical and educational supplies. It would also reduce their dependency on hand-outs from the cash starved Bougainville government. It would open the doors for tourists to visit and stay upon the Islands which would be a much welcomed economic boost. At the moment Takuu would by very lucky to get four Sankamap visits a year and has had to go up to seven months without a visit, meaning food and fuel supplies on the island are exhausted and if anyone has gotten seriously sick they are quite simply dead. The ship will not do mercy trips to the island so if you get sick and your family can't raise the 9,000-18,000 Kina (NZ$4,500 – 9,000) needed to pay for a trip you die. No ifs or buts - you die... they do a brief ceremony and put you in the ground before your body goes off in the heat.

So yes - the Sankamap is about as important as a machine can possibly get and yet due to a huge range of factors (many of them political and hence off limits to mention in a public forum) she is dying and while various people try to get an alternative vessel set up; none at this point exists so the ship remains the only lifeline for the Islands in the truest sense of the word 'lifeline'.

With all this knowledge we finally boarded the ship to leave Nukutoa Island in Takuu...

After waiting for so many days for the ship to come we got caught out by the fact that when it did, it actually arrived several hours early. I wrote this on the day that we left Takuu:

Briar is off getting shots of the kids at school which has started yesterday while I am frantically dismantling and packing all our gear deciding as I go what we really need to take and what can be given to the Islanders. I’m frantic because the ship is coming at 1pm and it is now 9am and there is much to do especially as we need to shoot an interview with the school principal at 10am which will take at least 30 mins. Suddenly Richard walks in and tells me the ship is in sight and be ready to go at 11am. He also adds a reminder that it can't anchor so please make sure we're ready in time as it would be most embarrassing if not actually impossible for it to wait for us. This sends me running through the village looking for Briar... No sign of her anywhere..Damn...

Rush back, keep packing, then Briar is there, phew! She's been filming Endar's leaving prep. I tell her the problem then we both pack like mad doing our best to make everything as watertight as possible due to the fact we know we will be boarding a moving ship from a banana boat. Abruptly Sio walks in, are we ready he asks? The boat is here waiting to take us to the ship. Suddenly as we shove the last items in bags, the bags themselves are being grabbed by many different hands and disappearing from the house. I try to do a last check to see what we have missed but it's cursory as I am practically dragged out the back of our house to where the banana boat sits in the water loaded and ready to go. People I know are surrounding me saying goodbye. It is a sea of confusion and emotion as we shake hands hug and kiss everyone. In the background we can hear a child screaming - grief stricken as his grandmother boards our boat to leave. Briar is close to tears as are some of the ladies. Even the usually staunch Sio looks a little weepy. The ship is slowly moving past the island a few hundred metres off shore, her presence adding fuel to the mad inferno of rushed farewells we seem to be caught in.

Avo the Chief is there happily shaking our hands, his gnomelike face smiling in appreciation of our visit. I'm feeling almost dizzy as I try to remember the names and faces before me and say goodbye appropriately. Then we're in the banana boat and heading away from the island and all is silent but for the throb of the outboard and the sobs of the grandmother. Briar and I look at each other kind of shellshocked. Is that it? After nearly two months here, are we really going? The last 10 minutes of machine gun farewells seemed both surreal and deeply moving...Did all that really happen?

The ship looms over us and then we're on board. Our gear is quickly stowed and we're on deck looking back at the islands as the last of the banana boats with the other passengers arrive. Rose is with us and pulls out food prepared for our trip. At first it looks like cooked coconuts but when cracked open they reveal that they are stuffed with rice and Karave; the sweet sap of the coconut tree. All this has been cooked in the shell so that the coconut flesh, the milk, the rice and the Karave have all caramelised into a deliciously sweet treat. We eat this, still warm from cooking, with sticky fingers as the ship finishes loading and swings her nose towards the reef and towards the passage through to the awaiting Pacific.

We’re set for 20 hours to Buka upon a ship that is probably overloaded and on which the liferafts are six years past their service dates, the toilets are places you avoid going at all costs, and every surface is covered in a thin layer of grime and rust, meaning that very quickly we are getting filthy...and yet we are happy

We have a long way to go... but we have started heading home.

A week in Buka lies ahead; a small frontier-like town on the edge of civilsation in a newly formed nation that has arisen from a long and bloody civil war... Should be fun!

Zane out.

It's toilet time...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stranger in a strange land

I'm at liberty to say that Briar and Zane are on the plane as I write (unless something utterly unforseen has happened) and I'm expecting to see them in about two hours, cavity searches at customs notwithstanding.

Briar has sent a post descibing the last few hours on the island which she couldn't get through till recently (they've been without the internet for the last two weeks). It's a moving and soulfully insightful piece and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Here is a post that I wrote just before leaving the island:

A wild cyclone is devouring Takuu. It rips through the coconut trees. The lagoon is stirred into a murky grey and its surface is littered with hundreds of tiny white caps. The banana palms are shredded into fine green strips which remind me of thinly cut paper used for decorating the edges of cakes or cocktail straws. Rain falls in bucket loads, hitting the ground in violent splashes. The chickens and roosters squawk and scream with horror but the ducks stand dead still, showering their waxy backs. The wind has a constant drumming sound, like that of a tide moving back and forth, but with a viciously wild and unpredictable edge. It blows directly through our tiny shelter, inside the eastern door and out through the western one. It deafens the sound of my thoughts like an oddly intoxicating blanket of gloom which wraps itself around you and over takes your mood and mobility. Rain and hair are in my eyes and a wet lap lap clings to my blistered legs. Nobody is outside (except for me and the birds). All have crept away. Men are sleeping. Women are huddled around open fires in the cook houses. Children stop their noisy games finding quieter activities inside. Meanwhile a lap lap from a clothes line is hurdled across the street. There is a loud crash as something three yards away has fallen from its place. Could it be the loose corrugated iron which acts as our make shift door, or the roof from our neighbors cook house? Before I have time to find out the whole place shakes from the violent clapping of thunder, followed by bright flashes of sheet lightening.

Do you think the boat will be here today? Hmm I don't think so. Every twelve hours we have a new piece of news. The last few reports have said that the rusty hulk that is the Sankamap is still in Tasman. First with a missing engine, then with the absence of its three anchors all lost along the way. We have learnt not to care or worry about when it will arrive. This is a great opportunity to put into practice what Echart Tollie calls " the power of now" (basically staying in the present moment) and perhaps it would be better to travel on the Sankamap when the sun-really-does-come-up?

I stand soaking wet in the middle of this storm and think back over our trip..

What will I take away and what will I leave behind for the winds to ravage? It is hard to know what you have actually learnt from a place while you are still in it. Usually the most valuable insights occur when you return home. I like the way T.S Elliot puts it in his poem 'Little Gidding':

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

I was pleasantly surprised when these words turned up at the beginning of the film Run Lola Run. Speaking of quotes, I should add (while standing in the marae drenched through)

"There is nothing so strange in a strange land as the stranger who comes to visit it".

I read this at the beginning of a Denise O'Rouke film and fits appropriately with the way I look now. Something that could fit the description of perturbed drunkard – although this is just me stumbling around as I fight the elements! It also sums up the many ironic moments we have had since our arrival. For example, one day I was standing in the middle of the street holding the satellite phone to my ear (this is a plastic brick with a huge aerial) whilst being interviewed by Radio New Zealand. Around me villagers are hauling giant taro into piles, for an annual customary ritual. The situation just seemed too surreal.

I wonder what it would have been like for missionaries a hundred or so years ago. They wouldn't have had radio reports with news from afar, nor satellite phones or blog posts, only handwritten journals. They wouldn't have known whether their boat ride home had lost its three anchors, let alone become ship wrecked with no surviving passengers! They would have ventured to foreign lands like Takuu, with the expectation that they may never come back, or with rumors that they could be eaten alive (this is eventually what happened to the famous John Williams – an English Missionary from the early 1800s). Our trip is hardly remote by these standards, especially considering we can still use internet and even ring our producer Lyn for help when things get rough. Perhaps one thing I have learn is just how dependent I am on modern inventions. Live in a place with no hospitals, medicine and little news of the out side world and you have a completely different view on life.

The other thing I have been reminded of is the importance of staying positive. For some, this might sound like a 101 self help book lesson, but many times I have needed to focus on this simple wisdom. I was particularly inspired by a man named Ben. He turned up near the end of our stay and I got the opportunity to interview him one day with no prior warning. He is one of those guys who has an extra bounce in his step. He had once lived in Australia but has come back home expressing that he wanted to do his part to help his people. Part of Ben's work involves a business buying and exporting sea cucumber from Takuu. It is the only economy on Takuu (before this there was nothing for quite some time). The selling of the sea cucumber provides a way for families to find funds for their school fees and buy other living essentials and food items. Zane and I have been talking of and scheming up many other options and ideas that could help the community, and it was encouraging to hear the same thoughts being voice by Ben.

I have been asking many of my characters what is their view on change. When I asked Ben he immediately replied with one word: "Positive". He went on to say "we must take the word 'positive' into every situation and in every negative circumstance we must find a positive outcome". So many times during this trip I have tended to look at the glass as if it was only half empty. It is easy to get carried away thinking about how much nicer it would have been if I could have only taken this bit of gear or that lens etc. It is also quite stressful knowing that we have a limited period of time to shoot the film and that it is hard to get back to the island, so as much as possible must be filmed on this trip. Sometimes it has been hard to organize shoots and get the interviews I have wanted. In the hot sun and the dense coral the process has often felt like a long battle up hill (but I must say almost always exciting and enjoyable).

I have learnt that the important thing is to enjoy the journey rather than focus on the destination and to always stay positive (you never know - if I was living in John Williams time – I might have ended up being eaten when I got there so best not to think about it too much)! So I will throw all my negative thoughts to the winds. I will splash in a few more puddles, sing in the rain, and continue looking like a perturbed drunkard.

"There is nothing so strange in a strange land as the stranger who comes to visit it".

- Briar signing out from Takuu..

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's not over til it's over...

Ok everyone, predictably things have got a little delayed in Port Moresby - the plane from Buka was about three hours late in arriving on Saturday, and so that put the kibosh on shoot plans for the afternoon and knocked the schedule out by a day at least. This in turn has put back the return home 'til (I estimate) Wednesday, because it's difficult to get a same day connection from Brisbane and Auckland if you've flown in from Moresby. I know that many of you are really looking forward to their arrival (although possibly not even as much as they are themselves) but you're going to have to hold your proverbial, at least for a couple of days.

Briar and Zane have now got access to the web again, and there'll be some blogs from both on the last days of Takuu and the Sankamap coming up. They're also checking the Takuu gmail address sporadically, so if you're desperate to get in touch you can find them there. Bear in mind that they're still very busy tidying up lose ends and doing final interviews, so they may not be able to respond before they get home.

In the meantime, check out the interview that Briar did on Checkpoint from the island, by clicking the sidebar link, and watch out for archive of interviews on Breakfast, ZB and Nine to Noon which should be available soon. I should have a link to the article that appeared in the Sunday Star Times last week available soon as well.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The end is in sight....

After a week shooting interviews with expats and politicians in Buka, Briar got some sad news from home. With this in mind we're making an effort to get her and Zane back into New Zealand as soon as possible and are hoping that this will be Monday. This is a little bit earlier than any of us thought, but we've discussed it and we think that it's best, and won't materially affect the film. I'll try and post when I know what time they're getting in, but with current difficulties in communication, even I may not know much before they actually arrive.

Thanks everyone for all your interest in the shooting process, and all of the adventures on Takuu. Things are going to be a little quieter for the next week or so, but with the possibility of going to AIDC (the Australian International Documentary Conference) in Adelaide if we can find $1700.00 for the tickets, and a shoot in Rarotonga with climate experts at the SIDS Expert Meeting on Adaption as part of the Frame Work Convention on Climate Change, there's always more about to happen, including more travel. Please keep reading.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In case you were worried

We are safe in Buka at the guest house. Richard maybe flying out shortly so may be last contact till we find other means.


Dry land


Z and B

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Takuu transport trials continue unabated

Well it is Monday the 29th and here we are in the Island paradise of Buka. The sun is shining, exotic birds are singing', happy young couples are walking hand in hand through the coconut groves and along the white sand beaches. There is power here so we are enjoying cocktails freshly made at the bar on the beach and the condensation on the frosty glasses sparkles like translucent pearls in the rich tropical sunlight.....

Actually no :-(

We are still on Nukutoa.... a storm has been raging for a few days meaning we are out of solar power and have had to borrow a generator while we wait for the Sankamap to return from Tasman Island where it has been since about last Wednesday or Thursday. First the boat stayed a night at Tasman as it always does and should have left the next day, then there was a party so they stayed another night (most of the crew are from Tasman), then they developed engine trouble and stayed another night then the engine trouble mysteriously went away much like those mysterious headaches one gets after consuming lots of alcoholic beverages. Then it was raining so they couldn't load the cargo. Now finally they're ready go the next day except now the storm is upon them.

Yesterday (Sunday) they tried to load the ship but must’ve failed due to the weather. Overnight they lost all three of the ship’s anchors so now the boat can't keep in position for people to board. Apparently it has to leave the choppy Tasman lagoon and go into the ocean where it will wait for the passengers to come out over the reef in small boats and board the ship in the gentler ocean swells. Going over the reef is no small feat. According to Richard you stand in waist deep water beside your boat on the lagoon side of the reef then when the boat driver feels there is a gap in the breakers everyone clambers in and you head full speed through the waves to the Pacific Ocean beyond.

If this happens successfully today at Tasman the ship will begin the 24 hour trip to Takuu (that's traveling at 6 knots in fair conditions - it will probably be longer with the weather). If the lagoon is calm when it arrives in Takuu, the ship will come through the channel from the ocean and, unable to moor due to lack of anchors, it will steam slowly round the lagoon while we chase it in small fibreglass boats and attempt to board it while still moving....That's plan A.

Plan B (The B is for Ballsy): If the lagoon is choppy we will have to brave the reef as outlined above. Sponsors need have no fear though, because all the gear is insured....right Lyn??? (Ed’s note – yes, of course, absolutely).

Luckily my will is up to date. My sister Renee will do very well in the event of a reef crossing calamity, however I fear my wishes for my ashes may go unfulfilled ;-). I'm afraid Briar's next blog may have to be the bequeathing of her worldly possessions.

Meanwhile on Nukutoa Briar is making use of extra time here to get more of our footage translated (although I think our translator Sio is hiding from her) and we will have the chance tomorrow to film the kids back at school, which reopened today after the holidays. At the moment I'm being slowly asphyxiated as I type beside the smokey generator while keeping one eye on my lunch to make sure Briar's rat doesn't eat it.

After lunch Briar has organised to interview Apava, both the oldest and scariest man in the village; he's kind of a cross between Grandpa Sinpson and Hannibal Lector.

Anyway as this is probably my last blog ever and sometime either tomorrow or the next day my body will be dashed to a bloody pulp against the razor sharp coral lying beneath the monster waves that crash upon Takuu's outer reef (affectionately known as 'The Widowmaker'), I have to say to any rich, attractive girls reading who have unspoken desires for me, this may be your last chance to express your true feelings.... Well I'm not really expecting a huge response there, but it's worth a shot.

That is all for now....And perhaps forever..DUMMM DUMMM DUMMMMM (that's my dramatic music outro)

Zane out.

"The Widowmaker" and the wreck of the last ship that tried what we will attempt.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

And on a completely unrelated note....

Those of you who know and love Briar may be interested to know that the launch of her documentary Allie Eagle and Me on DVD is happening 6pm Thursday February 1 at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Waitakere City. The DVD is being launched alongside the opening of The Big Picture: A Working Process, an exhibition featuring a huge new work by the inimitable Allie Eagle and other pieces by Allie and her atelier, as well as a brickwork installation by Peter Lange. If you happen to be in Waitakere on Thursday evening, pop along - after the official launch there will be a spit roast (koha appreciated), film screening and various entertainments that reflect the cultural groups present in Waitakere and which are featured in Allie's painting. You can even purchase the DVD.

More information about the film and the DVD can be found at

For address details and a map of how to get to Corban Estate Art Centre, go here (you'll need to scroll to the bottom to get a link to a pdf map).

I'm giving a short speech on Briar's behalf so please come, sample the complimentary wine and, when suitably lubricated, make a supportive response!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Never jump the gun on the boat

An update for all you keen beans out there - and just to give you a taste of what it's usually like trying to plan on the Takuu project: Briar and Zane haven't left yet. They MAY leave tomorrow morning, but if I were you I'd keep this page bookmarked so you can keep abreast of the ongoing saga. They've still got a couple of weeks in-country in Buka and Port Moresby before heading back to NZ and, knowning Briar, that could mean they end up in some fairly unorthodox situations.

In the meantime this is one of the latest offerings from Zane - an image of the beach that he photographed earlier at high tide, only this time the tide is out and you can see the full extent of the degradation, especially when compared to the earlier shot which I'll publish again here so you can get the full effect of the comparison:

Note the exposed coral in the recent shot taken with the tide out. If it was proof you were wanting, here it is with boots on.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The plane the plane!!!! I mean the boat the Boat!!!

The Sankamap

From Lyn:

I'm at liberty to say that Zane and Briar are about to leave or are in fact on their way from Takuu as I write this. After much fitting and starting, as usual, the Sankamap has finally begun its journey up the line of atolls, and when I last got word from the island it was moored in the lagoon (as pictured) waiting to complete the round trip. In fact on Tuesday Zane wrote:

"Hey Lyn - as I type the Sankamap is sitting in the lagoon not far out side our house, unloading as quick as it can. If it leaves today for Tasman (unlikely due to it getting late and they don't risk the reef passage in the dark), it will be back Thursday and we'll leave then and be in Buka on Friday - more likely we'll be there Saturday."

This means that there's probably only another two weeks to go before B and Z are finally going to be touching down on NZ soil again, although everything in PNG is always subject to confirmation, and this date is no exception.

And this LITERALLY just to hand from Zane!! (Seriously - I was typing this entry when it arrived in my in-box) -

From Zane:

It is Thursday the 25th and this might be my last entry from Nukutoa Island on the Takuu Atoll. It's been great living here and as long as you don't mind the odd bug on your face in the night, ceaseless chicken noise or communal toilet areas I definitely recommend anyone try it, god knows the Island needs the tourist dollars.

I think I can safely say that I have eaten the entire cast of Finding Nemo while we've been here (yes even the cute sea turtles) the final addition being shark which we had the other night. Briar and I have probably become fish addicts for life as one of the greatest pleasures here is coming home after a long day in the heat and finding dinner on the table. Dinner usually comprises of two whole fish and two bowls of white rice. The first few weeks we did our best and picked through the fish...Now we just massacre them, any semblence of western ettiquitte is gone as we tear the fishes with our bare hands spitting out bones and scales (well Briar actually chews and swallows her bones for the calcium) as we go.

We have made some good friends here. Among my favourites are Telo our hardcase gardening expert, Rosetta who helps care for us (and will be leaving with us on the boat as she lives in Rabaul and is only here for the holidays), and also Satty a 28 year old local who dreams of bigger things and has seen every movie known to man (well except for all the movies Briar likes :-P). I hope to keep in touch with these guys somehow and Briar and I have decided we would like to do our best to help Rose who lost both her parents in the last few years, wasn't able to complete high school due to the volcano in Rabaul blowing up, has lost her faith in christianity and now dreams of becoming a nurse and being able to travel. We'll see what we can do, first step is we've agreed to take the few photos she has of her parents away to be cleaned up and enlarged (any suggestions on good people to do this would be apreciated).

All that said I'm begining to fantasize about my first cold drink in nearly six weeks. This will hopefully happen on the Sankamap which (despite being the rustbucket it is) will hopefully be back here on Saturday to pick us up and deliver us to Buka for the next stage of our journey....I can already smell the cool dewy drops of condensation on the cans of fizzy drink in the ship's fridge.

Rose has just carried in lunch so I shall adjourn briefly.....

Here is a pic of Rose having lunch with us. At this particular moment she is captivated by Briar discussing the benefits of tea

Back, lunch was baked sweet potato and fish in tomato sauce (herring or mackeral). Yesterday we filmed Satty and his band singing a song he had written, hopefully we can make it into some kind of music video to send back to them and maybe even send it to Papau New Guinea TV and see if they're keen. For anyone geeky enough to be interested, the playback medium of choice in Nukutoa is Video CD I'm guessing Buka probably uses it too. Not sure why it's so popular here since I can't imagine it to be cheaper than DVD, but maybe VHS players are no good here due to the humidity etc... and maybe video CD took over before DVD came along. I know how interested you all are so I'll try and find the answers to these intriguing questions in Buka.

All our gear is still working a treat with no fact with no real problems at all. Cinestuff's lights have proven to be a very useful asset here. While we have done little night shooting we have ended up using the lights to light our workbench and office at nights. The kerosene lamp, while it has a kind of old world charm, is not very good when trying to get gear prepared for the next day's shoot or to find a screw dropped on the coral sand floor. Meanwhile the case given to us by Rocket is our only airtight humidity haven in which our tapes and electronics hide, kept snugly dry by the dessicants given by Caterina De Nave. Fiona Samuel's 12V battery charger is our main source of power for our HDV camera. So to each and every supporter who has given us gear (even the ones I'm forgetting right now) thank you and rest assured your contribution has been invaluable because there is nothing here we could do without. Special thanks to mum and dad for the stuff they gave - clothes, tools and bags have all been put to good use (although I've basically given up on western clothes till I see tar seal again!). John the mosquito net has proven to be an oasis of peace and tranquility on the nights when the wind blows the hordes of mosquitos from the Taro swamps on Takuu Island over to our Island. TM - congratulations on the big movie role, I hope you enjoyed working with Luc!

Nick (Braxton at Oxfam) I never did write a sentence each day to remind myself of the trip but I figure between these blogs and the 100+ tapes we have now shot I'm in no danger of forgetting things. However it is the unrecorded moments I will cherish the most, like last night after sunset sitting in waist deep water just off the nothern point of the Island letting myself unwind by watching distant lightning storms and moving between the warm currents coming from the lagoon and the refreshing ones coming from the ocean which were only metres apart. All this under a cresent moon that sent shafts of moonlight through the scattered silver clouds...This place definitely has its moments. Then I walked home and went to go to sleep to the sounds of Briar singing along to her ipod. I like to think our gift to the Island is the concept of irony ;-)

That's me about done for this entry, will log onto the internet in a moment (using our PanasonicToughbook computer and Rocom satellite conection) and depending what Lyn sends us of your feedback I may send another before we leave, otherwise my next update will be from Buka just north of everyone's favourite wartorn province...Bougainville!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


We appear to be experiencing technical difficulties adding new blog entries...please bear with us...

Briar and the Rat! And an update on the technical side of things..

Madness sets in on the Island!

Saturday week before last was the day of the big canoe launch. Satty (Sar-tea), one of our characters, has been rebuilding his family's ocean-going Vaka for some months and Saturday was the big day when all the men gathered to help him attach the new outrigger to the hull and then put it in the water for the first time. It was blowing a real gale and neither Briar nor I were feeling top notch after bad sleeps and, I suspect, a little dodgy food. We covered events as well as we could and then headed back to our house to get out of the approaching storm.

It was obvious the rest of the day was a write off for shooting as the rain began, so it was decided just to try and relax. This was all good for me as my feet were in their usual mess of grazes, cuts, bites and some time off them sounded great in terms of getting some healing done so I promptly curled up and went to sleep with the relaxing sound of a tropical rain pouring on our thatch roof.

"GO AWAY!" I'm jerked from a wonderful dream (something about eating ice-cream while having a cool breeze blowing in my face and an ice cold drink to sip....mmmmm ice) to find Briar at our desk quivering. She had been writing her upcoming novel when a rat had decided to check if we had left our usual smorgasboard of leftover breakfast tidbids for him. Briar needless to say wasn't in the right frame of mind for enquiring as to what our rodent friend wished to dine on this fine afternoon.

Once I worked out that Briar wasn't been dragged off for an arranged marriage or some bizarre Takuuan ritualistic ceremony I nodded off back to sleep, only to be woken half an hour later by another shriek of "GO AWAY!" Yanked again from sweet, sweet dreams I didn't bother to enquire as to the issue this time and nodded off only to be awoken again and again for the rest of the day by the growing conflict at the desk between girl and beast. It came to a head when I was awoken by a scream and an almost tearful young doco director telling me how the rat, (obviously realising the subtle foraging technique was going nowhere), had leapt onto the table and pounced right at her.

Outraged at this attempt of rodent assault I immediately took action...

and went back to sleep.

Meanwhile the rest of the village had to wonder what was happening in Zane and Briar's house with her regularly yelling "Go away!" and the terrified screaming. Richard the anthropologist and our next door neighbour enquired casually about it the next day and I explained the whole giant rat versus tiny girl battle that had raged through the day. He seemed relieved and mentioned he thought perhaps we were having a domestic dispute... I dread to think how many others came to this conclusion.

Richard's advice was that when working at the desk Briar should hold a big block of wood in her spare hand and be ready to smash the rat at the first sign of its whiskery snout appearing. It'll be messy but fix the problem he cheerfully explained.

Other news on the Island...All the gear so generously loaned for this trip continues to work faultlessly:

Above you can see Peter Fullerton's purpose made wonderbox at work helping convert the island's sunshine into much needed DC current.

Solar panel city, ours on the left Richard's on the right. The house in the background belongs to Avo the Paramount Chief of the Island.

The HVR-V1 at work filming another exciting event on Nukutoa

Setting up for a shot...Our house is in the background.

The brand spanking new Sony HVR-V1 HDV camera, which I believe is the first Sony HDV camera to offer 25 fps progressive shooting as an option (making it the perfect solution for a 35mm blow-up on a tight budget and for dealing with difficult shooting conditions) continues to crank through the footage. To date we have shot over eighty hours of tape with no complaints from the camera which we've grown to truly love. The design seems really well thought out and the quality of the build is wonderful - everyday the camera is exposed to lashings of coral sand, salt water and wind (but loving cleaned every night David and Shane!) however the snugness with which all its parts fit together makes it seemingly impervious to invasion by these foreign abrasives. The pictures look incredible on the monitors we have here and I can't wait to see them on the big screen in the grading suite at Images.

Working alongside the HVR-V1 in a grand display of intercorperation intergration is the Panasonic DVX-102B DV camera and the CF-29 Toughbook laptop. The DVX supplied by Oxfam is our back up camera for the HVR but is seeing use when we need two cameras as well as acting as a recorder and playback unit for our interpreter to play back footage that needs
translating. The camera continues to make me believe that this is probably the best handheld DV camera ever made and it will be interesting to see how the standard def pictures intercut with the high def ones being caught by the HVR.

Me at work on the Toughbook inside our house.

The Toughbook on which I'm typing this blog entry continues to live up to its name. It soldiers on heroically in conditions where other laptops would just curl up and die in fits of salt encrusted digital agony, and in conditions where every part of your body gushes sweat the idea of a splashproof keyboard is very reassuring! The computer handles all our email requirements once we connect it to our (or rather Richard's) satellite phone and we connect to the web at the screamingly fast rate of 10Kb/s... sorry a hint or sarcasm there I can't really complain as it is rather incredible to think we can send and recieve email from this location especially when you look how little gear is needed to do it! The Toughbook has also been used to do some editing - we made a three minute music vid using footage we have shot and played it back on the village TV for everyone to watch. It's slightly bizarre watching people sitting in the middle of a thatched house street under a starry sky watching a sequence you've cut to the tune of an old beach boys track... Bizarre but nice. The locals seemed to like it...although next time they insist we use local artists for the music! The Toughbook is also acting as a backup for our digital photos and is been used for translation; we captured source tapes in then taught our translator Sio how to use the video software and he sits with the laptop and the freedom of non-linear editing and works his way though the tapes translating sentence by sentence... After all that, if I'm bored I turn on the Toughbooks’s GPS and just check the Island hasn't moved! ;-)

Okay nearly ten pm must go for my shower under the stars and then get to bed...


Sunday, January 21, 2007

More media coming up

On Wednesday this week Briar did a pre-recorded interview with National Radio, which is going to air on Checkpoint (from 5-7pm, Monday to Friday). The day when it's going to be broadcast hasn't been confirmed. For more information you can check Radio New Zealand's programming page here .

I did an interview with the lovely Greg Meylan at the Sunday Star Times on Thursday but it looks like it's been held over till next week. Keep an eye out for that as well.

A post from Zane will be coming tomorrow and some photos, so swing by on your lunch break....


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tell us all about it!

From Lyn -

Something I've mentioned before (but that you might not be aware of) is that I post Briar and Zane's blog entries after they send them through to me via email. We do it this way because their internet connection on the island is via satellite phone and it's too slow to support the blogger web interface. This means they can't read comments left on the blog, so to remedy the communication situation I’ve just had a big round up of comments on previous posts and will email it to them. I know they’ll be delighted – and may be able to include messages back to comment-ers in future blog entries.

As you may have gathered from the last post, things aren’t as fun as they might initially have seemed on Takuu. I therefore want to extend an invitation to post an entertaining or sustaining message to the intrepid two. I’ve changed the comments setting so that anyone, even if they’re not a blogger member, can post, or you can just email them through.

Finally - thanks to everyone in the blogosphere who's stopped by and to all our friends, relations and colleagues and their friends, relations and colleagues. Pass it on, add a link to your blog, tell all your friends, write to your nearest television channel and say that you want to see the film when it comes out, give us money. As previous posts have shown, we’re shameless - but if we weren’t, none of this would be happening….

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Not all beer and skittles

Briar and Zane hard at work. Photo / Richard Moyle

This email is to remind you of how nice modern living can be. Since most of our posts have been about how much fun we are having, I thought I would take a moment to remind you all that this journey isn't always that comfortable….

After being here now for over a month I am starting to miss a few things about New Zealand and my lifestyle back home. For instance, as I write this, my feet are stinging from hundreds of mosquito bites. The mosquitoes here are different to the ones we get in New Zealand. They are silent and their bite stings. What’s worse is they can bite right through thick clothing. The last time we went to Takuu (ie the big island in the atoll group) I wore tights under my shorts to try and cover my skin up as much as I could from them and I even put insect repellant over my clothing but when I got back my entire legs were covered in bites, even after having two layers of fabric protecting me... Because I was filming I had to stay very still and let the horrible mosquitoes bite me all over. So each day we have to deal with these unpleasant bites and infections all over our ankles and legs.

The next thing which is really annoying is the dust (coming from termites in the roof) that falls all over our beds and our faces while we are sleeping. Each day I have to shake my mattress and sheets out to get rid of it. I can't even imagine how much of it I’m breathing in while I sleep. And sleeping in general is something I should talk about. I have very rarely had one solid sleep without waking up since we got here. There are so many things that can wake you. The most constant is the roosters crowing on our roof but other times it is a storm with loud thunder and rain. Our beds have pretty simple 1 inch thick mattresses so we can only dream about the nice beds we sleep on back home.

I hate the rats and mice that are continually pestering me and trying to run across the table when I work. Zane particularly hates all the flys that attack his weeping insect bites. We have a chicken who likes to nest her eggs in the corner of our house, so this means that we constantly have birds running through and living in our house...and they never stop making noise and fighting one another!

After a while the noise of babies and children crying can get on your nerves.

There are no greens here, we eat here mostly fish, rice, taro, instant noodles, canned beef, crackers and bananas. I do miss summer salads!

The other thing which is hard to get used to is the lack of space. Sometimes Zane and I talk about how nice it is to be able to travel large distances in New Zealand. We both miss this, it is quite scary thinking “where else can we go aside from here..?”

It looks like we will be on Takuu for another two weeks. This is really good for the project as we need the time to complete all the filming we need to do. I am, however, looking forward to coming back and enjoying some of the pleasures of modern living.

I wonder how long I could last here. I think I could stay here for up to a year but the only thing that would make me go insane is the lack of space. Zane tells me he could last three weeks, well Zane you better be ready for the boat to turn up late...!

Monday, January 15, 2007

In which Takuu's older women embarrass Briar

A few days ago I was walking to the northern point of the island. There I saw a large group of women sitting together under what is known as a drinking house. It was a windy day and they had plastic stuck up on the side of the shelter facing the sea. They were huddled together drinking tea and smoking spear cigarettes, which are literally raw tobacco, with no filters. This was the first time I had seen the women having a good time. It was like they had secretly planned to meet here, away from the men, to be silly and do what they wanted for once. Yes, they were being very silly.

I stood some distance away, just enjoying the music and the atmosphere, when one woman summoned me over. It was quite a scene and everyone was watching this lady and myself. When I got closer she grabbed me and started hugging and kissing me. I was really surprised. I had not experienced this kind of thing before and to be quite honest I had not been sure whether the older women liked or approved of me at all. In response to this woman's generosity I gave her a vai songi which is the same as a hongi. After this the woman was even more excited. She lifted up her lap lap bearing her thighs and underpants, and then paraded her legs for me to see. She wanted me to see her tattoos. They were around both legs and had simply drawn pictures of fish and flowers and words over them. I remembered that Geraldine (see last post) had told me that once all women on Takuu had these kinds of tattoos, but her generation was the last to repeat this tradition and now the custom has died out.

I was quite taken back by this unexpected event and was not sure how to respond. I let the woman know that I thought her tattoos were very pretty and sat back down. Then all the woman in the group wanted to show me their tattoos. Soon everyone had stripped down to their underpants and continued to sing their traditional music and dance their traditional song with their bare legs and flopping tummies showing... Then the woman who had first summoned me over commanded me to join in.. I was game enough to go up and start dancing, but no this was not enough. They were pointing at my lap lap and signaling me to strip. So, well, I had to. There I was at the point of the island surrounded by old Takuu women in my underpants trying to follow their dance moves to a very strange and foreign sounding song. All the women thought it was hilarious - and I was so embarrassed. Hopefully now I have gained their respect... I think I have.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The life of a Mortlock lady

One of our characters (who I will call Geraldine) has come over to Takuu for the holidays to look after her sick father. She is an expatriate and is married to a PNG man living in Port Moresby. Inside the shade of her house I met her father. He is in his late 80s and was lying on a grass mat. His body was incredibly frail, his head had a crown of thick white hair and his legs, on the mat, were like broken pencils. He was talking the way a baby might and would throw his hands in the air trying to grab things. Geraldine explained that sometimes he could get quite violent and angry. Most of the time he would moan about food. Sometimes he calls her and her sisters his wife and other times he appears delirious, telling them that the house is on fire. I asked her what was wrong with him and she didn't know, just saying “he's old”.

Geraldine is bound to her house. She has to look after her father all day and all night, taking breaks when her sisters come by. At night she lies next to him and because he is so active, always pulling her hair and crying for food, she never sleeps. This is the first time she has seen her father in three years. Her life in Port Moresby is very different to here, but she sees it as her obligation to come back and help take some of the pressure off her sisters who both have to care for her father in this way throughout the year.

There is no help for people like Geraldine and her family. Many people on Takuu complain about the lack of support they receive from the government. Here, there are very few medical supplies and what is available is usually passed its use by date or does not have adequate labeling. There is no doctor or nurse and if somebody does get sick, getting them to mainland will be the cost of chartering a boat and money must be paid up front by the family. This doesn't always mean they will get a boat to come, as they rely on one ship, which may already be engaged. For many of the traditional people on Takuu it is very important to die here. So for Geraldine's father there would be no question about taking him off the island. This is because if you die out of Takkuu you cannot be buried there. It would be considered very bad luck and breaking custom. For those that do die on Takuu, they get the chance to have a proper funeral and will be buried in the cemetery on Takuu.

Unfortunately for Geraldine her brother died in London. He was a young film student at the time and had hoped to make movies and documentaries about his culture and indigenous issues within PNG. He had won a scholarship, and happened to be staying in a hotel that was the target of an IRA bombing. Her sister’s husband died of alcohol consumption on the island so her family appears to have less help or support from fit and strong men. Her father likes fresh fish but there aren't many hands free to get fish since this is usually a men's task.

As I was sitting talking with Geraldine a young child walked past, popping her head through the door. The girl looked to be about eight and was holding a baby at her waist. Geraldine explained that the young baby is her father's great-great-grandchild. The baby was crying, being scared of the old man.

The next day I brought Geraldine a packet of panadol, which she was incredibly grateful for. In my visits since then I have noticed people pop by asking for some of her panadol.

Life on the island for women is generally much harder than that of the men. They are always working. Most get up around four or five. They first go down to the water to wash their pots and pans, they then sweep the streets, spreading the coral evenly over the ground and back into their houses. Then they make breakfast. This involves getting dried wood and coconut husks and burning them under open fires in their cook houses. I am sure some of them by this time are also making lunch. They bake fresh bread in the hot gravel heated by their fires, and also fish, wrapped up in taro leaves. The women might then wash their clothes in buckets of water, which they have to continually refill at the nearest water tank. Their days continue on like this until the sun sets and then you might see one or two sitting with their families, but always minding the children at the same time.

In contrast to this the men are sitting around all day. They park their plastic chairs in a nice location near to the sea, they drink cups of tea and study the weather. They will go out fishing, or maybe gardening giant taro, they might fix a canoe or a knotted net.. but generally their workload is much less (from what I can see).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Endangered species and endangered Briar!

Just before New Year we went to the furtherest islands of the twelve islands in the atoll. This island is called Nukurekia and is the wildlife reserve. Access is only permitted in daylight hours and overnight stays are punishable by a fine. To quote Richard Moyle " The ban on killing edible seabirds, which nest there in very large numbers, is periodically lifted by the Ariki, and an annual school picnic to the island allows children a chance to visit this remote location". Most of the edible seabirds are lakeha (the black bird I have already mentioned in an earlier post).

The first thing Zane asked me when we arrived was whether I had watched the Hitchcock film The Birds. Well no I haven't Zane, but of course I knew what he was getting at. There were birds in the thousands (and again I am not exaggerating about this) circling en mass above us. For the first twenty minutes my mouth was just open in astonishment and then I thought, "hey I better close it because I am looking up all the time and there is a very good probability that bird poo could land directly inside my mouth - if I am not careful".

Because I love birds, and because I have grown up with a father who knows every bird call in the forest, this place was pretty impressive. When standing underneath the shade of the coconut trees and other vegetation you are deafened by the heavy chorus of Lakeha squawking. Standing on the edge of the sandy spit you can watch the birds fly out onto the lagoon, diving and weaving through one another's flight paths. The larger birds, such as the Kanapu (gannets), show off among the smaller birds flying lower across the water.

In the very glaring fierce sun we worked solidly for about 3-4 hours filming the birds, while the family that accompanied us lay in the shade and took intermittent swims. I have already decided that if I ever get married perhaps this is where I would go for my honey moon. At one point I did think to myself, “If only we weren't working and we too were relaxing in this paradise... “ but in some way what we are doing is even more fun... I tried to remind Zane of this as he was looking pretty hot and tired.

Around mid day, we and our host family clambered into the unstable boat, following the edge of the reef back to Nukutoa. The reason for this route was because Sio was looking for turtles (unameia). It was the one time of the year when the people on Nuketoa are allowed to catch turtles around the wild life sanctuary. We spotted one and to attract its attention all the kids started tapping the boat (obviously this makes them come near). Then Sio jumped into the water, grabbing the turtle. After lifting it out of the water and inspecting its head and the markings on its back he said to us "this one we don't eat". I asked why and he briefly replied "its custom". I persisted further eager to understand why it was custom, thinking, perhaps this turtle is an endangered one and these people are helping to preserve it through their own customs.. but Sio didn't know why. I then asked him to wait before he let the turtle go.. Grabbing a snorkle and mask I jumped off the boat in all my clothes (but this is no big deal as I have to swim in my clothes anyway - people here don't wear swim costumes) and I looked at the turtle under the water. Sio let go of his grip and the beautiful turtle flapped its arms, swimming off into the deeper part of the reef. I still have the picture in my mind watching the turtle go further into the deep part of the sea, beautiful coral beneath me and again the water that aqua blue colour you get in the tropics. It was such an amazing sight although I know it sounds very cheesy the way I am describing it.

On the way back to the island I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and peace after seeing that turtle. I just couldn't believe how beautiful the sea, the island and the people were. It made me feel emotional again, which is typical of me - making every beautiful thing or sad thing into some kind of melodrama or film scene in my head. I was so elated and energized that I stridently told our host family that I would hop off the boat and swim back to the island all by myself. We were about twenty or thirty meters away and I thought this would be a reasonable swim but not too far. Rose insisted I jump out closer
but I was like "no no its ok". So any way I jump out to realise swimming is much harder when you have a loose lap lap dragging at your body weighing you down and also, swimming is much harder when the current is going out. Meanwhile the boat had zoomed off and everyone had already forgotten about me, no one was looking back. I struggled to get in and had to remind myself not to panic. That was a lesson for being over zealous and a bit of an attention seeker or a clown...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The shoreline isn't the only thing Takuu is losing...

Just after Christmas a large fishing boat appeared in the reef. Obviously this created a lot of discussion and the men in the village called a meeting to plan how they would approach the boat. It is illegal for fishing boats of this size to be on the reef, whether or not the boat got there by an accident. This situation really annoyed the people of Mortlock. Fishing boats are often seen close to the reef, impacting the fish population and more than two becoming wrecks. I was told it was the second of its kind to come this year.

After an animated meeting the men prepared to meet the boat, getting enough fuel and supplies for their very unstable fiber glass banana boats. I decided I wanted to film the encounter and asked to go with the men. It took us about twenty minutes with an outboard motor to get to the ship. When we arrived the men confidently got up on the boat and, like a pirate battle, climbed up on to the ship, taking food and cigarettes. Then, in a more “civilized” fashion, they asked to see the ship's license and tried to communicate with them, requesting them to come back to the island. The men on the ship refused but after about two hours of negotiation it was agreed they would give the community 1000 fish and have a boat come to remove the ship by about 3.00pm the following day.

Meanwhile I filmed the ship continually dragging in net after net of skipjack tuna. I couldn't believe my eyes to see how much fish was pillaged from the sea that afternoon, and although this fish was "supposedly" caught further out from the reef than where the ship was stuck (in the legal place to fish) it is very questionable. “How did they get this close to the reef anyway?” said many of the men, "they have GPS systems and we have seen this kind of thing so many times now". It made me think twice about eating seafood when I saw how much fish was taken. The boys and myself guessed the amount of fish caught could have fed the Takuu community for over one and half years. Just think how many more hours and time it would have taken the fisherman of Takuu to get this much fish, and compare it to one day’s work for this boat .. the thought is quite mind-blowing really.

When the fish was given to the men of Takuu we loaded it in the flotilla of boats. Being incredibly hungry by this stage the men on my boat cut open some of the fish then and there in the middle of the sea. Raw tuna splashed in sea salt and then eaten with crunchy coconut is one of the most beautiful things I've had since being here. It has the quality and freshness of the most expensive sashimi but it is even more desirable being in large chunks freshly slivered from the side of a fish and then rinsed in the salt of the Pacific Ocean.

When we got back, every kid on Nukutoa appeared to be waiting for our arrival and were eager to grab the fish from our boat, putting it directly outside Te Ariki's house (harre) in a neat pile. After some trips back and forth from the boat, over 1000 tuna was piled up in one heap. The sight was amazing and the whole community gathered around, women holding baskets, while a few men distributed a number of fish to each family. This was a careful procedure, ensuring that each person was equally treated given the amount of people in their household. This was a great example of the community's egalitarian nature, and for that reason Zane and I filmed the scene. Zane told me that each of the 1000 tuna would have been worth around $60.00 at the Avondale markets and extra large tuna, some ranging around two meters long would have sold for several hundred. It's an irony that these people have little money and they have just been given back some of their own stolen fish valued in the tens of thousands!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Tukumai

From Briar:

The second day after we arrived, the Tukumai ceremony started. This is a ceremony in which people honour the deceased that have died during the last six months. It is conveniently arranged around the time of the boat’s arrival so that people coming back to the island can attend. The event begins by harvesting the taro (kano kano) on the larger island of Takuu.

At the break of dawn I took the camera across to Takuu traveling in a small vaka (outrigger). The vaka was hand carved by our interpreter Sio's father using traditional tools. The wood is made from big logs that drift onto the beach and the vakas are only made when a log gets washed up.

Takuu is the largest island and, I was told, is very mysterious. There are some parts that people don't, and are forbidden to, go to. The other thing about Takuu is the mosquitoes - thousands upon thousands swarming around you. Once upon a time (te Henua e noho) the Mortlock people lived on Takuu but no one knows how they managed the mosquitoes, nor how they built the large taro gardens. The women cut off the top of the taro leaves and then planted them back into the soil, while at the same time digging up the roots of those ready to be eaten. I could sense that the island was a very spiritual place as I slushed through the thick smelly mud. It really felt like a wild jungle complete with a chorus of bird calls, humming crickets and ancient towering coconut trees.

Walking closer to one garden I could see that the women there were singing together and I asked them to repeat their song for the purpose of recording it. The women were quite excited by this and instead of continuing about their work they got up (as if on stage) and started performing for the camera. Seeing them singing while all covered in mud was something – but what made the whole experience even more equally surreal was the song they sung. It was a European Christian song that I had learned at Sunday school. It goes, "Love, Love Love in my heart this wonderful wonderful love in my heart, Peace Peace Peace in my heart this wonderful wonderful peace in my heart". Then the women continued to go about their work with crackling laughs. That is when I met the most impressive lady, Barbara. We have an interesting connection. Despite the language barrier I think there is a unique rapport between us. She explained to me in her limited English "I'm a clown.. I am the clown here". She then laughed at herself. I tell her "I'm a clown too". When ever I see Barbara I give her a hug and we laugh. Barbara has no children of her own but only one adopted son and one front tooth. She is around 50 or something and was married once but is now alone.

The Vakas and banana boats returned to Nukutoa in a slow migration with the women carrying their te kete (basket) full of taro (kano kano). Once back on
the island they divided the taro into equal piles for each person involved in the ceremony. There was some fighting about the evenness of each pile. Inside the Ariki's house the people standing closest to the dead were waiting to speak with the dead spirit. They are called spirit mediums. It takes some time but after a while these people will enter a trance-like state and communicate with the dead person. This is an example of the traditional religion that is still practiced here, and arguably only practiced here, with most Polynesian cultures having converted to Christianity. I was expecting to feel something - perhaps the presence of this spirit - but I felt nothing. I can't say whether I would have felt different if I wasn't so focused on filming. When I am behind the camera some of the magic of purely experiencing things is sadly taken away.

Later that day the village had a number of parties. I am guessing this is usually a time when people can fellowship together after communicating with the deceased. Perhaps it is a time to move on, but also to sing newly composed songs about the person who has died. Here I got to see the traditional Takuu music and dancing. I also had a go at dancing myself. Of course Barbara got me to do this and much laughing was involved.

On this occasion many people were drinking Karave (which is fermented coconut juice and a very strong alcohol). People make this by attaching plastic milk cartons to the coconut's young shoots, which drip juice into the bottles. This juice then ferments. The result is incredibly strong and sour tasting, a bit like vinegar and coconut juice mixed together. Many people got drunk after the Tukumai.

Tales from the toilets and other things part 2

From Zane

The question that has befuddled man throughout the ages: "Does a bear shit in the woods?". The answer seems obvious, "Yes" making the question purely rhetorical. However I can reveal from the island of Nukutoa, four degrees off the equator, that here the answer is "No!". Who does then? Well... Zane does! along with the two hundred or so other men on the Island.

What am I on about? Well most people I discussed the trip with seemed quite curious about what the toilet arrangements would be. Basically while the women go in the channel between Nukutoa and the island to the north (all the Islands on the atoll can be walked to as the water is only thigh high at low tide) the men have our own toilet island. If you look at the googleearth shot you will see on the Eastern extremity of the Island a group of trees joined to the Island by a narrow causeway that is submerged at high tide.

Whenever the urge strikes (I enjoy it about 6.30am) I stroll down to the woods on the point (toilet paper discretely in bum bag, no pun intended), find a nice group of trees and a nice view out to sea and then hoist up my lap lap..... sweet sweet relief. My only objection is the highly efficient squatting position makes the joyful experience all too quick. Then overnight the combination of heat, rain, bugs, wind and sun break down whatever is deposited and my favourite spot is generally fresh for more action the next morning.

Ahhh the island life.

Anyway here we are after nearly three weeks on the Island, Briar and I are now officially married in Island terms; it seems all you need to do here is for the guy to spend a few nights in the woman's hut and voila! We are however confusing the locals with our flexible gender roles....I don't think the men were impressed today to see me doing Briar's laundry!

Week one was all about trying to cover the rush of ceremonies and local events while trying to deal with the climate and about a million different things happening to my poor skin... cut feet, sunburn, heat rash, chaffing, prickly heat, mountains of sweat (which makes operating a camera very uncomfortable!) and just to really make me happy some jelly fish stings up my legs and arms...sigh, 'twas expected but still rough. However that all sounds dreary when most of the first week was actually amazing. We were given a veritable palace to call home complete with western style beds (i.e. not on the floor) and a lockable closet for the gear. We are on the western coast of the Island and five big steps from the back door would get you in the water at high tide (11 at low tide). The food has been incredible and plentiful and the couple Sio and Sini who have given up their house for our stay are really lovely and always keep an eye out for us. Every night when we arrive home from shooting a hot dinner is on the table (fried turtle and steamed sweet potato tonight and as usual enough to feed six people) and our kerosene lamp is lit. It gets dark here by six and if we're not home a search party usually goes out!

The effects of the rising sea level here are immediately obvious and quite severe and claims that the Island was a metre above sea level I now see were slightly exaggerated. The Island is about 90cm above high water by my reckoning. I have attached a couple of photos for this blog entry. This first one shows the high tide very close to going into the island's schoolgrounds - the building with the tin roof is one of the classrooms. The land level you can see is pretty much as high as the rest of the Island...With the right winds the water has flowed through here in the past.

These next two photos show the island's west coast in the 1970's and now.

Now the present day shot is at high tide while the archive may not be, so it is not necessarily a fair comparison. I will, however, try and get a shot at low tide soon that will show that, regardless of the water level, the damage by the sea levels is immense. The white sand beach along the coast in the 70's is no longer here - instead the underlying jagged coral is now exposed in its place.

People here put the issue largely to the back of their minds and while they are happy we are here making a film the attitude is generally that they'll deal with the crisis when it reaches crisis point....I find nothing too peculiar about this as I think all societies act this way, especially ours, in that no one really deals with problems no matter how serious until the problem encroaches enough to make ignoring it not an option. For the moment people here can ignore the issue as it's not quite a day-to-day hindrance to them in any way (although a few times a year it becomes an issue). For now they sit and hope that someone with the knowledge and resources will come and guide them through.

Power is running low so I'm going to cut this short for the sake of charging our camera batteries. Next update I'll talk a little about the gear and how it is holding up. I'll end this one by saying a big thank you to Pete Fullerton who helped me wire up the electrics before I left and so far it's been working a treat... more thank-yous to come in future entries.

Mum I'm still alive and will call soon by sat phone.

Happy New Year to all.

Monday, January 08, 2007

One for the ladies....!

From Briar:

On the first day I arrived I didn't really know what to do with myself. Zane was left on the boat to look after the luggage and I had the privilege of getting to land first and meeting the people. Sini gave me a lap lap to wear and took me to our house. She explained that I could go have a wash (kau kau) and instructed me on how to wear the lap lap. I stood in our house feeling awkward and confused. I wasn't sure what to do. I think it must have been culture shock. The house had open windows and a modest sheet for a door. Wind was flapping the sheet open so any one could look in and see me changing. In a very awkward - probably comical - attempt, I wrapped the lap lap around me while peeling off my sweaty clothing underneath. I then walked down to the place where the women wash and toilet and just stood in the water. The water was about the same temperature as the air but the wetness on my skin was refreshing. I then had the first experience of wet lap lap clinging to my skin, something I find very annoying.

On the way back I tried to ask my host what women do when they get their period as inconveniently this had arrived at the same time as arriving on the island. She looked at me slightly confused and then said she would get her friend. Her friend came into my house, she appeared to have better English and was the same age as me. I asked her the same question and she told me that woman here used rags but she, she used "stay free". I asked where did the items go once used .. she said "just wash them out" or throw them away in the sea. Hmm, I am supposed to be making an environmental film here (I think to myself). Later I learn that the woman who told me this is not from here so I don't know if her information is correct and whether I am misquoting her through a misunderstanding. I will mention however, people do tend to throw anything and everything in the sea (but more about that later).

The boy reading over my shoulder is Berth. He appears to understand everything I am writing and has just said he is going to tell the whole village I use rags!

Tales from the toilets and other things part 1

From Briar:

We have been on Takuu for over one week, but it feels more like one month. You couldn't possibly compare the last seven days here to a normal week back home. Today is Monday, Christmas day and the first time I've felt able to take a break. Finding space from people in this over-populated place is just as challenging. I've walked to one point in the triangular shaped island. This is near where the men go toilet, but not exactly. I plant myself down in a nice possie where I can see the reef and the larger island of Takuu in the distance, to realise that I am sitting right next to somebody else's shit! This must have been from a lazy man who couldn't be bothered going all the way to the proper place in the middle of the night or something. Then I notice another pile of faeces to the right of me and a swarm of flies approaching. So I get up and walk to the other side of the point making sure I'm an extra few meters further away from the toilet location than before. Then I notice that the mentally ill boy who I've been warned to stay clear of is walking about two yards behind me. When I stop, he stops. So I walk to the waters edge and attempt to wash my sandals and laplap and then try sitting down again. Thankfully the boy has lost interest. It feels slightly wrong that I've been in this beautiful place for over a week and I haven't had a chance to properly take it all in. Since we arrived we have been filming non-stop, mostly because it is the time in the year where there is much festivities and customs. We've been trying to capture it all as we know its our only chance. My mind has been focused on the film and I haven't had much time to actually enjoy the place to the degree I know I could.

To explain what it is like to be here is to perhaps compare it to a life camping. For those of you who enjoy camping (the way we do these days in tent cities which are clustered around beaches up and down the country) then you would love this place. Just like my memories of camping I wake up feeling hot, sticky and have sand in my hair. The heat and glaring light
from the sun wakes you up around five am each day. It reminds me of the feeling of sleeping in a small tent in the middle of the day. The air is stale and you wake with an awful lethargic feeling and sometimes a head ache from dehydration. I may as well liken it to a hang over. That is pretty much how it feels waking up here (but each day is getting easier). In the night you can hear people coughing, spitting, laughing and quietly talking to one another. Just like camping the walls between the houses are paper thin - well they are only basic woven mats attached to a wooden frame. Lighting is provided by Kerosene lamps, small bugs and silent mosquitoes swarm around them as if the lamps have a fuzzy halo.

Just like camping one feels incredibly connected with the environment. Here the land and sea is a food source, a matter of survival, a spiritual place and an identity. The stars have names and map the fishing roots away from and back to the island. The many little islets surrounding Nukukoa (wherethe community lives) have specific roles. One is for growing taros, another holds wild pigs, and the last to the far west is a wild life reserve.

At this place there are many beautiful birds, my favourite are called Kina Kina (pronouced the same as the Kina Kina sea egg in Maori) and look like white doves. There are also many dark-coloured birds which include Lakeha (meduim sized black bird with white markings on face), Kapana (frigate birds) Kanapu (ganets) and Te Kivi which looks a bit like a pipin, it has a long beak for digging into the sand, about 15 cm tall and flies.

On the topic of the wild life I might as well mention the crabs and other walking sea shells. These cute little creatures crawl into our house at night. In the morning when I'm going to the maru (toliet) there are hundreds of them creeping around the rocks. They have tiny beady eyes darting about. Inside our house are giant geckos that make noises similar to canary's chirping. It is a very pleasant sound. Zane can't complain about one getting stuck in his underpants yesterday, because the geckos help keep our house insect free.

Running madly through the streets, sometimes through our house, and waking us up in the early hours of the morning are the roosters and chickens. They like to live on our roof and crow on our roof too! There are so many of them there might be one to every three people living here. The owners of the birds are determined by a cut in their feet. I looked at a chicken's foot today and noticed that half of it's two talons were cut off. I asked a man how the cutting system worked as I figured there wouldn't be that many options for a group of 400 people owning this many free range birds. The man said only the women knew and that he himself was mystified. The poultry is sometimes eaten on special occasions but they are also used to scare the rats and mice away. At night you will see wild cats creeping through the streets but they are never there in the day and I guess the cats also manage the rat and mice problem.

The days are controlled by the tides. So far, in the mornings the tide has been rapidly going out and this works conveniently for the women as it is also the time most of them flock to the toilet. On the opposite point to where the men go the the maru the women wade out in the fast moving current and squat in the water. Just with a lap lap strung around my body I do the same. This is now a morning ritual. I sit facing the sunrise over the east while other women around me gather in little clusters gossiping and chatting. It must be true that everywhere in the world women like to hang out in bathrooms and toilets. It is almost one of these spaces women have claimed for themselves, and here it happens to be in a lagoon. If I am brave enough to turn around I might see my excretions floating merrily away against a pristine aqua blue water.

As I write this two boys are sitting next to me. One boy is voluntarily holding my diary so that I can write easily on my lap and the other older boy is reading over my shoulder. Where ever I go the kids like to follow me. I almost attract a gang of children as I walk down the streets. The girls especially like to hold my hand or stroke my hair. I have made some great friends with some of them. For a child living on the island life must be so wonderful. You have hundreds of kids to play with, big sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles to take care of you and endless swims in the sea. One of my favourite children is a boy called Manonie. We met him pretty early on as on the first day of arriving his little head kept peeping through our fish net window. Peering into our house with hungry curiosity he would just stare at us. After a while of doing this we soon found him inside our house, and I even had to cope with him watching me get changed. In the end I gave up caring. I have learnt a little of the language here but unfortunately he now thinks that I can understand every word he says and he repeats sentences to me earnestly hoping I might reply to him. I just love Manonie, he is constantly happy and singing on the top of his voice. In fact, I think this boy is the epitome of youth. Carefree and always laughing, softening adults where ever he goes with his sweet pleas and funny little games. I only worry that perhaps the attention he gets from me and others is a little too much for his ego, but it doesn't appear to be affecting him this way so far (he is also the youngest in the family so I guess it is hard to escape this kind of thing).

One night I joined a men's drinking party. They had a generator set up playing disco music and even mid night oil and ACDC. It was great fun drinking Kareve (fermented coconut a bit like Kava) and dancing around in the sand. I couldn't believe that there were no women there. I kept asking the men why, and they explained that firstly the women were busy with the children and secondly they didn't like to drink as most were strong Christians. I could talk more about this but it is another story I'll leave till later. I had a fabulous time with the men and I have to admit it was quite nice being the only women to dance with. Every boy at the party asked to dance with me, and well I did enjoy the attention (he he). Later that evening I had a long conversation with one man in particular. I found that he liked the same music to me and so I brought out my ipod and we listened to Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Dave Dobbin, Katchafire and Bob Marley. I was impressed at his wide knowledge about the world and music. This is impressive since he doesn't even have his own stereo here, just a guitar. Most people like himself however, have spent some time away from the island and so for many Mortlock people they are very aware of the world around them and the things going on outside their little paradise.

I have often been asked if I am married. Here people get married in their early twenties. Marriages are arranged too and usually will be within their own clans (there are five different clans in the island). All the nice men around my age, whom perhaps I could fancy are sadly taken and usually already have one if not two children!

Zane and I are staying in the house opposite the Ariki and we are being looked after by his family. I think we are getting first class service. Both of us have been given beds (instead of grass mats). Our meals are huge and people are always thinking of us. One time we had a visitor for dinner and Sini (the women who serves our meals) immediately brought in an extra chair and bowl of food.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The big catch up begins!

I’m blogging retrospectively to give you an idea of what things have been like for us since we left New Zealand. This is the first of six posts to give you all the details. I’ve been writing all the time but haven’t emailed this to Lyn until now because of the difficulty of getting the email connection to work.

The week before we left to Takuu was a mad rush and the very last few days before we departed molded into one long day with no sleep. I felt very stressed. I remember driving back to Bethells in the early hours of the morning. We had been packing all night, by the time I got home I only had one hour of sleep before I would need to leave for the airport. I didn't even manage to sleep and just lay awake in a kind of surreal dream state. My body and mind knew that it was about to undergo a dramatic change in scenery and life style and I was filled with anticipation, nervousness, exhaustion and excitement. In those moments even my familiar surroundings felt new and different. It made me think of other times before I have left New Zealand or the few days after coming home.

At four am in the darkness of the morning we stumbled out of our car and carried our carefully weighed luggage to the airport. The bags were jammed packed and had been pre-packed about four times, each time we had taken something out that was at the bottom of our list in order of necessity. Now we were down to the bare essentials.

The sun was slowly rising as we walked onto the plane. It was then a three hour ride to Brisbane in which I got quite distracted watching an American family film. Zane was narrating the entire story to me, with details about what each character was thinking doing and saying to one another. It was a funny exercise to not wear the head phones and watch how the film was constructed on a purely visual sense.

Brisbane was very warm and dry and I could see why people liked to live there. It looked barren however and lacking in colour. We had already had enough dramas getting out of the country so when I couldn't get the requested $25,000 Kina arranged for me to pick up from the money exchange place I figured that my trip would probably only get harder. It took us about two hours to solve the problem and we soon learnt that the credit cards I had to pay the money with, had a limit of $7,000.00. Using a combination of our own credit cards we managed to buy it all. Lucky for that as it was our only chance to get Kina before we were due on the boat.

After this we discovered that the plane had been broken. Air Nuigini airways has this happen a lot we hear people say. We waited in Brisbane another two hours, sleeping intermittently and eating the poor range of food and drinking our eight dollar water.

Brisbane to Port Moresby was another three hour plane ride. We flew over the great barrier reef which was beautiful. Arriving in Port Moresby we were over come by a wave of heat. This was when I started feeling nervous as the foreign surroundings made me feel much closer to our destination. We stayed at a five star hotel
  • (Airways Hotel Port Moresby)
  • with high walled gates for security purposes. The service at the hotel was amazing (asides from the fact the next day I was woken at 5.00am when my wake up call was scheduled for 8.00am - I've had no sleep for two days by this point!). The first evening on arrival we met with Sione (an expat from Takuu who runs Association Na Takuu) and Jim Robins (a man who helped get our visa's working at the PNG research institute). The hotel had a wonderful atmosphere - the eating place was partly outside over looking the airport runway and surrounded by dramatic hills and small mountains. Tropical smells and sounds along with refreshing fruits and a sea-food smorgeous board made it even better.

    In the next morning we travelled to Buka. This involved overcoming the next nerve-wracking hurdle of getting all our luggage through the check in. We had expected to pay excess or even worse not end up getting the luggage put on the plane at all, but we ended up getting away without paying anything and getting everything across!

    The plane landed in Buka in a tiny air strip in the middle of a field. The airport is a small building about the size of a family house. About hundred very black faces were standing at the strip waiting for the plane to arrive. Our luggage was loaded immediately off the plane and groups of people huddled around looking for their belongings. The NZ police were waiting for us. They had a sturdy jeep and appeared very organised, already with a plan of action as to how they would get all our luggage to the boat in the short space of time we had. The boat was scheduled to leave in about thirty mins from the time that the plane arrived and we learned later that it had been specifically waiting for us! We finally knew we would make it to the island and be able to shoot the film.

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    Zane gets tricky with technology

    Zane writes:

    Experimenting here with sending some small photos.

    One is of Briar and the ladies next door celebrating their identical
    laplaps, the house they're in front of is Richard's pad. These ladies also
    play a part in making our food.

    The other photo is of two of our favourite people; Manoni and his aunty
    Rose. Rose is one of of our main caregivers and a wonderful chef. Manoni is
    our shadow about the village and has the habit of singing to himself at high

    The photo was taken at sunset about 10 metres from the backdoor of our
    house. We usually go for an unwind swim at this time of day.

    More later..