Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Damaged trees

Trees on the shore of Nukutoa damaged by the waves.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Men's dance

Many of the younger men doing a stick dance at the concert on the school grounds. In this photo Satty and George can be seen dancing with several schoolteachers and other village men.

The Graduates of 2008

8th grade graduates of Mortlock School stand on the undamaged basketball court the day before the big waves came.

Damage to the school library

This was the school libary. All the schoolbooks were ruined by the waves.

Concert day in brief with curious weather effects

Its been a big day and I'm tired so I'll try not to make this too long.

It started, sort of, when Satty woke Scott and I to look at the big waves surging past the island. It was supposed to be a low tide with a half moon but the water level looked like a high tide and every seven minutes a huge sheet of water came racing towards the island with a hissing roar from the north west to crash against the northern shore. It was kind of impressive. If this had been a full high tide these sheets of water would be racing across the school playground. We figure these surges must be long period waves generated by a far off storm or cyclone (can anyone out there find a graphic of the weather map for the 7th and 8th of December 2008 that we can post on this blog?)

The rest of the day started at dawn. We started shooting at 6am with Endar to get some work done before the big concert. Scott, Lyn and John were roped into the event as dignitaries to give out prizes to the school children. Dr Scott Smithers had an extra job (he must be more dignified) he had to give a speech through a megaphone and tie the teachers ties.

Then there was a big lunch followed by the concert bit. Twenty nine acts. Traditional dance and church singing. It finally finished at dusk. It was a great day that we totally enjoyed.


P.S. Tomorrow we are going to Takuu to film some more taro pit action. Judging by the vicious state of the mosquitos at Petasi this afternoon the little winged creatures on Takuu promise to be truly unbelievable. Also, in case you were wondering if we plan to come back, our departure time on the Barbarian is set for midday on Sunday.

Too far away to get evacuation warnings (and too far away to be evacuated)

Its been an interesting couple of days here on Nukutoa. Yesterday the strange wave patterns that we have been noticing all week began hitting us with full effect as tides have become higher. Large sections of the island have been flooded and the shore has been eroded as waves have broken across the seawalls of the eastern shores.

This morning Scott and John held a meeting presenting their research so far to the islanders. Soon afterward everyone left to prepare fortoday's tide at 1pm. The news we had managed to glean via the radio was that low lying parts of northern PNG had been evacuated and that Manus and Kavieng had been hit hard by large waves. In Wewak water had reached the airport runway.

Here in Takuu we are too far away to get evacuation warnings (and too far away to be evacuated). People here can only guess at what must be going on. We suspect a huge storm north of here, perhaps around Guam, is generating huge ocean swells; swells with long period waves that carry them over the shallow water of the reef and still hold enough energy topenetrate the island.

As the tide rose so did the waves. Near Petasi (which is close to the edge of the reef) the water sometimes reached our knees. We had to be careful that the camera wouldn't get swept away with the rest of the debris hitting us as we filmed shots in the waves.

Over half the island has been flooded with most of the damage in the eastern parts. The school has been heavily hit with the schoolteachers house, the library and the elementary classrooms sustaining major damage. Schoolbooks are ruined, boats and water tanks float on the basketball court.

Only a few days ago the dance concert was held in the school grounds, now the grounds are a mess of coconuts and rubbish floating in the saltwater. The wavespenetrated into the middle of the island ruining houses and flowing into the wells.

All along the northern shore, houses sit without their walls, pools of water lie in the interiors upon which float the remains of household effects. Coconut trees have fallen and coral rocks have been thrown up on the land. There has been great damage to the sandy points upon which the canoes are kept. Several fishing canoes now have holes and lie tipped upon their sides.

All is calm tonight. The tide is low and the waves cannot get over the reef. Tomorrows tides are higher and on Friday to Sunday will be even higher still. We sent a press release to the NZ herald and John has talked to the Sydney Morning Herald so watch out for some articles.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When you are here, you get the privilege of being part of the family too...

Over the last two years when I have thought of Takuu - the isolated atoll I lived on for two months in 2006 – 2007 - I have remembered a pace of life that moves in time with the tides and the rising and setting of the sun. One that is structured around community and people and less around money, property and careers. People are incredibly hospitable and there is a general feeling of openness and acceptance by the whole community. It is this feeling that makes staying on Takuu so special and what resonates with me most as I return.

In particular is the way families operate and the roles each will take in caring and looking after each other. When I was here before, Avo the chief of the island and the father to Sini whose family is looking after us, had two legs and appeared fairly fit and healthy. Last year his foot became infected after he accidentally stepped on a fish bone. Because Avo has diabetes the infection grew, until a few months ago his foot had to be amputated. At the same time Avo's wife Samoa had a stroke, becoming unable to talk or walk. Now both are disabled and they rely a lot on their extended family to help them. It's impressive to see how easily this happens. A special chair has been made for Samoa, which has handles on either end so that the ladies can carry her to the water to wash and toilet, while Avo is pushed around by his grandchildren in his wheel chair. If this couple had lived in New Zealand they might have easily ended up in an old person's home. Here they are constantly around their family, and if it is not Sini, or Sio their daughter or son-in-law who help them, it is the cousins, nephews, aunties and uncles. In additon to these changes, Avo's daughter Jane has had a baby. The father is not on the island so it is the extended family who are taking part in the raising of the child. The baby is always in some body's arms, being admired, talked to or played with. And Sio, the father of the house, seems to be making a special effort to be the father figure in the baby's life.

I am sure families operate like this all around the world, and as much as possible they will try to help each other. I guess the main difference here is that there is no traveling time, or distance between people, making it much easier to be together. In fact, you could say the whole island is an extended family. Lyn tried to do a family tree of our three characters and she found that they were all related twice to each other on both sides of the family.

When you are here, you get the privilege of being part of the family too. One lady, after a few glasses of kareve (coconut beer) told me I was her booboo (grand child), giving me a visongi (hongi – rubbing of noses). That definitely felt like some sort of initiation into the island life

When bitten by a crab - bite back.

The last few days have been difficult as far as making films on small atolls goes. Our subjects have often been unavailable due to the ongoing funeral ceremonies and we have had equipment trouble as well. All on the same day we had problems with playback on the camera, a virus on our computers from a pen drive and our generator (which we use for topping up our power if its cloudy or we have put too big a load on the batteries) suddenly started jumping around with a clattering noise while white smoke poured from the alternator.

So work shifted to the Barbarian where a small office for Rose and George was set up to translate the video tapes while Briar and Rod shot the underwater sequences for the beginning and end of the film. For these sequences Briar roped in a young man called Dan and a canoe. The first days filming took place in the north west passage where the tides bring in clear water from the ocean. Here Rod filmed shots using the canoe. The second day involved filming diving shots off Queen Emma's Island (Kapeitu). I took the chance to go ashore with Endar and Barbarian's crew to take a look at the ruins of the old plantation house which was abandoned in the 1930's when the village moved to Nukutoa.

The concrete walls of the house and some kind of factory are slowly crumbling into the jungle in the interior of the island. Trees are growing on the walls and lumps of concrete cover the area where the floors once were. The roof and anything wooden have been eaten away long ago. The layout of the house is still there and you can easily see where the bay windows and the veranda once where.

After messing about looking at the house I went back out into the glaring sunlight of the beach where Endar taught me to catch crabs for bait. The method is this -
1. Find a crab hole in the beach.
2. Dig until you find a crab.
3. Grab your crab from behind.
4. Throw the crab with force upside down on the beach to stun and kill it.

My first crab went well but with my second I failed at step 3. I grabbed the frightened little animal from the front and it bit my finger hard with a pincer drawing blood. I then learned another trick. When bitten by a crab - bite back. Biting its pincer causes the shell to crack and the crab loses grip. Endar had the crabs for lunch. Barbarian's cook, Daisy, fried them with chilli.

Yesterday I went fishing. There was no filming going on to speak of (Briar did squeeze off a few shots though) so I went on a trip with Cio (whose family we stay with), Scott and Leonard (Barbarian's engineer) [Briar and Lyn weren't allowed to come, they are girls, they are unlucky and we couldn't even talk about it to them]. We zoomed out of the lagoon in an orange fiberglass canoe circling the small reefs on our way out to catch bait. We had dolphins surfing in our bow wave for a while and outside the lagoon huge whales could be seen in the distance rising and crashing back into the water.

The fishing technique was to zoom into flocks of seabirds feeding on the water while trailing as many fishing lines as possible. In this fashion we caught six large fish, two tuna and four rainbow runners. Most of these fish are destined for the big event - Monday's Dance Concert. A lot of the men are still out there tonight - fishing for the concert.

Today we were back to the usual routine. We filmed Satty and Endar this morning and sequences with the scientists in the afternoon.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Animals we have seen so far on this expedition:

-Huntsman spider
-Scorpion (in Briar and Lyn's house)
-Dolphins (in Buka Passage and surfing the bow wave of our canoe in Takuu lagoon)
-Frigate Birds (talo has one as a pet)
-Fairy Terns
-Blue Starfish
-Rats (in our house)
-Manta Rays
-Whales (breaching at sea about 4km from the reef)
-Noddy Terns
-Cats (only at night)
-Corgis (in Buka)
-Black Skinks
-Yellowfin Tuna
-Skipjack Tuna
-Rainbow Runner Fish
-Moray Eels
-Coconut Crabs (on Takuu)
-Hermit Crabs
-Mushroom Coral
-Angel Fish
-Mosquito Fish
-Sea Cucumber
-Sea Urchin
-Ants (in our peanut butter)

Possibly to be continued....

This is how most days pan out for us here -

You may get the impression from reading this blog that all we do on the Mortlock Atoll is swan about looking at the sights and complaining about the toilet arrangements. The truth is in fact that most of our day is spent working.

This is how most days pan out for us here-

5am: We get up. Yes I know 5am sounds early but here on Nukutoa this is the time most people get up. At this time the sun is up, the roosters have left our roof and things are happening. The girls disappear for their morning kaukau (strangely the word for wash is the same as the word for kumera - go figure!), and we boys take the long walk to Patasi.

6am - 7am: Breakfast. Time for some Hardman cabin bread biscuits (Hi-Way Hardman. Strongpela Bisket!) with peanut butter (we bought 5 jars of peanut butter but no jam) and a cup of Milo. The crew of the Barbarian usually turn up with blocks of ice for our water cooler.

After this the scientists disappear for some morning science (measuring stuff, surveying and cutting up coral mostly - they have a lot to do on the low tide) and we filmmakers try to locate the people we are filming and prepare the equipment.
8 or 9am to 11am: We film a scene. I hold a microphone while trying not to let any equipment die in the heat / wet. Briar fusses over the camera and Lyn checks the shots / questions against the script. Meanwhile Rose and whoever else we can rope in work on translating the tapes from previous days shooting.

11am to 12:30pm: The hot part of the day begins. The light becomes harsh and full of contrasts while the equipment is in danger of overheating in the full sun. We try not to do any filming. Lyn and Briar start planning the next days shooting while rewriting the script against what we have just shot. I usually fiddle around with the batteries at this time trying to squeeze as much power out of the sun as possible before the equipment sucks it all up again.

12:30 pm: Lunch. Usually rice, instant noodles and fish or corned beef stew. All our meals here are made for us by our host family. We don't have to cook a thing, also they do our laundry! The scientists have turned up again by now and are working on their notes while adding up sums on a calculator.

1pm to 2:30pm. Back to planning / adding up sums. Its still too hot to shoot. Today at this time a big rainstorm broke over the islands. We ran around in the rain with buckets trying to catch as much of it as possible to refill the tanks. Fresh water is precious here. Some laundry water can be drawn from wells in the middle of the island but most washing and drinking water comes from the sky. As most houses are thatched only a few can catch rain.

2:30pm. The second shoot of the day. We go and interview someone or follow them around with the camera to see how much they can put up with.

5 - 5:30 pm: Sunset begins. Time to grab those atmospheric shots before it all disappears for the day.

6pm. It's dark. Time to write blogs, fiddle with the script and wind things down. The chickens are back on the roof and are falling asleep. We may try to wash ourselves using a couple of cups of fresh water.

7pm. Dinner time. The menu varies. Often a slight variation on the lunch menu. Sometimes it can be an incredible feast of local dishes. Today Endar cooked for us and there is a kind of kaukau flat cake / pudding as well as roast chicken (chicken doesn't turn up often on the menu). We don't forget to take our malaria tablets.

8pm. We try to send and receive emails while cursing the gods of the satellite phone. It often takes several tries to hook up and then sometimes throws us off the network. The signal strength comes and goes and we constantly play with the aerial trying to make it better.

After this we go to bed. Nicely tucked up under our mosquito nets until the roosters begin again.

Oops! Dinner time - better go.

The special dangers of Petasi.

A decision to travel to Petasi is never taken lightly. This little island is full of hidden (and not so hidden dangers) that include pandanus grass (which has sharp serrated edges to the leaves with little thorns that must be pulled out of the skin with tweezers), sharp coral rocks and piles of excrement. Petasi is the little island connected to the eastern tip of Nukutoa and when walking can be smelt before it is seen.

Petasi is often called Pootasi or Poo Island in our camp. It serves as the mens toilet. Briar has earlier described the special details and dangers of the women's toilet in the sea at the northern tip of the island and I have to admit that perhaps they have it worse, they have to get wet each time they go, but the men's isn't easy either. Finding a fresh area on the sharp coral where you won't get pandanus thorns in your backside can be a challenge on some mornings. Luckily our diet of fish, rice and kaukau results in less journeys to Petasi.

PS You may wonder what they use as toilet paper here. Scott has just discovered it is coconut fiber.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

A demanding sort of holiday. But, nevertheless, not an experience I'd be without.

Am clearly not keeping my end up in the blogging stakes here, but Jeffrey has made sure that the side has not been let down.

I'd say I'm not blogging because I'm so busy, and in a sense this is true, but in all honesty, the days float by here like we're on some strange, confronting holiday. Which is not to say that we're not working hard, but that its very hot, and humid and free time usually gets spent yarning or wishing you were asleep (in the middle of the day) and then trying to sleep at night (which is sometimes impossible.)

Life on Nukutoa is rather like full time existence in a caravan park at the height of summer in the 70s. There are little houses about the size and shape of caravans on similar sized sections, communal toilets and washing facilities and constant good weather. The footwear du jour, every jour, is jandals. People dress casual – t-shirts and laplaps (sarongs) and sometimes not even that. Every day brings its small dramas – flooded out-riggers, crap fishing, children who get grumpy and fractious because of chest infections. But generally things slide along in their own way, in their own time. Women work very hard here, but its still possible to see them drowsing in the sun after a long day. It's very safe. Children are free to roam and play and take physical risks because the other kinds of risks that we're familiar with – stranger danger, traffic, Internet nasties, simply don't exist. People treat us very very well, from the family we're staying with, to people that we don't even really know, to the people that we're working with on the film – this is a very close community. The fact that John and Scott are here to assess what's happening on the island is something that everyone appreciates very much as well. We're trying to make every second count.

That said – there's a flip side to every situation. Imagine living in a camping ground year round – no TV, no Internet, no shops, no variations in food, no showers, no privacy and worse – no doctor, no hospital and no transport out.

The toileting situation is something to get your head around – I was always taught not to pee in the pool, but now I not only have to pee there but shit there as well – if the lagoon counts as a pool. Not only that but I have to do it in plain sight of other people, including (sometimes) the men who keep their boats at poo-point – otherwise known as Tealoki. I'm confronted with physical evidence of other people's activities too, usually in the middle of a conversation with them about the film (people are curious) or village gossip (people are happy to divulge). Or sometimes just because. The other thing I find confronting about Tealoki is the eels. At night, at low tide, and when you're at lowest ebb, when you're expected to squat over about 3 inches of water miles from the shore, there are moray eels, white and curious, perched along the water's edge. Scott suggested not to worry unless I was presenting the eels with something reassembling a small crustacean, whereupon I put my hands over my ears and went “la la la”. I've figured out how to get around the problem but I don't want to divulge any more than I already have. It's simply too Freudian.

The constipation remains a problem – only psychological in part (dehydration and a lack of dietary fibre take care of the rest) and poo stories are regularly shared amongst our band of five reprobates. The worst part though, is having to get wet every time you need to go. It's a round trip of 15-30 minutes depending on your circumstance, and plays merry hell with your sunblock and insect repellent applications. Actually – I lie – the worst part is having to wake up, put on a laplap and then stagger to the water to pee in the middle of the night – I seem to save it all up for then. I've developed a number of dodgy strategies for making the process easier but they're all fraught – for example – tonight I took a short-cut and nearly ran over a giant pile of what appeared to be turtle guts and also a cat trying to eat them. Thank god for headlamps.

I've managed now to have had a close encounter with most of the confronting fauna that Takuu affords – bitten to the quick by clouds of giant mosquitos, had a giant spider fall out of the roof and land next to the spot where I was sleeping on the floor, found a scorpion in the bed itself (Briar wanted to take a photo), and one on my mosquito net, watched a centipede – the only really poisonous thing on the island, run out of my sleeping mat when I picked it up in the morning, played spotlight with a pair of rats and chased one out of our rubbish, repeatedly flicked off a jumping spider that had to have me and just got dive bombed by some kind of beetle while trying to write this. The coral gravel floor of our hut is alive with small crabs and, when you lift your sleeping mat off the floor in the morning, Slater's. While washing in the comforting blanket of darkness (because you have to wash standing next to a bucket in the street), strange, inbred zombie-cats slink past like ghosts.

So – yes – a demanding sort of holiday. But, nevertheless, not an experience I'd be without.

- Lyn

There were actually two parties going on at the same time on Saturday

30 November
If you are wondering why there has been a slight delay in the arrival of new blogs we have some good reasons.

Firstly all our batteries have been running down. The car batteries that we use in our solar system are now not as reliable and don't hold their charge as long as before. Also most of the equipment batteries have run down and need charging. Today I resorted to putting on the generator and have given everything a jolly good charge - so we will see how we go.

Secondly, yesterday we had an all day drinking session - so nothing got done (but it was good for public relations). Karave (and I'm not sure I'm spelling that correctly) is a kind of beer brewed from the sap of the coconut tree. It's collected in plastic or glass bottles hung at the top of the tree and fermented for a while. Additives improve the alcoholic content but not the taste. The resulting drink tastes a bit like a mix of beer and rice wine but isn't too bad after the first glass.

There were actually two parties going on at the same time on Saturday hosted by two of the main characters in our film. Satty (who is in his mid thirties and messes about with canoes) was re-rigging his outrigger in the men's boat shed / carving house at one end of the island. Briar and her camera were discouraged from showing up to this one possibly because last time she filmed one of Satty's boat launching captured on video the men telling Satty how he had done it all wrong - or it could be that he just didn't want to be bothered and asked to repeat his actions five times for the camera.

The other party was at Talo's house (Talo is in his 60's, gardens on Takuu, has a lovely wife called Madeline from the Solomons, is missing most of his teeth, keeps pet birds (including a frigate bird named after a footballer) and doesn't stop talking).

So the day passed much like a typical summer student party in Grey Lynn. I talked to many old men - their English vocabulary decreased as their consumption of Karave increased. The young men of the village were blind drunk by midday and everyone else drank until sunset.

Today (Sunday) we woke to find most of the village leaving for Takuu Island. During the night one of the elderly gentlemen died and as everyone is related to everyone else here, most people have departed for a five funeral on Takuu (many dressed as their best imitations of beekeepers). Some people here are worried about the funeral arrangements. Normally the fathers family of the deceased would perform the ceremony but this time none of them are available. Apparently the only person from the fathers side who was is a christian pastor - so he isn't able to do it.

So this time the mothers family will perform the ceremony. This could result in arguments in the land of the dead that may spill over into the land of the living.
After drawing family trees of our three characters I'm not sure how this situation could be possible. Our characters are related to each other on both their mothers side and their fathers side. When drawing out the family tree diagram Lyn put the ends of her paper together to form a circle and the two parts of the diagram matched up! At that point Lyn didn't even have all the connections drawn up yet.
To give you an idea of one connection: Satty is married to Telo's daughter from his first marriage, which makes Endar his great aunt in law.
The funeral means Talo is away but luckily Satty and Endar are still here so we can still continue making the film. Also this means the eagerly awaited school end of year dance contest has been delayed.

Everyone is very excited about this contest. There are little teams practicing all over the island I first became aware of them late one night when I half awoke to the sound of hundreds of sticks been beaten together all over the island. This resulted in a strange dream in which I thought the island was being invaded.
The dances are traditional to the atolls around here (the Carterets, the Tasmans etc) and seem to have no syncopated rhythms - just a steady beat. Apparently everyone has their own team including Beauty (the twelve year old girl who lives next door to us) whose team Briar named "Nukutoa Princesses" and Telo whose team of boys Briar, Lyn and I joined for a practice a few years ago.
Speaking of Briar and naming - it seems Satty has named his daughter after her. This new Briar is almost two months old (she was born on the 6th of October) is the same colour as the old Brair and has big serious black eyes.


Like having an entrance to a beehive in front of your own face!

You haven't experienced mosquitos until you have been to Takuu Island and photographed the giant taro.

Takuu is a short boat trip or lagoon wade through shallow warm waters from the friendly village of Nukutoa in the Mortlock Atoll. Visiting times are between dawn and 3pm. It is forbidden and also very unlucky to stay beyond 4pm.

When visiting Takuu it is fashionable to dress as a beekeeper. There are no shops on Takuu or Nukutoa selling beekeepers clothing but suitable facsimiles can be constructed from boiler suits, paper safety suits, wide brimmed hats and mosquito netting.

It is expected that visitors to the island not appropriately attired whip themselves with palm leaves. This ritual if consistently applied may discourage as much as 10% of all mosquitos.

Visitors to Takuu will want to photograph the giant taro. These impressive plants grow to over twice the height of a man and have huge wide leaves. Other types of taro on Takuu are worth viewing too. Visitors to the island will be impressed by the size and depth of many of the taro pits, some of which are hand dug to below sea level!

Of course the highlight of the trip for many people is the mosquitos. Those visitors unused to travel in a major tropical swamp will be amazed by the numbers and size of the little animals. It's like having an entrance to a beehive in front of your own face! I'm going back today and I hope you get the chance to visit soon.

-Jeffrey 27/11/08

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Chickens. I am amused, slightly fascinated and irritated by chickens. My family used to keep a small collection of these birds when I was a teenager. Our chickens were very inbred and slightly feral. They would constantly do bizarre and stupid things.
The chickens on Nukutoa seem to follow the same plan. On your house, in your house, under your feet, on the beach, they are everywhere and seem to believe they own the island.
The chicken day begins just before dawn when they cause an almighty racket crowing and clucking at the top of their little lungs on the roofs of the houses. This wakes up the people of the village and serves as a collective alarm clock.
A little after dawn they descend from the roof to begin their day scavenging for food.
Roosters spend their day scavenging, attempting to out do each other in an endless crowing competition, taking dustbaths, fighting and sneaking up behind unsuspecting hens.

Hens spend their day scavenging, trying to build nests in stupid places (I have chased the same hen five times already today from my house, she wants to build a nest on the floor within our battery equipment), getting surprised by roosters jumping on their backs and losing (or forgetting they ever had) chicks.
Chicks spend their day trying desperately not to let their mothers forget about them while eating whatever they can.
Scott killed a hen the other day. It was an accident. He moved a wooden pallet to create a floor for our generator. As he dropped the pallet into position no one noticed the small black hen racing under it to eat the bugs coming out of the wood. The result was squashed chicken.

The chickens are desperate. I witnessed a chicken fight over an unlucky gecko. The poor little lizard was caught out in the open while at least a dozen chickens of various sizes descended upon it. The lizard didn't have a chance.
Dropped food or opened coconuts can also result in chicken mayhem.

At sunset the chickens ascend once more to the roofs of the houses. A common sight at dusk is to see a chick racing around a house squawking madly while its mother sits on the roof listening.
The thought in the hen's head probably runs like this "I hear a chick! Did I have one of those? Where is it? Perhaps its not mine. No I didn't have a chick today. Or did I? Its nice on this roof. I can see everything from here. Hmm sleepy... I still hear a chick. I wonder if its mine...." Eventually this problem is resolved. Either the chick dies and is eaten by cats or the mother comes down.
Night comes and all is peacefully silent as the exhausted chickens rest, preparing for another day of complete stupidity.
I must go now, I have to chase that hen off the batteries again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Reef

I got up at dawn and went for a walk with Scott and Endar on the reef from Nukutoa towards Takuu. We picked up Endar at her church where apparently she had been awake since 2am. She sleeps a lot during the day because of the heat.

The top of the reef is like concrete. At low tide you can walk across it with water only ankle deep. It feels like walking across an old tennis court upon which somebody has randomly scattered large rocks. On the reef various plants and animals break up the old coral limestone into sand which is carried by the currents and deposited on the island and into the lagoon.

Halfway between Nukutoa and Takuu is the wreck of the Koko Maru, a fishing boat that was wrecked here in 1994. The bow section sits at the edge of the reef, other parts are scattered behind towards Takuu. One major section, a part of the side of the ship painted with the registration number in large black letters, sits like an outdoor stage on the beach at Takuu.

Also behind the bow is the remains of a large oil slick. For hundreds of meters behind the rocks and reef are covered with a slippery black tar. Algae has just begun to gain a hold here and reclaim the rocks.

Small holes in the reef are the home of baby moray eels which can be quite aggressive, they will attack a jandal waved at them but once they realize your size they will flee to the safety of the nearest rock.

Upon reaching the beach at Takuu we were bombarded by waves of mosquitoes forcing us to make a hasty retreat back across the lagoon to Nukutoa. On the way we carefully avoided an area of water that was a cemetery back in the far past. Bodies were buried here for a while before the heads were removed, placed in clam shells and buried upon the land. On Takuu if you find a giant clam shell in the forest you know you are standing in the wrong place.

Back on Nukutoa the first task of the morning was to film Talo and his family having breakfast and talking about the meeting last year.

Talo had some interesting information. Originally the village on Nukutoa consisted of two rows of houses on the main street (the widest, straightest street you can see on Google Earth). There were rules about what you could build, where and how. At the back of these houses were the kitchens. The kitchens were the only buildings allowed on the foreshore.

When the old chief died in 1983 the building restrictions were relaxed (some say these restrictions were relaxed in the 70's). People replaced the kitchens on the foreshore with houses. These houses are the ones on the edge of the seawall today and are the ones that sometimes get flooded in westerly winds.

At some point the government dropped off wire baskets to build a seawall but there were no instructions with these baskets on how to use them so the villagers used the baskets to build the seawall that exists today.

Also at some point possibly in the 70's the swampy area on Nukutoa that used to contain the gardens were filled in with rubbish and sand to create new areas for housing.

Also today I went swimming on Nukuafare – the next island north of Nukutoa. This island is only used for camping, it has beautiful clear water and white beaches. It is only permanently inhabited by two pigs called Homer and Hutura.

The solar power system is working well. We have had it running 24 hours a day charging our equipment. There are three batteries. At any given time I have one on the solar panel charging and the other two supplying 24.5volts to the inverter.

Barbarian is currently anchored off one of the small islands north of Nukutoa where the crew are getting a much needed rest.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


We have been filming the seawall. This wall runs along the edge of the western side of the island - almost along its entire length. In the Google Earth image you can just make out the canoes anchored a few meters offshore. There is almost no current here - the water is very still (In this season the wind blows from the east sheltering this side. Soon the season will change, the wind will blow from the north west reversing the current past Nukutoa). In the photo the darkness in the water is seagrass, underwater this stuff looks a lot like long AstroTurf. If you look carefully at the image you will see blotches of coral further out. At this point the water becomes deep enough never to dry out at low tide.

The seawall was first built many years ago but needs constant attention and maintenance. The nets that hold the stones wear out and need to be replaced frequently. The wall was built because apparently when the north west winds came they would whip up the waves pushing the water into the houses on the foreshore during the high tide. Building a wall keeps the waves off the land but the sand of the beach gets pulled out into the lagoon by the reflected wave where it gets trapped in the seagrass.

Rubbish on the island is buried behind the seawall to build up the level of the backyards of the houses on the foreshore and further prevent incursions by the sea.

The result in the western shore of the island is that what once was a beach is now slippery rocks and what once was deep water off the beach is now shallow sandy water covered with seagrass with the occasional bit of rubbish washed from broken sections of seawall.

There is also a seawall along the north shore of the island. This wall doesn't look as bad possibly because new sand made on the reef is deposited here by the strong current. Sometimes, however, it seems that the current pulls sand off the shore faster than it can be deposited. This sand ends up in the seagrass and doesn't come back.

Scott and John have begun surveying the island and surrounding reef and are learning more daily about how erosion affects this island. Soon we should start building up a clearer picture of what is going on here.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Understanding what is appropriate can be a challenge in itself.

After making it through the phone/shower ordeal I met geomorphologist Scott Smithers in John's room. They chatted science and I wondered what was going to happen next. What did happen was the arrival of Briar, Jeffrey, Endar and Rose, still reasonably fresh from a day of shooting in Moresby. After meeting Peter Mildner, Briar and Zane's main contact in Moresby during the last shoot, we managed to organise everyone into a room, and then met the redoubtable Jim Robins in the restaurant next to the pool for dinner. This is the second time that Jim has managed the vaguaries of PNG bureaucracy to get everyone a visa into Moresby in time to make a film. I, for, one, was very pleased to be able to put a face to the name, although my mental picture of him is so different to the reality it's like there are two Jims in my head.

Our next port of call was Buka. People there are wonderfully friendly and the town is putting up new buildings everywhere in a most industrious way but infrastructure is limited compared to what we're used to and mechanical issues, getting basic types of supplies and making sure we communicate with the appropriate local authorities have all required negotiation. Understanding what is appropriate can be a challenge in itself. Buka seems to be a developers dream but a place that gives the impression of being very much the last outpost. Despite the new building projects there are still people crapping and washing in the strait.

The shops are fascinating - each one sells the exact same stuff as every other one and we must have been into about nine of them to get appropriate supplies during our two days in the town. Of interest in the smell department - perfumed toilet tissue reminiscent of cat piss, available in more than one place. That and the fact that the shops all smell really interesting and not necessarily in a good way. We stayed at the Kuri Resort, which had a couple of bamboo bands through in the time we were there and that was interesting - a sort of fifties style of music played on bamboo and pvc piping with jandals. Briar caused quite a stir on the first night by taking a chomp on Rose's betel nut and suffering all the usual effects including blurred vision - and a very red mouth. Jeffrey, for his trouble, was accosted on the second day by a drunk guy from a political rally who made declarations of love until he was finally pulled off - by a girl no less.

We had a few dramas waiting in Buka for the MV Barbarian which didn't show up on the day we anticipated - but hey, this is PNG - what's new? We spent a night on board waiting for the weather to clear so we could head off. This first night some drunk guys came out to us in a banana boat but Scott (the geomorphologist) struck a blow for the earth scientists by appearing in his boxers and standing on the deck until they went away.

As of November 15 we are in still in the boat which will remain broken but usable. Jeffery bought a part to repair the malfunctioning autopilot but it didn't fit the current arrangement and this makes all travel harder, particularly for the skipper. We're still waiting for the weather out at sea to clear sufficiently for us to begin the journey to Takuu. Because conditions are rough outside of the shelter around Buka we will have the first leg via the Carteret Islands. This Atoll is also sinking fast and is closer to the mainland than Takuu, making it perfect for laying over if the weather turns to crap.

Our skipper is Rod Pearce - when I first took a banana boat from the Kuri Resort to meet him he hadn't slept for more than two days as he had been piloting the Barbarian off the compass through rough weather and through the night. However after a day unconscious he emerged from his cocoon of incoherence as a very curmudgeonly butterfly. He is so careful about the weather on the open ocean that he actually suggested we shoot the doco on the Carterets, which are closer to Buka. And Briar actually started shouting. We managed to detach him from this idea but it had already become obvious at that Rod is as crusty a seadog as ever rode the waves - and he is extremely cautious about going out in unsuitable conditions, so we know that we're as safe as the situation allows.

There have been more developments since but you'll have to wait to get those.....

It's amazing how many men with grey hair, beards and glasses there are in airports.

I've always been accident-prone, especially in new situations, so the fact that my new sneakers had already chewed a hole through the back of my heel by the time I reached Brisbane airport was no surprise.

The problem started in Auckland and I actually went and purchased a packet of sticking plaster to patch myself up, but optimistically only put on one and then lost the rest of the packet somewhere in my luggage. The lack of sleep didn't help my decision-making - I didn't get to bed the night before, having marked exams until 3am, then raced home to shower, give my partner instructions on dealing with the mountains of laundry left in piles in the flat, collect a last few things from the production office, pay the phone bill and bust a move to the airport. Briar and Jeffrey left a day before me so I had to make it as far as Brisbane on my own. Then I would be meeting Oceanographer John Hunter.

On arrival at Auckland International I managed to check in without much incident (although the check-in chick wanted to prevent me taking the big solar panel on the grounds that it was like an energy efficient light bulb - ?). However when I made it as far as customs the scary woman there took one look at my carry-on bag as I staggered in and asked to weight it. Next thing I was back downstairs at check-in arranging to pay excess baggage with a woman who clearly believed I was evil incarnate and a scam artist from way back. I managed to get away with paying significantly less than the $382 she wanted to sting me for, on the grounds that no one could figure out how to charge for the domestic leg of the journey, so I gave the person concerned a bag of lollies we were hoarding for the trip. I didn't want to pay excess on them anyway.

After bleeding my tired way through arrivals at Brisbane airport I found a place to buy a very nice set of superior Australian band aids with which I swathed my heel and the offending shoe which was merrily grating its way towards my achilles tendon. I then spent the next hour watching middle-aged men with beards and glasses and wondering if they were John Hunter. I actually approached one but got it wrong, and decided that I wasn't going to ask every likely guy. It's amazing how many men with grey hair, beards and glasses there are in airports. Maybe they're the only ones with enough money to travel. Eventually John located me - a much better proposition - and we made it on to the flight to Port Moresby - which was surprisingly on time, given previous experiences with Air Nuigini.

My first impression of a new place is always the smell and the relative temperature. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, rewarded us with the hot, sticky sort of weather you find in Tahiti. The smell part of things didn't, however, kick in until we reached our accommodation. Everything about the Airways Hotel was amazing - except for an odor issue that, having tantalised you with, I won't go into detail about. However, one thing I can tell you is that the tiles on the floors of their rooms are more slippery than glass. Running from the shower to grab the phone I slipped, rolled like a sausage and bounced twice. The bruise was quite impressive. It currently looks like an atoll map - a red ring with yellow on the inner part of the circle where the lagoon would be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bodies with pale, grim faces littered the deck...


Our first day sailing. We were all woken at 4am with the crew preparing the engines. The plan was to break our voyage to Takuu into two sections by overnighting at the Carteret Islands. Autopilot steering on the Barbarian is currently broken so this means the boat has to be steered all the way by hand, which isn't easy on this boat.

The anchor was pulled up at 5am and we stood on the aft deck watching with great excitment, sipping tea as Buka slipped past. We saw a pod of dolphins, fishermen in dugout canoes, and a banana boat of people also headed out across the ocean to the Carterets. It wasn't a rough day but as soon as we hit the open ocean sea-sickness hit our group. Briar, Lyn, John, Rose and Endar were all struck down with it to a greater or lesser extent.

Bodies with pale, grim faces littered the aft deck. It's with a certain smugness that I can report that I wasn't one of them. Scott had a go steering, I attempted to fix the electronic chart display, and did my washing. We saw flying fish and hit a heavy squall before reaching the outer reef of the Carterets around 3pm. After carefully navigating the passage to the lagoon, we are now anchored in the shelter of the reef.

Now far away sits a wreck of a small ship, a reminder that things can quickly go wrong out here.

- Jeffrey

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Blog - by Jeffrey

Only 7:43 and I'm tired! Perhaps it is that my body is still in NZ time, Perhaps it was the 4am start this morning, Perhaps it's that I'm in a new place.
We caught an early plane out of Port Moresby this morning, a 6:30am flight on a Fokker 100 jet reaching Buka just after 8pm.

Our group finally met all in one place last night over dinner at the Airways Hotel eating with a view over the blue and yellow lights of the taxiways of Port Moresby Airport.

I'll let the others describe themselves properly but our group on this expedition consists of Briar - our veteran director, Lyn - our NZ production manager, Scott and John - the scientists (Scott is here to to look at coral, John will look at the water table on Takuu). Rose and Endar are actually from Takuu. Endar is in front of the camera, Rose is our production assistant and one of our translators.

My name is Jeffrey. I am the sound recordist and technician for the solar power system.

Briar and I had already been in Port Moresby for a couple of nights. We arrived on Monday briefly seeing Scott at the airport (he arrived on the same plane). We stayed with Peter, an architect, in his high rise apartment with a great view overlooking the sea. At night the trade winds howled around his building while the voices in the street below filtered through the window.

On Tuesday we met with Rose and Endar. We held a careful conference on how to travel to film Endar as Port Moresby is famous for it's security problems. Unemployed young men gather on the streets, with nothing to do they spend all day drinking and causing trouble. People are drawn to the big city from the provinces but there is often nothing for them there. The results are predictable.

Briar and I cut our gear to the bare minimum. Just a mic for me and a camera for Briar. We hid our equipment in shopping bags, Rose roped in her friend Luke who is a taxi driver to drive us around. We filmed Endar packing and leaving her house, we sheltered in a pineapple stall from a rainstorm before travelling to film a sequence in a supermarket.


14/11/08 - Buka Harbour -

Briar, Endar and I have been wandering around the town for the past few days filming interviews with local politicians and various street scenes. There are none of the security problems here that Port Moresby has. Buka is very busy, there is a lot of construction, it seems that people are trying madly to catch up and rebuild after the crisis feels like a river town. People move constantly between the two banks of the Buka Passage (Gaelen are you able to find a link on Google Earth for this?) using fiberglass banana boats Sohano. The current is swift. Last night we watched the Rabaul Queen (quite a large ferry) leave port. It pulled out into the current listing heavily to one side. It raced past us at high speed before swinging around again to collect a couple of late passengers from a banana boat. It was quite a performance.
Today while filming interviews with the scientists our boat, the Barbarian, finally entered harbour searching for an anchorage away from the current. Finally it found a spot behind Sohano Island out of sight of the town. While we kept filming, the others loaded out equipment on a banana boat and joined the ship. The Barabarian was late because its skipper Rod Pearce had been battling day and night, hand steering through increasingly higher seas to reach us. It is now too rough in the open ocean to leave and we now have to wait for we don't know how long to leave harbour. If the rough weather continues the wait will seriously eat into out tight shooting schedule.


15/11/08 11am

Last night we were visited by pirates! Ok - its not as dramatic as that. Some very drunk guys pulled up to the side of the Barbarian in a banana boat about midnight to be stared at my our crew. We don't know if they were looking for drinking buddies or were up to no good. Eventually they sped away. Today we are sitting behind Sohano Island waiting for the weather to subside. While Briar and Lyn stay on the boat translating tapes and doing paperwork the rest of us will go to Buka where I hope to send theses blogs. Perhaps we sail tonight or tomorrow morning on a 3 day trip that promises to be very rough. We will be out of contact for cellphone and Internet and we are unlikely to get any sleep. The banana boat has arrived so I must go.


Sunday, November 09, 2008


I'm Gaelen and I'm helping out There Once Was An Island team.  I'm going to be posting blogs on behalf of the team.  Briar, Lyn and Jeffrey's internet connection from Takuu Island is extremely slow, slower than dial up and so they will email me what they want to post - and I shall post it up.

I joined Lyn and Briar in September from Wellington to do a spot of Production Assistant work - and now, here we are, on the eve of the long awaited trip, running around looking for lost lap laps and smaller batteries.  

I'm looking forward to hearing from the troops on the Island and relaying all I can through the blogger.  In the meantime, check out the website www.thereoncewasan .

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A quick update

Ok - last time I posted we didn't have enough funding to return to Takuu to shoot the final part of the documentary, but thanks to Pacific Islanders in Communications we're cashed up and actually about to leave (Monday next week!). And when I say we I mean the drew - myself (Lyn Collie), Briar March and Jeffrey Holdaway, technician, boatee and sound-guy extraordinaire.

Sponsors Panasonic, Sony and Rocket Rentals have come to the party again, as has the Airways Hotel, Port Moresby.

This time we're also taking an oceanographer John Hunter with us, and geomorphologist Scott Smithers is coming along for the ride.

While on Takuu we're going to catch up with our main characters Satty, Telo and Endar and find out what's happened in the two years since we last saw them. The John and Scott will explore the island and attempt an explanation of what's happening and a prognosis for Takuu's future. They will share this with the people on the island. We'll follow this process with our cameras and also observe the personal journeys of our island characters as they decide whether to leave Takuu or stay with the island and fight to keep their culture alive.

We'll update the blog via a slow satellite link while we're away so stop in to follow our progress.

For more about the project please visit our website:

If you want to donate to the island they're currently running a fundraising drive. Please email takuu(at), introduce yourself and say that you would like to make a contribution. Someone will get back to you with details on how to do so.

If you would like to make a contribution to the film please email us at takuufilm and we'll send you through details of where to deposit the money.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More unheroic slog

By special request and because it really is time that we made an update for anyone who's interested, here is the latest on "There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Noho".

In the year or so since my last post we have not been idle. We completed the promo mentioned previously, which was dispatched to Screen Innovation in April last year. Screen Innovation elected not to give us further funding given that they felt we would be able to finish the film without this. We were therefore unable to follow up on the kind offer to travel to the island with the ham radio enthusiasts, so we turned our attention to getting 120 hours of footage from the first shoot fully captured onto two harddrives kindly lent by Zane Holmes. Post-production facility Images and Sound have been incredibly supportive and allowed us to use their facilities through what was a very long video capturing process. We employed a fantastic assistant editor, Glenn Horan, to help get it done, and also made use of an editing suite at Auckland University's Film, Television and Media Studies department. Briar and Prisca Bouchet were absolute trojans in keeping on at this till the mammoth task was finally done. Around this time we also adopted an intern from the Master of Creative and Performing Arts at AU. Pramen Prasad is the most organised character to set foot in our office. He put in an application for funding for to bring an interview translator from Takuu to the Cathy Pelly Trust. We unfortunately didn't get the money, but it wasn't for want of a great application, that's for sure.

Things on the edit began to progress faster when Zane Holmes donated the use of his personal editing suite. We've been working on this part time (which is all our schedules will allow) since mid-year last year. This was an amazing thing to offer and is just unbelievably appreciated.

About this time Lyn put in a funding application to the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust, and that was successful to the tune of $10,000. This is less than what we need to return to the island and complete our story, but a large grant for the Trust in question and a great start.

At this time we decided to put in an application to Pacific Islanders in Communications. To do this we knew we'd need to work with an American producer. Briar had met Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, directors of the amazing documentary "A Lion in the House" at the New Zealand International Film Festival last year. Through them we made contact with Andrea Torrice, a brilliant director and producer, possibly most famous for her film "Rising Waters" about sea-level rise in many parts of the world. While she finally decided she couldn't come on board as producer, she did agree to act as script consultant, and we finally found the young and extremely talented Yoran Porath to work with us. The application was lodged with PICCOM in October.

A little before this we had applied to pitch the film at DocNZ and were delighted to be accepted to showcase the work done to date to commissioning editors from ITVS, Al Jazeera English, SBS, ABC Australia, TVNZ, Maori Television and others. We also undertook a master class in pitching with Carole Dean of the From the Heart who was great to work with. On the basis of the feedback we got at DocNZ we prepared applications for ITVS and Maori TV. Briar also put in an application to Wide Angle.

In between all of the applications Briar and Prisca have been editing the film and with a grant from Zane Holmes and some of the money awarded by the Pacific Conservation and Development Trust we finally managed to bring Rose Tione over to complete our translations. Sony leant us a camera to burn DVD's for Rose to work from which was just unbelievably appreciated. Rose is currently here in New Zealand and will be returning home in May. She has been great to work with and has adjusted to life in New Zealand incredibly well. It's been such a pleasure having her here.

The applications to PICCOM, ITVS and Maori TV were not successful, so we still don't have enough money to return to the island. However PICCOM have asked us to resubmit our application, which we just did this morning, and we may yet get a grant from them. This would allow us to complete the film as written, as long as we continue to work for free. Wide Angle have shown some interest in the project and have asked for more material, so we will be sending this to them shortly. We hope that our moves to make the story more character-driven and focus closely on climate change may prove fruitful in getting a committment from either funder. If that doesn't work we have a French language prop finally ready to send to ARTE in Europe, and Al Jazeera English may be able to offer us a limited amount of money for a 20 minute current-events cut for a magazine show.

Our final application will be to the Sundance Foundation. If we don't receive any money we will complete a cut from the footage we currently have.

None of the above makes a particularly exciting story when told in dribs and drabs, which is why I haven't been keeping the blog regularly updated. However, things do continue to move along. If anyone out there is concerned that the film isn't being made fast enough I would encourage them to consider digging deep. A lack of funding the only thing standing in our way. Briar, Prisca and I all work full-time as well as doing the film, and we all put our time and our own money into it week after week. Zane has obviously donated a significant chunk of money and equipment and Sony has yet again come to the party to help us, as have Images and Sound. Annie Goldson continues to offer support. We just wish that we could finally get enough cash to finish the film and tell the story of the island in the words of its people. At the moment we can get the film in the can for about US$50,000, which with today's rate of exchange is about NZ$70,000. If you want to see this film, if you believe in what we're doing and you think you can help, then I would encourage you to get in contact. We'd love to hear from you.