Saturday, 22 November 2014

"You've lived on an island?"

someone asked me yesterday evening.
The answer to that is, "Yes, my father was posted to a school on an island. We lived there for four years."
Living on an island is different. Downunder (Australia) is the largest island on the planet - or the smallest continent. Take your pick.
The island we lived on was much smaller - but still a large one as islands go. If you have a look at a map of Downunder you will see a leg in the centre of the lower coastline. If it is a big enough map you will see an island close to that which looks rather like a piece of jigsaw puzzle. We lived on that.
It is called "Kangaroo Island" and, in old measurements, it is about 120 miles long and 80 miles across at the widest point. Yes, a good size.
The capital of the state was nearly put on the island. If there had been a good supply of fresh water that would have happened. When discovered by the early explorers there were no human inhabitants, just the kangaroos which give the island its name - along with a great variety of other wildlife.
There is a strip of water between the island and the mainland which is called "Backstairs Passage". It has the reputation for being one of the roughest stretches of water in the world. The island itself rises steeply out of the water on the southern side - and there is nothing between it and the Antarctic winds. It can be very cold in winter. My brother once broke a sheet in two. He went out, at my mother's request, to take the sheet from the line. It was frozen there and just snapped in two. My mother was not impressed. Clothes on the line would often fly out horizontally.
When we lived there the population was about 3000 in two main groups. There were the old settlers who lived and worked in a community around the coast. There were the soldier settlers who lived in the centre and who had been there for only a few (by island standards) years. The two groups had very little to do with one another. Other, very small communities also existed.
The school in the centre, the one my father was in charge of, was the largest. It had over 600 students, almost all of whom came on one of the big yellow buses lined up at the gates. The school had the most buses and the longest bus runs in the state. Some children travelled a 76km to school and another 76km home. The school buses were driven by the teachers - often driving into the sun in the morning and into the sun in the evening. There was a spare bus if one broke down - which they did occasionally. It was the job of the deputy principal to keep the buses running. The teachers lived in small caravans at the end of each route. The caravans were parked near the house of a farmer and most teachers ate with the farmer and his family.
All this was discussed last evening because someone else had said she thought she was too gregarious to live on an island.
Yes, it was isolated. I know 3000 people sound like rather a lot - and most people knew each other and certainly knew us - but many were on farms a considerable distance from each other. Living there was expensive because most food and all other services were imported from the mainland. Electricity had to be generated on an individual basis. (The school had a big diesel unit. If it failed there was no electricity. We had a tiny 32v unit which was only set to run when absolutely necessary.)
Medical services were limited. Accidents were common and it was often faster for the local "crop duster" (a tiny plane that sprayed the crops) to be used to transport a patient out. The plane only had room for the pilot and the patient. (One night the pilot flew five times between the mainland and the island.)
Was the community close knit? In the area we lived in it was not. The people were too new to island life. It takes generations for that sort of closeness to be achieved.
It was interesting but I have no desire to go back there. I am not particularly gregarious and, if you were, it would not be a comfortable place to live.
All the same the beaches, when we got to them, were magnificent!

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