Tuesday, 31 May 2022

We lived on an island

once. It was rather a long time ago now and I have never been back. I have never had any desire to go back.

It was nearly the location of the state's capital - until those responsible for the first settlement realised it would not be a sensible idea. Islands can be awkward places to settle.

This particular island is not large. It is about 155km long and, at the widest point, about 55km wide. 

The first time we travelled to the island we went by sea. We went on a "roll-on, roll-off" - a vessel which takes vehicles. You drive on and you drive off. It went to the island once a week - if the weather was good enough for the vessel to dock.  It was an uncomfortable overnight trip - no cabins for anyone. 

The alternative was to travel by air. The biggest planes to the island were the Fokker Friendship type which could carry about fifty people. In reality they carried fewer people and more cargo. They could only be used under certain conditions. The island's airstrip was "basic" to say the least. The "terminal" was a tin shed.

Over the years there have been various airlines which have tried to support the route. The airstrip has improved now that the island is largely a tourist destination. It certainly needed to improve. We lived in the centre of the island well away from the airport.

While we were there we were woken one night by the phone ringing. When the Senior Cat answered it and was asked to set the school generator going. (This supplied the power to the school. The house had a 32v system.) There was an emergency. Several cars were arriving.  They had their engines running and lights trained on the unsealed road outside the school. 

A little later one of the "crop dusters" landed. These are tiny planes used to spray crops. The pilots tend to be very, very skilled. That night the pilot of one plane made two round trips and another made one to the city - each carrying seriously injured boys to hospital in the city. While he was doing it the island's doctor/vet was doing what she could to save the lives of the young trouble makers from the city.

To the best of my knowledge those boys survived. That they did survive was extraordinary. It was sheer good fortune that a farmer going home late had seen the wrecked vehicle - a stolen one he recognised. There was no way a larger plane could have landed where those small ones landed. It took farmers with headlights to show them where to land and the school lights to direct them to the area.

At school the next day we had a whole school assembly. I remember the Senior Cat talking to us all about what had happened and how serious it had been. He emphasised the risks the pilots had taken and the cooperation that had been needed by those involved. As almost every boy in the school who could reach the pedals could also drive - and usually did on the farm - he no doubt hoped it would cause them to be more careful at least for a short while.

What my brother and I managed to learn from the incident was something about the dangers of living where we lived at the time. Islands are isolated and isolating places. 

Yes, the founding fathers of the state were right not to put the capital on the island.


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