Nauru

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The red symbol is Nauru

Air Nauru

My next trip was to review our delivery agency in Nauru and two other Pacific Islands.

To get to the other two islands I had to travel via Nauru, which under normal circumstances would not be a problem except that the Air Nauru service from Australia to Nauru was ‘intermittent’.
One of the problems being that if the President of Nauru wished to visit another country he would ‘borrow’ an Air Nauru aircraft, which was a problem for the airline because they only had three B737/200’s with the capacity to fly to Australia. Allowing for maintenance and the service to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney the removal of an aircraft to satisfy the President created a huge problem.
In 1983 they had two B727s and five B737/200’s so Air Nauru at that time, had enough seating capacity to carry 10% of the total population of Nauru.
The size of the population at the time was about 8000, living on an island that is 21 sq km (eight square miles).

Nauru-map

The country of Nauru became the 187th member of the UN in 1999 and is the smallest island nation in the world and the third smallest country, after the Vatican & Monaco. Nauru is also in the Commonwealth.

The country has been inhabited for about 3000 years, the people arriving from Polynesia and Micronesia.

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There are three main cultural areas in the Pacific – Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia.  

Nauru’s first contact with Europeans was in 1798 when the British whaling vessel Hunter called at the island and the captain of the Hunter was so impressed with the natives and the island that he named the island Pleasant Island. The island retained this name for ninety years until the Germans arrived and annexed the island in 1888.

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The flag of Nauru and the star has twelve points represent the original 12 tribes who lived on Pleasant Island.

The island was incorporated into German New Guinea and renamed Nawodo or Onawero. The island was a lush paradise at the time.

During a visit to the island by a cargo ship in 1896, the cargo officer found a strange looking rock that he thought was petrified wood. He picked up the rock and took it back to Sydney and used it as a door stop.

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The actual door stop

In 1899 Albert Ellis, who worked for the phosphate division of the same
company as the cargo officer, was visiting the Sydney office and saw the door stop and commented that it was phosphate, but the cargo officer insisted that it was wood.

Some weeks later Albert Ellis tested the ‘wooden’ rock and found that it was high grade phosphate. The discovery generated great interest and a company called Pacific Phosphate was created.

In 1906 the right to mine was obtained and after WW1 the right to mine was obtained by the British Phosphate Commission, which was created by the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

During WW1 Australia captured Nauru from Germany and mechanized the mining. 

The Japanese captured the island in WW2 and at the end of WW2 the UN put the island under trustee of the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

In 1968 Nauru gained independence and by 1968 one third of Nauru had been stripped mined.
The mining of phosphate by 1975 made the Nauruan people extraordinarily rich and only the people of Saudi Arabia were richer. The Royalties Trust for the Nauru people was worth over one Billion USD.
The government did not levy income tax, education was free, as was the health care and most people worked for the government – immigrants worked the mines.

The profits from the mining went into a trust fund for the people and they did invest profitably at times. In 1988 the Trust bought 600 acres (2.4 sq km) of land near Portland, Oregon and sold allotments to the locals to build their homes, once 75% of the allotments had been sold the homeowners took over control.

In 1977 Nauru Trust built Nauru House in Melbourne, 52 floors and 183 mtrs (600 feet) tall.

800px-Nauru_house     Nauru House, or 80 Collins Street Melbourne, which is still owned by the people of Nauru. It was the tallest building in Melbourne at the time, but only for a year.

When I arrived in Nauru in the 1980’s I was met by our agent who had booked me in to the best hotel, or so he said, and I had a suite.

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It was called Menen Hotel and at the time I think it was the only hotel, so the agent was not lying.

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The above two pictures are off the internet and were taken recently, but I do not see any change than when I was there 35 years ago – the pool is still empty.

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Part of my suite – the shirt over the stool is mine and the stools are at the bar.

st02The bar was dry as a bone, and you can just see the bedroom on the right.

During the night I was woken by a strange sound as if someone were scratching on the main door of the suite.
I went to investigate only to find large crabs in the hallway and a couple were scratching at my door trying to get in . . . I kicked them back from the door and saw quite a few ‘walking’ down the corridor. I shut the suite door quickly and tried to get back to sleep-crabs are not my favourite idea of a pet or as a meal. Continue reading “Nauru”

Pacific Islands

In the late 1980’s I used to visit various Pacific Islands on business (someone had to do it!).

On one trip I flew Sydney, Nauru, Tarawa (in Kiribati), Funafuti (Tuvalu), Suva (Fiji).
Kiribati – pronounced Kir-i-bahss – which is the Gilbertese for Gilbert Island, and Tuvalu is the new name of the Ellis Islands, as in Gilbert and Ellis Islands, which used to be a British protectorate until 1974 when they became the independent countries, Kiribati and Tuvalu, after they held a referendum.

I flew from Nauru on Air Nauru to Tarawa.001

The parking of aircraft in Nauru was simple – leave them alongside the main road in a lay-by. The island is so isolated that security was ‘limited’ at that time. The traffic had to stop for the aircraft to cross the road to allow passengers to board.

Tarawa is the name of the main atoll of Kiribati and the capital on Tarawa is Betio. (pronounced ‘bay- she – oh’)

Tarawa is remember for some very heavy fighting by the Americans, against the Japanese during WW2, and the beach on which I walked still showed the remains of landing craft, small tanks or amtracs and pieces of aircraft, along with defensive pillboxes manned by the Japanese.

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As I looked out over the 800 to 1200 yard coral reef, (see picture below) across which the troops had to fight their way ashore under withering machine gun fire, I could feel the ghosts of those brave men who died that November day in 1943.

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The area of the Betio atoll, is three miles long by half a mile wide. 1,115 Americans were killed or listed as missing, and 2,234 were wounded. Of the 4700 Japanese troops defending the island only seventeen were captured, along with 129 Koreans. It was estimated that 4690 Japanese died defending this now forgotten part of the Pacific.

The Americans had to estimate how many troops were defending the atoll. The best guess was about 3100 men, which was reasonably accurate, considering that they were unable to send in reconnaissance units to obtain a more accurate number. The Americans realised from aerial photographs, that the Japanese built their latrines over water, in multi-holed wooden buildings. By counting the number of latrines they worked out the relationship between the number of backsides and to a latrine and estimated 3100 troops!

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Defending the beach I saw eight inch guns still point out to sea. When I visited Betio I was told (not by locals) that the guns had been removed from Singapore, after the fall of that island, and transported to the Pacific to defend Tarawa. Later I read that the Imperial War Museum in London stated that Singapore didn’t have any eight inch guns for the Japanese to capture, so they couldn’t have been transferred to Tarawa from Singapore. They were in fact manufactured in Britain for a 1905 contract to supply eight inch and twelve inch guns to the Japanese navy. The Tarawa defensive guns appear to have been part of the 1905 contract.

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The above pictures show the Japanese HQ building with shell a machine gun damage, which when I visited was being used a simple squash court.

004 Inside another Japanese bunker.

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 The above shows what is left of a captured Japanese bomber strip, which allowed the Americans to carry the war to other islands.
The modern airport is about a twenty minute drive from this area.

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The above picture is to show how shallow the soil is on Tarawa – this is a local grave yard. After the war the American causalities, from this battle, were laid to rest in the war cemetery in Hawaii.
The marking of the grave’s perimeter, in many cases, was often done by using empty glass bottles – beer bottles and soft drink bottles.

 On completion of my business in Kiribati I flew to Funafuti the capital of Tuvalu with  Airline of the Marshall Islands. Quite a noisy trip.001