Looming in the distance

I apologise now for my infrequency in blogging. I’ve been having a little bit of a hard time of it recently and trying to remain upbeat and positive has been using up most of my energy! This post should have gone up a few weeks ago but limited internet has meant restrictions on the blog. There are another two posts in the publishing queue, but patience is a virtue, so they say.

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The Marina came and went on the 12th. It was an American vessel carrying around 1200 passengers. As usual on the Marina, they didn’t come ashore, and virtually the whole island once more decamped to the cruise ship for the day. The radio communication started early, some time around 5:30am, and Big Fence was buzzing with the sounds of radio static, rapid footsteps, and the chatter of organisation.

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Quad bikes could be heard zooming through Adamstown’s main road and up through the valleys with purpose, as fresh produce was gathered for the ship after a last minute request. Curios were packed, boxes were labelled and loaded onto trailers and into the back of a small pickup truck and ferried to the landing. Our backpacks were packed, and shoelaces tied. The Pitcairners donned their freshest attire and fixed broad smiles on their faces. The Marina carries a profitable passenger base, and the islanders know how to turn on the charm and ham up the mutineer connections when necessary.

Around 7am Brenda was heard ringing the bell five times to indicate the cruise ship’s arrival and to give warning to the locals to start heading down to the landing. Apparently this doesn’t happen too often anymore, so I was pleased she agreed to do it again for me so I could record it! It seems to be one of the many old traditions that are gradually fading away as technology such as handheld radios have taken over.

After the activity at home had waned and the loaded bikes dispersed, I clambered onto the back of Kevin’s quad and hurtled down towards the boat shed in a convoy of vehicles. We all watched as a floating tower block seemed to grow on the horizon, sprouting from the sea, trundling forwards in menacing silence.

It’s a strange feeling, watching a lump of metal appear that carries around 30 times the number of people than on the whole of Pitcairn. All of a sudden, here they are, stopping off and revelling in the experience of brushing shoulders with the famed mutineers descendants.

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By around 8am, all of us were loaded into a single longboat headed out to the towering hulk lurking just outside of Bounty Bay. The Marina was quite different from the Amadea for me, because by now I have lived on Pitcairn for over a month, so I too became at attraction and the focus of questioning. “How do they have power?”, “What happens in a medical emergency?”, “What are the people like?”, “Do they have fridges?”, “How do they communicate with the outside world?”. The usual stuff, for the most part.

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The most common question however, is… “how do you get there?” People are interested in Pitcairn, and want to land. Many I spoke to had read about it, and a few had chosen that particular cruise precisely because Pitcairn was on the itinerary. Few knew that cruise ships rarely land, and that the only guaranteed way to read the island is with the Claymore II. When I explained the logistical challenges of landing people on Pitcairn, they saw why it is problematic. A ship of 1200 people on an island of 40 is clearly overwhelming – even in terms of transport for the less able bodied up from the landing via the Hill of Difficulty to Adamstown. Ferrying that number of passengers in the ships tenders is also hard, with a small and limited landing area.

The long boats require crew, which visibly depletes the stock of able bodied islanders on shore. The island is treacherous in parts, there is nowhere to buy snacks or food, and that number of people would require a greater number of public toilets and other facilities. It’s almost too great a risk, for little gain. Though the islanders love having visitors land, the bigger ships are a little problematic and it’s very easy to see why.

So, my advice – if you want to visit Pitcairn and definitely land, then the best way is to travel on the Claymore. My second choice would be to find a private yacht – possibly on Gambier, and third, travel on a smaller cruise ship or research/expedition vessel. Do your research – check their past history of landing passengers. Some ships almost have a policy not to land, so make enquiries. Don’t assume that because it’s listing on the itinerary that you can get off.

Yachties

Ok, moving on back to the cruise ship… at one point in the morning we spied a yacht approaching from the lounge area where the Pitcairn ‘marketplace’ was set up on the Marina and Brenda (who deals with the yachts, entry clearances, and landing fees as part of her island police role) had to radio the boat and say that no one was home and that they could only be dealt with after the Marina had left. It brought up some bizarre visions of what you could write on a sign at the landing… “Gone fishing” perhaps, or simply “closed”. I’ve never been anywhere where its possible for an entire country to temporarily evacuate for the day and exit via a single boat.

Cruise ship days bring home, perhaps more than at any other time, the extent to which Pitcairn is maze of contradictions. It is off the beaten track, but famous the world over. The locals live a basic life, and many have had limited access to education, but each has had opportunities few outside would ever experience. Adamstown is effectively a rural village, but its people walk with a swagger and have a rock star mentality confounded from their mutineer heritage. They even have the photographer shrug off down pat: the donning of sunglasses often followed by a quick hand shielding face from lens gesture. It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand locals don their Pitcairn t-shirts almost daily, visually advertising their collective belonging, and on the other hand they shrug off the attention that identity brings.

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The Pitcairner’s day to day lives working in the gardens, or on government projects are completely at odds with the mysticism that surrounds the people. Though much of their image is a Hollywood construct, many of the locals tap into it, and it has become their currency and identity. It has led me to wonder on more than one occasion whether Pitcairn will be able to move on from its history fast enough to sustain new growth and immigration. It seems a protectionist society, suspicious of outsiders and of “meddling”, but the island sits on the apex of thriving or failing – without new younger blood, the island has no future. But with new blood comes a dilution of the old, a departure from history, an evaporation of identity. What would it mean to come from Pitcairn if the mutineer ancestry became the minority? Would the allure still exist, would the interest from the cruise ships still sustain the island? There are many more questions than answers.

Before I arrived here I had a very different picture of the island, some parts have proven entirely false, and I have faced daily challenges trying to overcome both my own expectations and the views of others. Past wounds have not yet healed over, and it’s incredibly easy to accidentally pick a scab without knowing it. Not only is this island’s infrastructure fragile, and it’s future uncertain, but the people are fragile too. The trails ripped this place apart – even those who were not named on any documents had their lives turned over with a fine toothcomb. Everyone here is connected so every action has a ripple effect and some actions in the past have amplified beyond control.

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Anyone visiting with a camera, and particularly those who are here for a long time are likely to feel the brunt of the past weighing heavy on their shoulders at some point. These last couple of weeks have been my turn – I know it’s not personal, though it often feels it. I am just another in a long line of outsiders. Others have told them how to live their lives, or have passed judgement. They are understandably suspicious. It was partly my reason for wanting to come here – because I felt that I could do a better job of getting to the essence of Pitcairn, that I was perhaps a little softer, a lot more open, and more respectful, that I could identify with much of the life here.

But in a place so embedded with history, Pitcairners are like elephants: they never forget. I’m slowly learning what not to touch, that some stones are best left covered in moss, undisturbed.

It has not been an easy road, and I’ve learnt a lot in the process. Though this may well be the most difficult thing that I have ever done, it’s an experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry!

Feeding Frigates

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Clubbing on Pitcairn Island

 

 

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It’s been a rather social week (ok, week and a bit, sorry about that!) on Pitcairn – with Len Brown’s 89th birthday, and Sambo’s (aka Dennis Christian) 60th. It’s meant I have seen almost everyone on the island this week at one point or another, which makes a change, as sometimes it feels as though you’ve only seen the same small group over and over.

I think a misconception about Pitcairn, and one that I’m sure I was guilty of making before I arrived here, is that you’d see everyone all of the time. Not so. Many people are extremely elusive! Having said that, you’re never on your own, and everyone seems to know what you are doing all of the time. I guess it’s some sort of island communication network or sixth sense one develops over time, or maybe everyone has hidden eyes on the back of their heads. Sometimes I think the Pitcairners can read minds or can tap into my subconscious, as they seem to know what I’m about to do before I know myself!

There is another cruise ship, a bigger American vessel, called Marina arriving on the 12th. So the island seems to be a hive of activity again preparing for it this time with greater fervour given the size of the vessel, and the fact that its Americans who are allegedly ‘not as tight’ as the Germans. Everywhere I look, souvenirs being sanded and lacquered, all types of carvings are underway, t-shirts are being printed and honey is being gathered. As I mentioned in an early blog, Cruiseships provide the islanders the opportunity to sell their wares and make some money from what I like to call the “tourons” – i.e. tourists that ‘tour on’, and ‘tour off’ and don’t really stop. Many sell out completely on a big ship like the Marina, so it’s worth their efforts – as a result its one of the island’s main sources of income.

Even I am already looking forward to the cruise ship coming – I’m looking forward to sampling their menus, and sitting in some air conditioning for a while, and maybe buying a myself a birthday present of some naff description. I’m thinking of it as a shopping mall arriving at the island, for by comparison to what’s here, that’s exactly what it is. But its a and a source of additional supplies that are bought from the ships stores from lists put up on the notice board, wit orders being made through the shop here.

It also means also a huge influx of new faces for the day, and those that know me know I like nothing more than photographing tourists. It’ll be nice being able to talk to some new people too – that’s the hardest thing about coming from a big city to a place like this. In the city, I get up in the morning and I never know who I might meet or what I might talk about that day – everything seems like a world of possibility.

You can be completely anonymous if you so desire, or introduce yourself to umpteen strangers. I like the not knowing. Here I find certain things a little claustrophobic and its hard to just lock myself away like I usually do. I’ve worked out that I’m quite solitary probably 80% of the time, and sociable maybe 20% of the time and I’m having to redress that balance quite quickly, and it’s probably good for me. Many who know me well know that I go into recluse mode with regularity, so maybe this experience will tip that on its head!

Anyway, this’ll be the last cruise ship of my time here, so is also my last opportunity to stock up on anything from the “outside world” and is really my final bout of major outside contact until the Claymore returns. Lets just say I’m glad that it’s here for the whole day !

Having said all of this, I am getting used to the pattern of daily life here. I’m getting used to the short shop hours, and ebb and flow of pace. It was initially hard to get in the flow of doing things here as the rhythm is quite different to my usual life – and I imagine I’ll only be fully used to it once it’s time to come home, but I’m getting there.

Len’s birthday was my first big social dinner – most of the community were there with just a few absences, and quantity of food was quite incredible. I rather gorged myself on steaks and had the excellent excuse to go back for a new plate when my plastic one ended up with a hole in the middle dripping food onto my lap. Note to self: check for cracks before loading up.

Len is the island’s oldest resident. He is Olive Christian and Dave Brown’s father, brother to Mavis and Royal, grandfather to David, and uncle to Jay, Merelda, Melva and Mike (Cookie). He lives with Brenda and Mike Lupton up at the rather derisibly named “Pommy Ridge”, a house about halfway up the hill that leads up to the centre of the island from Adamstown. He’s not in the best of health after suffering a few strokes, so he is mostly quiet and can often be spotted propped on the back of Brenda’s quad bike, slathered in sun cream and regularly sporting a wide brimmed sun hat.

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Apparently Mavis, Royal and Len are rarely seen together – but as part of my role as unofficial party photographer I did manage to capture a few snaps of the sibling ensemble, and mercifully, all with their eyes open. I spent yesterday creating a few mini emulsion lifts of one of the photos to give to the three of them, as hopefully they’ll serve the dual purpose of explaining what it is I actually do, and commemorating their rare togetherness while the opportunity is still there.

I hadn’t actually been inside Brenda and Mike’s before so I was rather taken aback by Brenda’s vast omnipresent dolphin collection – plates, textiles, ornaments of every shape and size, and every other item in between. I’ve known a few people in my time who have collected dolphins or turtles or such like, but her collection tops them all I think. I would never have put Brenda down as a dolphin fan, she seems far too practical for ornaments, but it just goes to show that people are much more than what meets the eye, and new facets are revealed over time. I think this is probably the best part about doing a long project like this – you have the luxury of sitting back and observing without having the pressure to produce continuously. It means you can get to know people in their own time. Sometimes when photographing a stranger, I feel a little like I am stealing their soul and walking away, whereas this project approaches from the opposite direction. This allows me far greater freedom in some ways, and provides a challenge too, as sometimes it is easier to photograph those you don’t have a relationship with.

 

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Sambo’s birthday was a different sort of event altogether. Sambo turned 60 and had obviously tried to keep it on the quiet, but somewhere along the line got rumbled and an announcement went out purporting that he has requested a fish fry at the landing. Sambo obviously knew nothing of it, but then willingly went alone with it, so the longboat went out at 11am with a few people to go fishing. I went down with Andy (RSPB), and met the boat that carried around 11 of us out to fish, including Len who was sat on his very own park bench in the middle of the deck.

We weren’t doing very well initially, so kept moving around to find new spots – eventually a few people ended up on a bit of a roll – namely Andy and Brenda, and a couple of others who were on our boat decamped and headed out spear fishing. By normal standards I think even our boat trip would have seemed like a successful one, but by Pitcairn standards our catch was abysmal, and for the number of people feasting it was probably just as well the spearfishing took place.

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I mostly concentrated on taking pictures, as it’s the first time I’ve been out on a boat that has been static enough to shoot from and to get a different view of the island and the surrounding rock formations. Though when other people are fishing, I just wish I had a line in my hand. We went around the whole periphery of the island which really helped my geography – when you’re travelling by road and everything is up and down and you’re travelling through leafy areas, it’s very difficult to get your bearings without a frame of reference. Things can seen disproportionately far away. For instance I had no idea how physically close Tedside is to The Landing. I know logically that everything is very close together but by road everything is elongated and changes in altitude are accentuated.

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The fish fry itself was great – everyone gathered at the landing in a circle made of plastic chairs with long tables laden with the day’s catch and supplementary dishes (including chips!) placed at the centre. I watched plate after plate revisit the tables and yet the food never seemed to diminish. I counted only 5 notable absences, so it was an excellent turnout, and I had a chance to see some people who up until now had remained rather enigmatic. Sambo seemed cheerful, and I had a nice chat with him around plateful number three.

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I wish there were more public events – I thought before I arrived here that there would be many more public dinners, or a more full social calendar. Now that church numbers are in decline, I suppose many of the church events have been culled from the programme, and now everyone seems to get on with their own lives or is too busy for large scale socialising. As a result of that, and the fact that everyone has such a long list of jobs, there seems little time for fun. If I were here for far longer, I think I’d make it my personal mission to engage the community and to get some sort of entertainment programme organised that would please the ‘masses’. I suppose though, it’s a bit like hosting a private view – out of 50 friends you invite probably only 5 show up, so if we’re making a statistical comparison, a similar number probably show up for social events here, and therefore most are doomed. But still, the fish fry was enjoyable, and it would be nice to see more of that sort of thing – it felt like a community rather than a series of disparate yet interconnected households for those few hours.

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Friday night was spent with Andy, Paul, Sue, John and Linda (NZ policeman and his wife) and a very large pot of chilli con carne with breadfruit chips. I never used to be a huge fan of breadfruit, but I’ve warmed to it since I’ve been here. I don’t know whether it’s my taste buds have changed or whether I just like the fact it has to be gunned down from the tree, but either way, I’m a convert. After dinner John and I got rather thrashed at darts, and eventually had to admit defeat after losing at pretty much every game we attempted. It turns out that my cousin Josh and I having a dartboard at home as teenagers didn’t pay off for me. I’m hoping it wasn’t so wasted on Josh.

In the early hours of Saturday morning a full lunar eclipse was to take place and I was keen to take pictures of the Milky Way while the sky was at its darkest. I was struggling to stay awake with my full chilli con carne stomach inducing a food coma, but somehow managed to last until around 2am when the eclipse began to take shape. Andy and I headed to the landing and watched it till around 4am or so, armed with cups of tea and Malteaser chocolate for motivation.

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I don’t think I’ll have many chances to see a full lunar eclipse, and to see it so clearly with no light pollution. I took a few shots on my Hasselblad, but for once actually used a…wait for it…. digital camera (I know, I know) because I could change the ISO to be able to pick up the Milky Way without any star trails. I have never attempted to photograph the Milky Way before, so I was quite pleased at the results. There is a bit of digital noise because of the ridiculously high ISO, but other than that it came out reasonably well. The Hasselblad stuff will be a mystery till I get home at the other end of this trip, but hopefully something will come out of it, though I’m pretty sure the Milky Way will escape me on such slow film. Andy had his telescope rigged up, so we could see every ridge and crater on the moon’s surface and watch as it slowly darkened into shadow, and I had flashes of watching Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, only in real life.

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This week had also seemed to have a recurrent theme running through it. “Clubbing”. Not the usual type of clubbing though – not sweaty strangers dancing haphazardly en masse clutching overpriced drinks in plastic cups – but rather the caveman variation. It all began on a shop morning when Andy innocently enquired as to where certain birds would breed on the island, and Nola, the lady who gave me a large ration of hostility on day one, piped up in her usual comedic style. In no uncertain terms she told Andy not to go to Ginger Valley (an area purportedly favoured by said birds) because he would certainly end up dead.

The conversation moved swiftly on to Nola’s younger days, when islanders would go to catch the very same birds to eat, and her eyes lit up at the memory as she excitedly regaled us with several visceral details of the islander’s murderous verve. At the mention of Henderson island, she told us how relished the opportunity to go with a club in hand and bop Noddys on the head and gather enough dead birds to salt, filling gigantic vats to take back to Pitcairn before fridges came along. According to Nola they’re delicious and very easy to club on the head when they’re not expecting it. Andy, working to protect birds, looked on with an expression somewhere between aghast and amused.

The theme continued on. At dinner one night Olive wielded her own variation on a club – a long piece of wood that she jammed into the rafters to squash lizards. One was pulverised into the ceiling and continued to quiver from its impaled position throughout our meal, while another was decapitated and left pulsing on the floor to my left. If the ten year old me had been present, I’d have set up some kind of sanctuary for them by now.

The brutality continued to shark fishing. One night Andy, Jim (the social worker) and I were fishing and kept on losing our fish or hooks to lazy sharks that waited for us to catch a fish and then promptly stole it from us as we hauled its flailing body in. Andy and I casually mentioned it to Olive and Steve, and the next night a hunting mission was deployed to the landing. With shark lines loaded with bait, it didn’t take long before the float was bobbing rapidly and the first shark was snared. This was quickly followed by another, and another, and then another. They caught 4 in total, hauling them in on hand lines, and clubbing them over the head with lumps of wood from the jetty till the blood flowed, and the landing glittered and bore its deathly sheen in the moonlight.

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Sharks here are a sought after catch. Though it was only after Andy and I were abandoned with four shark corpses with jaws ripped out that we realised the locals don’t eat shark meat. Everyone I have mentioned it to wonders why you would eat it when there are so many ‘good fish’ to catch, or tells me that they don’t eat fish and chips in Australia or New Zealand because its usually shark. I’m not sure why eating shark would be bad, once you rid it from ammonia. In Trinidad I used to love shark and bake at Maracas. I never used to be a fan of fish, but I loved the taste of the shark’s white flesh and its actually quite delicious. It seemed a bit of a waste, so when we gave up fishing after catching a sea turtle which we had to free, Andy gutted them and we loaded them onto the quad – they’re mostly still sitting somewhere in Andy’s freezer.

Even Andy and I have started partaking in the Pitcairn clubbing scene. Each time we’ve gone fishing, one of us has ended up armed at some point, picking our way through the darkness in pursuit of crabs to use as bait. The violence must be contagious, because clubbing crabs over the head is almost as satisfying as actually catching fish. It’s probably a good thing that I’m only here for another couple of months. Who knows what kind of excessive bloodlust I might develop if I lived here for too long!

There have been many other moments that I could mention since my last blog, but I might just save some of them for the next one. So, I’ll leave you with an amusing image of an event that happened a wee while ago. I know other Andy (Andy Christian, not Andy RSPB – I’ll call him “Andy C”) has been waiting for when this picture might resurface, so not wanting to displease, here it is.

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The other night, Andy, Kevin, David, Randy, Olive, Steve and I were gathered at dinner, and the conversation had somehow gotten onto the question of weight. Andy C was telling those assembled about going to weigh himself at the medical centre, and also about David’s more flattering digital scales. The usual teasing started somewhere along the way, aimed at Randy, who David once called “the strongest man in the world” with no hint of irony.

A few minutes after the conversation had moved on and Andy C had left the table for a moment, we all turned at the sound of a crash. Andy C was on the floor, one leg splayed, and what looked to be the other one behind him in some semi-splits move. We all assumed he’s slipped over which was amusing enough, but then we noticed his leg had actually gone through the floor right up to his groin and his leg was dangling down into the floor below. It seemed like a very Pitcairn accident.

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Of course instead of helping him or asking if he was ok, everyone, myself included, dashed in fits of hysterics to grab our cameras. These pictures are the result. Sorry for being so unhelpful Andy C, but it was pretty funny. I think it was some divine karmic intervention – and if I were a religious type I might find some message about vanity within that force of coincidence! I don’t think he’ll live it down for a while anyhow… and Randy has a good comeback now since he hasn’t fallen through any floors recently.

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Till the next instalment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dust never settles…

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It’s been another eventful week on Pitcairn. Most people probably think Pitcairn is a sleepy place, but far from it. With so few people and so many jobs to do, everyone juggles a number of responsibilities so there is never a shortage of action. One could say the dust never settles…

For me personally, time has zoomed in parts and at other times has seemed endless. As I write this, it’s my first rainy day on the island. I ventured out earlier, using my miniscule umbrella for the first time (whoever told me opening umbrellas indoors was bad luck now has to answer for the fact I’ve bought an umbrella that would suit a 7 year old better) and managed to end up rather soggy and muddy in the two minute walk to and from the Post Office. I’ve completed a stint of postcard writing – and have now got a case of severe hand cramp. It’s at times like this I wonder why no one really forced me into holding a pen properly as a kid, as I’m sure the way I hold a pen will land me with carpal tunnel or something later on in life!

I’m sitting at the front of Steve and Olive’s home, Big Fence, looking out onto the white horses that are dancing across the surrounding Pacific Ocean and nursing a cup of Yorkshire tea and a treasured McVitie’s chocolate digestive. The skies are a flat grey, and almost resemble that milky colour of London skies, only I’m thousands of miles away and there are oceans between us. The tint of Steve and Olive’s windows gives the outside world a lightly lilac hue

I can hear the wind and constant rumble of the waters breaking onto the rocks a couple of hundred metres below me, and as far as the eye can see is water. Water, water, everywhere. When I look at the sea like this it brings home quite how far away Pitcairn is, and it also makes me think we were crazy to cross oceans in a boat. The waves are so relentless and unforgiving, and we were so small. I can almost smell our boat’s interior right now, and that salty dampness that never seems to go away.

I was meant to be having my quad bike test today, but it got rained off. Kevin very kindly (see previous post!) took me on an island ride and got me reversing around a makeshift course up at the radio station. Managing the quad wasn’t too difficult, but every time I sit on one I think of all the accidents I’ve heard of, and how being in a car with airbags is bad enough! Still, it would be nice to have a little more independence and be able to get places a little easier. In the sweltering heat of midday, a quad would be very welcome. The thing about Pitcairn is that it’s naturally all hills, so for every nice downward slope you have a steep incline to climb minutes later. There is very little that is flat! I am glad of some respite from the heat though, and even though the roads have turned to mudslides from the downpour, at least it has meant to dust has been patted down for a bit!

The day before yesterday two yachts arrived and landed on the island – a French boat and an American boat. The Americans had been to Pitcairn previously, and so decided to come in on their own tender. They weren’t quite as skilled as the locals in negotiating the landing entry though, and they timed it rather badly, shooting in on a big wave with their small 15hp outboard with the kids screaming in unison. Jay Warren picked up the others on the French yacht with his small boat, and as usual entered with speed and panache and made the whole journey look easy. I think they key is to be decisive, quick, and have some proper power behind you. I can see how it’d be nerve wracking doing it by yourself though, so all power to them for giving it a go! I’d be petrified of leaving my boat at anchor here though, there’s no real shelter and you have to be pretty damn sure of your anchor technique. I’ve heard that a few boats have come quite literally unstuck, so I’d be wary. I’ve watched how rapidly the weather here can change.

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Each one of the yachts had a few kids on board, which was great for the little girl here. A few of them spent the day with her at the school, and then later on they were all swimming at the landing and egging each other on to jump in. It was nice to see her have some company.

Sometimes I look at her and see a little of small me – precocious, surrounded by adults, and craving some contact from her own age group. So it was nice to see her with the other kids and also for the boat kids, some of whom had just sailed from Easter Island and were headed to Gambier, and some had just come from New Zealand and were stopping off en route to Panama. They were all pretty glad of a stop off, a walk, and a swim.

The group who had come from New Zealand were originally from the Chesapeake bay (pretty close to where my Mum and her ex husband had had their boat and settled), and their two crew members were from Kinsale in Ireland (where we’d bought our boat), and from Barcelona (where my Dad lives). Sometimes the coincidences are quite remarkable.

The two crew guys (the Irish guy and the Spanish guy) and I decided to take a wander off to Christian’s Cave. I did the walk in flip flops – and then went barefoot on the rock as we climbed up. The walk was pretty easy really – I had been expecting it to be really difficult given the number of blog posts that I’d read before coming here from people who had given up halfway, or had never made it in time. It doesn’t take long and there’s a nice view of Adamstown as a reward at the other end.

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I would have loved it as a kid – it would have been a great place for sleepovers. Particularly because of the number of goat sculls and bones we encountered on the way up, it would have been the prefect goulish place to freak each other out. Almost as good as the derelict leper colony at Chacachacare, Trinidad.

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The only objectionable thing about the walk was what the locals call “grabaleg”– these small spiky seed pods that bury their way into your skin. They were everywhere, it’s an invasive plant that has taken over the whole area surrounding Christian’s cave, so be warned. When I got back home, I spent a good 40 minutes with the tweezers gently and gingerly easing out multiple spines that had worked their way all across my body, and into horribly sensitive places like the arches of my feet.

I was a little disappointed with the eco trail leading up to the cave though – many of the native plants that had been marked out were actually dead. I’m no horticulturalist (in fact my record with plants probably puts me at serial killer level), but it seems its an area of interest that has been a little neglected, and I’m not sure that the blank CDs attached with fishing line and used as markers and tied around the plants can be that good for them. But anyway, my plant record means I probably shouldn’t comment!

Over the last couple of days we’ve also celebrated two birthdays – the doctor’s and Kevin Young’s. Kevin’s was great – a whole ton of food and what seemed to be half the island turned up at Big Fence – mostly family by one way or another. Most people who know me, know I love food, so this was a rather welcome event! I tried some new things I’ve never had before which is always good too.

This week also included witnessing a couple of public events in the hall – the first one an island council meeting and the second a hearing in an on-going court case. Both of which were interesting because they both involved live video links with the outside world and it was a good thing to see while I’m here as it put some things in context for me. These will probably be the only live public links to the outside while I’m on island (depending on the results of the election in the UK), so I’m glad I attended. The court hearing wasn’t very well attended and I was a bit reticent about going as I didn’t want anyone to read anything into my attendance (i.e. thinking I’m a journalist) but I have never had the opportunity to attend anything of the sort before so for curiosity’s sake I went along. I would have gone the previous day but got rather confused about the New Zealand time zone thing – not quite realising it was a whole day different! Seeing the way the video links work today in 2015, makes you wonder how it would have looked back when Operation Unique was in full swing.

The council meeting was a little different – it was a link with the governor and less formal so was done over Skype. The idea was that members of the public could pass comments on and ask questions, not that anyone did! It felt a little surreal sitting in Pitcairn with everyone in t-shirts and shorts and flip flops and watching this suited official on screen sitting thousands of miles away. The meeting talked over a couple of points that are clearly apparent when you’re here – mostly centring around repopulation and tourism. I was a little surprised that two points that seemed quite obviously connected weren’t mentioned…

council meeting

Namely – the Marine Conservation Area, and the new proposal to amend Pitcairn’s ordinances in favour of the inclusion of same sex marriage. It seems to me that the Marine Conservation Area would be huge in terms of eco tourism, the increased access to various development grants, and potentially would bring longer term visitors and researchers to the island who would help to change the demographic. I can’t see how this would be negative for Pitcairn. The welcoming of same sex marriage would bring Pitcairn in line with the UK and would also stop those who are in same sex marriages and civil unions being put off settlement. So it seems as though that just opens the doors a little wider and takes down another negative barrier. I would have mentioned both of these points myself in the meeting, but felt as an off islander I don’t have the right to pass comment nor whoop in appreciation of both developments.

Here’s an apt product that I found in a cupboard in the store:

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I know in the UK that the marine area is big news, and is being celebrated across the conservation communities, and really did think there would be more excitement here about the whole thing, but then I read the governor’s letter to the island which was pinned to the public noticeboard and the tone of it was very withdrawn, downbeat, and sceptical, so perhaps that has something to do with it. Or perhaps it has something to do with the general and vague animosity towards NGO involvement and initiatives on Pitcairn. Certain actions such as the cat eradication, and goat eradication have put a few noses out of joint along the way. It did seem to me though that you couldn’t possibly talk about the future of tourism and repopulation on this island without mentioning the marine announcement though, whatever one’s opinion on it. I didn’t feel I could say anything in the meeting, but I’m saying it here instead.

The project is slow going, which is rather what I expected – I’m still trying to find my place here and work out some of the tangled web of connections and who is who, and all of that. I want to create something that accurately captures a sense of place. Perhaps not literally but metaphorically – and in order to do that I need to absorb and understand the place a little better, and for people to be open and relaxed in my presence.

I’m not interested in creating a purely documentary project. Many people will want to see the logistical aspect of Pitcairn – how the internet is received, how the power works, where water comes from, the postal service, the store, the school, the church, the council. So yes, an element of that will be included in this project.

But I want to capture something other – the entanglement, this mixture of old and new, the history and how that has filtered down to the present, the family groupings which may at first seem black and white but are really shades of grey, the small details of everyday life that the Pitcairners themselves wouldn’t notice or take for granted. Many of the old ways of doing things have not been recorded, so I want to show how the old has melded into the new, and to show this community in a state of change. I want to create a thorough and lasting legacy project that shows the intersection Pitcairn now sits at – between the past and the future – drawing out the fragility of the place through the film.

I haven’t shot much as yet but have been testing a few things along the way and taking a few snaps here and there. Here’s a picture of Steve and the black eye he sustained from a bit of an accident. It’s a digital shot I’m afraid as I haven’t got my scanner rigged up as yet, but you get the gist….

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Pitcairn is a difficult place to fit into in some ways, but I hope it’ll get easier. I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes as it’s not in my nature to do so, but inevitably my very presence will cause suspicion amongst some, and I understand why.

This project is planned to stand apart from the work that has been done on Pitcairn in the past. I came to Pitcairn to find something missing from my past, or to tie up a loose end that has always sat with me. I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail, but much about Pitcairn’s situation mirrors my own, and the more time I spend here the more that becomes both more apparent and also highlights the changes I’ve gone through…. I have to find a way to express this in the project subtly and I may not have found the way yet, but I’m working on it.

Also just before I go, and on a vaguely related note – I’d like to make a quick comment on WordPress and this blog. I’ve encountered some confusion over whether this blog is affiliated with any sort of press organisation, or is filtered through some kind of press directory. I think this comes from the name on the bottom of this site, “Wordpress”. If you go onto http://www.wordpress.com, you’ll see what wordpress is – a hosting site for blogs and websites from people all around the world about everything from knitting to rubber duck collectors to business websites and all those in between. My blog just happens to be about Pitcairn, because that’s where I am and that’s my current focus.

I’d like to say that everything posted on this blog is my own opinion and contains anecdotes purely there for amusement purposes, its a kind of diary for people who have backed my project, and friends and family that would like to follow the progress of the project and read something that contains a bit of my personality, and my own experiences of being here. The content of this blog is my own and cannot be used without my consent. I own the content – it may be in the public domain but it isn’t a free for all. Any details about the workings of Pitcairn that I refer to on this blog are all available publicly elsewhere (e.g. job titles, minimum wage amounts, laws or ordinances, etc).

WordPress is simply the name of a blogging platform, like blogger or even Tumblr. I just prefer the layout of it – it has nothing to do with “the press”. I am not a journalist, for anyone with any doubts, feel free to Google me, it’s all there – you won’t find anything about me being a journalist, and instead you’ll find a whole load of pictures of lighthouses and waterfalls that I’ve taken – I am an artist making a project, and that’s all.

I am not working for a newspaper or the press and am not being paid by any organisation for this project – it is without prejudice or agenda.

There will always be a number of people who may not believe me on this, and I accept that will always happen. This is essentially a crowd funded creative project, and I wouldn’t be being true to my backers if the project deviated from its origins.

I just don’t want there to be any grey area as to why I’m keeping this blog or what it is for, or from what position it is written.

I’ll leave you now with a little snap of last night’s sunset…  adieu!

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Kickstarter campaign launched!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rhiannonadam/photographic-portrait-of-pitcairn-island/widget/video.html

So it’s been a little while since my last update, but I have been beavering away behind the scenes, filing risk assessments and making sure that my grant is released on time.

The big news is that I’ve finally launched a Kickstarter page, after many days of frustrating editing! I know I look and sound a bit daft, but I’m just going to have to swallow it and hope it’ll be worth the humiliation!

Why, you might ask, would you need Kickstarter when you have GoFundMe set up? Well, the answer is that there are a few reasons… Firstly, I’ve had multiple people having payment problems using GoFundMe, so thought it best to find an alternative.

The second reason is the audience reach – GoFundMe is great for friends and family, but not so great for attracting strangers, or donors that generally want to give. Kickstarter is a reliable brand that people browse to seek out projects.

The other main reason for still running the two is that GoFundMe will release the funds whether my target is reached or not, Kickstarter are an all or nothing platform. This means that unless I reach my target I am left with nothing – so while I hope this doesn’t happen, I think it’s safer given the financial strain of this project to leave the two running. Any excess funds earned (i.e. if i reach my target on both platforms) will simply be used to pay for additional equipment, framing for exhibition, and to help pay for book printing costs.

For now though, if you haven’t donated and intend to do so, perhaps best to use the new Kickstarter so that I can get closer to my target – if I fail, you won’t be charged, so you could support through GoFundMe later on.

And now for something completely different….

Some of you may know me, and some of you may not, but thank you all for visiting regardless of how you found yourself here. I hope you’ll continue to visit and follow me on the journey I’m about to embark on.

As this is my first post, I should perhaps direct you to the background page, as that goes into an amount of detail I shan’t go enter into here, but in a nutshell, my name is Rhiannon, I’m a photographer, and with the help of a grant from the BBC and Royal Geographical Society I’m about to set off to Pitcairn, a tiny volcanic island in the Pacific. I have been lucky enough to win this year’s Journey of a Lifetime Award, and will be recording a Radio 4 documentary of my experiences to be aired later in the year.

Pitcairn has no landing strip, and is only reachable by sea. It is more than 300 miles of open ocean away from the nearest inhabited island. The boat (Claymore II, pictured left) is only scheduled to visit on three month rotations, so I will be spending a full three months in the world’s least populated and most remote jurisdiction, taking only my cameras for comfort. Pitcairn is Britain’s last remaining overseas territory in the Pacific, and though home to fewer than 50 permanent residents, the islanders enjoy a rich heritage and can claim an almost uninterrupted bloodline back to the original Mutiny on the Bounty. Though the Mutiny may be famous, very few people have ever heard of their descendants’ home, let alone visited it.

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Pitcairn is roughly halfway between South America and New Zealand

 

It is difficult and costly to reach, and hard to get the necessary permissions to film and photograph. I have now got past the first hurdles, and now I am on to stage two, seeking out in-kind supporters as well as additional financial backers, to help get the most out of this unique opportunity. Because of the timeframe as dictated by the boat, I will be leaving in March. Once on Pitcairn I won’t be able to receive mail, or buy additional film and supplies, or fix equipment, so everything has to be ready by the last week of February.

This doesn’t leave me very long to gather funds, so for this reason, I am seeking extra support (both financial and in-kind) to conduct the first ever photographic project to explore the island, the islanders and their unique culture. I see this as an opportunity to create an anthropological record of the island, and to take my work in new direction. I’ll be launching a crowd funding campaign in the next week, but until then I’m using GoFundMe, so please visit this page if you’d like to donate. 

This blog will be updated regularly, and will chart (no pun) the whole journey, from my leaving preparations to my return, and all of the months on Pitcairn in between.

I hope you’ll stay with me for the ride.