Nauru Diary: Impressions of an island

From two visits, November 2014 and June 2015

  • Map of the island at the airport terminal

    Map of the island at the airport terminal. 7 November 2014

  • Joyful Restaurant

    The Joyful restaurant's sign attracted me when I first saw it closed in the rain. Driving around the island later with friends, wanting to find it in sunshine, I said, 'The Joyful is back that way somewhere, we need to turn around.' No, they said, laughing, it's a very small island,' and there was the Joyful just ahead. This sort of thing kept happening. The Chinese proprietors arrived to open the restaurant for lunch as I was photographing: three people, like a family group, with a few white plastic shopping bags on their arms. 9 November 2014

  • Chinese ambassador, parking spot

    Parking spot at the civic centre, reserved for the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ambassador. The embassy office is upstairs. 22 June 2015

  • The proprietors of the Parachinar restaurant

    The proprietors of the Parachinar restaurant - the first, and perhaps only, refugee business on Nauru. Its décor was elaborate and beautiful. It opened early in November but closed down a few months later during the refugee mass protests. The two young men named the restaurant after their home town, Parachinar, which was possibly named after a legendary big chinar tree where citizens met to discuss social problems. 10 November 2014

  • Bribery sign, Meneng

    This feisty sign facing the main road appeared on the day of the annual Fun Run. It was attached to the window of an ordinary house, with chickens running about, the usual weathered trampoline, and the occupants calmly sitting in the yard. 6 June 2015

  • Teachers of English, hotel rooftop party.

    Teachers of English, mostly Australian, at a “hens’ party” on the roof of the Od-n Aiwo Hotel, a popular party spot for locals and others, as may be deduced from the many old bottles and bleaching Pure Blonde cans. These teachers work at the asylum-seeker centre and at Nauruan schools. Some of them were coming to the end of their shift, about to fly home after many weeks. I think that you can see the muted strain of their hardworking lives in their bright party faces. 7 November 2014

  • House by the sea

    House by the sea. 5 November 2014

  • In the Zhong-Hua restaurant

    In the Zhong-Hua restaurant opposite the Menen Hotel, blue curtains and the faint scent of cabbage wafted in the breeze from overhead fans. After rain a big grey puddle would form in the road directly outside, somewhat impeding custom. I liked it there, it was peaceful. There are many such small mostly-Asian restaurants on Nauru; it’s quite likely that some of the families who run them have lived on the island for several generations. 5 November 2014

  • House, Aiwo

    23 June 2015

  • University of the South Pacific Nauru campus

    University of the South Pacific Nauru campus. The emblem of USP Nauru incorporates the elegant symmetry of of the island’s traditional “string figures”, a South Pacific form of cat’s cradle. The Nauruan string figures are considered to have been the most complex and beautiful among those of all the South Sea islands. 23 June 2015

  • Farrah and her grandmother, Esther

    Farrah Roland Demaure and her grandmother, Esther Dube Roland, by the library door at USP Nauru. Esther is also the grandmother of Alamanda Lauti, Director of USP Nauru. Twelve hundred Nauruans were deported to the remote Truk islands by the Japanese occupying forces in World War Two. Of those deported, fewer than 800 survived. Among them was Esther, aged fifteen. Esther is holding a copy of an old family photograph with her father at the centre. It is annotated in the handwriting of Thomas Cude, chief of Police on Nauru before WW2. Cude was in the ship that went around the Truk islands after the Japanese surrender, to search for the survivors and bring them back to Nauru. Angam Day, October 26, is Nauru’s annual commemoration of survival. 24 June 2015

  • Birthday party for a 21 year-old

    Birthday party for a 21 year-old at the Menen Hotel. People began arriving as evening came, and phosphorescence glittered on the tops of breaking waves. 6 November 2014

  • Anibare harbour pool

    People flock to this place in the late afternoons. It’s a convenient meeting place, free of the sharp-edged coral pinnacles that rise out of the sea close to the shore. A mixed crowd of children are playing here. A tragedy occurred in June 2014 when a refugee got into difficulties in the dangerous Anibare Channel beyond the harbour wall. Two Nauruan men swam out to help him but the refugee and one of the would-be rescuers drowned. Since then lifeguards, trained by the Nauru Surf Club and Surf Life Saving Australia, keep watch at the pool. 9 November 2014

  • Jeep by the main road

    I’ve always been fond of old rusting cars and the sight of clothes hanging out in the sun to dry. This was a fetching tropical combination of both. 7 November 2014

  • Birthday party for a 21 year-old

    The Menen Hotel pool had been filled for the occasion. All day young women were sitting outside in the shade, painstakingly blowing up balloons to float in the pool. A hand-painted birthday banner was hung from a balcony, yellow chairs arrived in stacks. Unlike typical Australian 21st birthday parties, this was neither rowdy nor formal and included people of all ages. It seemed like a big celebratory get-together, especially when large platters of food appeared. The balloons floated gently in the pool, undisturbed, occasionally popping; small children ran around or sat on the edge with their feet in the water while older generations sat talking on the yellow chairs. Beyond the glowing scene, the long breakers rolled and sighed in the darkness. Earlier, lines of phosphorescence had briefly glittered on the waves. I thought of the way the land had slid into the sea thousands of years ago, forming Anibare Bay and giving the island its distinctive kidney-bean shape. All around the shore there’s evidence of smaller ancient landslips. I hoped it wouldn’t happen again that night. 6 November 2014

  • Barista at the Capital Restaurant

    The airline’s inflight magazine had suggested that a real cappuccino could be found at the Capital, the only place where this was possible, at least in daytime. I asked the surprised man in the Capital if it were true about the cappuccinos, since there was no coffee machine in sight. He said to wait and disappeared into the kitchen. Pretty soon a young woman emerged, rubbing her eyes in the bright daylight; she had been sleeping. Yes, she could make a cappuccino. She reached an intricate glass contraption off a high shelf and very carefully, steadily, tinkered with it over a small blue flame. After about twenty minutes two cappuccinos materialized: six dollars each, well worth the wait. 24 June 2015

  • Phosphate industry building

    Phosphate industry building beside the Od-n Aiwo hotel, still standing though shelled in December 1940 by a Nazi German raider. 22 June 2015

  • Window with Nauruan scenes

    Window with Nauruan scenes and hibiscus curtain. Paper doesn’t last long in tropical conditions. 23 June 2015

  • Parachinar restaurant sign

    Parachinar restaurant sign painted by artist proprietor Nisar Ali Jan. 9 November 2014

  • Sign on a door

    Sign on a door (previously used for children’s games) by the main road. 27 June 2015

  • Ingenious mechanic with truck

    Ingenious mechanic with truck at Milton Ross store. Vehicles deteriorate quickly in the salt air and people find ways of keeping them going against the odds. 6 November 2014

  • Noddy’s soft drinks

    Noddy’s soft drinks and bottling factory, Be Nauruan, Buy Nauruan, with wild hibiscus and truck. 10 November 2014

  • Clothes on crushed coral

    Clothes drying on crushed coral near the damaged phosphate structures, where an eye-catching sign with skulls and crossbones says, Danger. This structure will fall down any time. Do not enter. 22 June 2015

  • 28. Alamanda Lauti and Viola Detenamo

    Alamanda Lauti, Director of USP Nauru, and Viola Detenamo, Librarian, in the USP library. It is airy and cool, stocked with text and reference books (Viola Detenamo said rather wistfully that she would like more story books, such as Alice in Wonderland and classic tales like “Cinderella”: unscholarly things that anyone might like to read). Alamanda Lauti explained that this is library is open to everyone on the island: there used to be a small public library elsewhere on Nauru, but it burnt down many years ago. Thanks to an exchange between Alamanda Lauti and the State Library of NSW, the USP library has recently acquired copies of historic material about Nauru from Australian archives, including photographs and Nauru diaries (1939 to1947) of Thomas Cude. 23 June 2015

  • Briar-Rose Alona

    Briar-Rose Alona by the USP library door. A former head of the Nauru Media Bureau, she went to Japan some years ago to search for records of the Japanese occupation of Nauru. Since she’d mentioned that her third husband was Japanese, I asked if he’d gone with her to interpret. “No! I didn’t need any help! I went by myself.” 24 June 2015

  • Meneng girls

    Meneng Girls: spirited girls’ graffiti on defunct restaurant door. 23 June 2015

  • Topside pinnacles

    Topside pinnacles. In the distance, Big Rock, 13 metres high and covered with vegetation so that it looks like a tree. 22 June 2015

  • Anibare harbour pool, evening

    Anibare harbour pool, evening. Children were playing, sliding and skidding down the algae-covered boat ramp. Teachers were in the water supervising them: the holidays were imminent, and the children were going to have a sleepover at their school. 25 June 2015

  • Preparations for the birthday of a one year-old

    Preparations for the birthday of a one year-old, Anibare restaurant at the Menen hotel. First and twenty-first birthdays are particularly celebrated, landmarks of survival. 23 June 2015

  • Hand-painted protest signs, Meneng Hall

    Hand-painted protest signs by the main road, Meneng. 27 June 2015

  • Window of the Parachinar restaurant

    Window of the Parachinar restaurant, painted by the proprietor. 9 November 2014.

  • Where the mango forest used to be

    Where the mango forest used to be, at Buada: “It’s very sad”. Secondary phosphate mining is now being carried out with heavy machinery. 25 June 2015

  • Old weathered pinnacles

    Old weathered pinnacles, about to be crushed in secondary phosphate mining. 25 June 201

  • Children with prize rooster at Buada Lagoon

    Children with prize rooster at Buada Lagoon. They are (l to r) Breson Fritz, Nikman Garoa, Jessina Fritz, Nikalus Garoa, Zuki Bingham. 27 June 2015 These children were playing by the road that encircles Buada Lagoon. The plaited fishing line on the cockerel’s leg suggested that he was more than an ordinary pet or a stray. “Is he a fighter?” I enquired. “Yes! We’re going to fight him at Location.” (a small district where once the Chinese phosphate workers lived, then called the Chinese Location). I asked if he had a name. “No, no name”. “You could call him Popsy.” They laughed, “Bopsy!” This seemed a fitting name for a prize fighter. The children’s names are, left to right: Breson Fritz, Nikman Garoa, Jessina Fritz, Nikalus Garoa, Zuki Bingham. Their grandfather gave his permission to use this photo.

  • Phosphate works

    Phosphate works, overgrown and still in operation. 7 November 2014

  • At the ruined house

    At the ruined house (“State House”) of a former President. 10 November 2014

  • A mixed crowd at Anibare pool, late afternoon

    Anibare pool, late afternoon: a mixed crowd playing together. 9 November 2014

  • House by the main road, Meneng

    House by the main road, Meneng. 6 November 2014

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