There are 10 permanent residents in the house and attached flat in which I live, here in the Berra. Eight of the residents are humans and two of them are dogs. We range from ancient me to a 4 year old boy. We also have a steady stream of visitors and persons staying overnight, so most of the time the place resembles a small village. It’s good being part of a tribe as there is always something going on and we can call on each other when needed. But I also love my solitude, and sometimes I like to escape to small, peaceful places by myself. I often go to nearby Gibraltar Falls, but I recently decided I would go a bit further and do a trip to Lord Howe Island, having read about the place and having known several people who have been there.
LHI is a unique part of Australia to the extent that if the archeologists and the diaries of the first Europeans in the area are correct it was not inhabited by anyone prior to it being claimed by Britain, which means that LHI is one of the few parts of Australia that was not stolen. I'm very surprised the Polynesians never found it.
It was apparently discovered, or first sighted, by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, although it was more than likely one of his crew who first saw it, with Ball taking the credit. He commanded "HMS Supply" at the time. It was sighted when he was on the way from Botany Bay to Norfolk Island, and on his return trip he sent a party ashore to claim it as a British possession. The famous Ball's pyramid, a volcanic outcrop located around 23 km's south-east of LHI, was named after Ball, and probably by Ball given my understanding of what drives people who hold positions of authority. The red square on the map below indicates LHI's position, and the aerial photo below the map is of the island.
Bogu was betrothed to an old Kiribati bloke who held a high position. And because she did not want a smelly, grunting, sweaty old man crawling all over her whenever he wanted his way she understandably did not want to go through with the marriage. Bogoroo and Botanga were assisting her to escape her nightmare, and when Thompson found them they were all happy to accompany him to LHI.
Pictured above is the late Narelle Wheeler. She lived for another year after my trip to Lord Howe Island, a couple of months short of her 16th birthday.
I considered cancelling my trip, but I was encouraged to leave and told that Narelle would be taken to the vet and cared for if she did not recover by the next afternoon. So the next day I said goodbye to Narelle, thinking I would not see her again, and with a heavy heart I was taken to the Berra’s horrible, privately-owned, oversized aerodrome by Rio, my daughter in law, who lives with us and the rest of the extended family.
When I arrived I was to discover that because of continuing bad weather at LHI the previous flight from Sydney to LHI that morning had been cancelled and they were thinking of cancelling my flight. But, I did board the plane to LHI, which was a small "Dash 8" propeller job, 15 minutes after it was due to take off. We then waited in the plane, with its engines switched off, taking in very stuffy air, for what seemed a very long time. Apparently they were reconsidering going to LHI because the weather was still rough, with very strong winds. Eventually it was decided we would go and the flight did take off.
Trev has a limited term on LHI, so I hope for his sake his next school is not at Mt Druitt or some other toilet in the western suburbs of Sydney. The contrast would be too much for anyone to handle and he would probably end up in a psychiatric ward, mumbling incoherently to himself.
Had the plane flipped to 45% like it did as we were landing on the runway it would have definitely taken a wing off. That would have resulted in the plane crashing and bursting into flames, which would have put a real damper on my holiday to LHI, even if I had survived, as I would probably have been horrifically injured.
Had this been the case and had I have received burns to 95% of my body and had some of my limbs been severed, I would have found that running around LHI's beautiful tracks would have been very difficult and not nearly as enjoyable as it was.
Qantas should not have landed the plane at that time on LHI because the strength of the wind made it far too dangerous. And although Qantas will deny that we nearly flipped I am absolutely convinced we came very close to it.
When we were inside the aerodrome's building we were not told where to pick up our baggage, so I asked someone and was told it would come on a trolley car out the front. I stood outside and waited. When it arrived of course I could not find my bag, which concerned me because apart from the obvious inconvenience of the situation the bag belongs to one of my boys who had acquired it when he represented the ACT in rugby league, and it was appropriately marked as such.
At a later stage I found that the bags of several other people had also been removed at Sydney and the same occurred to a bloke I met who arrived on a flight after mine. Apparently this is done regularly on flights to LHI when the weather is inclement, but nobody told me. Also, as my bag was clearly labelled, and as such could have been easily identified as mine, they could have told me it had been removed before or just after I arrived at LHI aerodrome, instead of having me look for it in vain, but they did not.
Val, John’s mother in law, an Aussie lady in her 60's, owned the Hideaway apartments, and I have no complaints about my stay there at all. They were spotlessly clean and had everything I needed to look after myself. She also could not have been more helpful and friendly. Other than the flat having cooking facilities, a toilet, a shower and a comfortable bed, it had satellite TV which allowed me to watch ABC television. I could not however, listen to Radio National, which is my usual form of entertainment, as there are no radio broadcasts on LHI other than through the net, which I am told is very slow.
I approached a bloke sitting inside the house who I could see through a window. He would not give me a bike that afternoon and told me to come back the next day, which seemed a bit unreasonable. I’m glad it was a beautiful walk and I enjoy exercise, because otherwise I would have wasted my time. It was also just as well he did not want my money on that day because I was to discover that LHI is such a small place if you are in no hurry it’s better to walk. I'm also of the opinion that if I ever get to the stage of needing the mechanical aid of a pushbike in such a small place I should be given a lethal injection.
That night I went to a restaurant where a supposedly famous Pommie chef who I had not heard of named Tom Kime was cooking and lecturing. The tucker was expensive, insufficient and too spicy for my liking, but the people running it were very friendly and I had a long yarn to an old woman in her late eighties whose husband had died the year before. She began weeping every time she mentioned his name.
Kime rabbited on about wine, using terms used by wine "connoisseurs." From memory he described certain wines as being "wooden," "dry," having a "body," an "aftertaste," etc. He also told us what sort of tucker it's supposed to go with.
I've got nothing against people who feel a need to partially anaesthetise themselves with piss, but they should not need an excuse to do so. I accept that people can develop a taste for certain sorts of wine, but we can also savour the taste of certain fruit juices and prefer some types over others without going on about it. The whole wine-tasting thing is pretentious bullshit engaged in by people who cannot simply accept that their true motivation for wanting to drink wine is their desire to get partially or fully pissed. By convincing themselves they are "connoisseurs" of wine they are able to successfully deny to themselves the fact that they are dependent on alcohol to relieve their pain or to give their lives some sort of meaning. Why they needed to use a drug like alcohol in a place as beautiful and as serene as LHI is beyond me. The following link is to a Guardian article entitled "Wine-tasting. It's junk science." It is worth a read.http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis
They were a cheery lot on the bus. I first spoke to a nice friendly and noisy couple sitting behind me named Jim and Sue who I had met the night before. They were from Adelaide but originally from Pommieland. Jim, a 67 year old builder, spoke with a strong Manchester accent and Sue was originally from somewhere in the south of England.
After looking at the rest of the busload I was to find that despite the fact that I was only weeks away from my 62nd birthday at the time, I was the youngest person on the tour other than Peter, the driver.
I did not go up LHI's highest peak, Mt Gower, as going up there without an escort is prohibited and I prefer to do that sort of thing by myself.
The birdlife in LHI is beautiful to look at and listen to. I received enormous pleasure walking down the streets of LHI, where the trees meet overhead, and I made sure I walked at dawn and dusk, where I experienced loud and melodic choruses of birdsong. I focussed on the sound of the bird music and I let it vibrate through my body in rhythm with my steps. It produced in me a type of euphoria.
I was privileged to see several LHI woodhens, which are indigenous to the place. Their population got down to under 20 in the early 80's, but is now back to about 300. They were saved because feral pigs, goats and cats were eradicated from the island and the number of rats was reduced. The LHI woodhen is a small flightless bird of a similar size to a kiwi and resembles it in many ways, although its beak is not as long. I don't know if it's related to the kiwi and therefore I don't know if its similarity is a result of convergent or parallel evolution.
Below is a photo of a LHI woodhen.
LHI had no mammals until they were introduced by Europeans, other than a type of bat, and as the birds simply did not fear predators, both human non-human, because fear was not a necessary trait when there were no predators, they were particularly vulnerable.
LHI also has two species of tern, being the white tern and the sooty tern. Terns are always found in pairs because they say, "One good tern deserves another."
Above are LHI terns. As I have said, they are always found in pairs.
The most common tree on the island would be the kentia palm which is indigenous to the place. There are other interesting trees, such as one which is obviously a relative of the Morton Bay fig, which spreads its roots all over the place.
For 5 of the 6 nights I was on LHI I ate at a restaurant called the Pandanus, and I experienced the most delicious squid I have ever eaten in my life, followed by fresh, tender and delicious LHI kingfish. I loved the LHI tucker, as there is nothing better than fresh seafood. By the time we get fish in the Berra it’s usually as old as me, and it's often as enjoyable to eat as a piece of leather.
I have given reasons as to why I am so fond of LHI, but what makes a place likeable or loveable is purely subjective. To explain in more detail, in the same way one person may find another particular person's physical beauty and/or personality pleasing and another person may have a diametrically opposed view of the same person, there is also nothing absolute when it comes to what makes one place preferable to another. Some people I have met have admitted to me that they like the centre of Sydney and they describe the place as being "vibrant," whereas I regard Sydney as one great big un-flushed toilet bowl.
This could partly be explained by the fact that there are so many geriatrics there, but it could also be that on LHI you would be very unlikely to meet up with the criminally inclined, or those dependent on drugs other than alcohol. Virtually everyone who goes to the place for a visit would have some sort of regular income and would have enough control of their lives to have been able to raise the money to go there.
As far as the locals are concerned, there is no poverty because there is plenty of unskilled and skilled work available, although I didn't see any advertisements for nuclear physicists or glass blowers at their community notice board. There are also plenty of cashed-up tourists whose money is there for the taking should the locals wish to work for themselves. You would be very unlucky to be confronted by a desperate and disturbed person on LHI.
Of course the mainland of Australia could be almost as peaceful and pleasant as LHI if we were less materialistic, more egalitarian, ensured we had no net increase in our population, were more economically isolationist and the criminally inclined and mentally disturbed were dealt with humanely but appropriately. That however, will not happen within a democracy, as the majority of people are too stupid, too ignorant, too easily manipulated by those with capital, and too subservient to authority to decide what is in their own best interests. A totalitarian regime would be even worse.
Narelle died in 2015. This essay was written in 2014.
That depends. If you are a young person who wants action I would give you a definite no, but if you enjoy natural beauty, exercise in fresh air, fishing, eating fresh seafood and resting your mind, there is no better place.
In regard to the long term future of LHI, although I hope I'm wrong I can't see it being too bright. As I write there are only 400 visitors allowed in at one time, they are not clearing anymore land and landowners are only allowed to build on 15% of their land. If these policies continue LHI will be saved, but I can see pressure from greedy developers and crooked politicians preventing these policies continuing.
While I was sitting in the cafe in the LHI museum the day before I flew out I saw a big fat bloke about my age leaning over and talking to someone sitting at a table near me who looked suspiciously like Simon Crean. They were discussing LHI, and as he was leaving the latter's table I heard him say, "At least there's some development happening." I don't know who he was but he was probably a developer of some kind who could see himself making money if the place became a mini version of the Gold Coast.
It is because of people like him and the fact that the mainland of Australia is now overcrowded and becoming more so I can see the settlement on LHI expanding, more tourists being allowed in and it having more cars on its roads, which will destroy the place.
If you are contemplating visiting LHI I suggest you do so sooner than later.
I would like to thank my old cobber, Boomer, and his wife Rachael, for most of the photos in this yarn. They took them on their trip. I forgot to take my camera when I went. I should be given a name that is different to Billy Hunt.