VERY many years ago I came under the spell of James A Michener, Louis Becke, Frederick O’Brien, James Norman Hall, Robert Dean Frisbie, Beatrice Grimshaw and other wonderful sojourners in the South Pacific.
And I have been fortunate enough to indulge my passion for the delightful backwaters of those myriad islands scattered diagonally across the unending ocean east of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
I am, in short, a sucker for swaying palm trees, white sandy beaches, warm tropical breezes and languid lifestyles.
I have two favourite places in the South Pacific. The first is the Cook Islands, which are sprinkled north of the Tropic of Capricorn and the main island of Rarotonga.
There are magical places among those isolated atolls untouched by the modern world and, unlike their near neighbour, Tahiti, unpolluted by crass tourism and commercialism.
The second is the Western and Admiralty Islands, lying just south of the Equator and north of New Guinea, making up the Papua New Guinean province of Manus.
Whereas the Cook Islands are wholly Polynesian, the Western Islands are Polynesian and the Admiralty Islands are Melanesian.
However, unlike the Cook Islands, the Admiralty and Western Islands are far from unspoilt.
I was sitting on Manus on a shady patch of grass hard up against a tiny, sheltered beach drinking a cool beer served up from a small, thatched bar by an 11 year old girl, her nine year old brother and his black and white spotted dog, when a huge sailfish launched itself out of the water and flew past at what appeared to be touching distance.
I can’t think of anywhere else where that might happen.
And then along came Australia, in collusion with a greedy Papua New Guinean prime minister, and set about destroying the place.
They flew in hundreds of desperate asylum seekers and great numbers of thuggish jailers, police and clueless bureaucrats and changed that beautiful island forever.
Manus has gone from beautiful Pacific island to gulag status in less than four years. Its delightful, easy-going people have been irrevocably changed and may never recover.
Their traditional values, social cohesion and innate friendliness and openness have been effectively trashed.
My little bartender lost his spotted dog in the first year. It was hit by a speeding carload of drunken policemen and tossed nonchalantly onto the grass verge beside the thatched bar for the boy to find in the morning on his way to school.
That incident pretty much sums up Australia’s attitude to Manus. It is considered expendable and far enough away to avoid close scrutiny.
I do not comprehend how those politicians who planned the destruction of Manus, and now perpetuate the atrocity, sleep at night.
What James A Michener, Frederick O’Brien and all those other suntanned lingerers on tropic shores would say if they were still alive is probably unprintable.