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The crew of the Odyssey all agree that Christmas Island would be a great place to be marooned for a while. Days seem to pass lazily for the locals here, people have time to catch their own fish rather than buy it, and calendars and watches lose their significance.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson

November 17, 2000
A Tour of Christmas Island
Real Video


Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson talking to you from Christmas Island in the tropical pacific. This remote pacific atoll is a place of stark contrasts, of strong cultural tradition and natural history, combined with and tainted by British and U.S. commercial and military ventures. Today John and Rereo, respective representatives of the cultural mix on the island, gave us a tour of Christmas. The brightness of this atoll is truly blinding, especially on the beaches where the crystal clear waters meet the bleached coral sand, illuminated by the blazing sun. Definitely not a place to be caught without your sunglasses!

Driving around this surprisingly large island, we noticed that the scenery changes slowly, the horizon consisting mainly of row after row of non-native coconut palms, splendid in their windblown greens and yellows. Our first stop was not what you would expect on a coral atoll. Christmas, unlike Tarawa the country's capitol, was never a battleground but was used as a base for the Allied Pacific Air Command in the Second World War. Remnants of the occupation are everywhere, great piles of abandoned equipment have been left to rust, permanently marring the landscape. This includes more than 1 million steel drums, along with tons of machinery scattered among the palm trees. Military facilities were extended when Christmas was chosen as a base for British and U.S. nuclear bomb tests, as were many desert atolls of the Pacific Ocean region, as they appeared to be vast empty spaces. We stopped at the detonation sites of the British tests viewing the hooks that anchored the bomb before the release of the balloon that carried it into the atmosphere, and the bunkers from which the explosions were viewed. Radiation tests have subsequently been carried out on the island, which apparently bares no ill effects. However we were told of the millions of birds that were killed and the island inhabitants taken aboard Allied ships and shown movies during the detonations and shortly returned to the island. Fortunately, the British Government has finally taken responsibility and are sending in a cleanup team in April 2001 to remove their equipment.

Life for the people of Christmas is good, if you ask them - "it's not crowded and there are plenty of fish." Today, the island's economy is based on copra or coconut plantations and its bone fishery. The tiny villages that dot the island host grand European names such as London, Paris, Poland and our favorite, Banana. Privacy is a concept that is virtually unknown here with the overall feel of the villages being that of a permanent campground, with little evidence of what we call 'organization' but I think it is precisely why the I-Kiribas people are so easy going and happy. The traditional lifestyle of living without walls is preferred, walking down the street is a social event and small children run and play with still smaller siblings riding on their hips. All excitedly waving at us as we drove through their villages.

Traditional life here is a subsistence life with most inhabitants living entirely off the rich bounty of the land and sea. Along with the palm trees, birds also proliferate on Christmas Island. Sanctuaries set aside for the protection of millions of nesting seabirds means they are a part of every landscape. Sooty and fairy terns, frigates, booby's, shearwaters and tropic birds abound, some even taking advantage of the abandoned military equipment for nesting and perching. As the sun began to creep closer to the horizon, a great day and tour of the island came to an end. We appeared to reach a unanimous conclusion, this would be a great place to be marooned for a while, days seem to pass lazily for the locals here, people have time to catch their own fish rather than buy it, and calendars and watches lose their significance. But for all the enticing elements Christmas Island has to offer, the Odyssey crew are keen to resume their search for sperm whales.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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