Robin White

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‘Go to Denham Bay.’ That was one of the options offered to us by Mike, a DOC worker, on the morning of our one full day on Raoul Island. ‘What about the slip that covered the track after recent heavy rain?’ Mike said we’d be able to get over that, no worries. ‘How long will it take?’ ‘Well, just a walk up a gentle slope, then across the island and down a bit of a steep climb and you’re there, about an hour and 20 minutes, maybe an hour and a half. We’ll be back by three.’ Yeah right...

Half way up the narrow track carved out of the ‘gentle slope’, already out of breath and with aching legs, I was wondering if I should call it a day. And then, after crossing the island, scrambling across the mud slip and clambering over fallen trees (it must have been quite a storm) we came to the ‘bit of a steep climb’ down to the beach, a near vertical drop managed with the use of a rope tied to a sturdy tree.

Standing on that beach with its narrow strip of flat land hemmed in by formidable cliffs, with impassable bluffs to the left and right and miles of ocean between me and my home, I marvelled at how the Bell family— Tom and Frederica and their 6 children— ever managed to survive when, in 1878, they were put ashore at Denham Bay.

So what do you say to people who argue that Raoul Island is an inhospitable and unpredictable tinder box in the middle of the ocean, abandoned by the folks who attempted to live there, who struggled against extraordinary odds, and who eventually were forced to give in to the insurmountable obstacles to settlement?

Why all this effort to protect such a place, and why worry about the ocean when there’s plenty of it? Why not exploit it? These were the questions we pondered on our return from Denham Bay.

How do you get across to people the need to have a ‘base-line’, a place where we can learn about how nature, unmediated by human intervention, manages its own dynamic of destruction and reconstruction, how a place heals itself when devastated by powerful natural forces?

Where do we go to find out how life begins and how creatures can survive in spite of seemingly impossible odds? If knowledge is central to society then this place is surely a frontier of wonders to be discovered and invaluable lessons to be learned. Let’s not trash the classroom.


Photo: Remnant - Denham Bay. Jason O'Hara 2011