Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: the aerial route

Skyler and I will be doing our best to draw out the end of 2009 by flying toward the International Dateline tonight, on our way to the island kingdom of Tonga. Barring pilot error or mechanical failure, we should be in mid-heaven when midnight tolls, which was why our ticket was relatively cheap. For some reason that escapes me, Kiwis are happy to see in the New Year brawling with cops at Pauanui, or vomiting into a Lambton Quay gutter, but don't like to celebrate the event in an airplane seat.

I am, I must admit, a little disappointed that we'll be flying through the dark, because it'll mean missing out on the chance to see the Minerva Reef, the coral outcrops that form a huge shallow lagoon without an island in the empty seas south of Tonga. I became fascinated by the Minerva Reef as a child, after I read that a group of Americans steered a barge through a gap in the coral, dumped enough sand on the floor of the lagoon to form an island, and proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Minerva. The nation-founders were libertarians, and the Republic of Minerva was going to be a tax-free, pro-business paradise - a model to a 1970s world mired in late Keynesian macroeconomics and stagflation. Unfortunately, the King of Tonga soon got wind of the new government on his doorstep, and sent the might of his navy down to annex the desert island of Minerva, which was in any case quickly dissolving into the warm shallow lagoon water. Today, the Minerva Reef is the preserve of adventurous yachties, who follow the libertarians' route through the coral wall and anchor for days on end in the lagoon, enjoying the tropical sunsets and collecting souvenirs from ancient shipwrecks.

As a boy, I wanted for while to emulate the founding of the Republic of Minerva by building an island in one of the muddy Manukau Harbour inlets that extended close to our family farm. I didn't subscribe to libertarianism, nor even know what it was, but I liked the idea of naming a country and getting to design a national flag.

Minerva Reef isn't the only nation-founding scheme in the history of the modern Pacific - back in the thirties the administrator and ethnologist Harry Maude, whose remarkable gift to the Auckland War Memorial Museum I discussed in this talk and post, led a group of I-Kiribati in establishing the last new colony of the British Empire on the uninhabited Phoenix Islands in the extreme northeast of Micronesia.

Maude, who seems to have enjoyed a remarkable degree of autonomy from his supposed bosses in the Colonial Office, decided that the colony of the Gilbert Islands was getting overcrowded, and that the Yanks might be tempted to grab the Phoenix Island group if the Union Jack wasn't planted there. The isolation and barreness of the Phoenix group and the outbreak of World War Two meant that Maude's colony lasted a mere few years.

I may be missing out on Minerva Reef, but I'll be blogging from the firmer ground of the Kingdom of Tonga over the next week (I made a start on the country during an eventful one-hour stopover in August). There's even a Smithyman connection to explore.


Blogger Bill Direen said...

You two have such rich experiences and are generous with your impressions and all that you learn. & you certainly get around. Have fun. I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping 2010 is a good 'un for Maps and Skyler.

8:34 pm  
Anonymous said...

Happy New Year 2010.

6:29 am  
Blogger Jayne said...

Looking forward to your many future posts, happy 2010!

12:57 pm  
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7:34 pm  

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