Monday, October 20, 2014

Fantasy islands

Apostles of digital reality sometimes claim that everything in the world, and a little more besides, exists on the internet, but the web seemed to me a terribly incomplete place - a poor copy of reality, like the shadows that trembled on the wall of Plato's cave - without this map, which I've scanned from Tin Can Island, CR Ramsay's 1938 book about Niuafo'ou, the regularly active volcano in the far, semi-fabulous northern zone of the Kingdom of Tonga.

Ramsay ran Niuafo'ou's store and designed its postal system, which saw muscled young men holding cans full of postcards and letters above the water while they swam to passing cargo ships.

When I look at Ramsay's map of Niuafo'ou, I can't easily separate fact from fantasy. For a distant admirer like me, the island's warm crater lake, which contains islands and an island lake of its own, seem as impossibly marvellous as the cherub who wheezes in the map's northwestern corner.
My older son has his own fantasy island. He is convinced that Rangitoto - or Langitoto, as the Tongans, whose tongues do not like the trill of the letter 'r', call it - is, along with Indonesia's Komodo Island, the chief habitat of the world's relict dinosaurs.

I grew up commanding armies of stunted toy soldiers and fighting with stick guns for the ditch-trenches of the family farm, but my wife has banned me from making our children into militarists. When he sees a gun on television or in a cast-off piece of newspaper, my son has learned to call the strange device a telescope.

When Aneirin and I recently climbed that most fabled and tunneled of Auckland's hills, Maungauika/North Head, and discovered a large gun near the northern summit, pointing towards Rangitoto, he decided, quite reasonably, that it was a telescope made to help visitors 'spy on the dinosaurs' of the nearby island. He looked down the barrel of the instrument and began to describe the fantastic creatures of Rangitoto.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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