S1E02: Nauru

 Audio: S1E02 Nauru

In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Nauru, a small isolated island nation in the middle of the Pacific, only 60 km from the equator and about 3,000 km from Australia, the country it is largely a dependent of. It’s a rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags tale of an island paradise, once called Pleasant Island, its disastrous encounters with colonialism and brutal treatment in World War 2. The discovery of rich phosphate deposits led to it briefly being the wealthiest nation per capita for a time, but strip-mining and poor administration left the country where it is today – always in the news for the wrong reasons. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

Note: We had previously said that we would broadcast our episode on Panama this week, but once again Nauru was in the news, after the release of the “Nauru files” giving details of the scale of human rights abuses in the migrant detention centres the island hosts on behalf of the Australian government. We thought that this episode would give a good background on a country you might be reading a lot about in the next few weeks. This episode was recorded before the files were released, but we do discuss the issues that were highlighted in those reports.

Some things you might want to read/listen more about:

  • Early Nauruan practice of aquaculture – i.e. catching the fries of milkfish/ibiya in the surf and raising them to adulthood in brackish pools inland. This article (Spennemann, 2002) also describes the early history of Nauru and its first encounter with European whaler John Fearn
  • The 10-year long Nauruan Tribal War is summarised in an article on Military History Now – it resulted in the death of about 500 people, nearly a third of the island’s population
  • Nauru: A Cautionary Tale, an essay by Vlad Sokhin in World Policy Journal discusses the squandering of the phosphate resources of the island and also features some great photos from the smallest republic in the world
  • S. E. Morrison’s book History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June 1942 – April 1944 (Univeristy of Illinois Press, 2001) describes the operations in and around Nauru and features the following comments on the then-occupied island:

    But, the more Nauru was studied, the less anyone liked the idea of assaulting it. For Nauru is a solid island with no harbor or lagoon, shaped like a hat with a narrow brim of coastal plain where the enemy had built his airfield, and a crown where he had mounted coast defense artillery. The hilly interior was full of holes and caves where phosphate rock had been excavated – just the sort of terrain that the Japanese liked for defensive operations

  • The Japanese occupation of Nauru and deportation of the native people to Truk Island is described on Wikipedia 
  • Radio show This American Life did an episode, including stories from Nauru a few years ago: “The Middle of Nowhere“, emphasising its role in money laundering and how it keeps appearing as a footnote in major world events
  • Australian Radio National’s Earshot has discussed the country’s “bizarre” story
  • Fertiliser island scents musical success: First Night: Leonardo” by David Lister in The Independent describes the opening night of Leonardo the Musical: A Portrait of Love, co-written by Duke Minks
  • Paradise Well and Truly Lost” in The Economist deals with all of Nauru’s problems and how it all went wrong, including how it can be considered a test case for understanding widespread diabetes
  • The music from the break can be found on YouTube 

On a slightly lighter note… We are very fond of the names of people from Nauru, such as inaugural President Hammer deRoburt, Duke Minks (the musical guy), Kelly Emiu (chief secretary to the government who was involved in the musical happening) and current President Baron Waqa. And finally, video evidence that Naruans are quite good at powerlifting:

Next week’s episode will be more cheerful, we promise.

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