In the first episode of season 3 of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Tasmania, the island state of Australia, known to early European explorers as Van Dieman’s Land. This verdant island is roughly the size of Ireland but with only 8% of the population. Tasmania or ‘Tassie’ lies 240 km or 150 miles south of the Australian mainland, and the state encompasses the main island of Tasmania, the 26th-largest island in the world, and the surrounding 334 islands. Just over half a million people live in Tasmania, 40% of whom reside in the island largest city, Hobart, which is lies on the banks of the Derwent River on the south side of the island. Up until the early 1800s, the island was inhabited exclusively by Aboriginal Tasmanians, but was soon after claimed by the British and converted into a penal colony. For the next 50 years, around 75,000 convicts were sent to the island, which was viewed as a kind of ‘prison without walls.’ In 1854 its name was changed to Tasmania, and in 1901 it became a state in the newly-created federation of Australia.
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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
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
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
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.