Hawaii (S5.09)

Audio: Hawaii

In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Hawaii, and specifically the Big Island of Hawaii. Which is also called Hawaii.

Hawaii is the southeasternmost of the Hawaiian Islands, which make up the US state of Hawaii. The island makes up 63% of the archipelago’s landmass, but only 13% of its total population. The island is the third largest island in Polynesia, behind the two main islands of New Zealand. With a total area of around 10,000 km2 (or 4,000 square miles), Hawaii is similar in size to the islands of Puerto Rico or Cyprus, or our old friend Gambia.   

With a rich history and culture, Hawaii and its sister islands flourished as ancient societies, developing unique religions and customs, that is until the arrival of one Captain James Cook. In 1779 the famous explorer made his second and final landing here, and would not make it off the island alive. By the end of the century, the islands came under the protection of the British Crown, and missionaries soon followed, changing island life forever. The 1800s brought modern developments and the consolidation of the Kingdom of Hawaii, but ended in the annexation of the territory by the United States, a controversial episode to this day. In 1959, Hawaii becomes the 50th State, now famous for tourism, spam and pineapples. Hawaii Island, also known simply as The Big Island, is today home to around 185,000 people, and due to ongoing volcanic activity, Hawaii is the only US state that is still growing.



Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Dublin, Ireland, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Galway, Ireland. Our theme music and other stings come from Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella. Thanks to Kuʻu Kauanoe one of the hosts of the Offshore Podcast from Honolulu Civil Beat, for speaking to us for this episode – you will hear clips from her interview throughout.


The city of Hilo in 1907

Some further reading material is provided below:

  • A great website for all things Big Island is Love Big Island, and is particularly useful for tourists wishing to visit, but also helped us with plenty of history.
  • Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past By Kanalu G. Terry Young is available on Google Books.
  • For more on the Kapu system, see storymaps.com
  • Hawaii: The Aloha State By Robin Doak has a lot more on the process of annexation, which you can find on Google Books.
  • The Eisenhower Library has more on Hawaii’s journey to statehood, which you can find here.
  • Smithsonian Magazine has an excellent article on Liliʻuokalani, the Last Queen of Hawaiʻi.
  • The Stuff You Should Know episode on the annexation is available here. Thanks, Josh and Chuck!
  • Richard B Frank’s article in TIME, headlined How Hawaii’s Japanese Population Was Spared Internment During World War II was a key source for that section of the show.
  • For more on the totally not supervillian Starfish Prime, you can check out this article in Discover Magazine.
  • Hawaii Beef also has lots of info on cattle farming on the islands.
  • Finally, the season of the Offshore Podcast on race relations in Hawaii can be found here. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Check out that green sand!

The music used in this episode is as follows:

Thanks to all our patrons who support the show. We really appreciate your continued backing of us. If you want to join them, more information is available at www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast


Bougainville (S5.06)

Audio: Bougainville

In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Bougainville, the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which is part of Papua New Guinea. Located 1,000 kilometers east of the mainland national capital of Port Moresby, Bougainville is the most remote of Papua New Guinea’s 19 provinces. Bougainville is the largest island in the Solomon Islands archipelago, lying around 1500km or 1000 miles off the northeast coast of Australia, in the Solomon Sea. Most of the islands in this archipelago (which are primarily concentrated in the southern and eastern portions of it) are part of the politically independent Solomon Islands. At around 3,500 square miles or just under 9,000 square km, Bougainville is comparable in size to Hawaii’s largest island, Puerto Rico or Cyprus. Residents speak Tok Pisim, a pidgin language spoken widely in this region, in addition to 20 different indigenous languages, depending on where they are from, and the region currently has a population of around 250,000.  Inhabited by humans for at least 29,000 years, Bougainville was first discovered by Europeans in 1616, and was named for the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe. The German Empire annexed present-day Bougainville in 1886, before the islands were occupied in 1914 by Australia during World War 1. Taken by Japan in 1942, the islands were fought over by both sides during the latter years of World War 2, and have retained a secessionist streak since the mid 1960s. However, tensions between different factors remain unresolved to this day, and while officially the island is today an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, many still push for independence, particularly following a bloody 10-year civil war which concluded in 1997. A referendum in 2019 voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence, but the exact implementation of that still remains to be seen.

Flag_of_Bougainville  Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (special marker).svg

Flag of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and map of location within Papua New Guinea

Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Dublin, Ireland, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Galway, Ireland. Our theme music and other stings come from Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella. 

We’ve also just launched a merch store in associated with TeePublic. You can find our store by clicking here, with exclusive discounts at the time of publishing. 


Further information and some of the sources we consulted can be found below:

Some music from Bougainville can be found at the following links, including some excellent examples of ‘bamboo bands’:

Thanks to all our patrons who support the show. We really appreciate your continued backing of us. If you want to join them, more information is available at www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast

This episode, we’d particularly like to thank new patrons, Dana Fox, AC C, Daniella Sponsler, Stepehen M, and some long-standing supporters: Emily Cranfill, Collin Macharyas, Simon Greene, Nathan Hixson, Darren Clarke, Erin Barclay and Mark Wood.

Vanuatu (S4.07)

S04E06 Vanuatu Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about The Republic of Vanuatu, a Pacific island country located in the South Pacific Ocean, around 1,700 kilometres (or 1,000 miles) east of northern Australia and 540 kilometres (340 miles) northeast of New Caledonia.


First inhabited by Melanesian people around 3,000 years ago, parts of the archipelago were settled by British and French colonists in the 1800s, and in 1906 France and the United Kingdom agreed to administer the islands jointly in a unique form of government known as the British-French Condominium. Vanuatu gained its independence in July 1980, and is today home to around 270,000 people.

Only around 65 of the archipelago’s 82 islands are inhabited, and although the country is spread across 12,200 square kilometres (4,700 sq mi) its land surface is very limited to around 4,700 square kilometres or 1,800 sq miles, a similar size to the Falkland Islands or our old friend The Gambia. The indigenous population, called ni-Vanuatu, is overwhelmingly Melanesian, and the main language is a pidgin creole known as Bislama, though English and French are both widely spoken, as are up to 113 indigenous languages. According to The NYT Magazine, “A meaningful national identity has been constructed from a common appreciation of ceremonial pig-tusk bracelets and the taking of kava, a very mild narcotic root that looks like primordial pea soup and tastes like a fine astringent dirt.”

Straddling the seismic strip called the ‘Ring of Fire’, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis have all been relatively commonplace over recent decades, earning Vanuatu the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s most dangerous place when it comes to natural disasters.

This episode, just like all of our recent ones, is supported by our Patreon backers. If you want to help out the show, you can help out by joining us over on www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast to give us whatever you can in terms of financial support and avail of all the lovely awards and extras that entitles you to. If you’re unable to support us financially, you can always leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.


A panorama of Port Vila, capital and largest city of Vanuatu

Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Ireland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella). We’d also like to thank Professor Lamont Lindstrom for his contribution to this episode. You can find more about him here.

Some further reading:

  • Science Magazine has more on the graves of the Lapita peoples, the first settlers of the Western Pacific.
  • The DNA research by David Reich of Harvard Med School on these ancient civilisations can be found here.
  • Early Vanuatu Chief Roi Mata, discussed in this episode, is profiled by Lonely Planet.
  • His domain has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can read more about that at the UNESCO website.
  • Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, the French navigator mentioned in this episode, is profiled by Brittanica here.
  • You can read more about Peter Dillon, the sandalwood trader, at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • The Australian National University has further reading on Erromango, the Martyr’s Isle.
  • There is also further reading from the same source on the British-French Condominium (definitely our favourite form of government).
  • Joe’s stories of planters gambling with the servitude of natives as currency were sourced from this article at The Pacific Historial Review.
  • The Wall Street Journal has an extensive article about the Allied bases that were set up on Vanuatu during World War II.
  • Some excellent photos of the same bases can be found at WW2Wrecks.
  • The obituary of Jimmy Stevens, the Coconut War revolutionary, can be found here.
  • The New International has more information on The Phoenix Foundation and the role they played in the so-called Coconut War.
  • Walter Lini, Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister, is profiled here by Brittanica.
  • Extensive info on the Flag of Vanuatu can be found on Gettysburg Flag Works.
  • The United Nations University report on Vanuatu’s vulnerability to natural disasters can be found here.
  • More info on Vanuatu’s economy can be found at The Commonwealth.
  • You can also find Vanuatu on the Happy Planet Index — it currently ranks #4 in the world.
  • If you’d like to hear more about Bislama, there is a TED Talk on it and other similar languages by Tess Walraven here.
  • The mindblowing video of Land Diving that we all enjoyed can be seen below:

Music that might interest listeners:


Djibouti (S4.03)

S04E03 Djibouti Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Djibouti, a small nation located on the Northeast Coast of the Horn of Africa. Bordered by Eritrea to the North, Ethiopia to the West and Somalia to the south, Djibouti lies on the west side of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, the narrowest point of Gulf of Aden.


Around 30km across the strait lies Yemen. This chokepoint into the Red Sea, which overlooks the approaches to the Suez Canal, has long made Djibouti a desirable location for naval bases. Dominated by two main groups – the Afar and Issa Somali people, Djibouti today is balanced between these two factions, having endured a protracted civil war in the wake of winning its independence from France in 1977. Occupying a total area of around 23,000 km2 (9,000 sq mi), Djibouti is the third smallest country in continental Africa, and today has a population of around 880,000, the vast majority of whom live in the captial city of Djibouti City. Nearly 94% of the population is Muslim while the remaining 6% are Christian, and official languages are French and Arabic. Djibouti today attracts plenty of foreign investment, and aims to become “Africa’s Dubai.”

This episode, just like all of our recent ones, is supported by our Patreon backers. If you want to help out the show, you can help out by joining us over on www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast to give us whatever you can in terms of financial support and avail of all the lovely awards and extras that entitles you to. If you’re unable to support us financially, you can always leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.


Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Ireland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)

Some further reading:

  • Peter Tyson, writing for PBS Nova, attempts to tackle the “Where Is Punt” question here.
  • Brittanica has loads of additional info on Adal and the Adal Sultanate, discussed by Joe in this episode.
  • You can find additional info on the Ifat Sultanate which succeeded it at openedition.org.
  • The New World Encyclopedia has a wonderful, long form post on the Scramble for Africa, which Djibouti was caught up in.
  • For more info on our old friend Ferdinand de Lesseps and his ill-fated other canal project, you can listen to our season one episode on Panama.
  • We also touch on old friend Vasco Da Gama in this episode. The Christmas special minisode referenced is here.
  • The disastrous Cossack invasion of Sagallo in what was then French Somaliland is profiled in an excellent blog by towardsthegreatocean.com, which Luke quotes from in this episode.
  • Bruno Macaes profiles modern Djibouti in a recent article for Politico, entitled “The most valuable military real estate in the world.”
  • The LSE has a long-form article on Somali regiments during WW1.
  • The Guardian also profiles the “forgotten Muslim heroes who fought for Britain in the trenches” in WW1.
  • You can read the New York Time report on Djibouti’s declaration of independence in 1977 in the paper’s archives here.
  • To learn more about the Djiboutian Civil War, which broke out in 1991, see New World Encyclopedia’s lengthy article on the conflict here.
  • The plans to turn modern Djibouti into “Africa’s Dubai” are detailed by The Culture Trip here.
  • The SCMP journalist James Jeffrey details his experiences with the new Chinese-backed railway revitalisation project here.


Pitcairn Island (S4.02)

S04E02 Pitcairn Island Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Pitcairn Island, a tiny volcanic island in the South Pacific, most famous for its mutineer inhabitants, who fled there after the famous Mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.


Pitcairn forms part of a four-island group known as the Pitcairn Islands, but is the only island in the group to be inhabited. Its nearest inhabited neighbours are Easter Island to the East and French Polynesia to the West. Pitcairn is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world, and by far the smallest place we’ve ever talked about in terms of population, boasting only around 50 residents as of 2018, all descended from the 9 Bounty mutineers and the few Tahitians they brought with them to the island. The island itself is rocky, and experiences warm weather year-round thanks to its location just south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Today, Pitcairn is the only remaining British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific. Its economy relies heavily on tourism, as well as the highly-prized honey produced by the bees on the island. While all islanders speak English, their first language is Pitkern, a creole language that has derived from 18-century English dialects and Tahitian.

This episode, just like all of our recent ones, is supported by our Patreon backers. If you want to help out the show, you can help out by joining us over on www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast to give us whatever you can in terms of financial support and avail of all the lovely awards and extras that entitles you to. If you’re unable to support us financially, you can always leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.


Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Ireland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)

Some further reading:


New Caledonia (S3.05)

New Caledonia Audio

In this episode we’ll be talking about the New Caledonia, a French unique collectivity in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, about 900 miles (1,500 km) east of Australia. It includes the island of New Caledonia, where the capital, Nouméa, is located; the Loyalty Islands; the Bélep Islands; and the Isle of Pines as well as a number of far-flung uninhabited islets.

The main island is by far the largest and contains about nine-tenths of the population. It is surrounded by a coral reef, which encloses a large number of lagoons. These lagoons, with their diverse reefs and associated ecosystems, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Sighted and named by Captain James Cook in 1774, it was later colonised by the French and turned into a penal colony.

New Caledonia has a land area of around 18,000 km2 (or 7,000 sq mi), making it just slightly smaller than Israel or the US state of New Jersey. Its population of around 270,000 consists mostly of a mix of Kanak people (the original inhabitants of New Caledonia), other Melanisians and people of European descent.

Your hosts are Luke Kelly in Hong Kong (@thelukejkelly), Joe Byrne in Bern, Switzerland (@anbeirneach), Mark Boyle in Surrey in the UK (@markboyle86) and our guest John Killeen (@johnkilleen90), who visited New Caledonia last year. Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle (@thatthomasfella)

Image result for new caledonia flag

Map of New Caledonia

Here are a few handy links for learning more about New Caledonia;

  • You can learn more about the New Caledonian upcoming independence referendum here on Wikipedia. The referendum is due to take place on November 4th, 2018, although according to a recent report by Radio New Zealand, support for independence is waning.
  • There’s a handy map of Captain Cook’s voyages around the world on Encyclopedia Britannica. He’s a man worth knowing about!
  • Here’s an image of the weird forked flagpole we described in this episode.
  • More info on the delicious-sounding New Caledonian dish Bougna can be found here.
  • The US government film used in this episode is entitled ‘Our Troops in New Caledonia’ and can be found on Archive.org
  • Find more on the ridiculously easy to hunt Kagu bird here.
  • You can view the photos that are described in this episode (courtesy of our friend John Killeen) below. None of John in the bath just yet, unfortunately.

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The music you heard in this episode was from the following sources;

A massive thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon who are supporting season 3. If you’d like to join them and see what rewards are available for supporters, and get a peek behind the curtain check out www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast. We really appreciate every penny!

Alaska (S1.05)

Audio: S1E05 Alaska

This week on 80 Days, we talked about Alaska, the United States of America’s 49th state. The name Alaska comes from the Aluet word Alyeska, meaning great land, and it is a plentiful place in many respects. Rich in natural resources, Alaska has a longer coastline than the other 49 states combined  and is the largest state in the US. It contains over 3 million lakes, as well as Denali, North America’s highest peak. about 500 miles separates Alaska from Washington state, its nearest neighbour within the US, and it has a strong connection with Russia, which used to occupy and control the territory. Exploring Alaska for you are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

Flag of Alaska

Things you might want to read more about:

  • Alaska is the point of mainland America where it is generally considered humans first arrived in waves from Asia, including the ancestors of most indigenous South American peoples (25000-15000 years ago), the ancestors of many native Alaskan people and the Navajo and Apache Native American tribes  (14000-9000 years ago), the ancestors of Aleut and Eskimo people (9000-6000 years ago). This makes the area valuable for archaeologists trying to understand how people came to the Americas. Alaska’s indigenous people (including Tlingit, Athabaskan, Innupiak, Aleut and others) and much of their culture still persists to the present day, although they were, of course, greatly affected by the intervening centuries of colonisation.
  • Potlach – a “competitive altruism” practice among some native communities, such as Athabaskans
  • Music this week is all from aboriginal North American people and can be found here and here
  • Semyon Dezhnynov‘s expedition in the Bering Strait, which may have brought the first Russians to Alaska, although there are mixed opinions about this
  • The first Europeans to arrive in Alaska were the Russians, who – in the course of charting the Pacific coast of Russia – crossed the strait which is now named after Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator who led a voyage across to what is now Alaska. There were violent clashes with native Aleuts and Tlingit people and disease had devastating consequences on the indigenous population. Bering himself was marooned on an island on the way back to Russia and died.
  • Fur-trapping, particularly of sea-otters, became the major economic interest of the Russians in “Russian America” and a monopoly was given to the  Shelikhov-Golikov Company (later, the Russian-American Company), which set up headquarters at Sitka. This early settlement was attacked in the Battle of Sitka by the Kiks.ádi Tlingit clan.
  • Rather than lose their hard-to-defend province to the British in a war, the Tsar decided that the best course of action was to sell Alaska to the USA for $7.2m in 1867
  • We mentioned the instance of a Pope drawing a line on a map, which gave the Spanish a right to colonise some newly-discovered territories and the Portuguese others – this is dealt with in the Wikipedia article on the Treaty of Tordesillas
  • St Herman (the hermit) and St (Bishop) Innocent are two Russian Orthodox saints who were missionaries in the areas
  • The Klondike Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of people north to the parts of Alaska bordering Yukon as gold was discovered in the rivers of this region. Many were ill-prepared and most unsuccessful in staking claims. Con man “Soapy” Smith was an interesting character in this period, depriving treasure seekers of their money through tricks, games and crime, until his eventual death at a famous shootout on Juneau Wharf
  • During World War 2, there was a lot of action in the Aleutian Islands, while US forces attempted to dislodge a Japanese force which had occupied; American propaganda during WW2 was remarkably racial in nature, describing Alaska as a “Death Trap for the Jap

File:Alaska Death Trap.jpg

Panama (S1.03)

Audio: S1E03 Panama

In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Panamaa central American nation most famous its canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Located strategically on the tiny isthmus between Central and South America, control of this valuable trade route has been competed for by multiple powers throughout its fascinating history. The country is dominated by a central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. Today, Panama is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the east, the Caribbean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital, Panama City, is home to nearly half of the country’s 3.9 million people. If you’re unfamiliar with the geography, just imagine the two continents of Central and South America hanging onto one another by a thread – Panama is that thread.

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)

Please leave us a review on iTunes, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter or drop us an email if there’s anything you’d like to say.

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

  • Archaeological findings at various sites are described in the National Geographic article “‘Golden Chief’ Tomb Treasure Yields Clues to Unnamed Civilisation” by James Owen
  • The following video on YouTube shows the Ngobe Balseria traditions, including the sport which involves men throwing sticks at the legs of other men, while dressed in women’s clothing:
  • Some of the early colonists of significance: Rodrigo de Bastidas, who founded the first European settlement on the American mainland;  Vasco Núñez de Balboa,  who crossed the isthmus.
  • The Cimarrons of Sixteenth Century Panama“, an article by Ruth Pike (The Americas, 2007, vol. 64, no. 2, DOI: 10.1353/tam.2007.0161) gives a lot of detail on rebellions by African and African-descended escaped slaves in Panama, inlcuding “el rey negroBayano
  • We mentioned piracy a few times, as in important aspect of trade in the area in the early colonial period. Some well-known pirates who had an impact on Panama were Sir Francis Drake who sacked Nomre de Dios on the Carribean coast of Panama (1572) and the Welsh privateer Captain Henry Morgan who marched across the isthmus and sacked Panama City in 1713. The ruins of the old city are still there and the world remembers Captian Morgan today mostly for the brand of rum named after him!
  • BBC History has an article on “The Darien Venture” by Dr Mike Ibeji, describing the disasterous exploits of the Company of Scotland expedition, planned by William Paterson, bankrupting much of the country in the process
  • Richard Halliburton holds the Guinness World Record (from 1928) for lowest toll paid to pass through the Canal due to his low tonnage
  • The winding history of the Canal construction from the initial Frech attempt by Ferdinand de Lesseps to the intervention of US President Theodore Roosevelt (reknowned for his ‘robust masulinity’) is summarised here (PBS)
  • This article from PBS’s American Experience website desribes the contributions of militarty doctor William Gorgas to fighting yellow fever and malaria in the Isthmus of Panama as part of the canal works (and essential to its completion)
  • Notable political figures in Panama’s 20th century history: frequent president and fascist-sympathiser Arnulfo Ariasde facto leader and Maximim Leader of the Panamanian Revolution Brigadier General Omar Torrijos (if you get to make up your own title, make it a good one)
  • The Stuff You Should Know Podcast has an episode on “How the Panama Canal Works“, which is worth a listen
  • Trans-Americas Journey’s channel on YouTube has an accelerated video of the entire transit through the Canal, while this timelapse video shows a day of traffic through the Miraflores Locks – they are incredible and the only way to get a sense of the scale of the Canal
  • Some of the traditional music used in the episode comes from here.
  • The gruesome  torture and murder of Manuel  Noreiga’s opponent, nationalist Hugo Spadfora, is detailed in In The Time of Tyrants by R. M. Koster and other places – it is exemplary of the brutality of his regime
  • The full playlist played to force dictator Manuel Noreiga out of the Papal Nunicature during Operation Just Cause is detailed in the post-operational report, archived in George Washington University’s National Security Archive; an account of the event on the blog No Fear of the Future
  • Website Fun-With-Words has a history of Panama’s palindromes, in particular: “A Man, a Plan, a Canal – Panama
  • Fiesta” by Alfredito Payne is a cool funky Panamanian song

Nauru (S1.02)

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.