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THE PHOENIX GROUP., Auckland Star, Volume LV, Issue 241, 10 October 1924
THE PHOENIX GROUP.
. » 1— ISOLATED PACIFIC ISLANDS. HAUNTS OF THE SEABIRD. A FISHERMAN'S PAIADISE. (By "POPO.") Somewhere about six hundred miles to the nor'-west of the mandated islands of Samoa are the low-lying coral island* of the Phoenix Group, brimful of interest, beauty, and novelty, and unmolested by even the most travelled of Pacific delvers. Seldom visited by ships, and with beaches harbouring multitudes of turtles, these Islands are a realisation of boyhood "Robinson Crusoe" dreams. Seven islands comprise the group, which is held under Crown lease by a wellknown Island identity. Only two of the islands are inhabited, and these only by labourers brought from other islands to work the plantations. The others are just as Nature made them. Gardner is the most southerly island, and as our ship nosed up to the anchorage, she was greeted by swarms of sharks, who, incensed by our intrusion, vented their anger against us by repeated attacks on the ship's hull. They were savage brutes, and the adjacent waters simply teemed with them. Large iron hooks fashioned like marks of interrogation had been prepared, and with junks of salt beef securely tied thereto the fun commenced. Within two hours over two hundred sharks, ranging from four to eight feet in length had been hooked, fins and tails severed, and their remains returned to their brethren of the deep. Other species of fish were abundant, but when hooked there was a headlong "sharky" rush, and away flew the hooked fish together with a fathom or two of perfectly good line. An Exciting Landing. Shooting the reef which surrounds the island was quite a thrilling business, as a heavy swell was running, and our friends the sharks were unpleasantly inquisitive. A giant of a native boy was the helmsman, and with a, sixteenfoot steering oar, stood splendidly poised upon a narrow thwart in the stern of the boat, patiently awaiting the arrival of a breaker which, in his judgment, would safely carry his charges shoreward. The desired moment arrived, and with a shout to his crew, who strained on their oars, in we shot into that seething mass of angry water and foam. The pace was bewildering, and a glance at the steersman showed him silhouetted against the sky, and almost above us. With his muscles straining almost to breaking point, and perspiration streaming down his naked chest in miniature riverlets, he was a picture of perfect manhood. He gradually won control, and we were soon over the dangerous reef edge, ready for the following breaker to send us along to the shore at a reasonable rate of about ten miles an hour. We landed without mishap ' and the sharks were cheated of a possible morning meal. The native boat steerers are little short of marvellous, and their sound judgment during the cruise was the means of our makinsome twenty landings without accident. The island, unlike other coral islands of the Pacific, was heavily wooded by tall and stately trees, the timber of which, when polished, closely resembles mahogany. A dilapidated shack told of a probable castaway. Here and there were small clusters of coconut palms, which showed evidence of the prevalence of the robber crabs, these crabs are about ten inches across their backs, and possess remarkably strong pairs of nippers. They have the habit of climbing the palm with nuts which have been already husked with their claws and nippers. Upon reachina sufficient height the nut is dropped upon a suitably placed stone; this operation is repeated until the hard shell is cracked and the edible coconut meat within exposed. Cleared spaces clothed in white marked the sites of hundreds of nesting binds—Gannets, Bosun birds and numerous varieties of white doves were to be seen in hundreds. Returning to the beach we found that Siesta time for Gardner Island sharks had arrived. It was low water, and with the ebb of the tide the smaller variety of lagoon shark had remained in the deeper terraced channels, which ran in parallel lines along the whole of the reef, and as far as the eye could see were lines of black fins protruding just above the water, resembling for all the world the heads of long lines of cocked-hatted soldiers. Sydney and Hull Islands. A hundred or so miles further north brought us to Hull Island, with Sydney Island some fifty miles due east. Both Islands are partially cultivated and much of their native crudeness has disappeared. However, the turtles still haunted their shores in hundreds, while the adjacent water teemed with fish of all descriptions. Away on the unfrequented side of Sydney Island a very unusual sight was witnessed, huge cats wading waist deep on the reef and catching their morning meal of small fish! It appear that sometime ago rats were proving very troublesome, and were consuming much of the copra, as well as gnawing their way into the young nuts on the tree in quest of the soft cocoanut meat and j the sweet milk within. To cope with the pest the resourceful owner imported several dozen cat-s—an apprentice on one of his sailing ships purchased some hundred and fifty cats in Sydney, through the agency of the newspaper boys. They soon made quick work of the rodents, and in search of further food supplies drifted to the bush where they became quite wild, and grew to a tremendous size. The food supply having been exhausted on land they had turned their efforts to the beach, with apparent success too! Enderbury is a charming spot with its acres of rolling green downs with occasional clusters of palms and white mantles of birds. The island had once been worked for guano, and tumble down houses still stood, and the scarred remains of an old wreck was evidence of the ever hungry and deceptive Pacific shores. The Enderbury labourers suffered from penodical visits from Peruvian pirates who sought slaves from amongst the lonely inhabited islands.- The island wa-s protected by old cannon, which are still there, and during the visits of the unwelcome guests the labourers were rushed off to the battlements built of I large coral slabs. One can almost | picture the old slave ship slowly creeping lup towards the reef, the headlong rush to the battlements, the wild firing of the canndn, the landing of the marauders the attendant fierce hand to hand fighting, the defeat of the meagre shore force, and the triumphant departure of the victors, taking with them the able bodied and leaving the weak and wounded to roil th*. loss of brothw..
The Rabbits of Phoenix Island. A hard landing was successfully accomplished at Phoenix Island. We had had rumours of the prevalence of rabbits here so took guns ashore with w. We were not disappointed. A native boy landed first and ran up the slope of the beach. He came tearing back bursting with excitement. "Master, master, plenty fella all the same youn.r dog-cat stop on top!" Later this same boy remarked that it was little wonder that the "dog-cats" were so fat, as there were so many birds for them to eat. However, the rabbits were certainly there in thousands, and it was really almost an impossibility to shoot less than two at a time when aiming for one. A fortune in rabbit skins awaits the trapper who can devise means of settling there for a month or two. Canton or Mary Island is the most northerly of the group and is within a few hundred miles of the Equator. Here is the anglers' paradise—fish, fish and more fish of all kinds and descriptions awaiting to be booked. We salted and pickled several hundredweight during our stay. We trawled for them, deep-sea fished for them, netted them and even caught twenty pound rock cot with a fathom length of iine, with the launch's nose pushed up on the beach. The colours were wonderful, almost every colour and hue of the rainbow being represented, brilliant red, blue, green, golden pink, brown, silver grey, multi-hued ones, right down to the familiar coloured common mullet, were caught. Old man shark, though prevalent, did not molest us. Our friends the turtles and birds were perhaps a little more numerous than at the other islands. Little mounds of sand were to be seen along all beaches visited, and which upon investigation proved to be the mother turtles' incubators, containing as many as two hundred soft, but tough skinned eggs. These resemble a goose egg in size and shape, and when boiled have an almost indescribable meaty cum fishy taste. Mrs. Turtle lays all her eggs over night, and after covering them with sand, leaves the sun to attend to the rest. When the brood crawls forth a fortnight later, they are about two inches in length and are perfectly formed. They make for the water after a day or two, and the weakest are swallowed, by their parents, who lie in wait for them. It is plainly a case of the survival of the fittest, or perhaps the fastest. The timbers, winch and 'rusted steel mast of a one time stately ship lay on the beach, and the bleached remains of a human skeleton, housed in an old shack a few yards further inshore, told the old tragic story of tbe fate which lies in the wake of the unwary mariner. We buried the remains and mounted a crude cross over the mound. So ended our wonderful cruise amongst those wondrous reef-bound Pacific coral islands of green woods, coooanut palms, bracken covered stretches, all clothed just as nature made them, and marred only by the grim tragedies of those whose ships strayed shoreward.
THE PHOENIX GROUP., Auckland Star, Volume LV, Issue 241, 10 October 1924
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