An Island to Oneself
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Thomas Francis "Tom" Neale (November 6, 1902 - November 27, 1977) was a New Zealander bushcraft and survival enthusiast who spent much of his life in the Cook Islands and 16 years in three sessions living alone on the island of Anchorage in the Suwarrow atoll, which was the basis of this autobiography.
been growing towards the idea for thirty years." Then suddenly he added, half teasingly, "Don't go getting the wrong idea, though, and thinking I'm a hermit. Do I look like one?" He leaned forward. "I like people — I honestly do. I'm not just evading responsibilities. I suppose really — honestly — I don't quite know why I did come here in the first place." We sat talking far into the night. The moon came up, silhouetting the Manua Tele framed in palms, reminding me of a scene in Treasure Island
having none I constructed a lure of white feathers backed up with a strip of red material from an old pareu. Quite often I would hook a trevally with the first cast from my big rod and as a great treat I would use a little dripping and have a couple of well-fried fillets for supper, though more often — especially if I caught a bigger one with coarser flesh — I would steam the head, stirring some coconut cream into the water. If cooked properly, it made a really good fish soup. Every fish in the
luck, and it was quite a while before I had the chance to taste one because they simply vanished. At first I couldn't understand it. A young shoot had only to appear above ground in the evening to be mysteriously gone next morning. Night after night I kept a close and suspicious watch on the hens. But it wasn't in character; they were too frightened, and certainly too dim-witted to have forced a way through the fence. I wondered about the coconut crabs, but there were hardly any on the island by
strong arm under my shoulders, "it'll hurt once — but only once." It hurt like hell, but now it hardly seemed to matter. I gritted my teeth and in one movement he had me sitting up. As he had said, once it was over, it was over. "It's made you sweat," he said gently. "Here, let me help you." He vanished into the kai room, came back with a teacloth and began to wipe the sweat off my back and shoulders. "I'll be all right in a minute," I said. I could hear his companion calling from the
alone, and on that first day I took a spear and my machete — a French one I had bought in Tahiti, more slender and pointed than those of the Cook Islands — and went along the reef, spearing the plentiful fish I discovered in the reef pools and so lazy that one could hardly miss them. In the evening, I had supper with the coast-watchers and looked over their shack with the secret, questing eyes of a man wondering if one day he would inherit it. It seemed ideal. The tanks were full of good water,