The text on Melva’s shirt read:
“Pitcairn Island: Land of the Individual, and Other Endangered Species”.
Melva is the tourism coordinator. In a world desperately intrigued by the “last white rhino” and the “end of Arctic Ice”, one of Pitcairn’s draws is its vulnerability.
It’s a double entendre. Pitcairn is a society of Individuals, and it is endangered. Everyone spoke about the need for immigration into Pitcairn, or else it’ll… disappear.
“When I was in school,” said Charlene, who does a harbormaster role, “there were a few dozen kids in the school. Now there are only 4.”
We visited the kids in the school, and even got Michael playing 4-square (a ball game) with them. They were super excited about us being there, and showed us around their school.
The school facilities were fantastic. But kids leave when they are 12 or 13 years old to live in New Zealand for high school, and it is not possible to return even during summer holiday- because the cargo ship schedule, which comes every 3 months, doesn’t coincide with their vacation. So they don’t return.
Without young people, the community is getting older… there hasn’t been a birth on Pitcairn in over six years. Isabel, the youngest girl in the island, had just turned seven the day we arrived.
The teacher is Ms. Liz, who is from New Zealand and has a year contract to teach in Pitcairn. The British government pays the salary, since this is a British Overseas Territory. Everyone on the island is getting paid by the British government to do a job (or two); and in addition, they earn revenue from tourism, either in homestays or with cruise ships which now visit the island.
According to Simon (our tea time host), there are 83 part time jobs available from the government for Pitcairn citizens. There are only 49 residents so most people have multiple part time jobs. Simon is the town magistrate, quarantine officer, and trail clearing guy. Charlene is the harbormaster and also the post office master.
The town is “open for business” on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. That’s when the general store, post office, health clinic, and government offices are officially open. But they open on demand as well- just call them on VHF channel 16!
Pitcairn is a homesteader’s dream. There are trees laden with fruit drooping from every corner; gardens bloom with vegetables in each person’s yard; fish is plentiful; even the food imported from New Zealand is excellent are inexpensive. We were extremely impressed by their general store, stocked every three months by cargo ship.
And there’s more.. There are jobs for everyone (albeit at $10/hr); the health care is excellent and free; the climate is very comfortable; and the ocean is crystal clear.
But… it costs $1500 each way to get to New Zealand or Los Angeles, which at their local wage of $10/hr is a pretty penny. Furthermore, this must coincide with the cargo ship’s schedule. So access is a major obstacle.
Ironically, the same difficult access that creates Pitcairn’s magic in the first place also causes them to lose their kids to the outside world. The next generation isn’t returning like they used to. The difficult access that creates such unique individuals is also constricting their ability to sustain themselves, due to a modern world that demands mobility.
Therefore the Pitcairn citizen, the iconic Individual, is an endangered species, unable to adapt to the new environment of modernity.
We looked with bitter sweetness at the 4 kids playing in the school’s yard. A dark cloud drifts over many of the conversations with Pitcairners, foreshadowing the community’s decline due to the challenges of not keeping the youth around. There is already a nostalgia for the potential demise of Pitcairn… the loss of something pure, free, unique.
Pitcairn may seem like the ultimate simple life. It is a lush abundance of foliage and dreams; without aggravating rules and bureaucracy. Yet the compromise is that you’re stuck here. You get heaven, but you can’t leave (easily).
Lucky for us, when our time is up, our good ship Aldebaran is our gateway to leave Pitcairn. We tasted paradise but we are not stuck; later in the week, we’ll hoist sail and head 3 nights towards the Gambier islands, almost 300 nautical miles away. They are remote in their own right, but now our bar has been set high wiLand of the Individual, and Other Endangered Speciesth Pitcairn Island.