Photographs by Susan Prior. Above, Anson Bay, Norfolk Island
I’m a writer, editor, blogger, and sometime BBC radio correspondent, knitter, mother of two adopted daughters, plus, I’m getting a handle on hashtags! And I once did belly dancing gigs along the length of Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne, to earn a crust. I won’t die wondering!
Fortunately, I’m not afraid of penury – which is where this adventure may lead us as we start a new life, far away, cocooned from the mad world ‘out there’, and floating in an endless sea. This is our dream.
We landed here this morning, and now I’m standing on the top of Mount Pitt, mesmerised by the deep cerulean blue of the sky above, and the generous expanse of ocean stretched out below. Scudding clouds chase the long red tails of the diving tropic birds before them; acrobatic pairs of fairy terns twist and bank in perfect harmony, wheeling across the panorama. Instinctively, I take a deep breath in, closing my eyes, savouring the moment.
And then I exhale. A profoundly satisfied sigh passes my lips.
This is it.
Between me and the Antarctic there is nothing but the purest of air. This island is remote, adrift in the ceaseless currents of the oceans that flounder against its shore. Finally. I am here. And for a moment I am all alone with the sea, the sky, the view and my dreams.
This is my time.
I flop down, settling comfortably onto the grassy summit of this tiny island. As I close my eyes, I swear I can feel the world turning, slow and sure, silent and powerful beneath my body. In hushed tones I whisper my secrets, pushing them out into the arms of the wind. There they are embraced by the breezes and swirl like so many chimeras out beyond the horizon. I knowingly set them free, imagining them spinning out of view. After holding them tight and hiding them from view for so long, they are gone. The spirits of all the people I have known seem to travel from all points of the compass to sit and pause quietly with me in this place. And it feels good. Together, they caress my soul and stroke my sighs; it’s like a balm, and my pain lifts.
Norfolk is a jewel. Imagine in your mind’s eye Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia. Then hang a right for about 1700 km and there it is, 5 km by 8 km. A tiny blip that clutches my future close; 35 squares kilometres of a new dawning.
These oceans hold a bounty of fish, mirroring the name of its native inhabitants – the descendants of an exotic mix of Bounty mutineers who found themselves stranded far from the old country on Pitcairn Island, with their captivating Tahitian brides. According to the Norfolk Islanders, in 1856 Queen Victoria generously offered this place to their forbears, the Pitcairners, who had outgrown their island hideaway nearly 6000 kilometres to the south-east of where I now sit. On this island I tread in the footsteps of those who have found themselves here before me. For some, like the long-dead convicts, this island was a hell. For others it has been, and still is, paradise. As I lie here at the top of the island, the wind whispers back to me their secrets.
My existence has been divided neatly into thirds, a triangulation, a finding, a coming home to this small place. A third as a child, a third with my first partner, and a third since then, most of it with my present partner. I’ve travelled so far from where I was born on the other side of the globe, and so far from Australia. No longer do I want the things that have hitherto featured large in my life: the nice house, the pretty furnishings, the constant, and expensive consumption. I’ve made the decision, taken the plunge, and committed.
I sit up and gaze over to where I can see a small ship just to the south of the World Heritage site of Kingston, the first permanent settlement here. In that ship are some boxes, and in those boxes are all the worldly goods that we have left. We’ve moved away from the ceaseless traffic, the constant noise from the railway, and the mind-numbing hack job – with the KPIs, deliverables, and outputs – telling people what I am going to do for 40 per cent of the time; telling people what I have done for 40 per cent of the time, and finally actually telling them for the last 20 per cent. And we have divested ourselves of much by way of material goods. Moving stuff to the island is an expensive exercise.
Perfectly formed and minute in scale, the island has everything I want in my life. A community, a fascinating history. Perfect beaches. Low food miles. Small stories and a smaller existence. In global terms, insignificant, but in human terms, a finer life than we ever believed possible, or were entitled to. We are mindful of our footprint here. When we need water we will have to wait for it to drop from the sky. Our electricity will be produced mainly by our solar panels. Fruit and veg we will either grow ourselves, or we will buy what is in season and available in the shops. The shiny rows of crisp blemish-free apples, the plump out-of-season raspberries have been left behind. But what we will have here is food that tastes better, picked and eaten within, at most, a couple of hours.
My partner and I are from the baby boomer generation, the one that turned on, tuned in and dropped out. Instead we are turning off, tuning out and dropping into a new lifestyle far away. We’re moving to this place, to Norfolk Island, this small rock in the middle of the South Pacific. Walk our journey beside us, from the five-bedroom family home in suburbia, to the cottage, the chooks and the early morning swims in Emily Bay. Learn about a different way of being.
As American author John Burroughs once said, ‘Leap and the net will appear’. Well, we’ve leapt. We have no jobs yet, and we are not wealthy. We are pushing our fate out to the universe, with a willingness to do whatever we need to do to make this work.