New Caledonia

 

 

Our first foreign holiday was to New Caledonia and what a culture shock that was. We had over the years had a commercial contact with the French and over this time became good friends with many. When one family offered us the use of a holiday cabin they had in their village ‘Oinnie’ which they actually owned. We decided to take advantage of their generous offer. I had been studying their language, and this would be a good chance to get some total immersion. This village although it was on the map, it was new in every respect, and very isolated. It had been created and set up solely for a large mining operation, and site their workshops for the Family’s Society and to extract the mineral from the mountain alongside. This area was extremely rich with the Mineral Nickel. The village was situated at the mouth of a bay on the East Coast. There was no road passage available. Access was by only Aircraft or Barge. As well, there was no telephone. Radio telephone at this time was available, but on the Island very expensive. However it did have a regular radio schedule with their Bureau in Noumea.

 

The landing strip although sealed was worthy of any of New Zealand’s ‘Top Dresser’ strips, and you were required to have the same skills if you were landing an Air Craft, on any bush strip in New Zealand. For a start you could only land in one direction, and that was by flying directly at the side of a mountain. Then you were entering a descending valley while still on your finals. Your flight path then followed a valley while descending and turning all the way down to the ground where the strip was located. To the uninitiated flying only a couple of hundred feet from rock crags on both sides and underneath was a little unsettleing. In this narrow valley you followed it’s contours, and actually turned 180 degrees, until you faced the strip which was jutting out into a lagoon. To take off, you took off towards the sea, as it would be impossible to climb out, to follow your inward path. Landing and take off always took the same route regardless of wind direction

 

he village itself was constructed of attractive prefabricated homes, all imported from New Zealand. All wiring was underground from their own generating system. All of the village was set in a pristine forest. The large trees had all been left in situ. A small school, restaurant, and store completed the residential set up. Street lighting was tucked away out of sight in the trees.

 

Th workers were Metropolitan and Colonial French, and workers from all parts of the French Territories. As well some Kanack’s, the native people and finally ‘Caldouc’, slang for Caledonian Settlers. We ‘Poken’ slang for ‘English spoken’ were treated as a welcome new outside interest. We were passed from family to family for meals and were treated to Moroc, French, Caldouc, Portuguese, Javanese Cuisines. Most in this enclave were unable to speak any English, but my French had progressed to a point where I could now make myself understood but carried a ‘dictionnaire Bilingue’. What they did do, and was annoying was the fact that they devalued us. Anything and everything we touched in the store was to be free. We refused to take anything unless we could pay for it. and too late found that anything we had showed interest in was waiting for us at home where we were having the evening meal. We quickly learned not to touch.

 

On arrival we were all fitted with Japanese shoes to walk on the reef. This was just outside ‘Oinnie Bay’. The Bay too was deep enough to take, and moor, bulk ore tankers to carry off to Japan the mined material. This was taken out to be loaded by lighters and tugs. We were also given some basic skills about their marine life and much of it we found to be deadly. Sea snakes, Stone Fish, Lion Fish, and the Cone Shell to mention a few, all carried the promise of instant death, if you tangled with them.

 

The village had been sited in a virgin forest and the large trees were all left in situ. The family had extensively planted avocado, mango, lychee, orange, lemon, grapefruit, bananas, vanilla bean, paw paw. Many of the salad vegetables that we had been used to back home were still available, but at horrendous prices. Such as $13 for a lettuce, this when, out of season and was flown in with other salad vegetables from Noumea, after being sourced from NZ or Australia.

 

Having someone new in the village meant a new game. We were passed around from Family to Family for our evening meals, which meant new culinary experiences every night. This was served very late at night, when it was cooler. We had considered ourselves daring back home if we used a clove of garlic to rub on the salad bowl. Here it was being used by the handful. And chilli, which we had never encountered before. I just loved these new spices and became a convert for life.

 

The village was situated on the East coast which was sparsely settled, with a few native tribes scatted along the Coast. I found the natives friendly and when ever I came in from fishing they would give me a hand to moor the boat and sort the fish. Initially I thought they were taking advantage of me, as I was only left with a couple of fish out of a dozen. It was explained to me that many of the reef fish in the food chain were infected by a coral toxin. They would throw away ones considered dangerous, and keep the doubtful for them selves. And I was left with what was ‘safe’. What I could never understand was that when the natives spoke to you, they always looked down or away. I like to look people in the eye.

 

I had passed through Noumea during the War, and then it was a small village about the same size as Queenstown with very distinctive architecture. Something had happened, it must have been the fact most of these Islands in the group were very rich with mineral wealth.

 

The families Society started from a very humble beginning. The two principles commenced married life by diving for trocha on a deserted islet of only a couple of hectares. It was also infested by hundreds of poisonous sea snakes, which were still there when we made a visit for a barbecue. They kept undercover, and only made an appearance when arriving or leaving. Trocha years ago was prized because their shell was entirely nacre, but when plastic arrived, plastic buttons destroyed the mother of pearl trade.

 

Many of the youth were eager to learn English and took every opportunity. I was on a quick trip alone and before returning decided to buy Laura a ‘Label’ frock. The girls in the boutique said they would like to conduct the transaction in English. As they put it, ’Our English is better than your French’. I replied, ‘And it always will be if we carry on this way’ ‘What size monsieur?’ I replied, ‘If it fits that mademoiselle, it will fit my wife’. This hussy immediately stripped down to her panties and bra, slipped into the frock and gave me a look that said, I hadn’t won all the battles. I bought the frock and was kissed good bye by all the staff at the door.

 

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