me in independent pitcairn story

I’m sure all my millions of British readers will be happy to learn I was quoted in The Independent (UK) newspaper last week.
The story’s about one of the few topics I can claim any degree of expertise on, Pitcairn Island. Depending on your definition, it’s the most remote inhabited place on earth, a mile-wide speck of volcanic rock in the South Pacific, many miles from anywhere else. Its inhabitants are not natives in the traditional sense; they’re the descendents of Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers on the HMS Bounty, who crash landed onto Pitcairn in 1790 after famously shipping off the tyrannical Captain Bligh. The mutiny on the Bounty has, of course, become a famous tale in Western culture; Fletcher’s been portrayed in movie versions of the story by Mel Gibson, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, and Errol Flynn.
About 40 Pitcairners live alone on the rock their forefathers settled. There’s no airstrip, no harbor, no regular transportation to the rest of the world. They rely on the generosity of passing freighters and yachtsmen to get supplies or people in and out. It’s a thoroughly bizarre place, impossible to get to and impossible to understand once you do.
I managed to go there in 1999, for a week. I wrote a bunch of stories about it (the main story: part one and part two). Since only a handful of writers have been allowed onto the island in the last few decades, I occasionally get calls from other reporters working on Pitcairn stories.
Lately, the stories haven’t been very positive. As Kathy Marks writes in The Independent, there’s a huge, awful, nasty, disgusting child abuse scandal there. The island might be empty in another year or two, since a significant portion of the island’s male population stands accused of sex crimes. It’s a sad, sad story.

7 thoughts on “me in independent pitcairn story”

  1. i agree with erica! i read your stories plus all of the links. while i had heard of “mutiny on the bounty”, i didn’t know the story and wasn’t familiar with pitcairn island. how did you get to go there? did the blade pay for it? where else have you been?

  2. Thanks for the compliment. And thanks for reading all the way through my stories — I think you’re the first person not a member of my family to make it all the way through. (When they ran in The Blade, they took up six full newspaper pages.)
    The Blade is a family-owned newspaper, which means, among other benefits, that if a member of the family is interested in a story, it gets attention. The publisher of the paper was a history buff who had long been interested in the story of the Bounty. I was working late one night (I was the night police reporter then) when John Block, the publisher, asked the managing editor to have a reporter write a story for the following Sunday on Pitcairn — nothing too fancy, just a few phone calls, a “look at this weird place out in the middle of nowhere” kind of story.
    I luckily got assigned the story and started digging a little. I found out (a) that it actually isn’t impossible to get there — it’s pretty close, but not impossible, and (b) that the island was in its death throes and might be abandoned at any moment. Then I asked John to send me there to do a story. Despite a big price tag and my inexperience (I was 22 at the time), he said yes.
    It took me 18 months to get there. I needed to find people to go with me to make the cost acceptable (I had to charter a yacht to get there!), and I ended up staying up late one night to find the email address of everyone on the Internet who had ever expressed an interest in Pitcairn. I (essentially) spammed them all, asking them to please please please come with me. One Swiss guy said he would, and the trip was on.
    As for where else I’ve been: as a journalist, there was a brief period of time when I was at The Blade when my official job description was “projects reporter/foreign correspondent,” so I got to go to a few places, most notably to Northern Ireland to cover the Mitchell peace talks and to Berlin to write about the 10th anniversary of the wall coming down. And I went to Japan a couple of months ago for a story. Aside from journalism, my biggest trips have been two trips to central China, one in 1998 and one last August.

  3. One other thing to anyone reading my Pitcairn stories — the copy editors wrecked one element, the subheads scattered throughout the main piece. They’re always about a paragraph or two later than they should be, which makes a few of the transitions seem ludicrous. My apologies. In a gynormous show of ego, I’m working on a way to host all my previous stories on this site, so hopefully this problem’ll be solved soon.

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