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The Conflict Islands

The Conflict Islands are small archipelago, privately owned by Ian Gowrie-Smith who, according to a 'puff piece' online: 'made his multibillion-dollar fortune developing pharmaceutical and mining companies'.

'Conflict' comes from the name of the ship that first mapped them in 1886 - not from a war. There are 17 islands in the group - most very small. Thus they were uninhabited when Ian acquired them.  But they were regularly visited by native peoples hunting turtles some of whom may have camped there. The ship called at Panasesa Island the third largest in the group, that has the advantage of being flat and low, enabling the construction of an airstrip.

Ian Gowrie-Smith and his partner were onboard with us and he gave several talks about his efforts to save the green turtles, that are threatened by excessive human predation due to population increase in the region.

There is an Adopt a Turtle programme to raise money and young people can volunteer to provide local labour. Ian has set up Panasesa as an 'eco-resort' with about 30 full time staff and volunteers living here. He says although he bought the islands on a whim he visits for several months a year. Yet notably he and his partner stayed on board the Queen Elizabeth and sailed with us, at least to Cairns, where they were trapped on the Skyrail with us.

Ian later explained that the dancers and singers who greeted us are not local - they are hired entertainers shipped in to amuse cruise ship passengers. "Did we like them?" he asked as if checking to see if they were value for money.  I was the wrong person to ask.  By now I was 'over' apparently extemporaneous performances to amuse us tourists.


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Panasesa Island


The small village boasts all mod cons. Running water, thanks to desalination and rain, electricity thanks to solar panels and two large diesels plus a smaller one, servicing the bar at the southern tip. The electricity enables air conditioning; a very big cold room/ refrigerator; and Internet.

The Internet enables the resort to be largely cashless, except to local coupons, and this discourages pirates.

There is also a sewerage system but I didn't discover the details - presumably a large septic tank. The only vehicle I saw was a good sized tractor/front-end-loader but they do have tree felling and sawing equipment considerably larger than a chainsaw.

Ian told us that the tall trees are being grown with the intent of extending the sea-wall, as the highest point on the island is only 18 metres above sea level and cyclones are not uncommon.


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Off-grid living


Also to amuse tourists there is a glass-bottom-boat to look at the coral. It seemed to be packed to the gunnels and some who went on it later expressed disappointment.

Instead Wendy and I went snorkelling, off a pontoon on the outer reef, where the coral is alive and vibrant, with reds and blues, and the fish, some quite large, others colourful, are abundant. No doubt these help to feed the permanent inhabitants.

It's close to what an imagined island paradise might resemble.

Yet considering their isolated situation it brought to mind the late 1960's TV series: 'The Prisoner' in which Patrick McGoohan plays a secret agent, John Drake - Number Six, who is abducted and taken to what seems to be an idyllic village, filmed at Portmeirion in Wales. In the series the town is actually a prison, from which Number Six continuously but unsuccessfully attempts to escape - presaging 'The Truman Show'. 

I decided the permanent residents probably need the turtle work and the visiting ships to remain sane and conflict free - and maybe to escape?

After a pleasant day we returned to the ship.


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Cambodia and Vietnam



 In April 2010 we travelled to the previous French territories of Cambodia and Vietnam: ‘French Indochina’, as they had been called when I started school; until 1954. Since then many things have changed.  But of course, this has been a region of change for tens of thousands of years. Our trip ‘filled in’ areas of the map between our previous trips to India and China and did not disappoint.  There is certainly a sense in which Indochina is a blend of China and India; with differences tangential to both. Both have recovered from recent conflicts of which there is still evidence everywhere, like the smell of gunpowder after fireworks.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The First Man on the Moon





At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) Neil Armstrong became the first man to step down onto the Moon.  I was at work that day but it was lunchtime.  Workplaces did not generally run to television sets and I initially saw it in 'real time' in a shop window in the city.  

Later that evening I would watch a full replay at my parents' home.  They had a 'big' 26" TV - black and white of course.  I had a new job in Sydney having just abandoned Canberra to get married later that year.  My future in-laws, being of a more academic bent, did not have TV that was still regarded by many as mindless.

Given the early failures, and a few deaths, the decision to televise the event in 'real time' to the international public was taking a risk.  But the whole space program was controversial in the US and sceptics needed to be persuaded.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Electric Cars revisited (again)


Electric vehicles like: trams; trains; and electric: cars; vans; and busses; all assist in achieving better air quality in our cities. Yet, to the extent that the energy they consume is derived from our oldest energy source, fire: the potential toxic emissions and greenhouse gasses simply enter the atmosphere somewhere else.

Back in 2005 I calculated that in Australia, due to our burning coal, oil and sometimes rural waste and garbage, to generate electricity, grid-charged all-electric electric cars had a higher carbon footprint than conventional cars.

In 2019, with a lot of water under the bridge; more renewables in the mix; and much improved batteries; I thought it was worth a revisit. I ran the numbers, using more real-world data, including those published by car companies themselves. Yet I got the same result: In Australia, grid-charged all-electric cars produce more greenhouse gasses than many conventional cars for the same distance travelled.

Now, in the wake of COP26, (November 2021), with even more water under the bridge, the promotion of electric cars is back on the political agenda.  Has anything changed?


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