30 March 2010

An earthy account of life in the Cooks

Following is part of a review (in PIM, July 1965) of a book titled Today is Forever by Robert Julian Dashwood (pen name Julian Hillas), an eccentric Englishman who lived in the Cook Islands from the 1930s until his death in 1970.
“Rakau” (the Maori word for wood), as he was known locally, is the only European to have been elected to the Cook Islands Legislative Assembly since self-government in 1965.
Cook Islands Library and Museum has two copies of his book, which is still a popular read after all these years.
This book was originally published in the United States under the title Today is Forever. But the English version, which is understood to have been much edited and abbreviated, is called South Seas Paradise.
South Seas Paradise begins in Sydney in 1930 where the author, with an incompatible wife in tow called Winifred, was on his beams ends, and one of more than 100,000 unemployed.
A silent movie, White Shadows in the South Seas, moved him to sell his last remaining asset, a decrepit car, and buy a steamer ticket to Tahiti. When the steamer sailed, Winifred was left behind and Dashwood decided to “remedy a lack of appreciation shown by the war office some years previously” by adopting the rank of captain. On reaching Rarotonga, he met an old friend, James Carfax-Foster (now of Fiji), whom he had last seen in Constantinople “organising a football game on the floor of a night club and insisting that the White Russian hostess take part.”
Carfax-Foster invited him to visit a plantation he was running at the far end of the island, and Dashwood wound up running the place himself instead of going to Tahiti. His self-adopted captain’s rank helped him to bluff officialdom into permitting him to stay. He subsequently made a living by trapping rats and collecting a bounty from the Administration – delivering the rats whole, and very dead, when officialdom refused to accept only their tails; and by serving in a Rarotonga store.
Then he spent an idyllic year on Rakahanga atoll in the Northern Cooks – a place where today is forever, and tomorrow never comes”, and where he wrote a novel called I know an Island, which is his only other published book.
High on the list is the author’s account of his highly profitable life as a “pox doctor’s clerk” during a visit to Tahiti in the 1930s. Another highlight is a side-splitting account of the visit to Ma’uke (where the author lived), during the war of New Zealand’s vice-regal pair, Lord and Lady Galway.
Throughout the book are many acute observations on Polynesian life as the author sees it and some brilliant pearls of Dashwoodian philosophy, which clearly explain how the author has managed to live where he has all these years and to enjoy every minute of it.

No comments: