An Island to Oneself by Tom Neale
The story of six years on a desert island
This is the story of six years which I spent alone, in two spells on an uninhabited coral atoll half a mile long and three hundred yards wide in the South Pacific. It was two hundred miles from the nearest inhabited island, and I first arrived there on October 7, 1952 and remained alone (with only two yachts calling) until June 24, 1954, when I was taken off ill after a dramatic rescue.
I was unable to return to the atoll until April 23, 1960 and this time I remained alone until December 27, 1963.
Tom Neale Tahiti and Rarotonga, 1964-1965
PART ONE – The Years of Waiting
Chapter 1: Wanderlust in the Sun
I was fifty when I went to live alone on Suvarov, after thirty years of roaming the Pacific, and in this story I will try to describe my feelings, try to put into words what was, for me, the most remarkable and worthwhile experience of my whole life.
I chose to live in the Pacific islands because life there moves at the sort of pace which you feel God must have had in mind originally when He made the sun to keep us warm and provided the fruits of the earth for the taking; but though I came to know most of the islands, for the life of me I sometimes wonder what it was in my blood that had brought me to live among them. There was no history of wanderlust in my family that I knew of-other than the enterprise which had brought my father, who was born in Wellington, though while I was still a baby we moved to Greymouth in New Zealand’s South Island, where my father was appointed paymaster to the state coal mines. Here we remained until I was about seven, when the family-I had two brothers and three sisters-moved to Timaru on the opposite side of South Island.
It was a change for the better. My maternal grandmother owned twenty acres of land only five miles out of Timaru and here we settled down,
my father commuting to his new office either by bicycle, trap or on horseback, while I went to the local school where (with all due modesty) I was good enough in reading, geography and arithmetic to merit a rapid move from Standard One to Standard Three.
Looking back, I imagine the real clue to my future aspirations lay in the fact that it always seemed absolutely natural that I should go to sea. I cannot remember ever contemplating any other way of life and there was no opposition from my parents when I announced I would like to join the New Zealand Navy. My real ambition was to become a skilled navigator, but when my father took me to Auckland Naval Base to sign on, I was dismayed to discover that already I was too old at eighteen and a half to be apprenticed as a seaman. It was a bitter disappointment, but I had set my heart on a seafaring career and did the next best thing. Signing on as an apprentice engineer meant starting right at the bottom-and I mean at the bottom-as a stoker, although I didn’t mind because the job, however menial, would give me a chance to see something of the Pacific.
I spent four years in the New Zealand Navy before buying myself out, and I only left because of a nagging desire to see more of the world than the brief glimpses we obtained beyond the confining, narrow streets of the ports where we docked. And our visits were dictated by naval necessity-simple things like routine patrols or defective boilers-so that I saw Papeete but never Tahiti; Apia but never Samoa; Nukualofa but never Tonga.