National Geographic : 1942 Jul
War Awakened New Caledonia their homes, others to the cafes of the Place des Cocotiers. Cafes close at 10 p. m., and lately there had been a partial nightly blackout, with the result that the streets of Noumea were deserted in the evening. Except for private parties, the only way to have an evening out was to go to one of the three movie theaters. New Caledonia used to be the graveyard of French films. When they arrived they were sometimes four years old. Since the fall of France, except for some Australian newsreels there had been no new film arrivals. The same features were played over and over again. One man told me he had attended one French screen play more than a dozen times. Even though the films were aged and often flickery, the public continued to attend. The theaters are a combination of film show, social gathering, and night club. The performances start officially at nine o'clock, and there are two intermissions of half an hour each. During intermission, in the courtyards which adjoin the theaters, the young bucks, proud of the khaki uniforms which show they are members of the Volunteer Corps, ex change smiles and persiflage with the femi nine set. A loud-speaker blares catchy if not too recent tunes. Many couples dance dur ing the intermissions and sometimes even after the show, which lasts until 1 a. m. The first time I went to New Caledonia the trip consumed nearly five weeks. Cross ing by boat from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, required three weeks. At Sydney I had to wait several days before catching a small boat which took a week more to reach Noumea. "Caledoniens" Discover America America was then little known to many "Caledoniens" (the white inhabitants). They thought of America as a country of million aires, movie stars, gangsters, and highly paid workers, most of whom lived in skyscrapers. About two years ago, Pan American Air ways, locally known as "La Panair," started to build an air base for the service from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand, via Honolulu, Canton Island,* and Noumea. The first passenger flight took place in September, 1940, and the trip was completed in four days. The personnel at the air base consisted of about a dozen young Americans who, because of their jolly and democratic ways, were ex tremely popular. Friendship and romance * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Crusoes of Canton Island," by Irvine C. Gardner, June, 1938, and "Eclipse Adventures on a Desert Isle," by Capt. J. F. Hellweg, September, 1937. flourish here under the Southern Cross. The ideas of the New Caledonians on the subject of America and the Americans have undergone a great change. Five international marriages have taken place in a year. One of the happy couples invited me to their ceremony, which was held in the afternoon at the Cathedral and was a big event. The Noumean family of the bride attended in full evening dress. After the cere mony the American friends of the bridegroom threw the traditional rice and tied old shoes and tin cans to the bridal car. The older generation of New Caledonians seemed horrified by this noisy custom, but the younger ones were highly amused. Very likely they will adopt it themselves. At the party given by the bride's family that evening at the Grand Hotel du Pacifique, what was probably the last case of French champagne on the island was consumed. Climate, Though Tropical, Is Pleasant Americans making their first visit to New Caledonia are not finding it at all the standard South Sea island of the movies. In the first place, it is larger than most Pacific isles, since it averages about 250 miles long and 30 miles wide. Of the 53,000 inhabitants, one-third are white, and about one thousand are Japanese. The islanders, predominantly Melanesian with Polynesian admixture, care not at all for work as paid laborers, and most of the manual labor in the mines is done by imported Javanese and Indo-Chinese. New Caledonia is that rare tropic land where white people thrive. The climate from May to December is cool and generally dry-as pleasant as Florida in winter. Even in the cyclone season, from December to April, the average temperature is only 72 degrees Fahren heit. For the rest of the year the average is about 65 degrees. On the more rainy eastern, or windward, side, dense forests clothe many of the valleys. Tree ferns sometimes reach a height of 60 feet. Coconut palms fringe the beaches on both coasts, and the low western shore is bordered with mangrove swamps. Geology has had a spectacular hand in determining the island's vegetation. Some what less than two-thirds of New Caledonia's surface consists of crystalline serpentine rock, which contains the rich deposits of nickel, chromite, cobalt, and iron. These heavily mineralized regions grow only hardy native plants, mostly scrubby shrubs. In the more fertile parts of the island, coffee, copra, manioc, and corn are grown.