National Geographic : 1964 Jan
Twirling his partner, a youth dances at a resettlement celebration, where country rhythms alternate with the twist. Garb re flects influence of the stay in England. and in the old days more than one island girl prayed for a ship to founder "so's Johnny and me can build our house." A house has always been a prerequisite of marriage among the Islanders, and as I watched strong backs and sure hands raise one such structure, I felt that -despite the transistor radios and the twist and the nylons brought back from exile-the old ways would survive after all (opposite). Road Vital to Island's Future The morning after Easter, I joined Peter Day, agricultural adviser Jerry Stableford, and Dick Swain on a two-mile hike to Big Beach. Our route traversed the tongue of hardened lava-some 30 million cubic yards of it-that had swallowed both the lobster plant and Tristan's finest landing site. One look told the three men that Big Beach had welcomed its last boat. The November sup ply shipment would have to land elsewhere. Peter Day decided that the first major proj ect would be to build a road across the lava to a newly chosen alternate landing site on Small Beach. Work soon began. In rotating gangs of 12, the men trooped out daily to shift huge boulders (pages 72-3). Then they crushed the lava into cinders to form a relatively smooth track. The community tractor might have to haul more than 300 tons of essential supplies across this road in November if it should be impossible to land the cargo at Garden Gate Beach. "If we can't get the cargo ashore," said Peter Day, "the island may well have to be evacuated-permanently." So every man laid to with a will. At the same time, the administrator had determined to convert Tristan's late disas ter to at least one good end. The ridge of lava jutting into the sea acted as a natural break water. If a channel could be cut through the rocky beach to a large inland pool created by the eruption, Tristan would gain a tiny but usable harbor. In time, employing it as a base, the Islanders could set forth in their own dories to join the lucrative hunt for the spiny lobsters that swarm in surrounding waters. So the men went to work there too-again determined to get the job done. Ship Visit Sets Stage for Heroism One morning I took my cameras and trudged up the lava ridge to the edge of the smoking volcano. The stone there was hot to the touch, and the stench of sulphur pervasive. As I maneuvered to photograph the vol cano with the village and sea in the back ground, I spotted a ship to the northeast. Half sprinting, half sliding, I rushed down to the Settlement with the news. The vessel soon steamed into view of the village. She proved to be the research ship RSA en route from the Republic of South Af rica to Gough Island, 230 miles to the south east. Winds of near-gale force still whipped the sea, and RSA approached warily. Stand ing with Peter Day near the island's radio shack, still not restored to use, I jumped with alarm as a voice, amplified by a bullhorn, boomed across the water: "If you can hear me, go and stand by the radio antenna." The wives and children of the administra tive group ran to the mast and stood at at tention. Then the voice blared: "We have mail for you. If you can send a boat out to the ship, walk around the antenna." The arrival of mail always sparks a holiday mood. Laughing and joining hands, the wom en and children skipped around the antenna as if it were a Maypole.