One by one the guests arrive, the guests are coming through

On all my visits to Nauru, I have stayed at the Menem Hotel, one of only two hotels on the island.  The last three times I’ve been in the same room, which is called the presidential suite.  This is due to the fact that it seems to always be the only room that is free, not to any taste for luxury on my part – not that it is excessively luxurious in any case.  However, it is clearly the showcase room, and it contains a guest book with the names of an eclectic array of visitors since its very first guest in August 1993 – the then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating.

The guest book provides a marker, a list of occasional glimpses, as time has moved past, sitting separately alongside the slowly changing situation faced by so many of the ‘visitors’ who have gone through the refugee camps on Nauru over those years, not to mention the changes within Nauru itself, and some different points in my own life over that period.

I always feel a bit naff writing in a guest book, but I usually do it anyway.  A guest book is just a snapshot, and an incomplete one at that.  Who knows how many people didn’t write their names, or the full reasons behind the visits of those that did? But incomplete as it may be, it still provides an insight.

According to the book, the second guest was the Deputy PM and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Papua New Guinea, in March 1994.  Since then, the mix of people passing through has included leaders of many Pacific Island nations such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and Micronesia.  The Commonwealth Secretary General, officials from the International Weightlifting Federation, and the President of the IOC all visited in 1998.

It has also had overnighting air crews, honeymooners and local schoolchildren, most of whom note the panoramic ocean and coastal view, even though ocean views are not in short supply on the island of Nauru.  The book records visiting ambassadors and high commissioners from a wide range of countries – places as far afield as Russia, Japan, France, USA, Taiwan, Israel, India, Taiwan plus Australia and New Zealand.  One wonders what issues lay behind some of their visits.

Some visiting Australians left messages for guests to come.  In the lead up to the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum which was held on Nauru in August 2001, an animal care worker (who came to help with the wild dog population on the island) left a message “to the occupant of this room during the 31st forum” asking them to “make a difference – look at the conditions and see what we Australians can do to help. What we take away – we must repay.”

A worker from CSIRO visiting in 2001 noted the change in the Australian presence since their first visit in 1991, when “Australia was represented politically by an administrator and many Australians lived here, contributing to Nauru’s standing. As Nauru’s phosphate sustained and still sustains Australia’s agriculture, it disappoints me that we treat Nauru with so little recognition today” – he left a post-script that “the South Pacific Forum of Nations is about to be held and our Prime Minister has cancelled his attendance!”

A 2002 visitor was working on an AusAID funded South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring project.  Click on this link to see some of the data from this project to date.

My previous entries sit there in amongst the rest: 19-22 Jan 2004 – “A fabulous view, friendly people. Hoping the asylum seekers will be free soon.”   18 May, 2005 – “Back again. People helpful and friendly. Still seeking freedom for the remaining asylum seekers – more are free, hoping for success for the rest and more prosperity for Nauru.”  And now in 2007, another one, noting that all the refugees from the past were finally free … and now the cycle has started over again.

Since 2001, 1640 asylum seekers have been involuntary visitors on Nauru. This includes the 90 who are currently there, and also one child born there to a refugee family in 2002 (who I have been told was noted in one place on the relevant DIMIA file as ‘alleged to have been born in Nauru’, as though she might have been teleported in as a way to help manipulate sympathy for the family’s refugee claim.)   None of them knew when they arrived where they might be going, or when.  Some were cast all the way back to where they fled from, some to flee again.  Many ended up in New Zealand, most in Australia, a few in North America or Europe.

BTW: if you’d like to see the Guest Book (and see and hear me telling you all of the above) follow this YouTube link.

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  1. Keating has a large signature,but,Senator control your use of the word nice…otherwise you will sound like staff at the Lismore ABC who cant help themselves.I sure you do not regularly use it,but,I suppose being from Queensland like you are the word is prevalent! Sorry it is a cluster bomb of a word with me and well seeing that in third grade at a school in the town of Boort,Vic… rule one by the teacher was… the word has no meaning,but it certainly is efficient.I think I remember that bit of teaching because I only heard it irregularly,more so with one of my sisters not being so.So Dilemma,not nice has meaning still for me,whereas,nice doesnt.Good video free of political preening for the camera.Howard uses it and well I am glad I only use it in a pinch.Nice man Mr. Howard ,dont you think!? Answer, um ,yes,absolutely,well I was just saying the other day to myself!? Punctuation needs correction,and what I may have needed to relate was…. video is a good medium for you… try it more often please.And Lynn looks and sounds good without the formal attire,treat the camera with less respect.

  2. Don’t know about Andrew but I know it is a Leonard Cohen song, and a great one at that.

    Is Kate Durham’s name in that book?

  3. Totally irrelevant to the poignancy of your repeated visits, with such slooow DIMIA responses (“alleged to have been born in Nauru” indeed – P Hanson is alive & well & working in CBR), but I must compliment you, Andrew, on the sense of drama in your photography. Best photo I’ve seen of you yet! No kid.

    As an aside, I aircrew overnighted at the Menem back in the mid 80’s – no guest book then – but still recall with pleasure drifting off to the deepest sleep ever, under the ceiling fan, to the sound of the surf breaking.

    So, refreshed, next day, instead of joining ‘the team’ for a game of cricket with the (white) locals, I caught the bus to the SE corner (to see the trained cormorants, after one Japanese traditional fish catching technique) then, because the island is so small, struck out across the top, to see the area which was then being mooted as a mid Pacific Concord(e) transit airfield.

    I nearly died (seriously) from dehydration. 4 degrees Sth of the equator, with no fluids, and no breeze due to the way the coastal flats arc suddenly up to the elevated and once flat central plateau. I still feel guilty, knowing now how every pebble on the island is clearly marked as belonging to one of the twelve ‘tribes’/’social groups?, because I came across a lone paw paw tree with a lone ripe paw paw on it, that I suspect it may have nearly saved my life. I will never forget it’s taste. Magnificent. This lonely tree was deep in the middle of the wasteland that is the burnt, blasted, weird exposed coral reef minus all life that is the centre of Nauru, after the guano has been removed, almost down to the last crumb.

    Guess where ‘they’ dictated the refugee centre be built? Yep. Up there, in that tropical oven.

    They (the section of the late named DIMIA) that deals (dealt?) with the refugees had (have?) a terribly finely tuned appreciation of how to make other people’s lives a living hell.

    This is Andrew’s blog, so I shall cease & desist being more pointed. Thanks AB.

  4. very kind of you Megan – I imagine if I covered up the other half of my face the photo would look even better!

    and feel free to undesist Jen – you can write what you think, as long as it keeps to the comments policy (which you have)

    I don’t recall Kate’s name in the book Marilyn – I think I would have noticed it.

    and David – yes it is a Leonard song. I’ve got them all in one recording or another. It’s called The Guests – I thought some of its lyrics were quite apt (although perhaps not all of them) – particularly the reference to the open-hearted/broken-hearted and the notion that no one knows what the future holds/where the night is going.

  5. After reading these comments, I looked at the photograph of a little over half a face – the rest hidden behind a book.

    In the eyes … whoops, eye …. I see anger/suspicion/distrust – something like that anyway.

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