Book Review: Big Pacific, by Rebecca Tansley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_big_pacificThe Pacific Ocean contains half the world’s water and covers a third of the world’s surface. This alone makes it one of the most fascinating places on our planet. Add to that a diversity of lifeforms, landscapes and peoples, and you have the formula for a great book.

Big Pacific has been produced to accompany the Natural History New Zealand four-part series to screen on Prime Television. The images used come from the documentary but there is an added bonus. Interspersed between the stories of plant and animal life, are little vignettes about the actual making of the documentary. These added an in-depth look at the difficulties and joys of shooting a series over an extended period. It gives the human stories behind the images. I loved this Kiwi down-to-earth touch.

The chapters are creatively designed to avoid the usual land, sea and people classification. Here we have a chapter on population growth, one on hunger, a section about secrets and finally one about mayhem, which defies the title of Pacific (peaceful). Such a creative way to organise material means that you can pick up the book and dip in to any part. The images are superb and the text is enough to inform and engage, but not to bore. Each section includes a map showing where in the Pacific this creature or life form is located.

An introduction gives a little background to the discovery and naming of the Pacific, but the main focus is on the diversity of this ocean. The start includes maps of the Pacific that makes for easy reference when reading. Along with the expected inhabitants, such as sharks, seals, whales, Tuatara, Iguana and turtles, you will also meet Wolf Eels, Jellyfish, Red sea urchin, squid and palolo worms. The final section includes some geology and archaeology associated with this vast area.

This book tackles a huge and diverse area of our world. While it cannot cover every aspect of the Pacific, I think it makes a wonderful introduction. I can see this book on the coffee tables of countless burees around the Pacific Islands. It will inform the travelers from the Northern climes, about our large slice of paradise. For New Zealand readers, it will encourage you to search a little harder for your Pacific island getaway. While a gentle beach is appealing, a trip to view some of these amazing creatures would be a special holiday.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Big Pacific
by Rebecca Tansley
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539634

Book Review: The Stolen Island – Searching for ‘Ata, by Scott Hamilton

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_stolen_island.jpgThe Stolen Island – Searching for ‘Ata, relates the untold story of a tiny Polynesian island near Tonga, whose history seems to have been forgotten, largely due to the booming slave trade in the 1800s that resulted in a tragic incident for the island’s inhabitants.

In 1863, an Australian-born whaler, who decided that the slave trade was more profitable then whaling, lured 144 ‘Atan men, woman and children onto his boat under false pretenses, only to sell them as slaves. No one knows exactly what happened to these people after they had been sold, but it is certain that they never made it back to their island home, ‘Ata. The Stolen Island relates how the author, Scott Hamilton, came across these stories of the now-deserted island and his journey in finding evidence to support the legends handed down through generations of story-telling among families and tribes.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the book but it surprised me. We don’t have to go back too far in history to see slavery being practised all over the world, and yet somehow realising the extent of it in New Zealand and the Pacific which the The Stolen Island pointed out, shocked me. The story of the natives of ‘Ata being captured would have been saddening enough, but that, along with the other accounts of kidnappings and exploitation that Scott Hamilton outlines in his findings, made it all the more appalling. Many were tricked into signing contracts that gave them little or no remuneration for years of servitude and labour. Others were forced into hard labour, some even left to die on abandoned ships, and almost all had very little hope to ever making it back home.

While what happened on ‘Ata in 1863 is the main focus of the book there are many more interesting points relating to ‘Ata or slavery that the author notes and discusses which makes The Stolen Island that much more intriguing and well-rounded. The way he progressively relates his experiences made me feel like I was right there too, seeking out whatever information was linked to this mysterious island, and feeling a mix of eagerness, desperation, at times disappointment but also satisfaction.

Scott Hamilton did a commendable job of tackling this topic; clearly it was something that intrigued him and piecing the puzzle together satisfied much of his own curiosity about the island, but to put his journey and findings into a book means that people are able to know a bit more about the history of slavery in New Zealand and the Pacific, but also the history of a little uninhabited island between Tonga and New Zealand, ‘Ata.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Stolen Island – Searching for ‘Ata
by Scott Hamilton
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780947518110