An Island to Oneself
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Thomas Francis "Tom" Neale (November 6, 1902 - November 27, 1977) was a New Zealander bushcraft and survival enthusiast who spent much of his life in the Cook Islands and 16 years in three sessions living alone on the island of Anchorage in the Suwarrow atoll, which was the basis of this autobiography.
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palms which bent like a canopy over my head. Sometimes I would light a small fire to cook the cats' supper, and later Mr. Tom-Tom or Mrs. Thievery would jump up on my lap and purr contentedly. On some evenings the air would be so still I could hear my own breath; at others, my little world would be filled with the screams and sounds of birds wheeling above me, mostly the terns (which I watched patiently, for I knew they would soon start to lay) and frigate birds, which nested on the islets in
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.
trouble. I realised now the root cause of all this trouble. Every evening after a dispirited supper, the craving for a smoke became terrible. I had learned to do without meat but somehow no cigarettes drained away all my energy and resolve. I became very thin. And then a miracle occurred. I was sitting in my office reading Conrad's The Nigger of the Narcissus when Mrs. Thievery jumped up on the table, half missed her footing, and in one wild scramble, knocked over a pile of books and magazines
now midday, and a fierce and uncompromising sun made me painfully aware I must reach the shelter of my shack as quickly as I could. After a brief rest, I managed to regain my crab-crawl position, and started to make my way up the coral path towards the front porch. Only a confused recollection remains of the ensuing moments of that journey. I presume my slow and agonising progress must have been stretched over a very long time, but I know that at last I managed to roll into my bed, taking with
then re-thatched the roof and walls with pandanus which, if well done, will outlast coconut thatching by many years. I laid in a big stock of firewood and built a rough but serviceable cook-house just behind the shack. The only drawback was the complete lack of water which I needed for my evening cup of tea on the beach. The trouble was, I had nothing to serve as a receptacle in which I could store the rain, and though I toyed with the idea of scouring out an old oil drum and taking it over, I