Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Elders Take the Grand Tour


The Elders started their journey out of Victoria Harbor aboard this ship.

The SS
Charles Ames and New Ireland were handed over to
the islanders as part of the 1992 Independence package.
Both ships were used to ferry Russian higher-up bureaucrats
and cargo to the island in the 1960s and '70s.
These now-restored vessels connect Fremantle Australia with
New Island's ports of Victoria Harbor and Putney.

New Islanders had no idea of how the world worked in 1992. They received very little news of outside events such as the world wars, or that there was a much bigger world out there with its huge cities, mass-market cultures, religions, space travel and the Internet. The Russians helped modernize New Island with dams, roads, railways, architecture and medical care, but restricted newspapers and radios and never introduced television!

The island's Elders knew there was definitely something out there. Their information came in mostly via short-wave radio and from a few old friends and contacts in Australia, who never forgot the island during its "off the map" years.

So they knew they had to take a tour.

In November 1992, a group of 9 Elders toured 30 countries in North America and Europe, with a stop in Japan on the way home. They took the steamer Charles Ames to Fremantle where their Australian friends met them and gave them a quick tutorial on international travel, then helped them reserve tickets and car-rental reservations. (Only one of the group, Clyde MacEvoy, could drive!)

They then flew to Melbourne, then on to Los Angeles, and stopped in Chicago, rented a van and drove out into the suburbs. There was no real plan, it just seemed the thing to do. After aimless driving and stopping for fast food, they stayed at a Ramada in Barrington, rented two rooms and watched TV most of the night, while getting a bit high from what they found in the mini-bar.

They traveled more as anonymous tourists than delegates from an emerging nation, and really didn't want to advertise their presence. They saw no heads-of-state, but they did wander into randomly-chosen corporate headquarters buildings in the area, attracted by the opulence. When challenged by security, they explained they were on a fact-finding tour from New Island, and after some rude questions in small rooms, they were brusquely escorted off the grounds...

By luck they found their way back to O'hare airport and the van rental agency in time to catch their plane to Ireland, then London. They enjoyed London more than Chicago, and from there (London) they took trains across Europe to St. Petersburg and Kiev, then a long flight to Tokyo, then more train rides to Osaka, and all the way to Kagoshima. Then from Japan they flew on to Melbourne and finally to Perth-Fremantel, and the boat back home.

They were exhausted, but they learned a lot of what they did not want to see on New Island.