Palmerston Island lies 270 miles north west of Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Islands. I visited the island’s only school in 2004 in my capacity as Distance Education Manager with the Ministry of Education. It was called Lucky School, and the children were very lucky to have Yvonne Marsters, as their teacher. I was accompanied on this trip by my grandson Liam, my cousin Eddie Marsters, as well as, Brent Fisher, his son Daniel and his niece, Rachelle Harvey. This trip provided me with the inspiration to complete my books on the history of our family.
PALMERSTON VISIT – SEPTEMBER 2004.
We travelled to the island on a boat that was normally used for science expeditions, the Bounty Bay. It was quite comfortable, and I must admit, that never having been on any long ocean trip before (apart from out in the Hauraki Gulf to visit Eddie and Pam on Waiheke Island) I viewed the trip with some trepidation. But the weather was great, the company was happy and healthy (noone got seasick), the cook gave us beautiful meals (Thai curries and lovely desserts). It was a real home away from home, except for miles of ocean all around.
We arrived in beautiful weather after two and a half days of travel on the ‘Bounty Bay’. As well as working at the school, I was able to meet several members of the Marsters family who live permanently on the island.
On the weekend, Brent and Eddie decided we should take the children to Bird Islet, the habitat of the bosun bird – an island delicacy. After arriving on the islet, the guys decided to go fishing so that Rachelle, Jane and I were able to have some quality R&R time.
Brent and Eddie caught a shark in their net which caused a bit of excitement for the youngsters. Sharks are apparently quite numerous in the lagoon but not considered dangerous—not that I wanted to test their theory. Mealtimes on the island always include fish (and rice) but the different varieties and ways of preparation made up for the regular fare.
We stayed overnight and tried to sleep while landcrabs crawled around our campsite. Liam at one stage, decided to sleep in hammock in the trees, but found it was more comfortable to be in the middle of Rachelle, Daniel and me on the ground with the crabs. During the day while the older guys were getting ready for their fishing expedition, Jane, Rachelle and I spent much of our time just relaxing, and keeping an eye on the boys who were out on the dinghy, exercising some of their “Pirates of the Caribbean” moves relating to changing seats on the boat – and not too successfully. But it certainly gave us a laugh from the shore.
The next day we visited the beautiful North Islet where the families have set up kikau huts to cook in and to live in, as a holiday retreat when they get sick of being on the main island. The water was just beautiful. On our way to the island Brent gathered paua off the rocky ledges in the middle of the lagoon. We had lunch under the shelters that have been built for when family visit for a change of scenery. North Islet has to be one of the most beautiful islets anywhere in the world.
The highlight of visiting Palmerston Island for me apart from finally getting to see the island that my mother talked about with such nostalgia, was visiting the gravesite of my grandmother who died when my mother was 12 days old. Here-Jane Brell-Marsters originally came from Manihiki. Her father, French-Tahitian Louis Brell, had constructed concrete water tanks on the northern group islands in the early 1900s and one of his structures remains between the Tin House and the church.
The morning sky on the day our departure was brilliant red which indicated that we might experience a rough return to Rarotonga, and we did. It wasn’t the most comfortable trip I have ever been on but we made it back safely. I credit myself for being Florence Nightingale to those who suffered from seasickness on the way home.
The visit to Palmerston was the trip of a lifetime and gave me a valuable insight into the stories that my mother told me of her early years when she was brought up on the island by her grandparents, William II & Marama Marsters. It was a really memorable experience.
Maureen Marama Hilyard