AS Sir Arthur Grimble, our illustrious predecessor, when Resident Commissioner
in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, wrote in his Notes for District Officers, "The
principal job of the DO is the collection of taxes".
Well, yes! Not really my scene but indisputably important. It was the sorry lot of
the Island Executive Officer (lEO) to do this and the sorrier lot for me to see that it
was done and that the money collected is duly placed in the island safe and both
the Island and the Government funds are accurately accounted for in the books.
In order to keep these poor fellows up to the mark, the Department of Audit required
DOs to do an internal audit as first priority. Thus, on several occasions, I had to
root out an unsuspecting lEQ and his Treasurer at impossible times, like Sam, as
the tides and ships' schedules dictated, to do an internal audit and count a safe full
of dirty, disintegrating paper money and bags of coin. This was not my favourite
responsibility - checking all this stuff by the light of a bug-encircled kerosene lamp
whilst feeling tired, a bit queasy and the figures in the ledgers bouncing up and
down like the boat I had just left, as well as me being the world's worst accountant.
In all those times, I never discovered any serious irregularities except on one
occasion, on Tamana, when 1500 dollars went adrift. A fortune by outer-island
standards, the island went berserk looking for it. There was one drawer in the safe
that had rusted into the casement and had never been opened. Qn the initiative
of the lEO, who was in a dreadful state by now, oil, jemmy, cold-chisel and mallet
were found and with great difficulty the drawer was prised open. Nothing in it.
I pulled it out completely and beneath was a film of curious saline mould. We
scraped this away and thereunder found 1500 Australian dollars.
Touring by sea was bloody hard work. There were cockroaches that scattered
across you at night, every night; the hardness of the planks when one travelled
deck, the perennial diet of tuna and rice seemingly cooked in engine oil, the all-pervading
smell of diesel from overworked engines, the strict rationing of brackish
water from the taps, never feeling clean, exhaustion after doing one island after
another and never, ever getting enough sleep, let alone time for a beer. That was
But there were so many compensations. The friendliness of everyone, especially,
the ad hoc music-making on the foredeck, the glorious views of sea, sky and shore
as our little boat glided through a channel into the calm of a turquoise lagoon after
a stormy passage.