Thursday, May 17, 2007


Flying over the town of Sola

As I mentioned in my last posting, John has been in Vanuatu, and on the Monday, he and George hopped on the plane from Vila to travel to Sola on the island of Vanua Lava at the far north of the country. Here they were able to have a reunion with Jimmy, but also renew friendships with all those people he met when the group of Norfolkers went there 14 years ago to build the church/training school at Port Patteson.

At that time, after being delivered to the small airstrip near Sola, the group had walked for three hours to Port Patteson where they were to live and work for 2-3 weeks. At one stage of their trek, they had to cross a river, and the locals told them that there were crocodiles in this river, the only crocs in Vanuatu. They told the story of how Bishop Patteson had been there (back in the 1860's) and he had some small "pet" crocodiles aboard the Mission ship "Southern Cross." We do not know how he had obtained these baby crocs, but they had possibly been an unusual gift from someone in Queensland.

It seems, however, that these creatures escaped their cage and the ship while he was there and found their way to the river, and it was impossible to retrieve them. The Bishop, in a great act of faith, promised the locals that God would never allow anyone to be harmed by the crocodiles, and to this day, no one has been hurt. There was a time when a young girl ended up in the jaws of one, but she was released with only a few scratches. It would appear that the people in that area have a two-fold respect for the crocodiles - a natural respect for their strength and power to harm, but also a sort of reverence because they are descended from the ones that had belonged to their beloved Bishop Patteson.

Now while John was there this time, the locals were keen to tell him some new crocodile stories. It seems that last year, one of the larger beasts had the bad luck to take a shark hook. The poor animal thrashed around for hours trying to free itself from the barb. When it was utterly exhausted, the menfolk were able to secure it, free the hook from its mouth, and leave it to recover it from its ordeal. They proudly showed John and George photos of the event. It would appear that the crocodile was at least 6 metres long!

Hands in the croc's jaws

They also told how in recent years, one of the crocs had been in the "port" into which the river flows, and had been carried by a strong current right down to a small island near Santo, an hour's flight away. The animal had taken up residence, but had not endeared itself to the locals there as it fed itself on their fowl, pigs and other livestock. Because of the association with Bishop Patteson, who is revered right throughout Vanuatu and the Solomons, they did not want to harm it. So they called in the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who successfully caught it, and supervised its transport back to its home. Steve must really have captured the imagination of the people there, and they spoke of him with great affection. However, when John said how sad it was that he had died, there was enormous shock and distress, because the news of his passing had not yet reached them in that remote spot! John had not expected to be the bearer of such sad news!
The older gentleman in the cap, standing proudly on top of the croc, is Norman, who is Jimmy's grandfather.

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