Saturday, June 6, 2009

Who's who on Raoul Island

The “Permanents”

Johnny B Johnny B is our Team Leader. He has a lengthy background in conservation as well as having run his own building company in Gisborne. Johnny B is an enthusiastic ornithologist and has been for as long as he can remember. It is to him we turn when we need to know which pukeko belongs to which clan, where their territory extends to or even whether they are male or female (two of the house pukekos, Lone Wolf and his partner, are apparently in a homosexual relationship).
All of the permanent team are contracted to DOC for a full 12 month stint. Like Gareth and Chauncy, Johnny has been here before as a volunteer.
This island seems to draw people back to it.

Dave Formerly employed by Toyota in Lower Hutt, Dave is responsible for all things mechanical on the island as well as our water supplies and the provision of electricity via our diesel generators. This is a pretty responsible position for a 22 year old, so occasionally he cuts loose when we have a party. His “shock the troops” trick is swallowing a live cockroach, but he only tends to do that when dressed in some sort of warrior garb. Actually, that’s pretty much every gathering so far. In keeping with Raoul tradition, Dave has not shaved or had a haircut since he arrived here and is sometimes referred to by Johnny B as “The Wookie.” He is the most experienced and dedicated poker player on the island and we recently had a big night of Texas Hold’em where Bas and I took him to the cleaners (twice) but he explained that he was just using this game to suss out our pattern of calls. He has an incredibly broad and eclectic selection of music and at any one time you can hear Johnny Cash, The Sex Pistols or Beethoven blaring out at full volume from his speakers in the workshop. Dave is the organiser of the weekly viewings of Deadwood on our DVD player.

Gareth Gareth is in charge of all things electrical on the island. He is from a military background, having served in Afghanistan and Bouganville and he is currently training hard for the shortest day “Hut to Hut” challenge for which you must visit all six of the island’s huts between sunrise and sunset. Last year he was back at the hostel by 12.30pm. Gareth is an excellent photographer and has set himself the task of shooting off 2000 frames a month while he is here. Most of these are of birds and he is steadily ticking off all the seabirds known to Raoul on his “done” list. There are quite a few. Not renowned for his early morning conversation with humans, Gareth nevertheless seems to commune effortlessly with the “pooks.” He has trained up Lone Wolf to collect daily rations of Nutrigrain from him as he eats breakfast on the verandah steps each morning and usually has a few affectionate things to say to the bird each day.

Chauncy Chauncy has to be the most non-judgemental person I have ever met. An expression he must use a thousand times a day is “that’s cool, you know.” He has an encyclopaediac knowledge of film and music, possibly as a result of his having watched every film that was ever made. Or so it seems to me anyway. He can list actors, directors and previous roles without even pausing to think. And did I mention his collection of 30,000 albums?
Chauncy is our plant specialist and is in charge of the weeding programme. As part of our routine in the field, we are supposed to continually call out in order to keep up with each other’s location in the bush. He is almost always somewhere above us – either on a near vertical slope or up a tree. He is incredibly nimble on steep ground and often seems to just skip over the windfalls that force us to crawl along on our bellies.

The “Vollies”

Bas A Dutchman, Bas came to us directly from Argentina where he had been living and doing some volunteer work. He saw the Raoul position advertised on the internet and doesn’t know NZ so well at all, so we are guiding him through the integration process carefully by making him watch the entire four seasons of Outrageous Fortune. Already he can “Kia ora, bro” with the best of us and is looking forward to getting to the mainland to meet all those other people like the West family. Bas is an ‘island nut’ and whooped for joy when the last of the interlopers left on the Braveheart. He has visited all sorts of islands, large and small, since he quit his AI (that’s Artificial Intelligence, not the other) company. He also has a Master’s degree in Physics so can be relied upon to enliven our dinner conversation with an erudite exposition on the Theory of Relativity. Or any one of the 400 movies he brought with him, or the role of the Xylons in Battlestar Galactica.

Craig Craig is a sailmaker and boatbuilder and occasionally plots with Bas the type of boat they will build or buy together in order to do the round-the-world voyage. Craig lived for a long time in Germany and has sailed as crew in ocean racers, including the one they inadvertently beached and had to abandon on the Brazilian coastline. Bye-bye ten million dollars! Craig is distantly related to Gaye, a fact that revealed itself when Gaye’s mum Val was in hospital in Nelson recently. He has done a couple of seasons as warden on the Heaphy Track and cannot go anywhere here without compulsively sweeping nikau palms off the track as you walk with him. To his eternal credit, he has never taken out a loan in his life and doesn’t trust banks.

John Mac A resident of Cambridge, John is here courtesy of his long-service leave provisions (yay, the government!) Another ardent conservationist, he can be relied upon to identify any plant that puzzles you and give you the full botanical name too. If the walking is uphill, and it all is, he can usually be seen disappearing up ahead in the distance. He entertained us all with the story of a camping group that included teenage girls who kept leaving lipstick kiss marks on the bathroom mirrors. Nothing could persuade them to stop this practice, so in despair the cleaner called everyone into the bathroom, seized a mop and dipped it into the toilet bowl. Scrubbing fiercely at the red lip marks on the mirror’s surface with the murky water, he turned to the girls and said “Look. I want you to stop kissing this glass because it’s just too difficult for me to remove the marks.”

Gina The machine. Gina is an engineer, based in Wellington. For a while she was queen of the island, but now she regularly has to be reined (sorry, bad pun) in by us blokes because she will charge headlong through any activity and then finish the day’s work with a run and a swim in the sea. It makes you tired just thinking about it. If there is a piece of ground that looks too steep we will usually confer about whether or not we should get out the rope, and then just follow her down because she has shot off and done it while we were busy deciding. Formerly a team cyclist in Europe, Gina brought a mountainbike with her and often zips around on the tracks with it. Last week I realised not only had I met Gina before, but she has been away kayaking with us when she was about 14. Since then she has many adventures like climbing Mt Cook or descending the 600 feet into Harwood’s Hole and having to free up the belay device part way down when it jammed on her hair. Gina’s definitive quote when offered assistance by Gaye for her ankle, hurt while running: “Pain doesn’t matter.”

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