Today we fly home from Lord Howe Island. It has been a wonderful experience. The views are spectacular, the snorkelling a glorious kaleidoscope of colourful corals and fish, the people friendly and the food delicious. Yet the thing that I will carry strongest in my heart is the way this community preserves its sense of community.
Two of the greatest threats to the community are isolation and the predatory rich. Isolation has given the island a unique flora and fauna, yet ever since people settled here to provision passing whaling ships it has also left the island economically and environmentally vulnerable. When the whaling industry died out the economy shifted to export of palm trees and when that died out to tourism. With each adaptation the islanders have found a way to work together for the common good. When, for example, planes are unable to fly out due to bad weather, leaving more tourists than beds, islanders take tourists into their homes. There seems to be a strong recognition that for their community to prosper they all need to work together. Their isolation and small population requires cooperation to be valued over competition.
The isolation likewise imparts a strong sense of environmental stewardship. On such a small island where the impact of human habitation is so evident, every resident I encounter has a strong sense of the need to be proactive in protecting the ecosystem.
And then there is the threat of the predatory rich, those who, given the chance, would buy up land, build large holiday homes and visit a few weeks a year. This would turn the island from a community of islanders into a tourist playground for the wealthy. There is no chance of this. To buy land on the island you need to live here for 10 years, your dwelling can occupy no more than 15% of the block, and you must live on your allotment for six months a year. It’s rigorous and demanding but the islanders have learned that to preserve the riches of community sometimes means saying no to money.
I couldn’t live here. The isolation and in-each-other’s-pockets nature of the small community would drive me crazy. But I leave here with more than wonderful memories of spectacular scenery. I leave reminded once more that to enjoy this life and world to the full our planet must be treasured and our communities very intentionally nurtured.