At dinner one night, I was telling my good friends James and Sue about my project and how it had morphed into a book of sorts. James worked for a large fertiliser company and knew someone who had worked on Ocean Island.
“Would you like me to get him to contact you?” he said.
“Could you?”I said excitedly. I could hardly wait.
A few days later, a man named Sam emailed me some information about Ocean Island – its history, its people and the mining. He told me that he’d mostly worked on Nauru but gave me a name and phone number of someone else who had worked on the island for fifteen years, almost until the mine was closed in 1979.
I was excited and anxious. Now I could find out first hand, rather than rely on books and articles for my information. What would I say to this person? That I was writing a book? That I wanted to know what it was like to live on Ocean Island. That I wondered if he knew about the murders?
I knew if I thought about it too much, that I’d lose confidence and resolve, so the next day, after writing down my questions, I rang.
What a wealth of information I received from this generous man. He spoke to me for over an hour and told me about a group of people who had lived/or worked on all the phosphate islands – Ocean Island, Nauru and Christmas Island. They called themselves ‘The Phosphateers’ and got together once a year to reconnect and reminisce. Soon, I was the subject of an email trail to everyone who was a phosphateer. Before long, I received responses and names of more people who had lived on Ocean Island during the late 40’s and early 50’s.
I contacted and interviewed a number of them. They’d been children in 1948 and remembered what life was like – fun and carefree. When they reached high school age, they were shipped back to Australia to continue their education at boarding school.
Everyone was only too happy to fondly share their memories and pass on the names of others who might have been able to help.I was lucky to be invited to their annual reunion held in the suburb next to mine – what luck! There, I talked to as many as I could – each generously sharing their experiences and memories – painting a picture for my imagination and my story.
But no- one could remember much about the double murders – it was too long ago. No- one knew my father either.
And even now, when I tell people where my story is set, I still find that someone knows someone who had worked or lived there and they pass on their name.