Mutineer's descendant laying down law

By John Cousins

Bounty mutineer descendant Brenda Christian has chalked up the perfect record as Pitcairn Island's police constable - 13 years on the job and not a single arrest.

The woman who prefers to sort things out with strong words and a warning has been enjoying a break in Tauranga before heading back to her little island in the middle of the Pacific.

Mrs Christian, recently returned from a family wedding in Queensland, was hitching a ride home aboard the Tauranga-based shipping service that has become a lifeline for the remote island midway between New Zealand and Peru.

She is one of only 50 residents left on the lonely outpost of the British Government, many of whom can trace their ancestry back to the celebrated mutineers led by Fletcher Christian - Mrs Christian's great great great great grandfather.

The woman who received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for Public Service has lived most of her 60 years off the island, returning home in 1999 with her husband after 26 years based in the UK and serving in the British Army.

But her intention to chill out did not last long and within a few months she was appointed the island's police officer. It coincided with the opening shots being fired in a sensational morality-based legal battle that ended with most of the island's adult men being tried and convicted for sexual offences against under-age girls.

The seriousness of the charges were such that it bypassed her powers as the island's police officer and plunged the little island into the world's headlines.

"It was hard for me because it was my family."

Now that the last of the six convicted island men had been released and life had moved on, the empty prison built for the prisoners of the trial was Pitcairn's library and tourism bureau, catering for what has become her main workload, cruise ship passengers, passing boaties and tourists arriving aboard Claymore II - the island's lifeline with the outside world .

The islanders were now fighting for the survival of their tiny community in the modern world. There were only two families left with young children and most, if not all, of those children will leave the island once they reached secondary school age.

Pitcairn was now being pitched as a destination for migrants who had the sort of attitude typified by lifestylers. Mrs Christian said they received a lot of inquiries but when it drilled down to the nitty-gritty of island life, the picture changed.

The island's chances have improved by the direct service between Tauranga and Pitcairn that started when the owner of Claymore II, Nigel Jolly, won the British Government shipping contract in 2002. Mr Jolly has become a central figure in the life of the island, not only because his boat was the only way to get on and off the island for locals, but it brought in tourists and cargo.

Forty per cent of his passengers were tourists although few opted for the 14-day voyage each way between Tauranga and Pitcairn. Most boarded the boat at the nearest major centre to Pitcairn, the French Polynesian island of Mangareva which was linked by air with Papeete.

"There are a lot of Norwegians and other Scandinavians. They seem to love the place."

The rock cliffs which surround the island meant that all the cargo has to be lowered by the ship's crane into long boats manned by islanders, a critical job which Mr Jolly liked to do himself.

The round-trip between Tauranga and Pitcairn took 55 days and included a return trip between Pitcairn and Mangareva. Claymore II departed Tauranga in February, May, August and November, with Mr Jolly charging passengers a flat $100 a day - $1400 to reach Pitcairn.

It was not all essential supplies for the islanders. One resident regularly ordered $200 worth of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Other little luxuries loaded into the ship's freezer included McDonald's burgers.

The Claymore II

Length: 48 metres.

Weight: 485 gross tonnes.

Fuel consumption: 3400 litres of diesel a day.

Crew: Eight.

Sailing range: Surveyed for all the world's oceans.

History: Built in Germany as an icebreaker to service buoys in the Baltic Sea.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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