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Confessions of a Beachcomber

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Under a different topic ( http://www.tikicentral.com/viewtopic.php?topic=2752&forum=1&start=45&45 )I posted about a book called "Confessions of a Beachcomber", by E. J. Banfield, first published in 1908.

It was written after the author and his wife fled civilization for the simplicity of island living off the coast of Australia.

If Hanford will indulge me, I thought I would use this topic to post whatever interesting passages I stumble across. The idea is not to solicit replies, but to publish some of the text for those that are interested.

From the forward by A.H. Chisolm, 1933 edition:

"The author was a man who, falling desperately ill through overwork, had retreated to a tropic Isle, where, on regaining his strength, he had discovered a new interest in life; and there he and his wife had carved for themselves a home in the wilderness; there they had made friends of aborigines; and, above all, together they had placated the Spririt of the Isle, so that as the years passed they became more and more attached to their insular kingdom and had no desire to return to the haunts of men. Much of the Beachcomber's warm affection for the Isle -- for the untrammeled life which it afforded, and for its novelty, beauty and interest -- welled out in his CONFESSIONS, and at once the imagination of a considerable audience was captured."

From the text, page 10 -- "Had we not cast aside all traditions, revolting from the uniformity of life, from the rules of the bush as well as the conventionalities of scociety? Here we were to indulge our caprices, work out our own salvation, live in accordance with our own primitive notions, and, if possible, find Pleasure in haunts which it is not popularly supposed to frequent.

"Others may point to higher ideals and tell of exciting experiences, of success achieved, and glory and honor won. Ours not to envy superior qualifications and victories which call for strife and struggle, but to submit oursleves joyfully to the charms of the 'simple life."

page 14 -- "This was our very own life we were beginning to live; not life hampered and restricted by the wills, wishes and whims of others, but life unencumbered by the domineering wisdom, unembarassed by the formal courtesies of the crowd."

page 43 (subtitle to Chapter II) -- "For the Beachcomber, when not a mere ruffian, is the poor relation of the artist."

page 45 -- "The Beachcomber of tradition parades his coral islet barefooted, bullying guileless natives out of their copra, coconut oil and pearl-shell; his chief diet, turtle and turtle eggs and fish; his drink, rum or coconut milk -- the later only when the former is impossible. When a wreck happens he becomes a potentate in pajamas, and with his dusky wives, dressed in bright vestiture, fares sumptuously. And though the ships from the isles do not meet to 'pour the wealth of ocean in tribute at his feet,' he can still 'rush out of his lodgings and eat oysters in regular desperation.' A whack on his hardened head from the club of a jealous native is the time-honored fate of the typical Beachcomber."

[ Edited by: kailuageoff on 2003-06-03 08:11 ]

[ Edited by: kailuageoff on 2003-06-03 08:12 ]

[ Edited by: Hanford_Lemoore on 2003-06-05 21:24 ]

page 48 -- "When there are eight or ten islands and islets within an afternoon's sail, and miles of mainland beach to police, variety lends her charms to the pursuit of the Beachcomber. Landing in one of the unfrequented coves, he knows not what winds and the tides may have spread out for inspection and acceptance. Perhaps only an odd coconut from the Solomon Islands, its husk riddled by cobra and zoned with barnacles. The germ of life may yet be there. To plant the nut above high-water mark is an obvious duty. Perhaps there is a paddle, with rude tracery on the handle, from the New Hebrides, part of a Fijian canoe that has been bundled over the Barrier, a wooden spoon such as kanakas use, or the dusky globe of an incandescent lamp that has glowed out its life in the state room of some ocean liner, or a broom of Japanese make, a coal basket, a "fender", a tiger nautilus shell, an oar or a rudder, a tiller, a bottle cast away far out from land to determine the strength and direction of ocean currents, the spinnaker boom of a yacht, the jib boom of a staunch cutter. Once there was a goodly hammer cemented by the head fast upright on a flat rock, and again the stand of a grindstone, and a trestle, high and elaborately stayed. Cases invariably and disappointingly empty come and go, planks of strange timber, blocks from a tall ship. A huge black beacon waddled along, dragging a reluctant mass of iron at the end of its chain cable, followed by a roughly built "flatty" and and a huge log of silkwood. A jolly red buoy, weary of the formality of bowing to the swell, broke loose from a sandbank's apron-strings, bounced off in the ecstacies of liberty, romped in the surf, rolled on the beach, worked a cosy bed in the sand, and has slumbered ever since in the soothing hum of the wind, indifferent to the perplexities of mariners and the fate of ships. The gilded mast-head truck of a smart yacht, with one of her cabin rack, bespoke of recent disaster, unknown and unacounted, and a brand new oar, finished and fitted with the nattiness of a man-o-war's man, told of some wave swept deck."
(editor's note: sounds like the interior decor of a favorite bar, sans tikis. KG)


I love that book! Mrs. emspace got me a copy some months ago and I read a bit every night. I love the chapter on the benefits of the papaya (he calls it pawpaw if I remember) - the guy is poet!


Glad you like it, Emspace... Now, shhhh! We're reading and now I have to back up a page or two.

page 44 -- "During this period of utter abandonment of all serious claims upon time and exertion came the conviction that the career of the Beachcomber, the closest possible 'return to nature" now popularly advocated, has charms no other posesses. Then it was that the lotus-blossum was first eaten.
"Unfettered by laws of society, with the means at hand of acquiring the few necessaries of life that nature in this generous part of her domain fails to provide ready-made, a Beachcomber of a virtuous instinct, and a due perception of the decency of things, may enjoy a happy life. Should, however, he be of the type that demands a wreck or so every month to maintain his supplies of rum or gin, and other articles of his true religion, and is prepared if wrecks do not come with regularity to assist tardy nature by means of false lights on the shore, he will find no scope whatever among these orderly isles."

"Floatsam and jetsom make another class of Beachcomber by stimulating the gaming instincts. Is there a human being, taking part in the rough and tumble of the world, who can honestly make confession and say that he has completely suffocated those inherint instincts of salvagedom -- joy and persistence in the chase, the longing for excitement and surprise, the crude selfishness, the delight in getting something for nothing? When the sea casts up its gifts on these radiant shores, I boldly and with glee give way to my beachcombing instincts and pick and choose. Never up to the present have I found anything of real value; but am I not buoyed up by pious hopes and sanguine expectations? Is not the game as diverting and as innocent as many others that are played to greater profit?
"It is a game, too, that cannot be forced, and therefore canot become demoralizing; and having no nice feelings nor fine shades, I rejoice and am glad in it."

[ Edited by: Kailuageoff on 2003-06-06 08:59 ]


[ Edited by: RevBambooBen on 2003-06-09 08:40 ]

Higgins on Magnum P.I. is a real Texan too who had to "act" the English accent. Not many of them around. Coincidence.
Blah, blah, later, keep writing.

[ Edited by: RevBambooBen on 2003-06-09 08:39 ]

[ Edited by: Kailuageoff on 2003-06-10 09:10 ]

Sorry bout that.

[ Edited by: Kailuageoff on 2003-06-09 14:18 ]

(Editors note: A few posts were deleted by Bamboo Ben and myself to remove clutter from this thread. Thanks Ben.)

page 50 -- "Rarely do we sail about without enjoying the zest of the chance of getting something for nothing. Not yet the seaman's chest, brass bound, with its secret compartments full of 'fair rose-nobles and bright moidores,' been lighted upon; but who can say? Perhaps it has come ashore but now, after leagues of aimless wanderings, and awaits in some cosy cove the next beachcombing expedition. That from the ill-fated MERCHANT came hither years before my time, and was, in any case, pathetically unromantic.
"Peradventure there are many who deem this solitary existence dull? Why, it is brimful of interest and sensation. There are the tragedies of the bush to observe and elucidate; all cannot be foreseen and prevented, or even avenged. A bold falcon the other day swopped down upon a wood-swallow that was imitating the falcon's flight just above my head, and bore it bleeding to a tree-top, while I stood shocked at the audacity of the cannibal. A bullet dropped the murderous bird with its dead victim fast in the talons.
"There are comedies, too,(if) you have the wit to see them, and in these beachcombing expeditions expectation fairly effervesces.
"One lucky individual -- a mere amatuer -- casually picked up a black-lip mother-of-pearl shell on an island some little distance away. It contained a blue pearl, the price of which gave him such a start in life, that he is now the owner of ships. May not other tides cast up on the shores other oysters whose lives have been rendered miserable by the presence of pearls?
The Beachcomber wants no extensive establishment. His possessions need never be mortgaged. The cost of living is measurable by a standard adjustable to individual taste, wants and perceptions. The expenditure of a little manual labor supplies the ommissions of and compensates for the undirected impulses which prevail, and the pursuit -- if not the profession-- leads one to ever-varying scenes, to the contemplation of many of the moods of unaffected, unadvertised Nature. Ashore, one dallies luxuriously with time, free from all the restrictions of streets, every precious moment his very own; afloat in these calm and shallow waters there is a never-ending panaroma of entertainment. Coral Gardens -- gardens of the sea nymphs, wherein fancy feigns cool, shy, chaste faces and pliant forms half-reveled among gently swaying robes; a company of porpoise, a herd of dugong (editor's note: an Australian Manatee); turtle, queer and familiar fish, occassionally the spouting of a great whale, and always the company of swift and graceful birds. Sometimes the whole expansive ocean is as calm as it can only be in the tropics and bordered by the Barrier Reef-- a shield of shimmering silver from which the islands stand out as turquoise bosses. Again, it is of cobalt blue, or of grey-blue -- the reflection of a sky pallid and tremulous with excess of life."

page 117 -- "BURRA-REE: Another inhabitant of the coral gardens to be avoided is the ballon fish (Tetraodon ocellatus), which distends itself to the utmost capacity of its oval body when lifted from the water. The flesh is generally believed to be poisonous, though of tempting appearance. Authorities assert that the pernicious principle is confined to the liver and ovaries, and that if these are removed as soon as the fish is captured the flesh may be eaten with impunity. Let others, careless of pain and tired of life, experiment. Midde-aged blacks tell that when the monsterous Burra-Ree was speared here, notwithstanding its evil repute, some of the hungry ones cooked and ate it. All who did so died or were sick unto death. Some years ago two Maylays in the vicinity of Cairns partook of the flesh and died in consequence. No black will handle the fish, and a dog which may hunt one in shallow water, and mouth it, partakes of a prompt and violent emetic. Blacks are very careful to avoid touching it with anything shorter than a fish-spear, being of the opinion that the poison resides in or on the skin, and that the flesh becomes impregnated when the skin is broken.
"The ballon fish is toothless, the jaws resembling the beak of a turtle, and in some species both the upper and lower jaws have medial structures like those of a snake. Was there not a Roman statesman or warrior whose jaws were fitted with a consolidated and continuous structure of ivory instead of the ordinary and seperate teeth?
"The ballon fish depends upon its inconspicousness and harmony with its environment in the struggle for existence, for, no doubt, there are in the sea fish so strong of stomach as to accpet it without a spasm. It will allow a boat to be paddled over it as it floats -- a brown ballon -- almost motionless in the water without evincing alarm, but it makes a commotion enough for a dozen when a spear is fast in its back."
(editors note: I've seen lamps made from these at Trader Vics in Atlanta, as well as the more common spiny puffer fish lamps. Didn't know it was a 'deadly' fish."

I gotta get a copy.

Sorry for the Hukilau hiatus.... here's something for you surfers:

pg 122, SHARKS AND SKIPPERS -- Local Blacks have no fear of sharks. They take every care to avoid crocodiles, exercising great caution and circumspection when crossing inlets and tidal creeks. So shrewd are their observations that they will describe distinctive marks of particular crocodiles and indicate their favorite resorts. Their indifference to sharks is founded on the belief that those which inhabit shallow water among the islands never attack a living man. Blacks remain for hours together in the water on the reefs when beche-de-mer fishing, and the record of an attack is rare indeed. They are far more fearful of the mounstorous Grouper, which, lying inert among the coral blocks and boulders of the Barrier Reef, bolts anything and everything which comes its way, and will follow a man in the water with dogged determiniation, foreign to the nervous, suspicious shark. Recently a vigorous young black boy was attacked by a Grouper while diving for beche-de-mer. The fish took the boy's head into his capacious mouth, mauling him severly about the head and shoulders, and but for his valiant and determined struggles would doubtless have succeeeded in killing him.
Even such an incident as the following does not convince the blacks that the sharks of the Barier Reef are dangerous. The captain of a bech-de-mer cutter (editor's note: what the heck is a beche-de-mer?) was paddling in a dingy along the edge of a detatched reef not many miles from Dunk Island, while several of his boys were swimming and diving. Suddenly one of them was siezed and so terribly mutilated that he died in a few minutes. Although the captain was within eight or ten feet of the boy, and three of his mates were not more than a few yards off; though all were wearing swimming goggles which enable them to see when diving to distinguish objects at a considerable range; though the sea was calm and clear and the water barely ten feet deep, no one saw a shark or any other fish capable of inflicting such injuries as had caused the death of "Jimmy", nor was there any disturbance of the surface of the water.
Years before a countryman of the unfortunate Jimmy was mauled by a small Black Shark, but got away, though crippled for life. By some quaint process of reasoning the companions of the boy who was killed connected his death with the attack upon the other, the scene of which was two hundred miles distant, and became convinced that he had become the victim of "nother kind altogether"-- a sort of mysterious marine "debil-debil" not known to entire satisfaction by the best-informed black boy, and quite beyond the comprehension of the dull-witted white man. Having thus conclusively to their minds set at naught the theory that a shark was responsible, it was absolutely unreasonable to fear sharks generally. Why should they blame a shark when it was established beyond doubt that nothing but a "debil-debil" could have killed Jimmy? Their opinion was founded on this invincible array of logic; if a shark had killed Jimmy, it must have been seen. Nothing was seen, therefor it must have been a "debil-debil". And the incident was accepted as a further and most emphatic proof of the contention that sharks do not "fight" live black boys. The single incident at Princess Charlotte Bay was an exception.

pg 145 -- The Tyranny of Clothes -- Give the tinkers and cobblers their presents and learn to live of yourself.

Few enjoy a less sensational and more tranquil life than ours. Weeks pass, and but for the visits of the kindly steamer, and the passing of others at intervals, there is naught of the great world seen or experienced. A strange sail brings out the whole population, staring and curious. Rare is the luxury of living when life is unconstrained, unfettered by conventionalities and the comic parade of the fashions.
The real significance of freedom here is realized. What matters it that London decrees a crease down the trouser legs if those garmets are of but well-bleached blue dungaree? The spotless shirt, how paltry a detail when a light singlet is the only wear. Of what trifling worth dapper boots to feet made leathery by contact with the clean, crisp, oatmeal-colored sand? Here is no fetish about clothes; little concern for what we shall eat or what we shall drink. The man who has to observe the least of the ordinances of style knows no liberty. He is a slave; his dress betrayth him and proclaims him base. There may be degress of baseness. I am abject myself; but whensoever I revisit the haunts of men clad in the few light incommoding clothes that rationalism ordains, I rejoice and gloat over the slavery of those who failed to catch even a glimpse of the loveliness of liberty, who are yet afeared of opinion -- "that sour breathed hag". How can a man with a hoop-like collar, starched to board-like texture, cutting his jowl and sawing each side of his neck, be free? He may rejoice because he is the very lord among creation, and has trousers shortened by turning up the ninth part of a hair after London vogue, and may be proud of his laws and legislature, and even of his legislators, but to the tyrannous edge of his collar he is a slave. He can look neither this way or that, nor up nor down, without being reminded that he has imposed upon himself an extra to the universal penalties of Adam.

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