I don’t think the author of this 1935 article enjoyed his stay on the island with the beetles, fleas, evil stinging trees and crabs that only seem to exude their stinkiness over “white men” (but not others?) I also think someone on the island was having a lend of him too by giving him a “treasure map”. People always give away their treasure maps to visitors don’t they?
Gibraltar of Orient
Bv ROBERT M. MACDONALD,
F.R.S.G.S., author of ‘Opals and Gold’
Christmas Island is not an abode of peace and good will. It is a lone tract of land which juts above the surface of the Indian Ocean about half way between Asia and Australia, and, in the opinion of those in authority, will loom large as a Gibraltar of the Orient should that part of the world become a danger zone. Few people outside the Admiralty know anything about Christmas Island, but the present writer is one of that few, having landed on its shores to seek shelter from a cyclone that swept the Indian Ocean from nor’west Australia to Singapore. Christmas Island is about 10 miles in circumference, and rises straight from the sparkling blue waters of the ocean to a height of about 800 feet. The water is very deep round the shore line, but on submarine ledges of that same shore are beds of pearl oysters, and the shells are packed so thickly that they seem to be inlaid amidst coral forests. Those pearl beds will probably remain there untouched, however, for although the water is so clear that a man floating on the surface might think he could reach them with a long pole, they are fully 30 fathoms down, and the sight of monster sharks and fishes of every shape and colour, which dart between them and the surface, is so suggestive that few men will ever try to get down to them.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The beach consists of gleaming white coral, and on its shoreward fringe coconut palms, interlaced with flowering creepers, rear their tall stems into a canopy of spreading leaves, which shut out the sky. Behind them are other trees of the palm variety, more densely clustered, but beyond them the undergrowths make progress inland almost impossible. Everywhere underfoot the valuable guano deposited by sea birds through the ages is present, thought it is not readily recognisable from solid rock by any one not acquainted with such formations. The living creatures on the Island comprise sea birds, parrots, and wild poultry, and there are also wild pigs, and furry animals that seem to live in hollow trees, and apparently, subsistent entirely on honey. Bees, resembling the common fly, ants, and ant-eaters, beetles of enormous size, and fleas, actually force themselves on one’s attention, especially the beetles and fleas— the former simply can’t be kept out of any food eaten on shore by human beings and the latter are always attached companions!
CRAB WITH AN ODOUR
But there is also another “thing” with life and being on Christmas Island, and it is a feature of the place. It is the tree-climbing crab. It lives in holes in the ground, but it climbs into the tree tops and feeds on nuts and young shoots. Its defence against whatever attacks it is formidable and unique, being odour which it exudes on being touched, and however that odour may affect birds and other possible enemies it makes the white man sick, and the exuded odour clings to him long afterwards. The flesh of this crab is nevertheless deemed a great luxury by the coolies who sometimes work the guano deposits of the Island on behalf of Edinburgh University (the rights having been bequeathed to that Institution by Dr. Murray, of Challenger expedition fame, who annexed Christmas Island for Britain), and their method of catching the strange crab is as simple as it is ingenious. They tie some grass or ground tendrils round a tree stem as high up as possible after seeing that crabs are already in the tree and wait. In time a crab descends, cat wise, and feels the ground-like obstacle, and thinking ground has been reached relaxes his claws. After all a crab is fragile!
HIDDEN TREASURE .
The stinging tree is another little pleasantry of nature on Christmas Island. It is a tendril which grows hidden amidst other scrub, and when touched inadvertently stings like a nettle, only more so, and for a month after the pain returns when the stung part come into contact with water. On the island there are traces of former occupation, and the writer has a very crudely drawn chart purporting to show where some Malay pirates hid their treasure during the period when the Eastern seas was a profitable field of operation for those of their profession.
LONELY SPOT (1935, December 15). Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97854154