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If once you have slept on an island...

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

In June 2019, I flew to Lord Howe Island with my colleague Frank for a week. We had been carrying out surveys of the island’s land snails for the past three years, but this visit was different. The island was full of scientists from all over the world, buzzing with excitement and hope. At long last, the planned rodent eradication was about to begin. It was the exhilaration of that visit that inspired the beginnings of this song.

Lord Howe Island. Image C. Stehn.

There’s something magical about islands. I first discovered this at age ten, when my family spent a week on North Molle Island in the Whitsundays, where we camped, explored, snorkelled and sang. My eleventh birthday was celebrated on that island. One of the memorable moments was the birthday cake somehow produced by my parents (completely unexpected, and well hidden!). Another was my birthday evening, when a group of young English students who had run out of food came and shared a big meal of pikelets with us, and sang me Happy birthday. Even though we were only a temporary island community, we still needed to support each other. During that trip, my family and I read a poem (by Rachel Lyman Field) which really resonated with us. It starts:

If once you have slept on an island, you’ll never be quite the same.

Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to visit and re-visit several islands through the course of my work, which involves the study of snails. Most frequently I’ve visited Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island, but this year I also flew to the Cook Islands for the first time, and there are several other similar trips on the agenda. There is something very unique about island life. Island communities seem to be particularly friendly and welcoming, and also just a little sympathetic that you are going to have to eventually return to humdrum life in the city while they remain on island. I can count quite a number of island inhabitants as friends, and it’s always exciting to return.

Island visits often seem to involve strenuous physical activity, since somehow the snails we are hunting always live in the most inaccessible places. On Lord Howe Island, I’ve learned the hard way that it is sensible to train beforehand for a couple of months (the alternative is a world of pain!).

There are moments of great drama, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. One day you will be dragging yourself onto the summit of a glorious cloud forest, with the wind sending drifts of clouds swirling around the mossy, twisted, otherworldly trees. The next, you will be finding yourself in a tiny hospital needing antibiotics after being bitten by a stray dog. But in either case, you are enveloped by either the camaraderie of good friends who have matched you step by groaning step up the mountain, or by the astonishing kindness of strangers. While on islands I’ve had fresh fruit delivered gratis every day by a landlord (including a coconut and a machete left on our porch one day), boxes of food unexpectedly delivered while in covid isolation, loans of clothing when luggage was delayed, and many other touches of unexpected kindness.

So this song tries to capture all of this and more. It was written with Lord Howe Island and its towering mountains in mind, and the music video was filmed on Lord Howe Island as well, but really it celebrates all of my island experiences. And most of all, it celebrates the island inhabitants as well as those who love to visit there.

Thanks so much for allowing us to come and explore your beautiful island homes for a time. I’m forever counting down the days until I am on island once again.

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