The people of the tiny, potato-shaped Republic of Nauru were once among the world's richest. Formerly known as Pleasant Island (and now abbreviated, more prosaically, as RON), Nauru supplied Australia with abundant fertiliser for almost a century after vast phosphate deposits were discovered in 1900. By 2005, in an abrupt reversal of fortune, Nauru was a nearly failed state with an uncertain future, dependent on injections of cash from other countries to keep afloat.
Nauruans are doing it tough. Freight deliveries are rare, and employment is scarcer still. Health care is basic at best. It's a far cry from the heady phosphate-rich days of the 1970s and '80s, and many local people have become reticent in their dealings with visitors.
Nauru is not the easiest place to visit. Access is subject to the whims of transport, weather and the immigration department. With the closing of the phosphate mine, associated hospitality services such as hotels, restaurants and hire cars - where they exist at all - are minimal. Most visitors are politicians, diplomats or development workers - and during the days of Australia's 'Pacific Solution' to the arrival of refugees, extraordinary numbers of security guards and other contractors.
In spite of the present economic gloom, the island still offers glimpses of its former 'pleasantness', with wild surrounding ocean and sea birds swooping and dipping over the green inland cliffs. For WWII buffs there are remnants of the Japanese occupation scattered around the island, and the enormous skeletal remains of mining infrastructure are truly remarkable.
Last updated: Mar 2, 2009
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