Published on 21st February 2018

Big Fence, a portrait of pitcairn island

  • Most people assume Pitcairn to be idyllic. It is steep sided and volcanic. On the map the island is covered with place names like 'Where John Fall", and "Oh Dear". Often proximity to the sea inspires a sense of freedom. On Pitcairn the steep walls keep you in, the rip tides and changeable winds mean there is no shelter. Pitcairn's geography makes one feel even more isolated and trapped.

  • Brandon Young. He is a Pitcairn descendent, but lives in New Zealand. He says that he despises the island for its past but is attached to its physicality. Brandon's experience was the antithesis to mine - he was courted as the future of the island, while I was demonised.

  • The longboat. Without the longboat, Pitcairn would be inaccessible to the outside world. Only island men are trained as longboat skippers, able to deft move the aluminium hill between the jagged rocks at the Landing. Everyone on island relies on the longboat skippers - when the men were jailed, they had special dispensation to leave to operate the boat.

  • The view of the Pacific from an empty room at Big Fence, the childhood home of Shawn and Randy Christian.

  • Mattresses on Pitcairn, stacked in the childhood bedroom of a girl that has long since left.

  • Cushana - aged 6. Cushana comes from the Warren family, the innocent parties on the island. Cushana is ferried to and from the tiny school by the island police officer, Brenda Christian. She is under constant supervision to protect her from her own extended island family.

  • Cushana's room at Te Kiva Bounty. Everywhere you look there is dust and dirt and a no matter how hard you try not to see the visual clues, the shadow of the abuse story is palpable. Here Cushana's doll wears a dress resembling that of Cushana herself.

  • Famous poster - Man and Baby, found in Tania Christian's old bedroom. Tania is Steve and Olive Christian's daughter.

  • The sign that sits above the entranceway in Steve and Olive Christian's home.

  • Mayor Shawn Christian. Shawn, like his father, evaded my attempts wherever possible. Shawn’s portrait haunts me, I can see it sometimes when I close my eyes – real island memories have been replaced by my pictures or the obsessions of making them. His eyes stare blankly into the abyss, pupils wide. He dressed for the occasion, a flowery shirt. But even this does not cheer the scene. His powerful island role mingles with his role in the trials, almost inextricable from one another.

  • Randy Christian. Randy was handed one of the heaviest sentences in the Pitcairn trials. He is now a father himself, though all children now live off-island, while Randy, due to visa restrictions, is banished to Pitcairn.

  • Crying Man, newspaper. Pitcairn General Store.

  • 'Pirate' Pawl Warren lives with his partner Sue on the ground floor of his parent's house. It was a rape that took place by an off islander at a party at Pawl's house that sparked the initial investigations into the Pitcairn abuses. Pawl, a quiet giant, stands firmly against the other islanders and is one of the few innocent men.

  • Sue O'Keefe. To monitor the prisoners, wardens were brought from New Zealand, one of whom, Sue, fell in love with ‘Pirate Pawl’ Warren. Sue and Pawl are possibly Pitcairn’s only happy couple. Their home was always open, an island within the island – they nicknamed it ‘Switzerland’ – one where the trials could be discussed openly, and derision could be public. Though they have each other, the ravages of isolation can be seen across Sue’s face, aided by chain smoking and cheap alcohol.

  • Kevin Young. This picture was taken in his bedroom on my last day. Kevin holds the ardent belief that the trials did not present the full truth.

  • Found photograph of a different branch of the Christian family depicting Tom Christian dressed in Bounty garb, while his daughters and wife are obscured by water damage. Tom’s wife Betty attested to Pitcairner's knowledge that the island was under British law - this, in part, enabled a privy council appeal to be thrown out.

  • Royal Warren, parent of warring siblings Melva and Mike, and devout Seventh Day Adventist. During my stay, her son, Mike, was on trial for child pornography (and later convicted). I often wondered what she was thinking of – her sharp and curious eyes flickering occasionally, before settling into a distant stare. Perhaps remembering a better time, when life was easier, and then she would remember where she was, and what her family was going through, and her eyes would glass over in reticence.

  • Len Brown. Len was convicted in the trials of multiple, routine, rapes but was allowed to serve his time on house arrest due to his age. He lives with close friend and island police officer (and deputy mayor), Brenda (Steve Christian's sister). He is the father of Olive Christian - wife of Steve Christian and grandfather to Shawn and Randy Christian.

  • Empty bedroom in former residence of Kari and Brian Young, another of the convicted Pitcairners, who due to medical reasons was able to relocate to New Zealand, while the others remain stuck on island.

Big Fence, a portrait of pitcairn island

Portrait, Social Issues, Documentary

Tagged with:
  • pitcairn
  • remote island
  • child abuse
  • british overseas territory
  • polaroid
  • portrait
  • expired film
  • depopulation
  • trials
  • documentary