November 26, 2012


David Ellis

WE'VE mates in this travel scribbling game who delight in reminiscing about cocktail parties they've spilled their way through over the years: The Ritz in London, Raffles in Singapore, with Santa Claus on Finland's Arctic Circle, and even with Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs at his hideaway in Rio, to name a few…

But the one that's stored most fondly in our memory is not from some plush 5-star metropolitan hotel, nor from encounters with the popular or infamous. Rather it's from a miniscule dot that lays in the sun in the middle of Vanuatu's Port Vila harbour.

Iririki Island Resort just off Vila's CBD – if you can call the hub of this sleepy little South Pacific paradise a CBD – abounds with lush tropical vegetation, a poolside café and bar, a restaurant named after the famed author James A. Michener (complete with a framed letter from the man himself thanking them for the honour,) and to one side a collection of thatch-roofed tropical bungalows hillside or over-water and outfitted with all mod cons.

A lot of years ago we happened to be there on a Monday evening and were invited to the then-General Manager's welcome cocktails for newly-arrived guests. As we were chatting with he and other guests, one asked if he knew who was a particular lady who had just entered the room.

He said he did not, but could find out, but the guest told him not to worry – she just felt she had seen that lady somewhere before, possibly in the suburb in which she lived in Australia, or maybe in the press or on TV. It was no big deal, she'd said, adding: "It's just that you know how you can sometimes feel someone's familiar, but you can't put your finger on just how or why?"

As the evening progressed and guests began to drift off to dine at the resort or over in town, it left maybe a dozen of us who soon grouped together, including the lady who had made the enquiry of the other and who now had the opportunity to meet her.

But as soon as she did so she quickly admitted – aloud – that she had obviously made a mistake in thinking she had seen her somewhere before: the second lady had a quite  pronounced Canadian accent, and volunteered that she was on her first-ever visit to the South Pacific.

"I came to visit my daughter in Australia, and thought I'd also see something of the islands as well," she said.

And as is usual in such circumstances, someone made small talk by enquiring politely as to where she was from, and was given a run-down of her home town, her family in Canada and Australia, and how much she was loving visit.

Then she added that while she was Canadian, she was actually born in England and adopted by a Canadian couple when a toddler after her parents were killed during a WWII air-raid on their town just outside London. And that while they'd lost their parents, she and her sister had miraculously survived.

Again there were the usual muttered condolences and expressions of how sad it must have been, particularly for she and her sister being sent to Canada and adopted.

"Yes," she said. "With no other relatives the church took us, and as there was a lot of money to be made from adoptions, I was sent to Canada, and I believe my sister to Australia for adoption, but I never saw her again."

The Australian lady then mentioned how she, too, had lost her parents in an air-raid outside of London, how she too had been adopted and taken to Australia, and yes even how she, likewise, had never seen her sister again.

And as she unfolded the details of her life, the Canadian lady burst out: "But those are the details of MY life – that was my town, that was the day my parents died, I thought my sister had gone to Australia… oh my God, you are my missing sister!"

A few more queries, a few more answers and all was confirmed – as fresh celebratory  Champagne flowed from the GM, and as did the tears of joy from the rest of us for the re-united sisters.


Photo captions:

[] IRIRIKI Island Resort, a miniscule dot in Port Vila Harbour – but what a story to tell.

[] DELIGHTFUL over-water bungalows with all mod cons.

[] MICHENER'S Restaurant at Iririki, complete with a framed letter from the man himself thanking them for the honour.

[] ROOM with a view: dining at Michener's.

(All images: Iririki Island Resort)

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