Book Review: Nauru, Phosphate, And Progress

Nauru, Phosphate, And Progress, by Nancy Viviani

At its heart, this book is written with an attitude of praise for the people and government in Nauru itself and how it dealt with the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations in seeking to ensure not only its political but also its economic dependence from Australia. Admittedly, even if Australia is a sparsely populated nation, its power both economically and politically is far stronger than that of Nauru, a small and isolated island nation in the Pacific. Thanks to the accidents of history, Nauru ended up being seen as its own island, and so it was not swamped demographically by being included in distant and unrelated island chains whose political leadership would not care or be interested in the well-being of a small and remote island. Admittedly, this book paints a more favorable position of Nauru than some other writings have, especially recently, but the ability of Nauru and its leadership to first seek for fair payment for the phosphate reserves found on the island and then the use of this additional money from its resources to seek greater economic freedom and the avoidance of dependency is certainly praiseworthy. Even if a nation does not manage to succeed fully in gaining its economic independence, efforts made are to be appreciated.

This book is about 200 pages if one includes the appendix which includes a large amount of statistical information about Nauru through time. The book begins with a foreword, acknowledgements, and an introduction. This is followed by an opening chapter which looks at Old Nauru (1), about which little is known except for that which can be gathered by comparing it with other islands. This is followed by a chapter which discuss the efforts on a part of English and Germans to gain the treasure that could be found on the island, first with the hope of copra and then with the reality of phosphate (2). This is followed by a discussion of Nauru during World War I as a prize to be fought over, showing the colonial rivalry of Australia and Japan (3), and also the life of the people of Nauru in the interwar period (4). After that comes a grim look at Nauru during World War II (5) as well as the period of reconstruction afterward (6). At this point the main content of the book ends with three chapters that discuss the rise of responsible self-government for Nauru (7), the search for a new home and identity (8), as well as the gaining of independence (9) both economically and politically for Nauru, after which there is a lengthy appendix as well as notes, a bibliography, and an index.

What is the relationship between phosphate and progress for Nauru? For nearly two centuries, Nauru has had both a peripheral position as well as a position of considerable interest for outside peoples. Yet for a long time it did not appear as if Nauru had anything to offer other nations in terms of trade, while also having a people who has, in one way or another, long been fiercely independent. It was the discovery of phosphate that gave Nauru something that other people wanted, yet because of the small size of the island and the very limited population of its people, the island and its economy were long exploited by others under the imperial rule of both Germany and Australia. And it is not as if Japanese rule was good, for it was more harsh and brutal on the people of Nauru than was the previous imperial rule. It is particularly telling that although Nauru was once rich in phosphate, the people of Nauru never saw any great benefit to them to working in the mines themselves, something which does not appear to have been well-understood by the Germans or Australians or the company that was responsible for doing the work of extracting phosphate from the plateau of the island in the first place.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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