Tainted paradise in hunt for social worker

17:00, Sep 10 2011

Fancy a job as a social worker on an island paradise with just 10 children to care for? The only catch: a third of the men on the island have recently been convicted of sexual assault.

Tiny Pitcairn Island, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, population 53, is seeking a new social worker and a new teacher. The biggest attraction of the teacher job is that it pays around $80,000 and there is no income tax.

In 2004, six of the men on Pitcairn were convicted of sexual offences relating to sex with underage girls.

They had to help build their own prison and were occasionally let out to help with life on the demanding island.

A social worker was introduced after the convictions to provide child protection and community development.

The New Zealand-based Pitcairn deputy governor, Ginny Silva, said the social worker role was a two-year appointment that worked in concert with the teacher and police officer, both of whom were appointees from New Zealand. It would suit someone with experience living in a small rural community with an adventurous spirit, Silva said.

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Even getting to the island is an adventure – a flight to Tahiti, then on to another island, then a 36-hour boat ride to Pitcairn where you transfer, mid-ocean, to a longboat that takes you ashore. Pitcairn is 5000km from New Zealand, 5000km from South America and there's one boat in and out every three months.

Outgoing social worker, Rae Mutu, from Rotorua, told the Sunday Star-Times that the 10 children are from two families, five from each, aged between one and 13.

Despite the convictions, there was no hostility and the people were friendly and welcoming, Mutu said.

There was a lively social life on the island with many birthdays, combined dinners, a fishing club and a cafe. "They were far more hospitable and friendly and warm than I would have expected."

Many of the islanders are related, having descended from the mutineer sailors from the Bounty in 1789.

Silva said the social worker position and the the teacher role included provision for a partner to travel with them and live on the island.

The weather is sub-tropical – 18 to 22C most days but not hot and humid – and Mutu, a keen swimmer, said the year-round swimming and snorkelling was spectacular.

Despite the isolation, the island does have a somewhat slow internet connection and two television channels – CNN and the Turner Classic Movie Channel.

The other catch is that electricity is available only 10 hours a day.

Sunday Star Times