The Falklands – small but remarkable

October 7, 2012 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, My Column 

 

Thirty years ago, in May, the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina for the simple reason that Argentina laid claims to them. Argentina described these islands as the Malvinas. It argued that the first settlers on the islands were Argentines.
Today, the population of the islands numbers a mere 3,000, comprising people of 65 nationalities. They spread over miles of territory so that one must drive for as long as two hours between homesteads with nothing but flat prairie land, stone runs (stone running down the mountain like water flowing from waterfalls) and sheep.

Adam Harris at the site of the Argentine graves

For their part, the residents of the Falklands consider themselves British. They argue that they were thee at least two generations before the Argentines ever set foot their way back in the 1800s.
As a result of the Argentine invasion, Britain went to war with Argentina fighting on the islands. Hundreds died on both sides. The collateral damage was horrendous with the Argentines sinking three ships, one of them being the HMS Sheffield, a modern cruiser, and the transport ship, Sir Galahad. In turn the British sank the Argentine battleship, General Belgrano. Hundreds died.
In East Falklands where the fighting was concentrated around Goose Green, a community of no more than 100, and Darwin where no more than 20 people lived, there are monuments to those killed. There is a graveyard for some 300 Argentine soldiers killed.
Argentina contends that the soldiers have a right to be buried there because they died fighting for their homeland. The people of the Falklands simply want to get on with their lives. For their part they are simply prepared to respect the dead, many of whom, neither them nor the Argentines know. The result is that the plaque over many of the graves simply reads, “Soldado Argentino solo conocido por Dios” –An Argentine soldier only God knows.
And there are monuments to the British soldiers killed during the conflict, all set up by their friends and relatives who travelled so far south to erect them. The residents maintain them and lay wreaths and poppies each year.
At this time of the year, the winter is just ending so the place can be bitterly cold. For as far as the eye could see there are no trees. In fact, the few trees on East Falklands, no more than 10, were all imported and none is more than 15 feet tall.
The Falklands are a windswept group of islands and indeed the wind could be terribly strong. This may be one of the reasons why there are no trees, only gorse bush, another import from England–and an invasive species at that. About 60 per cent of the power is generated from wind turbines and these can be seen on every homestead. When the wind becomes too strong these have to be shut down and power is generated by the diesel generators which provide backup.
The temperature hovers just above freezing so one must constantly be wrapped up in layers of clothing.
Sheep abound so that every landholder is a sheep farmer controlling huge acreages because wool is his livelihood. There are numerous geese; hares run around like nobody’s business and fishing is the major export. But from the Falklanders’ diet no one would know this. The Falklanders rarely eat fish. Their diet is largely lamb.
Almost of half of the residents are public servants. They are the few teachers and doctors, many of whom are contract workers, the clerks and other office staff. In one school in Goose Green there were no more than five children. Teachers conduct classes by radio for the others who live in some other remote part of the island.
The police commissioner was recruited from England following a public notice that was advertised internationally. The policemen are few and are supported by volunteers.
The last road fatality was recorded five years ago when a teenager speeding in a Land Rover crashed and died.
Tourism plays a significant part in the economy of the islands. Cruises ship brings in enough people to almost double the island population. And the tourists come to see the penguins and the sea lions which abound.
There is a radio station and a small newspaper called the Penguin News and which is little more than a pamphlet. There are more jobs than people with the result that some people do as many as three jobs. The economy is booming with the recent discovery of oil and the earnings from the present activities.
All development on the island is being funded by the Falklands Government to the extent that the people insist that they are self sufficient. However, they import just about everything, from the wood to build their homes to the vehicles they drive to the alcohol they drink. (The island has a small brewery).  Social activities are limited to the few pubs, almost all of which exist in Stanley, the capital with a population of about 2,500 and which is sited at the westernmost end of East Falkland.
Internet access is costly at £5 Sterling or G$1,600 for an hour but for all this the inhabitants seem happy. They are preparing for a referendum to determine whether they will continue to be a British overseas protectorate or whether they will opt for self government.
But for now they are happy and like every small community, they are clannish. It is not easy for outsiders to become a resident.

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