By Caitlin Vandertop
Loath as I am to admit this, I’m not really a nature lover. So my recent decision to move to Lamma was unsurprisingly met with a wave of incredulity. (‘But you hate insects!’) While it’s true that, like some deranged, modern-day Baudelaire, I think there’s unparalleled beauty to be found in an empty, multi-storey car park, which no mountain range can compete with, I’ve got to say that Lamma has its own charms. For one thing, no matter where I walk on the island I feel like I’m in a Ballard novel. The place is thick with lush tropical vegetation, but it’s also got this shabby, industrial, post-apocalyptic vibe which makes it seem as though the jungle is about to swallow us all. I love to stroll down from my village house to ‘Power Station Beach’, a spot unparalleled for its sublime incongruity. I pass oil drums that merge with giant creepers, snakes that slither over rusting steel girders, a lone 1980s Coca-Cola vending machine – one half eroded by the elements – standing forlornly in the tropical ferns. In Lamma you see beautiful signs for things like the ‘Municipal Water Processing Plant Facility Headquarter’, which hang, lop-sided and yellowing, entwined in menacing pink bougainvilleas. And you never know what’s more toxic: the untreated sewage and radiation, or the venomous snakes, spiders, toads and snails. Like the Ballardian universe, the island seems to speak to the twisted effects of industrial modernity on our psychic and social lives, capturing the contradictions of that assemblage of nature and society that we call the external world. I’m just waiting for the alligators of The Drowned World to swarm past with hydroelectric transmitters tethered to their scaly backs.
So each morning, before I start work, I stare out of my window at the thick, flowering vegetation, the giant chimneys from the power plant rising from the morning haze, and the massive container ships floating just beyond the pier. I can’t think of a more fitting place to write a PhD, in an age of questions about the anthropocene or ‘post’-industrial society. And I know I sound blasé about the possible hazards of Lamma life, but it really is a beautiful island. Although, of course, this depends on your definition of the beautiful!
* The author apologizes if this article somehow contributes to Lamma’s inevitable gentrification.