Pieces of Bird Island history

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The pit-saw used in the construction of Bird Island’s first hotel (Photo: Christine Larose)

During our visits to Bird Island we sometimes have to improvise. This has often involved a requirement for pieces of wood of various dimensions and we have obtained these from the carpentry workshop. Hidden beneath a pile of wooden planks we uncovered a 2.2 metre long saw blade. I had last seen it in 1973, when it was being used in the construction of the first of Bird Island’s chalets.
The materials used were largely obtained from the island, with only cement, tiles and some thatch being imported. (It was in some thatch of leaves of Latanier palms, imported from Praslin, that Black Rats were introduced accidentally in the late 1960s. They were eventually eradicated in 1996 by New Zealander Don Merton.)

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Bird Island’s chalets in 1976 (Photo: Chris Feare)

When most of Seychelles’ islands became coconut plantations, Casuarina trees were often planted around the islands’ perimeters as a windbreak. In addition to the felling of coconut trees to make room for the hotel and airstrips (the coconut timber was used to make furniture and charcoal), Casuarina trees were cut down in order that its strong timber could be used in hotel construction. The timber is hard and was used for all the structural beams for the chalets and restaurant building. All the beams were cut using the saw blade that we found, known as a pit saw. It was operated by two muscular men, William and Victor, with one of them standing on top of the timber to be cut and raising the saw, while the other was underneath the timber in a pit, and was responsible for pulling down the blade on its cutting downstroke. Day after day these men worked on this task, covered in sweat and sawdust. Discovery of this surviving pit-saw blade brought back memories of the manpower and energy needed to build the original hotel in the absence of all the machinery that is now readily available.

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Bird Island’s first tractor, still going strong at about 50 years old (Photo: Chris Feare)

The only piece of machinery on Bird Island in the early 1970s was a tractor. Its arrival on Bird Island required ingenuity. It was loaded on to the shell of an old, engineless boat on Mahe. This boat was towed by another over the 100 kilometres from Mahe to Bird, and on arrival was beached, cut in half and the tractor driven up the beach to begin its life as the only powerhouse then available. Among other things, it towed huge Casuarina logs to the sawing pit. Remarkably, this tractor remains, almost 50 years later, as a still working reminder of those early days that led Bird Island to become the first eco-style hotel in Seychelles.

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