Saturday, August 3, 2013

This guy was living the self sufficient lifestyle before people even used the phrase.

 Tom Neale is long dead.  He's one of the few people I ever heard of that actually did go live on an island by himself.  Almost everybody has had that thought at one time or another in their lives, but he did it.

Born in 1902,  he did a stint in the New Zealand navy,  then worked  in Tahiti to build up some money.  After he had a nest egg, he got himself delivered to Suwarrow atoll in 1952  and lived on one of the islands there. He found an old shack that had been used by the coast  watchers in WW2, fixed it up, and settled in.  He stayed there, with his two cats for company for a couple of years. Then he hurt his back and had to leave in 1954.  He didn't get back until 1960. After a three year stint in which time he was visited by the helicopter from a passing American warship, he went back to Roratonga island in 1964. Some pearl fishermen had started using the atoll and they were loud and obnoxious. He couldn't handle it so he left.

He went back in 1967 for the last time.  Neale lived peacefully on the island until 1977.  Feeling ill, he was picked up and taken back to Rarotonga.  It turned out he had stomach cancer and he died eight months later.

Somebody built a luxury hotel on the island , which seems to be what happens to all the beautiful, quiet places on the planet.  Maybe he died at the right time, so he never had to see that.

This is a fascinating book.  No one who wants to live in an isolated area and live as much on their own as they can should forego reading it.  I learned a good deal from the book, and his memoirs were fascinating in their own right. Tom Neale was something of an eccentric, but people who go off and live away from other human beings have to be a little that way to make a go of it.


  1. I remember that book well. It was a good read. Can't say I thought much of the man, treated his family rather cavalierly, but still you get a good feel for how hard it is to do it all alone.
    You might also like Peterson's book about Sylvan Hart, The Last Mountain Man.

  2. I've never heard of Sylvan Hart, but I'll sure get the book. Sounds like something I'd be interested in. Neale was certainly not a family man but I don't think he could help it. If he had felt any attachment to any other people he wouldn't have been able to go live on an island alone. I was surprised he didn't take a woman along with him, as I recall several of them indicated they'd join him. No knowing what was in his mind I guess.

  3. Just came across this and will have to check it out.

    You may have also seen or read about Dick Proenneke, who lived alone in Alaska for nearly 30 years. I did a post/video about him a while back. There is a really cool video series that ran on PBS a while back--3 or 4 videos long. Also a book. google him or a couple links here:

  4. U.D.

    I first saw Proenneke's video when PBS broadcast it. He was quite a fellow and could seemingly make anything out of raw wood. I hated it that his story ended in an old folks home but he had a good life.