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mercredi 11 décembre 2013

The train station of Makatea: Falaise

Terminus of the phosphate railway line

In 1904, it’s been confirmed that Makatea contained one of the purest phosphates deposit in the world. As a result of which, the destiny of the atoll is going to change drastically.

The first rumors about the presence of phosphate on the island of Makatea back to 1884. But, Captain Bonnet was the first who, in 1890, reported the presence of this valuable fertilizer.

The village of Temao at Makatea in 1910
It should be expected until 1904 that Professor Agassiz bring back to Papeete samples for analysis. The confirmation of a possible and valid exploitation of a tricalcite phosphate, grading between 80% and 85% pure ore, one of the highest of the world, is finally given.

Therefore, the fate of the isle of Makatea is sealed.

Birth of an extraordinary industrial adventure
Since 1905, Touzé, a chief of Public Works, came. In three short years, he will influence things fundamentally.

The “fare” (home) of the mine manager
In collaboration with Mr. Goupil, an influential notary in those days, he immediately contact the “Pacific Phosphate Company” which operates deposits of Nauru and the Indian Ocean.

And in 1907, with Goupil family on the one hand and the “Pacific Nauru Phosphate Corporation” on the other hand, he creates the “French Society of the Pacific Islands”.

Before the train, transporting of ore by wheelbarrows
Last administrative and legal step, on 4 December 1908, the new “Compagnie Française des phosphates de l’Océanie (Oceanian Phosphates French Company)”, or CFPO, was born; a Company with 52 shareholders. Mr. Touzé immediately abandons his official position in order to head the Company.

Phosphates, environment and cultural heritage
If respect for the environmental and archaeological sites is reported in official writings, unfortunately, archeology, at this time, is still in its infancy and phosphate mining is a priority. So neither excavations, nor study…

The burial cave of the Spanish Princess
Fortunately, the burial caves of the pre-European times often were beyond reach. Thus most of them escape destruction. In 1930, eight marae were identified. Only one, “Ra Inpu”, is preserved.

As for the numerous caves containing clear water that could satisfy a sizeable population, they will be used only at the beginning for refueling the newcomers. Then, the exploitation will always take priority.

Fresh and crystalline water of Vairoa cave
Groundwater will be achieved in 1933 and they never provide more than 150 m3 water per day. The supply will therefore by recovery tanks and by sea.

Phosphates: human and economic outputs for French Polynesia
From the outset, the new Company faces enormous difficulties to local recruitment. Thus, in 1908, out of 300 people needed, 25 Polynesians only ensure this required industrial work.  

Apart from the Vietnamese who return home in 1946 because of the war, all Asian workers leave Makatea later in 1934. They are replaced by islanders of Cook.

The phosphate years in Makatea 
It will be until 1956 that nearly 100% of mine employees are Polynesians.

From 1908 to 1966, thousands of men from all walks of life and all ethnic groups have worked to extract the Polynesian phosphate, playing a vital role to the economic development of French Polynesia.

The legendary train of Makatea
Initially, if mechanical devices appear, ore continues to be transported by wheelbarrows on wood boards instead of roads and even bridges, until the treadmills which join the sheds of CFPO

At the station of Falaise : the train of Makatea
It was only much later that the rail network will be created at Makatea. Extending over a length of 7 km and drawing a crow’s-foot, it even has a train station with the evocative name of “Falaise” (Cliff).

It was in 1927 that the first metal pier was built at the port of Temao. It’s 50 m. long and it extends the platform beyond the reef to allow the loading of phosphate on the freighters.

The “grasshopper” of the port of Temao
Then, between 1953 and 1955, a gigantic mobile gateway, 300m range, “the grasshopper”, is installed. It can flow directly 550 tons of mineral ore per hour in the cargo.

Many remains of these installations are still visible at Makatea.

From the Makatea phosphate to Moruroa nuclear power
From 1908 to 1966, about 11, 28 million tons of high-quality ore are extracted from the bowels of Makatea.

There were up to 3000 people, living in Makatea, spread between the villages of Moumu and Vaitapaua.

Makatea, once the phosphate exhausted…
But the golden age was to end. In 1962, there are still 2 273 permanent residents on the island. In 1967, there are only 60 people, owners and fishermen.

The Polynesian workers of Makatea joined their respective islands. With their expertise, know-being, sense of discipline and their various skills, these workers become a major asset to the economy of the French Polynesia.

In particular, they participate in major projects of the all new installations of the Centre d’Expérimentation du Pacifique (Pacific Experimentation Centre).

What remains from the loading bridge, today.
The era of phosphates is completed, begins the nuclear…

-The photos accompanying this article come from Michel Fayadat’s Collection and Vahineitaria Silvia’s research.  We would like to thank them. 
-Click here to read more in our articles: “Makatea, the mining island” and “Makatea today

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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