When she was eight, my sister Jen became very ill. She ended up being in the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne for about a total of three months over a year.

The doctors said afterwards, when they had finally what was wrong with her that she was a ticking time bomb and it would have happened wherever we were. It just so happened that we were living in a third world country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

In 1993 both my parents, teachers, took the redundancy package that the Kennet government was offering. They bought the Terang Greengrocery at the end of '93. My father also bought a Fresha Fruit Juice delivery truck sometime in the first half of 1994.

They sold the shop at the end of '94 and mum had her first and only year at home. It wasn't a very relaxing time for her as she became President of the Terang kindergarten and this involved a lot of hard work.

By the end of 1995 Mum and Dad both wanted to go back to teaching, but couldn't in Victoria because of the package they took. They started looking interstate, preferably Queensland. They looked into the Queensland idea but decided against it as the registration fees were extremely high.

Their next thought was the Northern Territory. They applied for jobs and had had an interveiw when Dad spotted an add in The Age one morning for a Maths/Science teacher and a Business Legal Studies teacher. Perfect! Mum is Maths/science while Dad is business.

The job was for St Joseph's College in Kiribati. None of us had even heard of the place, so out came the map and we discovered that Kiribati is a group of thirty three islands in the Central Pacific. It was previously called the Gilbert Islands, which rang a few bells for Mum and dad - still none for me!

They applied for the jobs. A few days later they found out they had the jobs in Darwin, but decided to go with Kiribati. It seemed like more of an adventure!

They got the jobs. We were to leave in February 1996 and stay for two years. St Joseph's was in the village of Tabwiroa on the island of Abaiang, about 4-6 hours by boat and 15 minutes by plane from the main island, Tarawa.

When they first told us kids; me (10), Jen (8) and my brother Nick (5), I was the one most against the idea. I really didn't want to go. Looking back now, I can't remember the reasons for not wanting to go, so they mustn't have been very good reasons. I think it might have been the length of time we were meant to be away - two years. To a ten-year-old, two years seems forever! When we got back I'd be going into Year 7. That was forever away!

We were going whether I liked it or not, and the plans went ahead. We put the house up for rent and a young couple, Silke and Leo were going to move in. All our animals came with the house and Silke was a vet so that was a bonus!

Mum and Dad packed most of our personal things into the shed and we moved to Grandma's for a couple of days before we were due to fly out.

We flew out of Melbourne in about the second week of February. Grandma, two uncles, an aunt, eight cousins and two friends came to see us off at the airport. I was a bit sad about leaving, but mostly excited. The flight would take around 8 hours. The flight left at midnight so I slept most of the way. We had two stops, the first at Honiara in the Solomon Islands for an hour, then at Nauru for a plane swap. I remember Mum filling out all these customs forms on the steps as we were lining up to get through customs. We were in Nauru for perhaps an hour and a half before we were back on the plane for the last leg of the journey. Next stop would be Bonriki International Airport, Tarawa.

Just before we were about to land the captain's voice came over.

"Good morning, this is your captain speaking. We are about to land in Bonriki. Local time 10:30 am, temperature 27oC, humidity - very high. Enjoy your stay."

Me? I didn't know what humidity was. I soon found out. When we got off the plane it was just before the first rains in four months. The humidity was unbelievable! Once we had gotten through customs, we met up with Sister Tiura (pronounced Sura. In the Kiribati language 'ti' is pronounced 's') and another sister, who unfortunately I cant remember her name.

We drove to the sister's convent in Teorerekee. I'll always remember that drive. It was absolutely pouring, and there were people everywhere just having fun in the rain. When it rained in Kiribati, boy did it rain! It wasn't just the miserable drizzle we get here most of the time. This was heavy rain that could probably give you bruises!

I don't know how long we stayed on Tarawa for but it would have been for around a week. We met Angela and Stephen Lyons for the first time then. Angela was a German woman. She was one of the nurses at St Joseph's. Her husband, Terry was an Australian teaching at the school. Stephan was their middle son. He was seven and later became my favourite out of the three boys.

When a boat became available we embarked on our final part of the journey - Abaiang. I can remember little of the boat ride except feeling extremely seasick! It took us four hours - a very good time we were told. Angela told us once it had taken them eight hours. That had been in particularly bad weather.

My next memories are all blurred together; meeting the rest of the Lyons family: Terry, Jonathan who was the same age as Jen and Matthew who was the same age as Nick; starting school at St Paul's Primary School.

My teacher's name was Aribo. In my diary I wrote;

Tues 27/2/96

My second day at school. The work was easy. I learnt the alphabet. My teacher's name is Aribo. She's nice.

I had Aribo for a week before she left, and then my teacher was Teataake.

I didn't enjoy school very much. I got on well with Teataake, but I didn't really make friends with any of the other kids at first. It was a bit hard too, when they couldn't speak much English and I only knew a few basic words of I-Kiribati.

It was also hard too, because as I was an Imatung (white person) I seemed to get treated special. For example I got to sit at a desk, while everyone else had to sit on the ground- potholes and all. I soon abandoned that privilege as it made me feel left out and part from things. They would all be sitting around having fun, laughing, while I would be up with the teacher just watching everyone, wishing I could be apart of it. I just started sitting on the floor. I got a few funny looks at first - like "what is she doing? Why isn't she sitting up at her desk? After they got over that it was good.

That was probably why I got lice the most out of our family. Lice were a big problem among the I-Kiribati, especially the girls who nearly all had extremely long black hair. The longest I saw was down to her knees, but most were just to their waist. Only about two girls in the whole school had short hair!

It was a common site to see up to 10 girls, sitting in a line picking the lice out of the person in front's hair. I know it sounds weird, but I felt privileged, like one of them, when I participated in this 'grooming'.

School got bit better after a few months as I started to make friends, and settled into life in general in Kiribati. Life in Kiribati was very different in a lot of ways to life in Australia. One of the things - and this was the one that most of my friends seemed most aghast at was that we had only about 4 hours a day of electricity and no television. Along with the absence of television was other items that seemed essential here in Australia such as refrigerators, freezers, hot water service (well that one was one we could easily do without!), computers and so on. School finished at lunchtime, instead of the usual mid-afternoon. We spent a lot more time outside, playing and inventing our own games. Lego was a favourite. We also spent a lot of time swimming. Tabwiroa had a beautiful beach.

I can only remember one really bad day and that was in March. I was having a bad day to start with; I missed everyone back home and I don't think I had a very good day at school. To cheer me up Mum and Dad took us all down to the beach (about a two-minute walk) for a swim.

For a start it was low tide. The water probably only got up to about 30cm deep at low tide. Then there was the dog's head just lying in the middle of the beach. On closer inspection there were crabs crawling all over and in it. That freaked me out a bit. To top it off there were millions of dead jellyfish in the water, which totally freaked me out. Back then in our pre- jellyfish fighting days I was petrified of the jellyfish. I really didn't like them. I think I became a bit hysterical before Mum finally took me home.

I was scared of jellyfish, until one day Matthew put on down my top. Without thinking I grabbed one and chucked it at him. I was like " Oh my god! I just touched a jellyfish! Oh…It wasn't that bad…Take that Matthew!"

By the start of July things were going pretty well. I thought so anyway. We'd all pretty much settled in and gotten used to the way things worked. I'd made some good friends; Terubetaake, Tirotaake, Abe (Abby), Tibwa, Taataa, Betero and Rinata to name a few. I won $5 on Prize-giving Day for being equal top of the class with Terubetaake. I was a bit ashamed - she bet me in English.

We started practicing our marching routines for the Independence Day celebrations on July 12th. Only classes 4 and up had to actually do it on the day so Jen, Jonathan, Stephan, Matthew and Nick all got out of it. I was embarrassed on the day because I had to wear the boy's uniform (red shorts and a white shirt) because I didn't have a dress. (The usual uniform was a bright pink dress for the girls and white shirt and pink shorts for the boys) I remember some of the older girls pointing at me and laughing, saying "mwane!" meaning boy! I shook my head. " No…aine!" Aine is girl.

For the Independence celebrations their was a big sports carnival for the High Schools on Tarawa. Dad went over with the students for it, and also to buy more supplies.

A lot of the other teachers went as well.

There were three young female teachers; two Canadians and an Aussie. Dale, Judith and Kelly. Judith and Kelly both went to Tarawa, so that left Dale alone in their house.

Mum felt sorry for her and invited her over for tea one night. I can even remember what we had to eat that night. It had green stuff in it…ok so I cant really remember what we had but I know it had green stuff in it!

After Dale left, Nick went to bed and Jen and I mucked around in our shared room. We were doing silly dances and making up songs - I was doing the crab dance, running from side to side like a crab. Yes, weird I know.

Jen was laughing so much, she said she needed to go to the toilet. For ages after that she blamed me for making her sick, because I made her laugh that time.

I wondered off into the kitchen where Mum was doing the dishes. A few seconds later we heard Jen scream. I joked to Mum that the crab must have come out of the shower drain - she was petrified of crabs (the shower was very large - you walked down into it and the drain was in the wall, not the floor. We had a crab living in there for the whole time we were in Tabwiroa. Jen refused to have a shower the whole time, preferring to have a bath in a small tub)

She screamed again, but it sounded like she was in pain, not just scared of a little crab. Mum and I looked at each other then rushed out through the dining room, across the gap between the buildings and into us kids room, through the doorway and into Mum and Dads room. Jen was bent over double in the doorway with her pants down and clutching her stomach, still screaming and crying. Mum brought her into her room and onto her bed. I was sent down to get Angela. When we came back, Jen had stopped screaming, but was still in a lot of pain. After examining and talking to Jen, Mum and Angela talked in the kitchen. Being the little eavesdropper I was, I listened. Angela thought she might be constipated; at worst it might be appendicitis. It turned out to be a lot worse than that.

Over the next few hours more people were fetched until there were about six women all sitting around Jens bed and a lantern - the generator being turned off at 11 pm. There was Angela, the other nurse Teborou, Sister Rotia (Rosa), Sister Anna, Mira and Mum all sitting on the floor in a semi-circle around Jens bed when nick and I woke in the morning. The first Nick knew of the whole situation was waking up and there was a whole heap of ladies in his room!

They decided to take Jen over to the hospital in Tarawa. One problem. They needed a boat. As it was Independence Week, nearly all of the boats were over at Tarawa. When they finally did find a boat, it was getting its engine repaired.

I didn't know this until later, and I was surprised when, after school had finished and we were walking over to get our bikes, Mum rode past in the Government Car - the only car on the island. The boat must have finally been fixed, because they were gone by nighttime.

Nick and I moved in with the Lyons'. It was new experience, living with five males! The only other female in the house was Angela. I was used to having the boys outnumbered! Well I did get a few privileges with that situation - like first shower after a swim. The boys shared. I enjoyed living with the Lyons'. Jonathan and I, being the older children got to stay up later. We often played games like 'Uno', 'Monopoly' and 'Sorry'. Sorry is an immensely popular board game in Kiribati. Everyone plays it.

It was during one of these night games that Sister Rotia came to give us the updates on Jen. They didn't know what was wrong with her -it definitely wasn't appendicitis. The thought it may be a cyst in her bladder. They operated and saw some weird stuff going on with her bladder. The doctor didn't know what to do, so he stitched her up and said she would have to go back to Australia.

Jen and Mum were flying to Melbourne on the 16th of July. I honestly thought that they would go, Jen would get 'fixed' and come back to Tabwiroa and life would go back to normal. I was to be severely disappointed.

Two days later, I was talking to Mum on the two-way radio in the school Office. I asked her when they would be coming back. She said that they wouldn't be. I was like "huh?" Mum said it again, that we would all be going back to Australia because Jen could get sick at anytime.

I started crying. Absolutely bawled. Everyone thought it was because I missed um and Dad and Jen, but it wasn't. Sure, I missed them, but that wasn't why I was crying. I was crying because I didn't want to leave. Me, the person who didn't want to come so much now was crying her eyes out because she wanted to stay.

After another two days, Dad came back home to Abaiang and Nick and me moved back into our house. It was a bit of a relief - I was starting to get a bit sick of Jonathan 24 hours a day.

Angela left for Tarawa around then too. They needed a nurse on the plane with Jen and Angela was it. For the next week, Dad and I did all the packing. Nick helped, but I don't think he actually did much. Neither did Dad for that matter - well not good things. He left a whole heaps of things that Mum wanted and bought back things that weren't even ours - like curtains an pillow covers that belonged to the school. Mum still jokingly knocks him for stealing from a third world country, accidental or not!

Terry and Dad shared the cooking for the five of us kids. Tinned Spaghetti baked beans, two-minute noodles and rice for a week. Nice…

Mum, Jen and Angela left on the 16th. When they arrived in Melbourne, the Ambulance officers that met them at the airport were expecting a big fat Nauruan. All they'd been told was that the person was coming on an Air Nauru flight…and Nauruans have a reputation of being big and fat! So when they saw that it was a little Aussie girl they got a bit of a surprise.

I remember going to school the morning after I found out we would be going back to Australia. Teatakke greeted me at the door with hr usual grin. I just told her straight away that we were going back to Australia. It was weird. Her face just kind of fell; the grin vanished into a confused frown. I don't think I talked for the rest of the morning.

I had my last day of school on the 19th of July. My classmates were really nice. A lot of them gave me presents, such as (what me and Stephen named) Kiribati candies (these did have another name, but we didn't know it. They were delicious!), garlands, a decorated fisherman's hat, necklaces, a packet of chips and some soap(?).

The next day some of the people from St Paul's took Dad, Nick and me out across the lagoon to one of the islets for a picnic. That was a really good day.

That night was our "Goodbye Feast". The I-Kiribati will use any excuse for a feast! They are always lots of fun. Singing, dancing and food are the main high lights. I got a seat for the first time - usually all us kids had to sit on the floor of the Mwaneaba. I had a good time that night. It was sad also, because I knew I would be leaving all this in a few days.

On the Sunday, we left for Tarawa on the small Air Tungaru plane. (Tungaru is the traditional name for what is now Kiribati. When they were becoming an independent nation, they decided that Tungaru sounded too much like Tuvalu, to the south. They decided to call it Kiribati - the local pronunciation of Gilbert) Nearly everyone from St Paul's and St Joseph's came to see us off. There were so many people! I hugged lots of people, then got on the plane. My last views of Abaiang were all blurred through my tears.

We stayed in Teorerekee again for about a week before flying back to Melbourne. We met Angela at the airport at Bonriki. I started crying again when we got on the plane. I realised that I probably wouldn't see many of these people ever again.

While we were lined up in another line at Nauru, Dad started chatting to this bloke. Its embarrassing how he does that- just starts chatting to them like he's known them for years. Anyway he was telling this person all about Jen and how we had to pay for 14 seats, as a stretcher took up 9 seats, even though Jen probably only took up a third of it. It turned out that this bloke that Dad just started chatting too was the new Managing director of Air Nauru and gave us a discount of 6 seats!

When we arrived in Melbourne, it was nighttime, the middle of winter and pouring down rain, which was great considering I was wearing a summer dress and had bare feet! Nick was the same…but without the dress. We nearly froze on the way through all the carparks to the car.

It took all those specialist doctors a year to figure out what was wrong wit Jen. She would go into the hospital for a few weeks, then seem better and come home, just to get sick again. They finally figured out that she had a weak part of her bladder that would burst open, then mend itself, only to burst open again the next time she had a full bladder. They operated and took the weak part off, so now she has strong, if slightly smaller bladder.

I really want to go back to Kiribati sometime- soon I hope.

By Rebecca Allinson