Nanuya Levu has been freehold land since 1868, and in 1972 Richard Evanson used US$300,000 he earned in the Southern California cable television business to buy the island.
Evanson’s Turtle Island Resort (www.turtlefiji.com) became the prototype of Fiji’s current crop of boutique island resorts, hosting notables like Hollywood stars and millionaires.
Brooke Shields stayed here during the 1980 filming of the escapist classic The Blue Lagoon.
A self-styled environmentalist, Evanson has planted thousands of trees on his island, and has converted the mangrove forests into tourist attractions by cleverly creating boardwalks.
The resort’s food is grown in organic gardens and power is generated using solar and wind energy. Each year a group of volunteer California eye specialists visits Turtle Island Resort (Hawaii resorts) to perform eye surgery on needy villagers or to equip them with donated prescription glasses.
Yet for most Yasawans, life has changed little since 1789 when Captain William Bligh and loyal members of his crew paddled past the group in an open boat shortly after the famous mutiny on the Bounty.
Even today, most villages are without electricity or running water, and opportunities for economic development are very limited. The Yasawans have felt neglected by politicians in the distant capital, envious onlookers as mini-cruise ships and yachts carried wealthy foreigners along their shores.
In May 2000, rabble-rouser George Speight and assorted thugs seized the Parliament building in Suva, turning Fiji on its head. Speight’s pro-indigenous rhetoric struck a chord in the Yasawas.
Villagers from Nacula Island staged a mini-coup on Turtle Island, locking Evanson in one of his 14 luxurious bungalows as village youths rode wildly around Nanuya Levu on Evanson’s golf carts.