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Beyond the Coral Sea: Travels in the Old Empires of the South-West Pacific Paperback – May, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


'Everything you wanted to know about cannibalism but were afraid to ask is here.' Daily Telegraph 'Filled with tales of wonder, sadness and extraordinary behaviour.' Sunday Times

From the Publisher

East of Java and west of Tahiti a bird of dazzling plumage stalks the Pacific over the Cape York Peninsula of Australia. In her wake, she spills clusters of emeralds on the surface of the deep. These are the unknown paradise islands of the Coral, Solomon and Bismarck Seas lying off the east coast of Papua New Guinea.

Along the way Michael Moran explores the role of superstition, magic rites and the occult in the lives of the islanders, including the trading route of the Kula Ring which unites many tribal island groups in a mystical exchange of symbolically valuable objects, one set travelling clockwise around the ring, the other anti-clockwise. His narrative is interwoven with the stories of eccentric residents past and present – such as the self-styled ‘Queen Emma’ of New Britain, who was born of an American father and a Samoan mother and built up a large empire of copra plantations, as well as trading in the fabled obsidian (black volcanic glass) and entertaining on a lavish scale with imported food and French champagne. Moran describes the historic anthropological work of Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands and also catches up with some of the adventurers, mercenaries, explorers, missionaries and prospectors he has encountered on previous journeys.

The islands were the last inhabited place on earth to be explored by Europeans and even today many remain largely unspoilt, despite the former presence of German, British and even Australian colonial rulers. In addition there has been a recent resurgence of cannibalism in the remoter areas. But rather than a tale of cannibals and blood, this is a journey in the romantic and adventurous spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson and an exploration of encroaching change in remarkably diverse cultures. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 410 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006552358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006552352
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,654,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Moran has led a varied and adventurous life. Born and educated in Australia and Europe, he spent his twenties wandering the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia. He finally settled among the descendants of the Bounty mutiny on Norfolk Island off the eastern Australian coast. As the Broadcasting Officer for the Administration, he helped establish the radio station.

Subsequently pursuing a career in music, he studied the piano and harpsichord professionally in London for many years, facilitated by his academic work as an English teacher. He has lectured on a variety of subjects, ranging from the music of Fryderyk Chopin and François Couperin to British art and architecture and the colonial history and culture of the South Pacific region. His historical novel, Point Venus, set in the former British penal settlement on Norfolk Island, was successfully published in Australia. (Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney 1998).

Posted for some years to Poland shortly after the fall of communism, his life-long fascination with Melanesia drew him to the work of the enigmatic Polish anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski. This encounter and an abiding interest in the German Pacific Empire precipitated his latest return to the South Seas. Beyond the Coral Sea: Travels in the Old Empires of the South-West Pacific was the fruit of this expedition through the island provinces of Papua New Guinea (HarperCollins, London 2003 and Flamingo 2004). The book was short-listed for the 2004 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.

He has most recently written A Country in the Moon : Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland, a memoir and residence book chronicling his adventures in Poland immediately following the fall of communism. Published by 'Granta'.

Lately he was awarded a literary grant by the Australia Council to write the biography of his grand uncle, the once internationally famous but now forgotten Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill. A severely edited version of his colourful life featured in the Prologue to A Country in the Moon. The book is provisionally entitled A Lamp Post in London: The Singular History of the Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill. Historic recordings of Chopin and Liszt made by Cahill in the 1930s will accompany the book.

A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a lecturer there and an incessant traveller, he lives and works in Warsaw, Sydney and London.

For more details on books, reviews,video interview and work in progress:

Website for details and Reviews:

Blog on work in porogress:

Video interview concerning contemporary Poland:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book on the Island Provinces of Papua New Guinea rather than the Highlands for a hundred years and what a brilliant book it is! Finely-written with beautiful photographs (particularly of children and island landscapes) as well as excellent maps.
Clearly a product of extensive research, this book gives the reader a balanced insight into a vanishing world in a way that is both informative and hugely entertaining. The islands are still almost pristine and 'stone-age' in character but not for much longer I fear. The stories the author tells of characters both historical and modern are almost beyond belief - often hilarious - obviously the apex of European eccentrics vsited New Guinea.
This is travel writing of the highest quality about a place most readers are highly unlikely to visit. The account of the great Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand "Islands of Love" is both penetrating and enlightening. Moran is one of those rare travel writers who respects what he sees and communicates this to the reader with dry humour and deep understanding. As a missionary tells him, life in Papua New Guinea can be both "terrible and wonderful" by turns. Moran steers us through this difficult cultural labyrinth with brilliance. I am looking forward to the Polish edition next year!
"Beyond the Coral Sea" will become the standard work and required reading for anyone contemplating a trip to Papua New Guinea - even those who are not.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Al Diver on April 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
As a traveller who has spent a total of about 18 months in and around the island regions of Papua New Guinea, I found this book to be just what I look for before and during a trip to any area. Moran's trip illustrated exactly what a traveller will experience while in the country and also gives the historical background so that time is not wasted trying to discover how a culture or area has come to be what it is.

While looking over the harbor of Rabaul and seeing the Duke of York Islands and the southern end of New Ireland, I felt as though I could feel the history taking place. Even Moran's encounters with modern day expatriots in airports and towns ring so true to my experiences that I felt he was writing about my trip without me knowing it.

It is my goal to gain this insight for every country I visit but it is hardly realized. This book fulfilled that goal for Papua New Guinea and raised the bar for my travel reading in the future.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harry Eagar VINE VOICE on June 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
Australian travel writer Michael Moran boned up, so to speak, before his leisurely sweep through the cannibal islands. The cannibals are mostly Christians now, of somewhat puritanical bent, but not so strait-laced that they do not tease tourists about who's for dinner.

Nevertheless, this is more ambitious than the usual drool of travelogues, and consequently somewhat disappointing in that it shoots high but hits low too often.

Moran has lived in Poland and knows Polish and German, useful because he wants to explore the present in the context of the recent past -- the colonial era of Germany, Russia, Japan and Australia. Polish comes in because Poles did, especially the anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and the Russian Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay, who introduced the concept of living at length among one's subjects. Moran has unlimited admiration for him.

For the missionaries, his feelings are mixed, as they should be.

Having packed his boxes of 19th century books, Moran then visits Port Moresby, in 2000 and still one of most dangerous places. Moran explains he will not visit the Highlands, even more dangerous, and he is glad to get out of Moresby for the eastern or island provinces: Massim, New Ireland, New Britain, Buka, (very briefly) Bougainville, the Trobriands.

It was hot.

Moran tries, not too successfully, to keep three balls in the air: flashbacks to the early years of white contact, meetings with Melanesians, meetings with `expatriates.'

The theme of the book becomes, "the beautiful children of Melanesia." These are contrasted with the fierce (but usually amiable once introduced) older men and the sullen, resentful young ones.
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Format: Paperback
- Covers the brief German colonialist period

- Investigates issues of poverty, cultural dislocation and crime (the "raskols")

- Not so much on cannibalism per se, but it is disconcerting to read how relatively frequently uppity missionaries were eaten!

- The Manus Island dances give new meaning to the term "Members Only"

- Well-researched

- Multiple sets of great photos

- Stories of adventurous missionaries and misfits such as Count D'Albertis, the Cambridge Seven, Bronislaw Malinowski, Baron Miklouho-Maclay and of course Errol Flynn

- Good exploration of cultural concepts and artifacts such as malagan masks, tubuans, dukduks etc.

- Best book chapter is the Essay on Kwato Island - very poignant, poetic and melancholy

The balance of memoir, travelogue, history and essay is good but not as good as other travel writers such as Robert D. Kaplan or Bruce Chatwin. Moran has all the right ingredients, but the proportions need tweaking.

Great line: "once the tropics infects your blood, it enslaves you like a terminal illness"
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