My first reaction to the idea of cutting through the chains that keep Manoel Island shut was less than enthusiastic.
I had never visited the area that was closed off, and had no emotional connection to it.
I had no memory, no ties whatsoever to the area. So my reaction was a simple: ‘Why should I care?’
But now that I’ve traipsed through the weedy overgrowth, my reaction changed. ‘How had I never been here?’
Imagine you give your house keys to a workman to do some renovation, and that workman proceeds to change the lock. When you return, you realise you cannot enter your own house. This is, essentially, what happened in Manoel Island.
In brief: Manoel Island, along with Tigne Point, was given to local consortium MIDI to develop into high-end real estate back in 2000. The contract noted that parts of the area could only be closed by government itself during periods of construction. MIDI instead proceeded to lock down Manoel Island for 16 years, locking away with it the pristine shoreline, the beautifully rugged terrain and the small fish that will nibble at your toes if you let them. The issue is further complicated in that the foreshore was excluded from the concession, so MIDI had no right at all to bar access to it.
Those are the basics. Now, how did I get around to caring, before I had even seen the place with my own eyes?
That has a lot to do with the work of the Gzira Local Council. Two weeks ago they took MIDI to court, demanding the public be given access to the foreshore, which obviously brought the issue to the forefront of the media.
A few days later the council held a press conference which drew in many locals, highlighting the connection of people to this land – a connection that was still strong after 16 long years. MIDI, on the other hand, claimed allowing public access to the foreshore would turn the island into an open-air drug den, just like… every other piece of shoreline on the island?
Don’t worry if you don’t know what they’re on about – no one does, least of all the many people joining us this weekend. Which brings us to the point of this whole action – guaranteeing access to the island for everyone to enjoy.
“We had pensioners, families, youths, couples, all exploring this huge tract of land for the first time in a decade and a half.”
We had pensioners, families, youths, couples, all exploring this huge tract of land for the first time in a decade and a half.
How did we do it? Quite simple really – we got a chain cutter, and we used it. We put on our boots and our sunscreen and we got to work. With the support of the mayor, we walked through Manoel Island and took down the fences and gates in our way.
After that was done we pitched our tents, (well, they’re pop-up tents so can we even say pitched?) and treated ourselves to a swim, which in turn led to a serious activist-group-wide sunburn, which is why right at this second, you will find a very glamorous tribe of lobsters camped out outside Fort Manoel.
Memories were made, aubergines were grilled and good times were had by all…(except for the Black Knight of Fort Manoel whose solitude had been disturbed.)
Many people expressed interest in the idea of turning the place into a national park, a green lung for the heavily urbanised Northern Harbour area. (Leaders, take note.)
I am of a generation that simply doesn’t know anything about Manoel Island, and what there is to see here. It is high time that the public is given back what is rightfully ours.
We will either be given it back or we will just have to take it.
Additional reporting by Maya d’Ugo