Tahiti post issued a set of three stamps featuring Locomotive, French Company of Phosphates of Oceania and the port. Makatea is an island located in the northwest area of the Tuamotu island group.
That atoll was raised by a past tectonic movement and now forms a coral plateau with an approximate surface area of 30 sq. km. The cliffs sometimes overlook the ocean at a height exceeding 100m.
For thousands of years, the excreta of many colonies of birds mixed with limestone and resulted in phosphate sand that was detected as early as 1884. But official mining did not begin before 1910 after some horse-trading with the owners of many undivided lands. The “Compagnie Française des Phosphates de l’Océanie” (French Company of Phosphates of Oceania) exploited the ore until 1966. The huge mine, where thousands of workers worked, had a major impact on the economic life of French Polynesia during the first half of the 20th century.
At the time one of the largest and most cosmopolitan venture in the world, the project had to cope with many difficulties.
Although shovels, picks and wheelbarrows were the main tools, a huge infrastructure had to be built and very complex techniques were implemented, as witnessed by the huge metal jetty with a span of 106 metres, or the funicular railway or the 7 kilometres of railway used by the only train operating in Oceania!
Many Polynesians found a job at the Pacific Nuclear Test Centre after the shutdown of the phosphate mine but many former workers still talk about the Makatea period with some nostalgia.
Title: 100th anniversary of phosphate mining in Makatea
Date of Issue: 17 August 2010
Denominations: 70 F, 100 F, 140 F