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Drop in the Ocean….Norfolk Island

This tiny 5 x 8 kilometre speck was thrust into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, three million years ago – a violent, volcanic birth with no attachment to any other land.  It is an island where large green turtles break the surface nLandscape Of The Rocky Coastline Norfolk Island Wext to your kayak and a variety of nesting birds eye you with only a little caution.  Where fish once caught, are either traded perhaps for wild guava jam, or merely given away. Where locals still come to the wharf to watch the supply ship being unloaded, where, when you die, your mates dig your mates grave for a crate of beer and when your friends come to visit in winter, they bring their tipple and their slippers! Called an external territory of Australia, Norfolk Island seems to defy categorisation.  It is hundreds of kilometres from the nearest land. 

 

You fly out of an international departure terminal and comply with the island’s own customs and immigration regulations.  When you arrive, the currency is Australian, yet it has its own flag and government (but no political parties), its own stamps and its own language while still retaining ‘God Save the Queen’ as its national anthem. Fiercely proud of its independence and self sufficiency from Canberra, the locals greatly value their heritage.  A third of the population are direct descendants from the ‘Bounty’ mutineers who fled from the wrath of the British Government to Pitcairn Island and then were granted Norfolk Island as a new home by Queen Victoria in 1856.  Prior to the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders, Norfolk was a penal colony,  notorious for its violence and for one of the bloodiest episodes of British history. It was a place of despair and agony, desolation and degradation.  A place where death was too good, and purposefully denied, the convicts sent from Port Arthur. Can you feel the horror of its history?   No, not now.   Perhaps it’s the warmth and charm of the locals, the golden sandy beaches, the stately pine trees, or the beautiful pristine beaches or it could be the trust reflected in the eyes of the white tropic birds nesting under a pine tree or the joyous aerobatics of the thousands of migratory birds which come each year.  The cows that have right of way on the 200 kilometres of roads exude a gentleness and the feral geese, a lack of fear, as they rush up to your slowing car, anticipating a bite of your sandwich.  It is unique and a fascinating contradiction. However, if its history is disturbing, it is certainly enthralling.  It is kept very much alive by the present day Norfolk Islanders with the daily recounting and re-enactments which make up its variety of tourist attractions.   The Convict Settlement Tour, the painstakingly restored museums, the Mutiny on the Bounty Show, the drama acted out in the old courthouse of The Trial of the Fifteen or the sad and moving Sound and Light Show in the old penal settlement of Kingston.  It is also present in many of its festivals such as Thanksgiving Day which is celebrated each November.  A remnant from the American whalers who helped sustain the small community in the nineteenth century, but ‘Bounty Day which is held each year on the 8th of June, is the island’s most important historic festival.  Residents gather on Kingston Pier, dressed in period costumes to celebrate the arrival day of the Pitcairn Islanders.  Tiny children are pushed in wooden barrows, little girls hitch up long, white dresses and small boys play on the old boats and buildings of the second settlement.  Everyone dons their delicately woven, and much cherished hat, an heirloom proudly made and passed down from grandmothers.   As a crowd they walk to the cenotaph to meet the vicar and lay wreaths. Then, forming a slow procession, they walk together past the beautifully preserved Georgian buildings of Quality Row, remembering their history, their ancestors and their fortune to be born in such a place.  Several generations make their way down to the only cemetery.  Remote, facing an empty sea, it is the final resting place of people far from their homelands of England, Ireland or Pitcairn.  It is here that history really confronts you.  “Old ships at anchor demand no more from life” reads one of the headstones.  Many of them, carefully restored, record in stone the tribulations of past lives and evidence of uprisings, violence and early death. Tiny graves and the 

Phillip Island Wheadstones of young women spell out the dangers faced in childbirth and of disease while others had succumbed to the treachery of the sea or were shot as rioters.  Following the graveyard service and the paying of respects, direct descendants are welcomed at old Government House for a celebratory morning tea.   The others return to historic Kingston to wait or to unpack hampers full of food, for the extended family and welcome guests.  A large, communal picnic on the grass, a happy occasion held within the once bloody, stone walls of the old gaol.   Celebrations continue all day and into the night and visitors to the island are warmly welcomed. The island’s history is inescapable but there are many other attractions on this tiny scrap of land.  You can ride glossy horses along leafy country lanes or be quietly pulled along in a carriage by placid Clydesdales.  Snorkle over vivid coral reefs and be dazzled by the inquisitive, multi coloured fish which will swim up to take a look at you.  You can learn to scuba dive, walk the beautiful trails in sub-tropical rainforest reserves or climb a high peak in the national park.  A highlight is putting things in perspective with a 30 minute scenic flight.  Paddle out to Elephant Rock where you can almost touch the seabirds on an early morning kayak expedition, chase the scenery on a mountain bike or embark on a wine tasting venture at the island’s only vineyard. Has time forgotten Norfolk?  Yes and no. Its still a place where you don’t lock your doors, leave valuables on the back seat of your car with the key in the ignition, while you stroll away unconcerned.  There are no seat belt laws, breathalysers, traffic lights or MacDonalds.  Your mate’s nickname is in the back of the phone book and its easier to identify which Christian, Buffet, Nobbs or Adams if you just call them Lettuce Leaf, Loppy, Cane Toad or Smudge.  Local phone calls are still free and houses have no numbers.  Car drivers wave to you and to everyone else on the road as they pass by. Or, you can just relax and absorb the daily local lifestyle.  Buy the weekly paper and read whose applied for residency, pasturage rights or passed their exams. Tune into the local radio and you will be urged to ‘peel your ears’,  hear whose having an anniversary, when the supply ship is due, or just listen to the daily birthday requests. You may have to go to the butcher for fresh vegetables, the lingerie shop for a bag of tomatoes, and on the way to the local brewery, pass the sign in a shop window, stating “girls wanted, any position”.  Eat some periwinkle pie, coconut bread or banana dumplings and wash them down with a glass of Bligh’s Revenge or a tot of Convicts Curse, one of the local liqueurs.  Fresh produce, (other than onions, potatos and ginger) is not allowed to be brought onto the island, so food is grown locally.  Its seasonal and fresh. If you are lucky you may be there when the supply boat arrives and join the excitement down at the pier.  The boat visits approximately every 20 days with vital supplies.  . There isn’t a harbour, so small lighters ply their way backwards and forwards unloading the precious cargo as owners close their eyes as their new car is winched into the small boat and makes its way through the waves to the wharf, where it is hoisted out of the little boat by a cranOn The Wharf On Bounty Day  We powered by a four wheel drive vehicle and swung carefully onto land. The locals number around 1800 people.  Many are related and if one of them lives to be one hundred years, a row of Norfolk Pines is planted in their honour.  Many do two or three different jobs so you may have your tour bus driven by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly or the local pilot.  Holidays if not taken away from their island are down at Emily Bay in the local campsite.  Camping is not for tourists as this is a place where the Norfolk  kids can enjoy camping in the summer holidays and if necessary, go home at night. Their young people often work away in New Zealand or Australia but when they return for Xmas or other family gatherings, their joy, excitement and sense of belonging is obvious. Most islanders have lived or worked away from the island at some time, many come back for good.  They know about the rest of the world while still being conscious that they live on one of the few places on earth with a sky so free of bright lights or pollution that you can see the infinity of stars.  Where the water is so clear that you can see your toes under several feet of water and where the coral gardens in the ocean are simply not yet famous.

Hayley Anderson (Aka Goatshiteambulance)

www.hayleyanderson.com   for more images.

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