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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Norfolk Island

Residents of Norfolk Island are not represented in the Commonwealth Parliament, the Australian government maintains authority over the territory through an Administrator who is appointed by the Governor General. The brochure says they "enjoy a large degree of self-governance", but after spending a week there, all I can say is that it's not working very well. On the 6th November 2010, the Chief Minister of Norfolk, David Buffett said that the island would voluntarily surrender its self-governing status in return for a financial bailout from the Federal Government to cover significant debts. And it shows. The roads are a disgrace but there's no money to fix them. They don't pay tax but the wages are pitiful. A few locals I spoke to are frustrated by the island's lack of progress, no one wants to do anything, people seem resigned to survive on tourism.

Norfolk Island was colonised by the British as part of the first settlement in 1788 and became a vital source of food for the new colony back in Sydney who had not yet established areas for agriculture. As well as supplying food, they also ran sheep and sent their wool over to Sydney which was most welcome. Later Norfolk became a penal settlement for the worst convicts - a place to send re-offenders - stubborn men who refused to be rehabilitated. The cruelty and depravity that went on was beyond belief and tour guides won't tell you details of the treatment prisoners had to suffer, it's not fit for genteel ears. But at its worst, when there were no women on the island, the cruelty and inhuman punishments inflicted by the British justice system turned men into beasts and the island descended into a hellhole of homosexuality and bestiality where men longed for death. When word got back to England, they were appalled and closed it down.

When the Japanese were moving into the Pacific during World War II, American General MacArthur decided to build an airstrip on the island and it became a vital airbase for the allies. Today, that same airstrip is the life-blood of the island, bringing hundreds of tourists every week.

But for many Australian tourists, including myself, it's the romantic tale of Fletcher Christian and the wicked Captain Bligh in the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" that brings people to Norfolk. Only it's not a romantic tale at all, far from it. When Christian decided to look for an island on which to live for the rest of his life he asked the eighteen mutineers "Who is with me?" But only eight agreed to go with him, the rest wanted to stay in Tahiti. And according to Hollywood, the beautiful Tahitian women went willingly with the mutineers to embark on a new life, but in reality, they were kidnapped and heart-broken.

When Christian entered Bligh's cabin on that fateful day and forced him on deck in his nightshirt, Bligh pleaded with him to be reasonable to which he replied "I am in hell, I am in hell." Of the 42 men on board, aside from Bligh and Christian, 18 joined the mutiny, two were impassive, and 22 remained loyal to Bligh. But the question needs to be asked - could Christian have been a little "thin skinned" and over-reacted to Bligh's bullying? It's been documented that Bligh once called him a coward which in those days was extremely offensive, but was his treatment bad enough to warrant a mutiny?

Golf Club

When Captain Bligh and 18 loyal crew were set adrift in a 23ft boat with four cutlasses, food and water, a quadrant and a compass, but without charts, sextant or marine chronometer, he still managed to sail to Timor and eventually made his way back to England. This gives us an insight into his capabilities and resolve and it's not surprising that fifteen years later, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales with orders to clean up the corrupt rum trade of the NSW Corps which resulted in the Rum Rebellion.

The mutineers and the Tahitians eventually found and settled on the tiny island of Pitcairn but life was far from idyllic. Because there were more men than women, bitter feuds developed and the Polynesian men eventually killed Fletcher Christian and threw his body off a cliff. They also murdered Martin, Mills, Brown and Williams. After Christian's death, Young and Adams became the community leaders and separated the community from troublemakers Quintal and McCoy. When McCoy discovered how to make alcohol from a local plant, the situation worsened. While in a drunken stupor McCoy comitted suicide and when Quintal threatened to murder the entire community, Adams and Young had to kill him. Young taught Adams to read using the Bounty's bible and when he died in 1800, John Adams was the only mutineer left on Pitcairn. He became deeply religious and set up a school for the children in which the teaching of Christianity was an important part and he became known as "father" to everyone.

In the mid 1850's, the Pitcairn community was outgrowing their small island and they appealed to Queen Victoria for help. She offered them Norfolk and on the 8th June 1856, the entire community of 193 people landed on the island. But not everyone was happy and after 18 months, 17 returned to Pitcairn and five years later, another 27 went back and their descendants still live there today.

Norfolk Island is an interesting place to holiday with lots of history and only 2 hours flying time from Sydney. At this time of year, air fares are cheap and package deals are good value. We found the accommodation pretty good, you get a little car to run around in even though the island is only 8 kms x 5 kms, and the scenery is beautiful. If you get a chance, go on the progressive dinner put on by three families who live there and get to know the locals. Treat yourself to a special dinner at Norfolk Blue, an excellent restaurant who run their own cattle on 100 acres and serve steaks that melt in the mouth. Oh, and I didn't see Colleen MacCulloch, but I know where she lives.