Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 2018: Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island is a tiny dot in the ocean, 1400 km east of Byron Bay.  Remnant of a volcanic plug, it measures a mere 8 km by 5 km.  Home to 1800 residents, it has a fascinating history.

Archaeologists have evidence of human habitation between 800 and 1400 AD as Polynesian peoples migrated east.  The island was uninhabited when Captain Cook stumbled across it in 1774 on his second voyage into the Pacific.  Based on his reports, a small party of convicts and troops were sent there from Botany Bay in 1788, the day after the First Fleet arrived.  They were to mill the Norfolk Pines for ships masts, weave flax for sails, and grow vegetables for the mainland colony.  This first European settlement was abandoned as a failure in 1814.

Trouble back at Sydney town with difficult convicts led to Norfolk Island being re-opened as a hell-hole prison in 1825.  Harsh conditions and treatment for its 2000 inmates finally moved authorities in 1854 to again abandon the island in favour of Van Diemen's Land.  The buildings and roads left behind proved a welcome gift for the descendants of the Bounty mutiny who had outgrown tiny Pitcairn Island 3700 miles away.  Queen Victoria offered them the Norfolk Island as a new home.  In 1856 all 193 Pitcairners moved in.  Over half today's residents are their descendants and still speak Norf'k (a mix of Tahitian and English).

The Pitcairn link

In 1789 Captain William Bligh in HMS Bounty visited Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants.  He delayed his return journey by some months to avoid adverse weather around Cape Horn.  This allowed his crew to form liaisons with local women, and a reluctance to sail.  Once under way, Bligh's intemperate outbursts against his crew led to mutiny, headed by Fletcher Christian.  Bligh and half his crew were set adrift in the ship's launch, eventually reaching Timor and then London.
HMS Bounty at Pitcairn Island

The mutineers first settled at Tahiti, but Christian recognised the risk of eventual capture by the British navy.  Nine mutineers and 20 Polynesians set out in the Bounty, eventually settling at Pitcairn Island.  Whilst the island provided an ideal home, by 1800 drunkenness and rivalries resulted in all the men folk being dead through murder, John Adams alone surviving.  Using the ship's bible to teach reading and morality, he developed a flourishing community out of the nine women and 19 children remaining.

By 1850 the island was no longer able to support the near 200 population now living there.  A letter to Queen Victoria seeking help resulted in her offering them the abandoned Norfolk Island colony as a new home.  In June 1856 all 194 Pitcairners sailed the 3700 miles to Norfolk.  Although the Young family of 17 returned to Pitcairn eighteen months later, the Norfolk settlement flourished and today neaarly half the residents descend from those first Pitcairn arrivals.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Day 1 : Arrival

The Air New Zealand flight left on time at 11 am.  Nothing to see on the way except cloud and ocean.  We arrived just after 2 pm local time.  The bio-detection dog earned his keep, tagging a suitcase that was promptly hauled off with its owner, never to be seen again.  Arrivals was quite efficient.  Five mi I-buses were lined up and we were assigned to the one that would deliver us to our resort.  By 3 pm I was being settled into my delightful apartment by a very friendly hostess.  (Already I was wishing I had booked in for the full week instead of 4 days! )

First task was to drive back to Burnt Pine township to sign up the car rental -- a cute little VW, rego NI 4182.  One of the oddities here: the ignition key hangs on a piece of wire from the steering column and is left in the car at all times.  A separate key will lock the car, but apparently no one bothers much.  I managed to get lost on the way back to Coast - temporarily - and had my first near miss with an animal when a skittish calf decided to gallop across he road without warning.

I have booked a couple of tours, and got myself a museum pass that admits to all 5 museums on the island.  So I am set to get exploring tomorrow.  It has turned rainy tonight, so a quiet night in is planned  after I have dinner at the local Leagues Club.

A few snaps setting the scene can be found here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Day 2 : Getting oriented

A sunny warm day greeted me after a somewhat restless night .. Strange bed and all that !  I breakfasted on the balcony, looking south east to the ocean and New Zealand a few hundred km away.  I had the company of some feral chooks pecking their way across the lawn.

Unattended animals seem an important feature of life here.  They are all protected and have unfettered run of the countryside.  The chooks are everywhere .. And I don't know if anyone benefits from their egg laying.  Cattle are more evident.  Their owners pay a $150 licence per beast per year to let the, graze wild.  Beef only as dairy was abandoned some years ago when the government required pasteurisation of milk for consumption, and that was uneconomical.  Long life from NZ is all the go.  The local butcher buys and slaughters the beasts.

Food is quite expensive here.  I paid $32 for steak and veg tonite at the Leagues Club .. Much more at a restaurant.  Milk was $4 for a litre, a schooner of XXXX Gold was $6 and petrol is over $2 a litre.  Freight costs inevitably inflate prices.  

My first stop on a planned drive-around was St Barnabas Anglican Chapel.  It's is a beautiful stone and timber structure, with the roof timbers shaped like the keel of a ship upside down, and totally slotted, not a nail used.  While there I was greeted by a local who invited me over to to meet the resident priest (from Sydney).  He told me of the Melanesian Mission that had originally been there, but moved to the Solomon Islands in 1920.  They took all the school and other bui,dings with them, but had to leave the stone chapel behind as a gift to the Pitcairn Anglicans.  I was then sucked in to joining the morning prayer and bible study with half a dozen parishioners .. an interesting experience, but the end of my morning explorations!

After a delicious pie from the bakery, I headed to "the roundabout".  Norfolk has just one roundabout in the middle of the main street of Burnt Pine township.  Travel instructions nearly always seem to be given with reference to "the roundabout".  And it was near he roundabout that I joined the afternoon tour introducing the highlights of Norfolk.

We had and excellent guide/driver who knew his history well, and took time to slow down and let us see things with comfort.  Mind you, keeping traffic to the 50 kph speed limit is no problem, as the roads are a patch work of roughly filled pot holes, making for a rather bumpy ride.  The tour took in a couple of very scenic lookouts, and a drive through Kingston, the original convict settlement.  I will explore that at my own leisure tomorrow.  On the way we passed a huge Norfolk Pine that Captain Cook sketched here in 1774, and is found in his journal.  Also an avenue of Moreton Bay figs that have flourished here with enormous root systems spread wide.

Afternoon tea was a $5 donation to the remaining Melanesian mission, with trestles laden with scones, strawberry   jam and cream ready to go with tea or coffee.  Very efficient as there were 4 tour buses arrived together.  Then on to the Cascade Jetty where we saw cargo being handled Norfolk style.  The small freighter has to anchor off shore.  Large life boats are towed out by launches and loaded from the freighter.  They then are towed back to the jetty where the cargo is hoisted by crane, and a return load put aboard the lifeboat for export by the freighter.  Big loads, like trucks and buses, have to be straddled across 2 lifeboats strapped together.  All freight comes from New Zealand, so if you buy a car in Sydney it first must be shipped to NZ and then transhipped to Norfolk.  No wonder life here is so expensive.

At 5 pm I joined 50 or so other tourists at the playhouse for a perfomamce of The Trial of the Fifteen ... Written by a local, and performed by descendants of the Pitcairn Islanders, it gives a potted history of Norfolk Island in a humorous way.  A bit amateurish, but an hour not wasted.  After that, I was too tired to explore a new eating venue, so I returned to the Leagues Club for another classy meal.  My Google Maps then safely delivered me back to Coast .. No mean feat in the complete darkness of the rural roads.

Some photos of today's activities are here.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Day 3 : Exploring

I have discovered that you learn something new about the island from everyone you talk with here.  The locals are very conservation conscious.  The parks and roadsides are completely litter free.  There is no garbage collection service.  Everyone must deliver their rubbish sorted for recycling or burning to a central station.  There is no reticulated water system, with the island depending totally on rainwater.  Each residence has its own tank, and water saving gadgets are the norm.  The local hospital has three doctors, pharmacist, dentist and physio.  OK for 1700 people.  The Central School is P - 12, and has 300 students.  A few are sent to boarding school for their senior years.  The students can get a motor cycle licence at age 15, and a P plate drivers licence at 16 -- quite a crowded parking area near the school!

I hit the road at 9 am, driving first to Mt Pitt, the high point of the island -- just over 1000 ft.  Has a wonderful lookout giving you a 360 degree view of the entire island.  It was a a warm sunny day, and there is no pollution here to spoil the view.  The stars really shine at night!  From there I drove around to the Captain Cook Memorial.  This is a lovely picnic area cum lookout that looks down on the rocky beach wher Cook is believed to have landed in 1774.  He had a quick look around before continuing on his way to New Zealand.  He noted he abundance of tall straight trees (the pines) and flax and later reported this to Admiralty as a potential source of timber and sail cloth for the navy.  I noticed tamper-proof rat poison baits along the edge of the lawns.  Apparently the Polynesians brought their native rats with them (rattus exulans), and left them behind when they departed 400 years later.  No other rodents or pests to worry the locals.

Near the Cook memorial there are a number of islets, volcanic plugs poking up out of the ocean just offshore, a sort of mini 12 Apostles.  In the summer they are breeding grounds for thousands of birds, safe there from island predators.  Today I saw one solitary bird in flight.. And it has been a noticeable feature of my time here, the total lack of bird life.  Apparently they all migrate away for the winter.

Passing back through Burnt Pine township, I called in to see the Cyclorama.  This is a 360 degree painting depicting the story of the Bounty Mutiny and the eventual arrival of the mutineers descendants here on Norfolk when they outgrew Pitcairn.  The painting involved took two years, and was based on detailed historic research to be very accurate in its depictions.  With the accompanying information charts, it was a very interesting hour spent there.  Morning tea followed in the neighbouring Queen Victoria Gardens which feature some clever sculptures from driftwood.  I am pretty sure Devonshire Tea is the national dish of the Norfolkers.  On sale everywhere, and the scones are feather light.

The local Catholic Church was just up the road, dedicated to St Philip Howard, Duke of Norfolk and a cousin of Elizabeth I who locked him in the Tower for 10 years for refusing to abandon his Catholicism. It is a neat little church, left unlocked - unlike our city churches these days.  T here is no resident priest, and only three visits are scheduled for the rest of 2018.  The locals have to get by on their own.  I noticed that they advertise youth activities for school age youth run by the Anglicans and Uniting Church.

Next I explored along the foreshore of Slaughter Bay where all the original settlements had been located.  The convict ruins are located here in the area known as Kingston.  I managed to take in 2 of the 4 museums here before closing time at 3 pm.  The Sirius museum displays many artifacts from the wreck of HMS Sirius which foundered on the coral reef just offshore in 1790.  This ship had been the flagship of the First Fleet to Botany Bay, and was then used to ferry supplies and troops and convicts back and forth between Sydney and Norfolk.  Lots of interesting items have been recovered, including a huge anchor.

The Commisariat Store is a two-storied building, originally controlling supplies to the troops and convicts.  The upper floor was converted into All Saints Church of England and is still is use.  The museum displays interesting relics of the past, especially crockery and other household items recovered from the ruins.  It also records the gruesome Commandants of the second penal era who were noted for their cruelty.

By then my legs had decided enough for the day, so I headed back to Coast for a nap and some reading.  Back into the township for dinner at 6, tonight patronising the local RSL.  A cosy establishment with an adequate menu -- and no pokies .  By 7.30 I was the last customer and they were closing up.  So much for night life on Norfolk!

Photo records of the day can be found here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Day 4 : Convicts

Electricity here is diesel generated, though with increasing amounts of solar power being fed into the system.  The Coast is fairly self-sufficient with solar, but last night we had a brief blackout when the switchover to the grid hiccuped.  I suspect this is part and parcel of rural life everywhere these days.

Today started out cloudy and dull, and chilly too.  A few sprinkles during the day, but it did warm up to 18 degrees, though chilly again tonight.  There is a gas heAting attempt in the unit, but it is not connected for use yet.  So I am well layered to beat the cold.

After a lazy start to the day, I headed back down to Kingston where I visited the two remaining museums on my pass.  One was a Georgian home on Quality Row, built by convicts as home for one of the senior officers.  There are a dozen or so of very similar appearance along the Row, and their pristine appearance in the midst of a penal settlement is most unexpected.  I then took a wande through the cemetery which also dates from convict times and is still in use.  Everyone who dies here is buried free by the government which provides coffin, hearse and grave.  Family are left to arrange headstones.  What struck me most was the recurrence of the same few surnames right up to today... Christian, Buffett, Nobbs, Quintal.  And generation after generation use the same first names also, so there is no shortage of Fletcher Christian tombstones, for example.

A snack lunch, and I lined up at the roundabout to join the afternoon tour of the Convict Settlement.  This meant I revisited most of the places I had already explored, so I needed take many fewer photos.  But the tour was well worthwhile be cause the driver was a goldmine of information about life during the two penal periods and about the buildings that remain in Kingston.  The sheer sadism and barbarous cruelty of the British commandants and their soldiers towards the convicts is unparalleled in history.  Convicts sent to Norfolk wee never to be freed or leave the island.  Each commandant had a completely free hand in how he treated them, and numbers of deaths brought no rebuke from London.

The walk through the cemetery with the driver was particularly interesting.  We visited the graves of young men e executed for mutiny, but with elaborate gravestones ordered by the commandant of the day.  Guilty conscience?  The average age of all buried in the old section of the cemetery (up to the end of the convict period) is 27years. There were many suicides among the convicts.  Roman Catholics (mostly Irish) couldn't adopt this way out.  So small groups of them would do a deal.  One drawn by lot would be bludgeoned to death by another drawn by lot.  All would then bloody their hands and clothes before the soldiers arrived.  Next day they would all be hanged for murder.. Thus escaping their unbearable life without damning their souls by suicide!

No love for the British here, even if Queen Victoria gifted the island to the Pitcairners.  

Tonight I treated myself to a farewell dinner at Barney Duffey's Charcoal Grill .. a cosy establishment doing very little business but allowing the very talkative owner to sit and chat with his few customers.  The meal, incidentally, was superb.  I refuse to check my blood glucose levels tonight !

Tomorrow morning I check out by 10 am ... Have a few spots around the place yet to take a look at, and will drop car off at airport by 2pm.  Flight leaves at 3"30 pm.

Today's photo offering is a little slimmer, and can be seen here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Day 5 : Postscript

My last day on Norfolk Island dawned cloudy and cool (not that I was up yet to see the dawn!).  I pottered around for a while, then tidied the apartment and packed my suitcase ( which still only weighed in at 13 kg).  I think I got the recycling right -- there were 6 different bins to sort rubbish into.  Took myself in to Burnt Pine and shouted myself a cooked breakfast - first one here.

Next I spent an very interesting hour at the Bounty Folk Museum.  This is a privately owned research centre run by a widow whose husband over many years collected all sorts of memorabilia related to Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands.  Of most interest to me were the many hand-written journals in which he had recorded all sorts of detailed information relating to the history of both islands.  It seems a pity to me that they can't afford to digitise it, as wear and tear is staring to take its toll.  This lady was a fund of information about everyday Norfolk life, even though originally from South Australia.

Back in Burnt Pine, I took a look at the "Hand Up for Democracy" display in the main street.  Locals have always considered that they were a self-governing community, with their own elected Legislative Assembly headed by a Chief Minister.  I recent times Australia has had to subsidise the local economy significantly, which led to a move in 2015 to abolish the Legislative Assembly and revoke the constitution. In its place a Norfolk Island Regional Council was formed, governed by NSW law and advisory to an appointed Administrator   Some of the old Norfolk laws still hold, having been adopted by the new body.  But mostly it is now Australian law that holds, including paying Australian taxes.  Locals claim they were never consulted about any of these changes, and they don't want them.  Australia seems to believe "who pays the piper calls the tune"!  There is very visible dissent here over the current political and economic arrangements.

I took a last drive to see some of the coastal points I had missed thus far.  The island is certainly almost inaccessible by sea, and 200-300 ft cliffs encircle the island, offering some spectacular views of the ocean crashing unexpectedly on this lump of rock in the middle of nowhere.  Headstone Point has rocks that have been popular with fishermen, even though several have lost their lives there over the years. At Ball Bay I saw the facility used to pump petrol and diesel ashore from tankers that anchor close to the shore.  They float a pipeline to connect to the pumping station on shore.  Nothing seems easy about life here!

Next surprise.  At the airport I searched for rental car return area .. none to be found. So I parked in a vacant spot (no fees to pay here), and headed in to the terminal.  No rental car desk in there either.  On enquiry I was informed that I just had to leave the car unlocked anywhere in the car park, and put the key under the front mat.  Someone would collect it later!

Flight home was uneventful, though nearly 30 minutes longer than scheduled due to strong headwinds.  On arrival at Brisbane International, it took 55 minutes to clear immigration and customs, a ridiculous setup for a domestic flight.  The self-serve machines would only process international flights, so we had to join the queue for slow manual processing.  Then I just missed the bus to the car park and had to wait another 20 minutes for that.  So glad to finally shuffle up the steps and into my familiar surroundings.

A thoroughly enjoyable little trip!  I really enjoyed the contact with the very friendly Norf'k folk, who are doing it tough these days.  Tourism is well down, mainly due to flight cut-backs from Australia and New Zealand.  Burnt Pine reminded me of many of the country towns in Queensland I have visited, with so many businesses closed or for sale -- a rather depressing sight.  No employment for young people, so they are moving mostly to Brisbane after High School and not returning.  I couldn't help but wonder if some day this place so rich in history might not be abandoned again?

Last of the photos can be seen here.