Norfolk Island … history and people


Kingston ... where all settlements began

Kingston … where all settlements began

Norfolk Island history is fascinating.  Polynesian explorers were the first people to settle on the island around the 10th century AD but mysteriously disappeared by the 14th century.  Captain Cook was the first European to discover the island, and he named it for his British patron, the Duchess of Norfolk, in 1774.  Two years later the American Revolution began and Britain had to find new territories for the deportation of convicts.  Drawing on Cook’s discoveries, Australia and Norfolk Island were selected and the First Fleet travelled to Australia in 1787, landing there on 26th January 1788.  Six weeks later, Norfolk was settled by a small band of convicts and free settlers to establish a ‘food bowl’ for the Australian settlement.

While this first penal settlement was abandoned in 1814, a second penal settlement was re-established in 1825 and Norfolk Island was transformed into the legendary prison isle.  This settlement was of the harshest kind, and remained so until 1855.  A legacy of those times is the southern hemisphere’s best collection of convict-built Georgian buildings, many of which are still in use today.  Interestingly, today’s Norfolk Islanders can thank another infamous event in history for their presence on Norfolk.

In 1788 HMV Bounty, captained by William Bligh, left England on a mission to gather breadfruit trees from Tahiti to provide food for slaves in the West Indies.  A startling turn of events, including love affairs with Tahitian women and a mutiny on the Bounty, saw Fletcher Christian and his crew create a new life for themselves on Pitcairn Island along with a group of Tahitian women and men who had joined them.  After the Bounty was burnt in Bounty Bay by Mathew Quintal, and after a violent and chaotic start, the Pitcairn community flourished as a devout and moral society, remaining undetected until an American whaling ship discovered the hideaway in 1808.

In 1854 Queen Victoria gave approval for the Pitcairn Islanders to move to Norfolk Island, whose days as a penal colony were coming to a fast end.  Pitcairn could no longer sustain so many people.  In June 1856, 194 people journeyed to Norfolk Island on HMS Morayshire, and about 40% of the island’s population today can trace their lineage back to the mutineers and their Polynesian partners.

During World War II an airport was constructed on Norfolk that was used to conduct surveillance missions in the South Pacific.  This would eventually open up the island to more people to live and holiday here.  Over 20 nationalities now call Norfolk Island home.

In 1979 the Australian Parliament passed the Norfolk Island Act 1979 that established the island as a self governing external territory of Australia, with extensive powers to manage its own affairs excepting coinage, euthanasia, and foreign affairs.



Celebrating Bounty Day each June 8

Our world is home to the welcoming Norfolk Island people.

Over 20 nationalities live here, but most notably it is home to the Pitcairn Islanders, descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty, who arrived here on June 8, 1856.  They celebrate this arrival each year on Bounty Day with a gathering at Kingston Pier, a re-enactment of the landing, a march and tea at Government House, and a feast of traditional foods.  All in traditional clothing and hats.  The descendants comprise about 40% of the island’s permanent population.

The Pitcairners brought with them cooking, music, and weaving/ plaiting (of items like the hats above) that are still practiced today, and a language that is still spoken.  The Norf’k language (Norfolk language) is a wonderful mix of Tahitian and old English, and it is taught in our school.

The island’s phone book is thought to be unique in the world because it allows you to ‘fast find a person by their nickname’, or in the Norf’k language, ‘faasfain salan bai dems nikniem’.  And this is VIP because some of our ‘salan’ (people) are not known by any other name!

For example, you can find the phone number for Beef, Crowbar, Doodus, Feathers, Golla, Hose, Lettuce, Moochie, Possum, Snapper, Tardy, and Wolf.

One thing you will notice is many locals seem to have many jobs.  This is quite true.

There are the airport staff who check visitors in, move their baggage, and man the emergency services vehicles – and then go back to work running their own businesses.

There are the tour guides, few of whom are full time, who after touring return to their other day job on NI Radio, or in their home market garden.

Then there is the vast army of ‘dishpigs’ who keep our many cafes and restaurants stocked with clean glassware, cutlery and crockery, whose other job is in retail.

There are those who are public servants during the day, and then host dinners for visitors at night.

And many, many Norfolk people volunteer for something or other.

So when you ask someone how work was last week you don’t hear about one, but several jobs.  How interesting is that!