Norfolk Island & it’s People

The Essential Guide to Norfolk Island was written by Peter Clarke.

Here is the first of a series of posts which will capture the various chapters of this useful resource which is packed full of historical facts and information to assist you to plan your trip and during your stay  on Norfolk Island.

Part 1 is about Norfolk Island people.


Norfolk Island and its People

Re-enactment of Pitcairners landing

As cosmic time is counted, Norfolk Island is just a baby. It is a mere three million years since, as the tip of a massive volcano, it first thrust itself above the waves.

But now think of it in mortal terms … thirty thousand centuries. For all that time this place remained virtually uninhabited and such was its state when, in 1774, Captain James Cook fell across it.

You will find yourself marveling at the fluke of Fate that allowed even this redoubtable explorer to discover it as your aircraft banks to give you your first sight of this minuscule speck in the vast Pacific. Lying 1500 kilometres due east of Australia’s Byron Bay, it, and its two satellite islands, are all that project from a gigantic undersea chain of mountains called The Norfolk Ridge, which stretches for 1770 kilo-metres from New Caledonia to New Zealand.

Captain Cook named it after the wife of the noblest peer of England, describing it as ‘a Paradise’ – a word he did not use to describe any other of his many discoveries. His superiors made it the site for a settlement where convicts worked as slaves and it soon turned into a Hell.

Standing today on Queen Elizabeth’s Lookout, gazing out over the peacock’s-tail colours of Emily Bay and down at the superbly-preserved Georgian residences of Quality Row, one can scarcely comprehend that this was once a place in which were perpetrated some of the worst depravities in the history of British colonialism.

But a visit to the “Sound And Light Show”, conducted amongst the spooky ruins of the Pentagonal Prison, causes realisation to return with a rush. Soon, even in daylight, as you browse among the superbly preserved relics of Norfolk’s penal past, you will begin to hear in your imagination the song of the lash and the groans of the convicts. Yet, just blink, and the illusion is gone – the soul-soothing beauty of Norfolk will not allow such disturbing thoughts to linger.

Another fascinating aspect of Norfolk’s heritage is immediately apparent. You’ll see it brought vividly to life at the “Bounty Spectacular”, a re-enactment of the world’s most famous mutiny on a replica of the Bounty.

To be reminded that this is the home of the descendants of those mutineers, just pick up Norfolk’s slim telephone book. Therein you will find something in the order of 36 families with the surname of Christian or Christian-Bailey, and 31 Buffets, 26 Quintals, 20 Nobbs, 18 Evans, 17 Adams and 8 McCoys. All go back, at least by matrilineal descent, to the mutineers. With so many shared surnames, identification is made easier by the use of nicknames and this is the world’s only phone book to use them. Amongst the Christians we have Bodge, Loppy, Smudge, Toofie and Tatie, whilst the Evans boast a Bubby, Diddles, Hunky, Tardy and Pelly.

This fascinating blend of history and laid-back informality makes Norfolk Island a unique destination. The words of Beatrice Grimshaw, written in the early 1900’s, could be used today:

Every Norfolker . . . unversed in the ways of the world of society though he may be, is nevertheless a gentleman in all the essentials. The quiet self- possession, the low, pleasant voice, the easy courtesy shown by the Norfolker to any stranger, whether the latter be a globe- trotting peer, or a broken-down sailor run away from his ship, can only be matched elsewhere in what is known as `the very best’ society. There is not the first trace of a snob about him…

Among the women, many show traces of the beauty that was the undoing of the Bounty men, long ago. Large, dark, shining eyes are common, with long, soft hair, pleasant features and a singularly sweet smile.

The voices of all the Islanders are remarkably low and musical. They are the voices of those whose ancestors for many generations have never known hurry or anxiety, of people dwelling in “a land where it is always afternoon” – of a gentle, dreamy folk, living slow, sweet lives as changeless as the empty sea that rings round their island home.

Norfolk Island view

Nearly half of Norfolk’s permanent population is of Pitcairn stock. When they are with “sullen” (their own folk), they delight in speaking “Norfolk” – a strange, lilting lingo which is an amalgam of 18th century English and Tahitian invented in the early days of Fletcher Christian’s colony – but they all speak perfect English and this is the language they will use when addressing you. The remainder of the population comprises Australians and New Zealanders in about equal parts. This number is augmented by up to 500 holders of Temporary Entry Permits who ebb and flow according to work available. The result is that the island has virtually no unemploy-ment. There is no income tax, no land tax, no company tax, no council rates. The principal industry is tourism and you are made to feel like a friend.

Although the island is a mere 8 kilometres by 5 kilometres, you’ll be delighted to discover that you need a surprising number of daily excursions to fully explore its twists and turns and ups and downs. It is one of the few unspoiled places in the world and Norfolkers are determined to keep it that way. They have placed strict limitations on the number of people who can live here and the number of visitors who can visit at any one time, so you’ll never be crowded. When you’re out in your hire car, you’ll feel you’re amongst friends because a delightful and never-failing Norfolk custom is to give you a friendly wave. And you’ll find plenty of company at such affairs as “A Night As A Convict” or at a Progressive Island Dinner, held – one course at a time – in locals’ traditional homes. But when you want tranquillity, it’s yours.

Georgian grandeurEverywhere you go, you will be enchanted by the serenely beautiful landscape and the wild seascapes. Almost a third of the island is devoted to reserves and national parks. Visitors are pleasantly surprised to discover there are over seventy tax-free shops here – and doubly delighted to find they are all grouped together in one strip in the centre of the island, leaving the entire remainder in a wonderfully pristine state. The only high-rise you’ll see is the majestic Norfolk Pine. Even the superb beaches are never crowded. There is not one traffic light, not one industrial chimney. At night, you can touch the stars – Norfolk is a Mecca for stargazers. To further soothe your senses, this is one place in the world where nobody locks their house, where everybody – tourist or visitor – leaves the keys in the car. There are no snakes, no poisonous spiders, no leeches, no ticks, no fruit-flies, virtually no flies at all. There is no pollution, no traffic or currency hassles.

Yes, you will find serenity here, but you will discover, too, that this is ‘the bounteous isle’ in every way – a holiday destination that is seething with interest. May this book help you get the most from it.