A Short Imprisonment on Norfolk Island

 Day 3 Saturday

We were supposed to get up early and go to the farmers market as there is scant fruit and vegetables available at the supermarkets. Plenty of beef though. They graze in paddocks and on the road verges all over the island. The verges are considered “common” similar to the English system of common land and all over the island cattle graze there, give birth there and some are slaughtered there before being taken to the butcher’s shop. We were told that there was a vet in attendance to ensure the animal was killed efficiently humanely and compassionately but it is an event that school kids may witness going to school or to home. We did not witness this nor did we arise to get to the farmers markets but instead we revisited the Banyan tree and then the cemetery.

In 1824 the British government instructed the Governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane, to occupy Norfolk Island as a place to send “the worst description of convicts”. The convicts detained have long been assumed to be hardcore recidivists, men transported to Australia who committed fresh colonial crimes for which they were sentenced to death but were spared the gallows on condition of life at Norfolk Island. However, a 2011 study of 6458 Norfolk Island convicts, has demonstrated that the reality was that more than half were detained at Norfolk Island without ever receiving a colonial conviction, and only 15% had been reprieved from a death sentence. The overwhelming majority of convicts sent to Norfolk Island had committed non-violent property offences, and the average length of detention there was three years. Norfolk Island went through periods of unrest with convicts staging a number of uprisings and mutinies between 1826 and 1846. The British Government began to wind down the second penal settlement after 1847, and the last convicts were removed to Tasmania in May 1855.

We returned to the Banyan tree in Rooty Hill Rd. The tree is a native of India and brought to this island by immigrants. An enormous tree it needs a paddock to spread through. It is located on private property, so we were wary about entering until the neighbour across the road assured us that it was ok to enter. After taking a few pictures which appear in this blog we went to the cemetery.

That Banyan Tree

We started our visit to the cemetery with a stop at Bloody Bridge. On our tour we had seen a baby Red­tailed Tropic bird in the nest and at the foot of a Norfolk Pine, so we wanted to see if it was still there. The tropic bird is distinguished by it’s single long red tail feather. Yes, the chick was still there. Apart from feral cats and the rats brought to the islands by the Pacific Islanders, there are no predators on Norfolk.

Red Tail Tropic Bird chick and the tree above it

The cemetery contains headstones of military officers, convicts, Pitcairners and Norfolkers the unknown and the famous like Colleen McCullough. Battered by the south easterly winds to the sounds of the crashing of the waves, headstones from 1793 to the present can be found. Many are defaced by the wind so who knows the earliest date on the oldest headstone. I have uploaded my photos so that you can read the headstones for yourself. Here is the history of the island. Note the trees bowed to the wind or are they reading the headstones for themselves?

Bloody Bridge and the road to the Island cemetery and the headstones

The civilian settlement of free settlers began on 8 June 1856, when the descendants of the Tahitians and the HMS Bounty mutineers, including those of Fletcher Christian, were resettled from the Pitcairn Islands, which had become too small for their growing population. On 3 May 1856, 193 people had left Pitcairn Islands aboard the HMS Morayshire. On 8 June, 194 people arrived, a baby having been born in transit. The Pitcairners occupied many of the buildings remaining from the penal settlements, and gradually established traditional farming and whaling industries on the island. Although some families decided to return to Pitcairn in 1858 and 1863, the island’s population continued to grow. They accepted additional settlers, who often arrived on whaling vessels.

After visiting the cemetery, we drove along Quality Row to the first of the two garrison buildings. This building is now used for the Court and the elected Council. A controversy has arisen with Australia dismissing the Norfolk Island Council and appointing an Administrator.

Kerry entered the garrison and ran into Bindi a Norfolk Islander manning the tent embassy inside the garrison, protesting Australia’s interference and protesting for independence for Norfolk Island. Kerry and Bindi seemed to have an immediate connection and when Bindi mentioned coffee they adjourned to the tent for gossip and coffee. I was left to scout around the buildings which I did, and my photo record is uploaded below.

The garrison complex now containing the tent embassy the courts and the council plus the grounds of their revolution

Norfolk Island was the subject of several experiments in administration during the century. It began in the nineteenth century as part of the Colony of New South Wales. On 29 September 1844, Norfolk Island was transferred from the Colony of New South Wales to the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land. On 1 November 1856 Norfolk Island was separated from the Colony of Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen’s Land) and constituted as a “distinct and separate Settlement, the affairs of which should until further Order in that behalf by Her Majesty be administered by a Governor to be for that purpose appointed”. The Governor of New South Wales was constituted as the Governor of Norfolk Island.

On 19 March 1897 the office of the Governor of Norfolk Island was abolished and responsibility for the administration of Norfolk Island was vested in the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Yet, the island was not made a part of New South Wales and remained separate. The Colony of New South Wales ceased to exist upon the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901, and from that date responsibility for the administration of Norfolk Island was vested in the Governor of the State of New South Wales.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia accepted the territory by the Norfolk Island Act 1913 (Cth), subject to British agreement; British agreement was expressed on 30 March 1914, in a UK Order in Council made pursuant to the Australian Waste Lands Act 1855 (Imp). A proclamation by the Governor-General of Australia on 17 June 1914 gave effect to the Act and the Order as from 1 July 1914. So, Norfolk Island became subject to administration by Australia.

During World War II, the island became a key airbase and refuelling depot between Australia and New Zealand, and New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. The airstrip was constructed by Australian, New Zealand and the United States servicemen during 1942. The island proved too remote to come under attack during the war and NZ Service personal left the island in February 1944.

In 1979, Norfolk Island was granted limited self-government by Australia, under which the island elected a government that ran most of the island’s affairs. Financial problems and a reduction in tourism led to Norfolk Island’s administration appealing to the Australian federal government for assistance in 2010. In return, the islanders were to pay income tax for the first time but would be eligible for greater welfare benefits. An agreement was finally signed in Canberra on 12 March 2015 to replace self-government with a local council and comprehensive reforms for Norfolk Island, the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly was abolished, with the territory becoming run by an Administrator and an advisory council. The action was justified on the grounds it was necessary “to address issues of sustainability which have arisen from the model of self-government requiring Norfolk Island to deliver local, state and federal functions since 1979” From that date, most Australian Commonwealth laws were extended to Norfolk Island. This means that taxation, social security, immigration, customs and health arrangements apply on the same basis as in mainland Australia.

Elections for a new Regional Council were held on 28 May 2016, with the new council taking office on 1 July 2016. But a majority of Norfolk Islanders (68% of voters) objected to the Australian plan to make changes to Norfolk Island without first consulting them.

There is opposition to the reforms, led by Norfolk Island People for Democracy Inc., an association appealing to the United Nations to include the island on its list of “non-self-governing territories”. There has also been movement to join New Zealand since the autonomy reforms. Bindi is one of them. Note my photos show the UK flag flies over the gate of the garrison just above the protest sign for independence.

Our day ended with dinner at the Bowls Club in Taylors Rd. It is a busy place and there always seems to be a competition happening. Visiting bowls clubs seem to be drawn here. Simple pub type fare along with a cold drink – very satisfying. Kerry struck up a friendship with another elderly couple who joined us for dinner and who we then bumped into everywhere else on the island. Did I tell you it’s a small place.

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.