Thursday, 31 March 2011

15. Norfolk ‘Does different’

Luggage no priority on Norfolk Island

Government House

Emily Bay

Mike Collings on his verandah

Hidden in the roots of a fig tree

Calf at Puppy's Point

With Radio Norfol's OB unit


Norfolkair B737-200 leaving Norfolk Island

Swell looking toward Phillip Island

Old lighter in the Kingston Heritage are
Having lived in Norfolk, England, for over 30 years, it feels really strange to be in a place with the same name but which could not be more different.

When Captain Cook discovered this 5km x 8km dot of land in the vast South Pacific Ocean in 1774, he named it after his patron, the Duchess of Norfolk. Had he known at the time that she had died since his departure from England, who knows what it might have been called?
For two periods in its history, Norfolk Island housed penal colonies and there are some splendid reminders of that period. The beautifully maintained heritage area in the south of the island is 1 of 11 listed convict sites in Australia.
Just under half of the current population of 1373 are descendants of the Bounty Mutineers, whose families moved from Pitcairn Islands in 1856. But the majority who live on this idyllic little piece of our planet are Australians and New Zealanders.
The local weekly newspaper records both population and visitor numbers, hence I am one of 722 tourists currently here.
Driving on Norfolk Island is very different. For a start, local traffic regulations insist you give way to cows and Kingston geese. Then, everyone has their version of the ‘Norfolk Wave’, with endless variations from a crooked finger to a full hand. I have tried to perfect the gesture, used constantly by all drivers, but my version doesn’t have the relaxed style of that used by the locals.On several occasions I have experienced waves at either side of the street, including from pedestrians.
The local police have, as far as I can tell, no penalty for being ‘out of control while waving’, but they do warn against ‘hooning’, which I gather is loutish behaviour behind a wheel.
I have resorted to referring in conversation to ‘my’ Norfolk and ‘your’ Norfolk as the easiest way of differentiating between the two.
This Norfolk has a telephone book which includes people’s nicknames in the listings, and has three pages of Christians, proud descendants of one of the more famous of the Bounty mutineers.
There’s a local language Norf’k, a cross between old Creole English and Tahitian. Thus, I have learned ‘Watawieh yorlyi’ (hello, how are you) and Ai gwen naawi (I am going swimming).
One hugely controversial current issue is a proposal that the teaching of the local language should be dropped from the school curriculum.
Norfolk was given self government in 1979 and the many potholes on the island roads are just one indication that trying to balance the economy with little income other than tourism is far from easy.
Faced with only one weekly scheduled air service from New Zealand, Norfolk Island administration runs its own airline, Norfolkair, which provides connections several times a week with Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle on the Australian mainland.
But it loses a fortune and is a huge drain on the island’s fragile economy. So much so, that there is increasing talk of a move to give up self-rule and take the handouts that Australia would be able to offer.
It’s an issue that, understandably, divides the community.
You can do as little or as much as you want on Norfolk Island. It’s a great place to relax, potter, stroll or read. Conversely, there are all sorts of historical tours and activities to keep both locals and tourists entertained.
With many years as a broadcaster for BBC Radio Norfolk, it’s not surprising that I am invited to ‘do a turn on air’. It’s the first time I have ever broadcast from a studio with two open doors and cowpats outside the gate! ‘Fletch’ (no guesses what his surname is) and George the station manager fill a happy hour comparing the two Norfolk’s, George even recalling the link we had with Norfolk Island on ‘my’ Norfolk’s first ever programme on September 11th 1980.
The local newspaper, the Norfolk Islander, calls to ask if I will grant them an interview. I am interviewed by Tom Lloyd, who founded the publication, with his wife, 46 years ago. He has now sold it to the Snell Family, but lives just across from the ‘Printery’ where the Islander is hand assembled each Friday and contributes editorial from an office behind his garage.
In fact Tom has been to ‘my’ Norfolk and we chat about several people we know from the twinning between the 57 Norfolk’s and Norwich’s around the world.
The Islander sells 1480 copies each week, more than one copy per head of population!
Pauline from Norfolk Online meets me at the Golden Orb for a chat. I’ve only been in once before, but Jack, the owner, remembers my name, Sue, one of the weavers, met me last night and Chris, who is so involved in local activities that I have still to see in the same place at his wife, Sorrell, is washing up in the kitchen. It’s that sort of place.
Pauline’s daughter Mauatua, meaning ‘all of the Gods’ is named after Fletcher Christian’s wife.
My friend, Mike Collings, who is the boss at the weather station, has taken me to every corner of this verdant and beautiful island.
The one blot on the landscape is at Headstone, where island rubbish is burned before the ash is pushed into the sea. There can be no landfill here, because it would interfere with the precious drinking water supply. There is some recycling, with aluminium being crushed and sent to New Zealand. Glass is also broken up and used as hardcore for road building. But the smell from burning tyres and plastic plus a horrid brown sludge in the nearby ocean is something that needs urgent attention if the idyll is to be preserved and protected for the future. One solution currently being investigated is whether a commercial worm farm could process much of the waste currently being burnt.
But, despite that one negative, it’s a beautiful place. As a huge swell crashes between Norfolk and the nearby uninhabited Phillip Island bird sanctuary, the horseshoe-shaped Emily Beach remains with hardly a ripple. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most perfect and unspoilt swimming beaches I have ever seen.
In the holidays, local children camp in the adjacent Norfolk Pine Woods and have a joyous time, safely enjoying the wonderful climate and the bath-warm water.
The land is so lush that the island is almost totally self-sustaining in fresh produce. My friend Mike is already harvesting tomatoes, lettuce and rocket, parsley and basil planted in his garden just seven weeks ago. This weekend, he is planning to plant a banana ring, which will grow from the compost heap in its core.
I have stared in wonder at the unpolluted night sky, the Milky Way and thousands of stars clearly visible, so close you almost feel you can touch them.
Vince, the local police sergeant, hears I am from another Norfolk and, most generously presents me with a Norfolk Island police badge.
Foodland, the main island grocery store, has both Easter Eggs and Christmas cake on display, some shelves bare as the ship is awaited from Australia with new stock early next week.
I visit the Post office to send a 10 kilo parcel of accumulated paper, gifts and memorabilia back to my Norfolk. The mail boat is still four days away, but I am told that it’s already too late and the mail is closed.

Life truly does go slowly on Norfolk.

My Norfolk Island photographs can be viewed at

A selection of images from ‘Around the World in 60 days’ is at