Monday, 30 April 2012

Really doing different on Norfolk Island

I really can't think of anywhere in the world more conducive to total relaxation than Norfolk Island. Cars are not allowed to drive more than 50 kilometres an hour, often just 30, and must give way to cows and Kingston Geese. Every time you pass someone, they wave. Even children on bikes and pedestrians. It is delightful.
I potter about all week, making huge decisions about whether to have lunch at the Golden Orb or the Olive and whether to go for a swim at Emily Bay in the morning or the afternoon.
But there's also great excitement. The Pacific Guardian has arrived and although there's quite a swell running, they are unloading a horse in foal. 

As the crate is unloaded from the lighter, there's a round of applause from a large crowd of onlookers. I am astonished how word has travelled round the island, it seems that almost everyone has come to watch. The evolution has cost the owner $8000 Australian, including a hefty veterinary bill.
But it's too rough to unload much needed potatoes and eggs, so that will have to wait until the morning.
None of the men crewing the lighters are wearing life jackets or indeed don't appear to have any safety equipment at all; it really is a different way of life.
The Norfolk Island Bowls Club has an open afternoon, so I pitch up and find myself playing for Norfolk against New Zealand and Australia. For just $5, they throw in shoe hire, a set of bowls and sandwiches after the game. But no cups of tea; almost everybody is drinking beer. If you don't have proper bowling shoes, you can bowl in bare feet. I have been trying to adopt this almost universal island tradition, but my soft townie feet aren't up to it and, after a couple of days, splits and cuts are causing me grief.

The houses on Cascade Road seem mostly to be named after the type of roofs they have. Thus, we have Red, Blue, Green, Rusty and Rented. A vacant lot is named 'No Roof'.

I have been lent a car. Sue is off island at a funeral, so husband Don has kindly pointed me in the direction of her car. The key is in the lock. I don't use it a lot, but I enjoy going to the top of Mount Pitt and to visit the splendid Norfolk island Botanical Gardens, where there are more Golden Orb Spiders' Webs than I would have thought possible.

There are two funerals on the island. Norfolk Island pine caskets are provided by the Government at no charge and burials in the cemetery are also free. All the flags on the island are lowered to half mast and, at Saturday bowls, we are told that games can start early or late if we want to go to one of the services.
Islanders pay no taxes so, with free burials and whatnot, there's no money to repair the roads. Or anything else for that matter. So there are moves to bring in closer links with Australia, which will mean state-funded healthcare but taxes. Emotions are mixed and running high. The newly-arrived administrator, whose job is to liaise between the Island Government and authorities in the mainland is trying to be open about the process, but is getting grief in the 'Norfolk Islander' newspaper. The attack is pretty unfair because the originator is anonymous. But the following week, another anonymous letter leaps to his defence, so that's all right then. I can't think of many newspapers in the world which will print unsigned letters. But Norfolk really does do different.

The local police are trying to enforce laws on speeding and the wearing of crash helmets. But the island way of life is not conducive to mainland rules and regulations, so it's not an easy task. There's a view that the islanders get away with a lot, while the incomers are expected to toe the line. Very much a them and us scenario. The incomers say that marrying an islander is a good way of being able to do pretty much what you want without authority interfering too much with your life.

I am bewildered by Aussie speak. They seem to have a language all of their own. When I am told that 'I'll see you in the arvo', I have no idea that they are planning to see me later that afternoon. A 'trash and treasure' sale is a sort of posh jumble sale, while you'll have to look up 'shonky' for yourself. But I have just about got used to wearing thongs on my feet instead of flip flops.
On Sunday morning, there is more excitement. My host Mike and I pop down to Ball Bay, where the oil tanker Heracles is manoeuvring into position to offload, gas, diesel, aviation fuel and petrol. Secured close inshore by her anchors and stern ropes, it's quite a tricky operation, but great fun to watch.

Mike, a very talented chef, has been busy making all sorts of scrummy things for a party to mark Met Bureau colleague Tom's 60th birthday. At the event I become wine waiter and general factotum. It's great to meet a wide variety of local business owners, friends and neighbours and people from the island authorities.

All too soon it's time to leave this delightful spot. I can't think of many places where you can check in, then go off to have coffee and a bite of lunch in town before boarding the aircraft.

There's an absolute monsoon and everybody on the plane gets soaked during the walk across the tarmac and up the stairs.
I have the front three seats all to myself, but I can't sit down until the door is closed because the seats are covered with blankets to protect them from the downpour. But, even so, I feel the damp rising during the flight.
After take-off, there's quite a bit of turbulence, so I chat to the friendly Air New Zealand cabin crew, Hayden and Sandy, who have had a couple of days on the island in between sectors.

All too soon, the wonderful sight of Sydney Harbour, straight through customs and quarantine and into Australia proper.
With traffic jams. Queues.
And shoes.

Photos at: