Norfolk Island ... then and now ...


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Oceania » Australia » Norfolk Island » Kingston
May 3rd 2018
Published: May 3rd 2018
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Just as well we had come for a relaxing holiday as, next morning, we were up at 5am for our 3.5km “bushwalk” which was really a hike, whichever way you wanted to look at it! 😊

Larry Quintal was our guide – 6th generation “Bounty” mutineer descendant. With tongue-in-cheek and a twinkle in his eye, he said, “you Australians are descendants of convicts but, there is no convict blood in Norfolk Islanders, as they never caught them (the mutineers). He said, “we only stole ships!” 😊

We had two groups on our morning tour – those of us who were going to do the whole morning bushwalk, a walk of about 3.5 kms through the National Park (that wasn’t here when we were here last – like a lot of other things. 😊) and then those who only wanted to do the “short”, easier walk. Ted and I, did the whole bushwalk, along with about 8 other people.

The walk itself was easy to moderate, with a couple of rather steep hills but, we weren’t in any hurry. Ted and I had brought along our hiking poles with us so, these were a good asset to have.

Larry was an excellent guide and very informative with an extensive knowledge of everything about the island as he pointed things out along the way and was happy to answer any questions that we may have had.

We headed off to the National Park in our mini bus about 7-10am, which took us about 20 minutes by the time we arrived, got sorted and with some preliminaries, we set off with Larry at 7-40am whilst the others doing the short walk, went with John, our other guide for the morning.

We continued on our walk through the rainforest part of the National Park, along Red Road and then onto the Bridle Track, finally emerging out onto the coastline, which afforded us spectacular views of the rugged coastal headlands and the Pacific Ocean stretching away to the horizon, as far as the eye could see.

We had been seeing quite a few birds flying around as we walked along with most of these, being fairy terns.

Fairy terns don’t build nests, instead they nest on the rough branches of trees (mostly the pines) and, the hen lays her egg in a small depression in the rough bark where she then incubates the egg over a period of time, turning it at periodic intervals, until it hatches. At the right time, when the chick is old enough, mum will then kick the fledgling off the branch to fend for itself. That seems a bit harsh! Tough love, I guess! 😊

The fairy terns aren’t endemic to Norfolk Island, they are migratory. In June each year, or thereabouts, they will then leave the island and head off to northern Asia or Siberia (you can’t get much more northern Asia than that!), returning in the Spring to nest and, the whole cycle begins all over again. A similar species is the sooty tern, which is grey and white whereas, fairy terns are all white.

What is endemic to the island are the iconic Norfolk Island pines which smother the island and can grow to incredible heights and ages – 1,000 years is not uncommon. We saw a number of them that are estimated to be somewhere between 700-800 years old but, did see one which is estimated to be 1,000 years old. Not many of them are left now as most were logged in the early 20th century, before the Second World War.

Norfolk Island also did its bit during WWII when an airfield was built on the island in 1942 that was used by the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) for bomber patrols and also as a transport service to Bougainville in, what was then, New Guinea. A radar station was also situated on top of Mt Bates, the highest point on the island.

With the Japanese Imperial Forces advance down through New Guinea, and, like so many other islands throughout the Pacific during World War 2, Norfolk also had a complement of Coastwatchers helping to monitor any Japanese military activity.

Often recruited from civilian volunteers, the Coastwatchers played a vital and integral part of surveillance all throughout the war in defence of Australian coastlines and all throughout the Pacific Islands, especially to the north of Australia.

Originally, the Norfolk Island pines that flourish all over the island, were thought to be of immense value to the British Navy by Captain Cook when he discovered the island in 1774, but this was to be disproven over time. Growing tall and straight, his thoughts were that they would be extremely valuable as ships masts for sailing ships. In truth, this was proven not to be the case when it was discovered that the timber could split when placed under stress such as during storms or gale-force winds.

The National Park was only set up in the 1980’s and is now administered by National Parks and Wildlife who look after and protect it. Every Wednesday, NPWS rangers patrol the park as they have set up rat bait containers throughout, as rats are a big problem on the island as are feral cats (they also have traps set for them) because both are endangering the bird population on the island as they eat the eggs in the nests.

There is also a Kentia Palm industry on the island, growing the trees and then sending the seeds to other countries overseas where they are much in demand as indoor plants. The seeds of the trees hang down in huge clusters, something like bunches of bananas. At the height of the industry, each crop of seeds from every tree, was worth about $1100!

The industry took a hit during the GFC of 2008 when the overseas market dropped considerably but, is now starting to pick up again, as is the tourist industry, as confidence in the economy worldwide, continues to build. Because the seeds of the Kentia Palms are also attractive to rats, you will also see many of the trees around the island, with wide, smooth metal “collars” around their trunks. This is to prevent the rodents being able to climb up the trees and so, protect their valuable crops.

Not long after, we emerged out onto the headland which we followed around for about a kilometre, finally coming to a large open picnic area at Captain Cook’s monument which commemorates Cook’s discovery of the island back in 1774 on his second voyage to the South Pacific and his 2nd circumnavigation of the world.

By now, it was about 9am so, we were more than ready for breakfast and, we arrived to find our mini bus waiting for us which then took us to where we were to have our barbecue breakfast this morning, which just happened to be at Anson Bay picnic area. 😊

The picnic area wasn’t there when we were last on Norfolk in 1969 – a lot of things weren’t there back then that are here now – and we arrived to find picnic tables set up with tea, coffee, fruit juice, cereal, muesli, canned fruit etc, whilst “Big Al” proceeded to cook our breakfast of eggs, bacon, baked beans, sausages, toast, etc – a veritable feast!

We spent about an hour over breakfast and then I wandered over to admire the views down over Anson Bay and to take some photos.

Anson Bay, 1969 … newly arrived on the island and having picked up our Fiat 500 hire car, we were eager to set off and explore the island. The hire car people had said that we could go anywhere on the island (roads permitting), “except for Anson Bay”. “Okay”, we said and, no other explanation was given.

Being about the size of a small Matchbox car, it’s just as well you can turn a Fiat 500 on sixpence (almost) and, without power steering too. At dinner that night, the main topic of conversation in the dining room at our motel was, “did you see those people down at Anson Bay today with their car?” Oops!!

Now, Norfolk Island is all hills and valleys and rugged headlands with sheer cliffs and, in those days, sign posts were rather few and far between. We had been driving around the coastline throughout the afternoon, admiring the views, taking photos, etc when we saw this dirt road (nothing unusual in that as, most of the roads were dirt in those days) which led down to this delightful little beach.

Off we went, following the road and zig-zagging down the cliff face, and, the further we went, the narrower the road got until it became like a goat-track with just two wheel ruts to drive along. Not feeling very comfortable with this …

Now, I know I said that you can almost turn a Fiat 500 around on sixpence (5c) but, not here. What was worse, we came to a culvert across the “road” that had been carved out by erosion from heavy rain where someone had placed two planks of wood across the wash-out to enable you to get across but, obviously, not meant for cars.

There was nowhere to turn around, except right at the bottom so, with only one choice to be able to get ourselves out of there, we had to keep going. Now … definitely, not feeling comfortable with this … 😊

I must say, the expertise of my driver was phenomenal. I don’t know about Ted but, for me (holding my breath all the while), we crawled across, straddling these two wooden planks and, (in my thoughts) half-expecting the wheel of the car to run off the edge and then, we’d really be done for (let alone no car insurance as, it would be null and void now after this little exercise. 😊)

Words cannot express our feelings of relief when we finally reached the beach but, these were to be short-lived. Yes, we were able to turn around but, we now had to reverse the process and, do it all over again to be able to get back to the main road. In Ted’s usual quiet and unflappable manner, he said something along the lines of, “that’s all right, I know how to do it now”. 😊

We never did own up that it was us, who had driven down to Anson Bay that day. We just sounded as incredulous as everyone else, at dinner that night! 😊

We did go back to Anson Bay this time, just for old times’ sake but, we had to walk down to the beach this time which took us about an hour round-trip in the heat, as there is now a gate across the “road” entrance these days. The “road” still zig-zags, following the old thoroughfare but, sadly, now is all overgrown with long grass and other greenery and, is more like a pathway these days. There were some wheel marks here and there, probably made from a quad bike or someone on a NPWS ride-on mower, which comes occasionally to trim the grass.

Sadly, some things do change in 47 years but, nothing can change our memories of that day back in ’69, when we were the main topic of conversation at dinner that night - something that we have chuckled over many times since, over the years. 😊

Norfolk Island has a lot of history, both past and present, and we enjoy re-visiting this tiny island once again. I always thought that I knew a lot about the island’s history but, we learnt even more this time.

There have been three settlements on Norfolk Island throughout its history. The first began in January 1788, when Lieutenant Philip Gidley King was sent to take control of the island so that it didn’t fall into the hands of the French, who were also interested in the South Pacific. The party consisted of 22 people – 15 convicts and 7 free men. The main purpose of this settlement was for Norfolk to become a farm and so provide food for the colony of Sydney Town (modern-day Sydney) back on the mainland.

In 1790, another 300 convicts and officers arrived on Norfolk from Sydney, on board HMS “Sirius” which, unfortunately, was wrecked there in adverse weather conditions. With the lack of a safe harbour on the island, this hindered communications and the transport of supplies, etc. With the wreck of the “Sirius” on the reef, this also highlighted the remoteness and vulnerability of the island. Though there was no loss of life, all the stores were ruined and the ship’s crew, marooned there for 10 months.

Despite these problems, a second fleet arrived with sick and abused convicts which then gave the island even more problems to deal with.

By 1794, Lieutenant Philip Gidley King recommended that the settlement be closed because of its remoteness, shipping difficulties and also because it was too costly to maintain. However, it would be another 11 years before Lord Hobart, the Secretary of State, called for the removal of the settlement of Norfolk Island to be transferred to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). This was a slow and somewhat arduous exercise, with the last of the inhabitants departing in 1814, when the colony was abandoned.

With the closure of the former colonial settlement - 1788-1814 – the British destroyed everything they had utilised and built up on the island – buildings burnt to the ground (as they were timber); crops destroyed; stock slaughtered; implements etc, were buried, so that nothing was left there to assist anyone else who may come to the island as the British didn’t want any other foreign power being able to colonise Norfolk – particularly the French as, at the time, the race was on to conquer the Pacific and, the French were already well-placed to do so.

When the British re-settled Norfolk once again, in 1825, to establish the penal colony there, the buildings they erected, were built of sandstone mined locally from nearby Phillip Island. When they departed in 1856, they presented the incoming 194 people from Pitcairn, the keys to the homes and buildings there. This was to become the third settlement in Norfolk’s history.

When the Pitcairners’ arrived on Norfolk, the new arrivals were presented with a box of keys, with a number on each one, and then the head of each household was given the opportunity to choose a key and, whichever one they chose, was the house that they inherited in Quality Row at Kingston, at no expense whatsoever. It was given to them, free and clear. Bearing in mind that some of these people had as many as 18 or 19 children, they needed large properties to accommodate the whole family.

It was the second colonial convict settlement on Norfolk Island that earned it its reputation of becoming known as “The Hell in the Pacific”. These were to become the dark days of the island, both in terms of human cruelty and degradation. Norfolk became a dumping ground for the worst of the criminal element with many of the convicts being recidivists (reoffenders) as well as Irish political prisoners. For a convict, nowhere was worse than Norfolk Island to be incarcerated.

By 1855, with transportation of convicts becoming less popular with British authorities, this cruel era finally ended then when the last of the convicts were removed from Norfolk Island and the penal colony abandoned.

Today, as you wander throughout the remarkably well-preserved convict ruins in Kingston, you can only imagine what life must have been like back in those terrible, dark days of the convict penal settlement.

In 2010, the convict ruins of Norfolk Island’s Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area were included on the World Heritage List, as part of the Australian Convict Sites inscription. This was because these ruins are of outstanding significance to the nation as a convict settlement spanning the era of transportation to eastern Australia between the years 1788-1855.

A lot of things have changed since our honeymoon visit in 1969. Back then, the only accommodation was guest houses and motels and you ate in their on-site dining rooms. There were no restaurants to speak of – the occasional café/coffee shop and that was about it. Today, you are spoilt for choice as to where to eat.

Back then, all the hire cars were Fiat 500’s and they were either red or white. 😊 Today, you have a whole fleet of (mostly imported from Japan) up-to-date models and, most of the 170 kms of road on the island is now tar-sealed – and well sign-posted. 😊

There were no island tours to speak of – it was very much a “do-it-yourself” holiday destination where you took yourself around and looked at stuff. Today, there again, you are spoilt for choice for touring with guides and entertainment activities of all kinds.

There are a number of museums on the island now with one especially dedicated to the history of HMS “Sirius”, the sailing ship that was wrecked on the reef at Slaughter Bay, just east of Kingston pier, on 19 March, 1790. HMS “Sirius” was the flagship of the First Fleet. She didn’t carry any convicts to the fledgling colony of New South Wales in 1788 but did transport to Norfolk Island in company with HMT “Supply” in 1790, which was to be her last journey and where she would be wrecked.

Having run aground in adverse weather conditions and treacherous seas, she became stuck fast on the reef and foundered there at the mercy of the elements for two years before she finally broke up and sank. 200 years later, as part of our Bi-Centennial celebrations, almost 6,000 artifacts from the ship were recovered, including cannon balls, ballast, an anchor and two 18-pounder cannonades (small short-range canons) in official expeditions between 1983 and 2002 and painstakingly restored before being placed in the purpose-built museum in the penal settlement ruins in Kingston.

Another of “Sirius’” anchors sits in Macquarie Place in Sydney and another, is on loan to the Australian National Maritime Museum. Three badly damaged anchors still rest submerged on the reef at the wreck site. The wreck site of HMS "Sirius" and the artifacts that have been recovered from her, is of great historical significance as a tangible link to the settlement of colonial Australia and, are the only known remains of a vessel of the First Fleet.

Another museum in the convict ruins at Kingston deals specifically with the mutiny of the HMS “Bounty” and the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders in 1856 after the penal colony closed. Norfolk Island was given to the islanders as a gift from Queen Victoria after they had appealed to the British Government for help (with the assistance of the captain of an American whaling ship that chanced to come by) because their population had increased to the degree that the tiny island of Pitcairn could no longer support them and they were all starving to death.

After the mutiny of HMS "Bounty" on 28 April, 1789, that resulted in Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 of his loyalists from the ship being set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his followers, the problem for the mutineers then, was to find somewhere in the Pacific, where they could make their new home. Not being able to return to England and face court-martial for their actions, the mutineers were now truly alone and criminals in the eyes of the law.

Firstly, returning to Tahiti to request favour from the King for men to help sail the ship for now, they were short-handed, and to also return for the wives and girlfriends of some of the men - relationships that had blossomed during the many months that the "Bounty" had previously spent there - the search was on to find a safe haven to settle and make their new home. Tiny and remote, Pitcairn Island became their choice because of its remoteness and location away from the normal shipping routes, making it an ideal hideaway in the respect that there was less chance of the mutineers ever being discovered. And, so, it was here that Fletcher Christian and his mutineers settled, and then scuttled the "Bounty", burning her to the waterline.

So, with the closure of the penal colony on Norfolk, Queen Victoria gifted them the island as their new home as much of the housing and infrastructure that they would require was already there. This was to become the Third Settlement on Norfolk Island. The names of Christian, Quintal, Nobbs, Buffett, Evans, McCoy, etc are synonymous with the "Bounty" descendants, many of whom still call Norfolk Island home today.

For many years, Norfolk Island was also home to famous Australian author, Colleen McCullough who passed away in January, 2015. Her lawn-covered gravesite is in the graveyard on Norfolk – just a simple white wooden cross with her name and a vase of colourful artificial flowers, marking her resting place.

Until recently, another famous resident on the island was Australian singer, Helen Reddy (she and Colleen had been great mates). She had retired to the island back in 2002 and lived there for a number of years and had only sold her property 8 weeks prior to our visit.

She had owned the property that she called, “Happy Valley”, which had belonged to her ancestor, Richard Morgan, himself having been transported to Botany Bay with the first contingent of convicts who came out with the First Fleet in 1788. He was an intelligent, educated and resourceful man, which probably helped him to survive, and was also a man of many talents. He was a model prisoner and, because of his skill as a sawyer, ultimately, he was then transported to Norfolk Island in January, 1790 to assist with the setting up of the first settlement there.

Richard Morgan was also a master gunsmith and by now having attained the status of being a trusted prisoner and also overseer, he was then given the task of maintaining the guns of the military on the island.

He was the subject of Colleen McCullough’s historical novel, “Morgan’s Run”, (the name of his property on Norfolk) which is a factual account of his conviction, transportation and eventual pardon after many years. Richard Morgan was also an ancestor of Colleen McCullough’s husband.

“Morgan’s Run” is a somewhat lengthy, but very interesting read of those early days of penal settlement in Australia with much of the story centering on the lives of the convicts on Norfolk Island during those early colonial times.

Norfolk Island: Then … and now …

Going out to the airport to watch the planes come in is still a favourite pastime of the locals and you will see them standing in the backs of utilities, sitting on fences or, leaning on gates at the perimeter of the airport, waving to the new arrivals in welcome as the plane touches down and also to the departing visitors in farewell as it takes off.

You can always tell where someone has come from by which day of the week they arrive on the island – Mondays and Fridays, you’ve come in from Sydney. Tuesdays and Saturdays, you’ve come in from Brisbane. If you arrive on a Sunday, you’ve come from Auckland and … your flight by Air New Zealand jet aircraft these days, will take you around 2 and a half hours from Sydney - unlike the 5 hours it used to take you on your old Qantas DC4 propeller aeroplane back in 1969! 😊

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the option to stay on for an extra week this time (without cost) at the invitation of the owners of our accommodation, such as we did in ’69, when the island was hit by the back-end of a cyclone which had wiped out Noumea in its path, on its way through.

As the weather then, was expected to deteriorate even further in coming days, all incoming flights had been cancelled (our return home was to be the last flight out) which meant that the island wouldn’t have had another influx of tourists so, motels, etc would have been rather empty. Unfortunately, we couldn’t accept as Ted had to get back to work in Lismore in northern NSW. Damn!! 😊

With no cyclone this time, it also prevented me from dishing up Ted on the mini-golf course again (about the only “sport” I CAN beat him at! 😊) when back then, I beat him on the last hole of the course when, just as he was lining up the ball to putt into the hole and win the game, a big gust of wind blew just at that moment, which ended up blowing the ball almost all the way back down to the start again, to which he cried, “THAT’S NOT FAIR!!” 😊

As the mini-golf course on Norfolk holds unhappy memories for him, I felt sorry for him this time so, didn’t suggest we go and play another round … just for old times’ sake. As well as that, I also didn’t want to run the risk of ruining my long-standing average! 😊

As previously stated, a lot of things can change in 47 years but, Norfolk Island will always have a soft-spot in our hearts as being a most delightful and beautiful holiday destination with the most stunning scenery and the warmest of welcomes by the locals who are only too happy to share their island and their proud heritage with you.

However, there are also some things that never change … cows do till have right of way on the island and, it will still cost you $200 if you hit one in your car. 😊

There is the old adage that says, “you should never go back” (to somewhere that is dear to your heart) as things are never the same. Things may not have been the same this time but, for us, nothing could have been further from the truth in enabling us to, once again, enjoy this delightful island – this tiny - 8 kilometres by 5 kilometres - dot in the Pacific - that holds so many happy memories for us.

We always said that we would go back one day – it may have taken us 47 years but, we finally made it! 😊


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3rd May 2018

What great memories
What a fun trip for you with great memories. So glad you weren't the topic of conversation at dinner this time, although I do think a mini-golf championship should be in your future. The island looks beautiful and I love the part about the airplanes and knowing from where people are arriving. Seems like a nice quiet pace of life.
4th May 2018

Mini-golf ...
We did so enjoy revisiting Norfolk once again or, "returning to the scene of the crime", as Ted put it. :) Norfolk is such a delightful island and, we have also had a number of mini-golf re-matches during our 47 years since then. Dare I say, that I am still reigning champion. :) Ted - ever the sportsman - but, there is no way that I will ever challenge him to a game of table tennis - he'd wipe the floor with me! - or the table :) J xox
3rd May 2018

Norfolk Island
Fascinating read of an island so close to our Aussie hearts past. The fates of HMS Sirius & the Bounty with Supply bobbing up here and there. Sometimes honeymoons need be relived. Sounds like the Jan & Ted Show benefited from doing that. But did you or can you still buy Norfolk Island stamps?
3rd May 2018
Our Fiat 500 - circa 1969

First car
Honeymooners...gotta get wheels no matter what size!!!
3rd May 2018
Celebrating our 47th wedding anniversary - 2016

Well done
Our 37th is coming up so well done for your 47th in 2016 as this great pic shows...50th next year...gotta plan for a big event for that one!
4th May 2018
Celebrating our 47th wedding anniversary - 2016

Norfolk Re-visited ...
Hi Dave, Time may have moved on but, Norfolk has retained is charm, just the same. Some things may have changed but, not the people or the stunning scenery and, the pace of life is real island life - so laid back. :) So much history there, as well which, thankfully, has been so well preserved. Australia's roots are there and, shame on us as a population, if we don't protect such places and, yes, you can still buy Norfolk Is stamps or, you could when we were there. :) Our 50th comes up in January - have our thinking caps on. Also, congratulations on your upcoming 37th. Well done! J xox
6th May 2018
Our Fiat 500 - circa 1969

I love that Fiat!
We haven't made it to Norfolk Island yet...but it's on the list! I'm glad you enjoyed your trip back after all those years... Happy Anniversary :)
6th May 2018
Our Fiat 500 - circa 1969

Matchbox cars ...
Hi Ren & Andrew, Thank you for our anniversary wishes. That little Fiat was such a gem. I felt like Noddy whenever we drove around in it, it was so tiny. Felt as though we had escaped from Toy Town or some such other fictional nursery rhyme village, it was such a cute little car. :) Pleased to hear that Norfolk is on you to do list. Such a fascinating destination, right on our doorstep. Thank you for dropping in. :) Jxx
6th May 2018

"We only stole ships"
That's a great recommendation if ever I heard one!! Thanks for some lovely photos and a great history lesson. And many congratulations of your 47th wedding anniversary.
6th May 2018

We only stole ships ...
Hi Michelle, Yes, that's still some kind of an admission, isn't it? :) Thanks for dropping in and for you congratulations. We had a great time on Norfolk again, reliving old memories and making some new ones. How is/was China? Jxx
10th May 2018
Fairy Tern

Beautiful shot
Amazing. I like this one a lot.
10th May 2018
Fairy Tern

Beautiful shot ...
Hi Dave & Merry Jo, Thank you. These little birds are flying around all over the island during the Spring & Summer months. Hard to imagine them making the incredible distance all the way to Siberia each season. Hopefully, you too, will get to experience them and beautiful Norfolk for yourselves one day. :) Jxx
10th May 2018

Norfolk Island
Thanks for taking us along on this adventure. Norfolk Island has always held some interest for me. Hopefully, we will get there some day. Happy Anniversary, looks like a wonderful place to celebrate. MJ

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