A TROPICAL low is lurking over Norfolk Island like a dark shroud, bringing squally, unpredictable weather in its wake. And I am sitting in what has become known as “Tent City”, rain licking the canvas walls, speaking with peaceful protestors about the storm which has been brewing between island residents and the Australian government.
I knew there had been some changes to this remote Australian territory but like many mainlanders, remained naïve to what, precisely, they were, and what they meant to the locals. In a nutshell, since 1979 until July 1, last year, Norfolk Island has been a self-administering territory with its own Legislative Assembly, a Chief Minister, its own health care, own GST, and Council of Elders who represent each of the eight original Pitcairn families who came to the island.
But last year, despite 68 per cent of Norfolk Islanders voting in a referendum to have their own say over their island, the Australian government appointed a regional council system, said they must now pay tax, and in return, would received mainland services such as Medicare. Which would be fine if these services were being received but locals claim they are not. Nor, do they believe they should be called Australians, given their rich history, but Norfolk Islanders.
Fly out of Australia and you’ll discover just what a confusing mess the situation is. Firstly, you fly out of an international airport, with your passport and fill out your immigration departure card. About 10 minutes into the flight, you will then be handed an immigration arrival card, asking you questions such as “how long did you spend overseas” and “in which country did you spend the most time”. Um, Australia? As for where you intend to stay, I was unclear whether they meant my Brisbane address or my Norfolk Island address, and I was told by Border Force officials that I’m not the only one confused by the changes. (For the record, Norfolk Island had its own arrivals card which worked beautifully, I am told). Now, try being a local. Drive from the airport and one of the first things you’ll encounter is a field of green hands, known as Hands Up For Democracy, which is intended as a “silent protest in the paddock”.
Down at the Kingston, on the site of the former Legislative Assembly, you’ll find Tent City. Norfolk Island Tent City resident Mary Christian-Bailey, 73, has lived on the island for 50 years and has been part of a peaceful protest since April 29 last year.
“The message is we want the right to determine our own future. It doesn’t mean we want independence but we want a choice,” she says.
“Australia has to fulfill its obligations to list us as a self-governing territory with the United Nations. Australia has tried to rewrite history and say we are just a part of the Australian story.
“We’ve got a lot of friends all over the world, including the British Parliament, working with us. I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull even thinks we exist. When the legislation when through the Australian Parliament there were about five people in the Chamber. Most of them wouldn’t know why they’ve done it or how it’s affected us in any way.”
While some back on the mainland claim Norfolk Island residents are angry about having to become taxpayers, locals say they have no issue with tax, but a lack of services. They claim the Norfolk Island Hospital has been transformed from a hospital to a GP clinic, and there is no surgeon on the island. Pregnant women are forced to leave the island at 32 weeks to live on the mainland and in the case of an emergency, injured or sick locals are medivacked off the island in an operation which can take 6 hours to mobilise. Residents claim there have been 40 medivacs since July 1, at an approximate cost of $30,000 a time. Then there’s the issue of postal delivery and rubbish collection, as well as repairs on their potholed roads.
“Most people can’t see that there have been any benefits under the Australian government. It has happened on the basis of ignorance and lies. They could have worked with us but they’ve just ignored local knowledge and expertise,” Mary says.
“Trying to transplant the island into a completely different system has been very stressful for the older people. We have no problem with the Australian people, we have a lot in common with them. But we are pretty disappointed with their government.
“They have a real colonial, imperialistic attitude. We will sit here as long as it takes. We are a strong proud people with a strong proud heritage.”
And indeed they are. Norfolk Island is a place of immense beauty born of its remote and rugged locale. You’ll feel the history in the bones of the remaining stone buildings, which once housed some of the most brutal captors and some hardcore convicts. It’s a place of a scallywags, sailors, whalers, the lost and found and those still searching for something. This isolated island, 1000km from anywhere, will snatch a piece of your spirit and make you think hard. But go there, you must. Particularly if you are Australian. Despite being a tiny 8km x 5km, there’s plenty of places in which to disappear on this destination. Space to be alone. To contemplate this former convict settlement which possesses such natural charm. Walk in nature, dine on local food, feast on history, snorkel her reef and meet her characters.
Islander and local guide Rhonda Griffiths believes Norfolk Island possesses a masculine energy.
“You will notice how few roads are named after women. It’s always been about the bounty mutineers. We’ve never had a female Chief Minister and women are paid a lot less than men,” she says.
“I feel the strength of the island more than the nurturing.”
But Tania Anderson, of Norfolk Island Tourism, believes it’s more feminine.
“People are gentle here, but inside there is a toughness to some extent. It is a country town and small community but we are isolated,” she says.
“Our heritage is from Tahitian women and English sailors. There is something about a lot of the local women which is that island beauty.
“People say ‘what do you do on Norfolk?’. We never stop. On Norfolk you just have to get on with things.”
And get on with things they will.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and stayed at Broad Leaf Villas – http://www.broadleafvillas.com. For more photos of her stay visit Instagram @aglobalgoddess
THE most delicious things happen when you scrape off the exterior. Sand yourself back and prime yourself to move forward. January has proven to be just that at my house. After 16 years I decided to give my crumbling, rumbling, beautiful Queenslander workers’ cottage a facelift. It was much-needed cosmetic, and a little bit of emergency, surgery. We’ve survived 16 harsh Australian summers of scorching, peeling heat, punctuated by fierce storms and flooding rains, this old girl and I. Oh yes, the sunburnt country we all love has taken its toll on me and my house. Wood rot, pernickety possums with their scratchy claws, ballsy bush rats, scrub turkeys and my beloved wild snake have all burrowed into her psyche and the outside walls. And something had to give.
My builder/painter Gregg arrived on a typical tropical day where the humidity slides right off you like a melting ice cream. I’d selected a grey palate for my paint job, thinking it was befitting of my 1920s cottage which was nearing her first century. Little did I know there were 50 shades of grey from which to choose, nor did I realise that this summer I’d understand that life comes in those same 50 shades.
Gregg smoked and swore like a sailor and so much for both of us, that I found I gave up swearing. I’ve never been a smoker so that wasn’t a problem. But he also worked bloody hard under that hot Australian sun. Brisbane in January? What a bugger of a job. Humidity is your worst enemy and sleep is as rusty as my old gate. But soon we found our rhythm. I adopted his tradie hours, rising with the sun and working until early afternoon until the heat got the better of us. Gregg scraping and painting outside, hammering nails, and me inside, writing in symphony. We’d stop occasionally to chat, about lives we’d left behind. Pasts we’d rather forget and of futures we were looking forward to. Gregg, 48, had recently married the love of his life Fiona. He gave me dating advice. “You’ll just know, darl.”
This rough, big bloke and I slowly forming a bond and friendship as the old paint, and our natural walls, fell away. Again and again I was reminded that life comes in 50 shades of grey. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t even bother buying wine with a fancy label. It’s what’s underneath that peeling paint that counts. And day by day my house transformed, from what Gregg described as “old, mouldy green” to contemporary grey.
He clipped away the trees that had been pushing on the front fence, and one day asked me why I was “hiding”. Isn’t it funny? You don’t even realise what you’re doing until someone points it out. Meditation and yoga teachers believe the concept of “house” equals “self”. And here I was, crouched behind the bushes, hiding from the world. And so we chopped away at that notion, and opened it up, keeping just enough shade and privacy, but allowing in the light.
I like that idea. Letting in the light. Gregg painted me a white picket fence, the “great Australian dream” kind. And joked now I just needed the bloke. My letter box was splashed in a shimmer that would make any Mardi Gras parade proud. Another shade of grey used to tie together the white and the dark grey of the walls. I grew accustomed to Gregg and looked forward to his daily quirky company. On those hot days when my mind wandered from my work, I imagined myself as Frances Mayes in her Villa in Tuscany, with her rabble of foreign workers knocking down walls and painting everything fresh.
And then, the day came when the job was done. I asked Gregg what I would do without him. “A bit of (expletive deleted) gardening wouldn’t go astray,” he laughed, referring to the wild Aussie bush I like to keep at the back of my house in the tree tops, and the much-neglected garden patch out the front. A green thumb, I am not. For years I’ve wanted to fill the pits surrounding my draw bridge entry with crocodiles, to sort the men out from the boys. Apparently they won’t let you do that in Brisbane. Then, on his last day on the job, Gregg and the lovely Fiona arrived to plant me a beautiful garden. He’s that sort of bloke.
It’s interesting how you grow used to the daily presence of someone. Gregg taught me the difference between oil-based and water-based decking oil. The importance of using good quality paint on a house which has to withstand Australia’s harsh climate. How a nail with a screw design won’t pop out under the demands of our sun but an ordinary nail will drive you nuts. But most of all he taught me, like my house, that we all come in 50 shades of grey.
If you are looking for a quality painter with a building licence as well (a rarity in Brisbane I can tell you), someone who will go above and beyond, and who charges reasonable prices, contact Gregg on: 0458 572 523 (and tell him his new journo mate sent you).