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
Tag: Malcolm Turnbull
FOR one week every year, one magical week between Christmas and New Year, in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland behind the tiny township of Woodford, exists the People’s Republic of Woodford. The Woodford Festival. If you’re looking for an antidote to a frenetic year, a chance to recharge your batteries, to find a destination that for one week only represents the way the world should be, head to “Woodfordia” where reality is suspended, if only for the briefest of times.
On this beautiful 200 hectare environmental parkland, which has withstood the scourge of floods and scorching summers, people are nicer to each other, they dance, laugh and sing. Talk to complete strangers. Engage in debates about the universe, global warming, coal seam gas, fracking, and euthanasia. Dance under huge tents, play the bongos, dine on exotic cuisine, strum guitars, learn how to paint, draw and craft things. They hug trees, hug each other. Trek to the top of the hill and honour the last sunset of the year and the first sunrise of the next. Sit under the Southern Cross and in a huge bush ampitheatre indulge in that unmistakable Australian sound emanating from new bands. Discover foreign groups. Honour the Indigenous custodians of the land in Jinibara Country on which they sit. Chat around the campsite.
If the Woodford Folk Festival isn’t Utopia, then it’s about as close to Nirvana as you will find. What other place on the planet do you line up to fill your recycled bottle with rainwater to discover the person in front has already paid for it? This is a destination where paying it forward looms large. Egos are suspended. Bonhomie reigns. The Global Goddess has been attending Woodford for about a decade, at first apprehensive that it was a bit of a hippie festival with which she would have no connection. Back in the early days I didn’t camp but drove home to Brisbane every night to the comfort of a warm shower and a soft bed. As the years wore on, I started out in a basic tent pitched in the campsite of my friends. I slept like the dead, to the sounds of distant beating drums. I awoke each morning to the cacophony of the Aussie bush.
These days, we’ve upgraded, our site becoming more sophisticated as we sleep in a campervan, our friends in a Kombi, a tarp strung between the two, mapping out our home for the week. There’s Moet in the esky and aged cheese and strawberries in the fridge. We eat fancy pancakes for breakfast. Brew real coffee. And sit down and pour over the program and plan the day ahead. This year’s program, just released late last week, promises to be a corker. Highlights of this year’s festival include singers Beth Orton, Tim Finn and Clare Bowditch; Environmentalist Professor Ian Lowe; former politician Bob Hawke and, yet-to-be-confirmed Malcolm Turnbull; comedian Denise Scott; writer Blanch D’Alpuget.
And there’s some acts always worth revisiting among the diverse performance venues on the site. The Global Goddess likes to spend her time in the Blue Lotus tent listening to talks on spirituality. Sometimes I sit on the hill and watch stunning Spaniards introduce me to fast and frenetic music with a tinge of Hawaii Five’O. Other days, it’s in Bills Bar you’ll find me, people watching as much as music listening, having a cold beer before heading down the hill to the Blues Tent. A couple of belly laughs in the Comedy Tent is also a nice way to end the evening and as I stumble back to camp to the glow of paper lanterns, I’m likely to stop several times, for a tea and a carob ball in the Chai Tent, a cold drink in the Pineapple Lounge, a bit of jazz, a circus act, some Indian or Tibetan music along the way.
Last year’s festival saw 2,200 artists and musicians perform across 25 venues to an audience of 113,000 people over that wonderful week. A steady program of tree planting over the years, in which attendees can “adopt” a tree, has resulted in the 101,000th tree planted in Woodfordia soil this year. Some years there’s dust. Others, it rains and there’s mud. Bring your gum boots. Embrace nature and creativity. Random acts of music. Robust acts of kindness. That’s my idea of Utopia. What’s yours?
For more information on the Woodford Festival please visit http://www.woodfordfolkfestival.com