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Norfolk Island – Even the phone book is bizarre

On the Pacific island Norfolk Island behind Australia live descendants of the famous “Bounty” mutineers of 1789. But there are even more curiosities – among them a telephone book that will amaze you.

Norfolk Island is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, about 1400 kilometres northwest of Auckland (New Zealand) and is a self-governing external territory of Australia. James Cook was the first European to enter the island in 1774.

The telephone book of the Pacific island Norfolk Island is curious and unique worldwide. The telephone subscribers are also listed there with their nicknames. For example, they are called Cowboy, Sparks, Moonie, Foxy, Little Pooh, Monkey, Toofy or Honey and are listed in an extra directory (“Fast find a person by their nickname”) with their respective telephone number. Additionally, you can find the islanders with their real names in the “normal” part of the phone book.

And there’s even more strange things about this island, which is extremely photogenic in terms of its scenery: cows running around freely – a symbol of Norfolk Island – always have right of way. Unknown are street lights (bring a flashlight!), traffic lights and public transport – there is only one taxi, but several rental car companies.

The grandchildren of the “Bounty” mutineers

The “Norfolk Wave” is one of the island’s special features: car drivers wave to each other, pedestrians are also delighted with this nice gesture.

But the most interesting thing about the 35 square kilometre island is that many descendants of the legendary “Bounty” mutineers of 1789 live here. They proudly bear one of the famous names of their important relatives – Christian, Adams, Young, Quintal, McCoy and so on.

Norfolk Island is a self-governing external territory of Australia, has about 1600 inhabitants (decreasing tendency) and is located in the southwestern Pacific, about 1400 kilometres off the Australian east coast and 1100 kilometres northwest of Auckland in New Zealand. The evergreen Norfolk Pines are typical of the mountainous island of volcanic origin.

The remote part of the world has only one “real” place: the Burnt Pine business centre in the centre of the island. The small settlement of Kingston on the south coast, with its historical ruins and restored colonial buildings, functions as the seat of government and administration.

Only once did a crime disturb the idyll

Phil, the driver of the only taxi, comes from the Australian motherland, he now enjoys the peace and quiet and relaxed lifestyle on the island. “And the great scenery, the clean air, the friendliness of the people and the safety. Here you still have respect for each other! Everyone lives in harmony, everyone knows everyone.

No one has to pay income tax, but a value added tax of twelve percent. The island is not affiliated to the Australian tax and social security system. Phil laments the high cost of living. A first purchase in the supermarket Foodland of the Shopping Centre Norfolk Mall will probably be a shock experience for every tourist in view of the enormous prices. Almost all goods are transported by plane or ship from Australia or New Zealand. The offer is not very extensive.

There is no crime worth mentioning on Norfolk Island. Only once, in 2002, the peaceful South Sea idyll was permanently disturbed by a crime: the murder of Janelle Patton, a young woman from the mainland.

It was very important for the self-image of the islanders that none of them had committed the crime. The murderer came from New Zealand and is serving a 24-year prison sentence in Sydney.

The island was called “hell on earth”

To understand Norfolk Island better, you have to know the eventful history of its settlements. The sailor James Cook discovered the uninhabited island in 1774 and took it into his possession for England. A monument on the steep north coast, which we chose as our favourite place because of its wild beauty, reminds us of this.

The first settlement began in 1788: Convicts, their guards and free settlers came from neighbouring Australia, where a few weeks earlier England had founded the New South Wales convict colony. The outpost was abandoned in 1814.

Eleven years later, England decided to make Norfolk Island a convict colony again – this time for the “worst male criminals” of Australia’s colonies. The living conditions of the prisoners were so brutal that the island was soon described as “hell on earth”. The end of this terrible time came in 1855 with the dissolution of the colony. Norfolk Island was deserted again.

But already in the following year the third and last chapter of the turbulent settlement history began when on June 8, 1856 the 194 descendants of the famous “Bounty” mutineers of Pitcairn Island landed in the southeast Pacific on the coast of Norfolk Island. Thus the island finally looked forward to a better future.

Relocation to Norfork Island

The mutiny on the English sailing ship “Bounty” was led by Lieutenant Fletcher Christian in 1789. In 1790 he reached the uninhabited Pitcairn, only four and a half square kilometres in size, with eight companions, six men and twelve women from the previously visited island of Tahiti in search of a place of refuge.

But over time, the island became too small for the growing population. Thus in 1856 the British royal house – Pitcairn had been a crown colony since 1838 – ordered the resettlement of the population to Norfolk Island about 6000 kilometres away.

All nine mutineers were dead in the meantime, six of them murdered. Several families later returned to Pitcairn Island from homesickness. Therefore this isolated island is still inhabited today, about 50 people live there.

Of the present population of Norfolk Island about one third are descendants of the “Bounty” mutineers, they are called “Islanders”. The immigrated rest, the “Mainlanders”, originate predominantly from Australia and New Zealand to one third each. The most famous inhabitant of the island is the Australian writer Colleen McCullough, author of the filmed cult novel “The Thorn Birds”.

“I am the only resident born on Pitcairn Island, a direct descendant of the eighth generation of Fletcher Christian. This is how Trent Christian, the driver and guide of our island tour of the local tour company Pinetree Tours, introduces himself. “I came to Norfolk Island at the beginning of the 90s,” he continues, always cheerful. He has two passes, one British (Pitcairn belongs to Great Britain) and one Australian (Norfolk is part of Australia).

Ruins and buildings from the colonial period

Trent takes us to some of the most beautiful regions of the subtropical island. We will be carried away by his enthusiasm for the diverse coastal scenery, the golden beaches, the hills and valleys and the majestic Norfolk Pines.

Emily Bay on the south coast, protected by a coral reef, is the most popular beach, says Trent. The most frequently photographed motif by tourists is the view from Queen Elizabeth Lookout to Nepean Island and Phillip Island.

A special adventure is the flight in a small Cessna over steel blue waters and small islands. Bush pilot Kevin (left) is only 18 years old. But instructor Steve already trusts him blindly.

The tour leads us to the ruins and buildings from the colonial period in Kingston. A walk there and on the adjacent cemetery becomes a history lesson. Many grave inscriptions do not only show names and life data of deceased mutineers, they also document fates from the years of the convict colonies like executions of prisoners. The Kingston region as an open-air museum is on the Unesco World Heritage List.

We learn a remarkable example of the close solidarity of the population from Trent: “If one of our citizens dies – regardless of whether he was rich or poor and what his profession was – half a mast is flagged, on the day of his death and on the day of his funeral”.

Ten days we were on Norfolk Island – actually too short. We would have needed more time for the museums and for walks in the national park. Visits to the Pitcairn Settler’s Village and the Cyclorama, a painting panorama of the “Bounty”-story, we made it, the “Mutiny on the Bounty Show” we’ll see next time.