If you want to sit on a road facing into the eyes of a lazy bovine, maytbe Norfolk Island is for you. Trying to escape Melbourne's winter cold, and fascinated with old old architecture, Norfolk hit the right note. Norfolk Island is a small island about 35kms2 with a population of about 1300 people, many of whom are descendants of mutineers from the Bounty (and many share the surname of Christian). It lies about a 2hour flight from Sydney, 1000 kms off the eastern coast of Australia. With its rugged cliffs and Norfolk Pines, the landscape is very different from the palm covered island idylls one traditionally associates with the South Pacific.
At the time I visited, it was independant and self governing. I needed a passport to get there (possibly because the flights went through international gates), but the island’s currency was the Australian dollar and it was a tax free haven. This meant I was able to purchase Italian jewellery, french cosmetics and european porcelain for prices that even I could afford. Wandering the pot hole ridden roads from shop to shop hosting expensive international items was certainly an experience. It is now coming under Australian governance, due to its inability to cover its own expenses such as health care and road building. There is heated debate on this and as i am just a tourist i am not informed enough to comment.
That aside, my visit to the island came about after I read The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes. An unmatched historical read about Australia, the book details stories about Norfolk Island that made me want to visit its shores and stand amongst the ruins of the penal settlements that had seen so much. While Norfolk Island originally was settled as a source of food supply for Australia in 1788, (its fertile soils suitable for cropping, and its pines for mast building), the rugged coastline and isolation was found suitable to be set up as a penitentiary, where the worst of all felons were sent. Originally, the inmates had to have a history of recommitting crimes to be sent to Norfolk Isl, but later there were so called light offenders, and even children sent here. Violence and brutality ruled amongst the prisoners and guards, and the only escape from the misery was death. To read further, you can try:
The penal settlement was again eventually, and thankfully, abandoned, only to be resettled by the Bounty mutineers from the nearby overcrowded Pitcairn Island in 1856. I think it was good karma, given that originally there had once been Polynesian settlers prior to European settlement as indicated by the finds of ancient tooling.
The penal settlement at Kingston still stands, the ruins of many of the buildings overlooking the surf. Quality Row at Kingston which comprises Georgian homes that were occupied by military officers and many buildings in fine condition, restored and able to be explored. Kingston is now World Heritage listed.
Driving a little hire care which was not very powerful at all, it was probably a good thing. The cattle, being cattle, will sometimes sit in the road and not move. It is actually written into local law that they have right of way over the local traffic, and are also very special in that they descend from a single bull brought to the island a 100 plus years ago. Plus, with chickens and roosters everywhere, always running across the road, a little car is the universe's sign to slow down and give way to the world's creatures. With the motorists waving to one another, and a complete absence of door locking, why wouldnt you come here.
Its a great place to chill. And for those that have chosen to chill a bit longer than others, the cemetery overlooks the ocean, and I spent hours here. Some of the inscriptions provide an evocative insight into the past.
I hope the restless souls have some peace gazing over the blue waters.
Colleen McCullock, late author of The Thorn Birds, chose to make Norfolk Island her home, and now also rests at the cemetery.
Norfolk Island ranks as one of the most haunted places on earth, and about half the residents report having experienced a paranormal event. With its history as “Hell on Earth”, and the retention of a significant amount of the physical buildings still there, I can imagine that it is easy for many of the souls to stay on.
Travelling by hire car was easy. With one roundabout and a single set of lights, I puttered about. The locals have a wonderful food scene with dining based on the local bounty. I ate here grapefruit such as i have never experienced since.
Norfolk Island, one of the most peaceful and restorative places I have known.