VISITING NORFOLK ISLAND…Part 1

It was 2021 and the world was still being squeezed by the insidious pressures of the Covid19 pandemic. The state of Victoria had just announced that two workers had caught the Covid from working too close to a nebuliser that assisted the airborne disease particles to more effectively flow through the air of the lockdown hotel.  There was no international travel so we decided we would visit an Australian island off the coast of Queensland (1500 kilometres off!), Norfolk Island.

A couple of days before leaving I had been talking to a friend who had asked what we were up to and I replied, “We are going overseas tomorrow!” Not fooled, she replied,

Wow, Norfolk Island! You know what they say about people going to Norfolk Island, ‘You’re either newly-wed or nearly dead!’” This wasn’t a tourism slogan that Norfolk Islanders would appreciate! Mind you, we began to recall the number of people we knew whose parents or older siblings had honeymooned there. However, after our three days of touring Norfolk, we encountered no newly-weds and plenty of ageing travellers.

Wikipedia told me that Norfolk Island is an ‘External Territory’ of Australia, presumably because it is neither attached nor close to the Australian continent. We discovered on our short visit that a significant number of the 1,478 Norfolk citizens were not happy with this title or their political and financial relationship with Australia. Some wanted to be part of New Zealand. The island is 1422 kilometres from Northern NSW and was first discovered by Europeans in 1774 when Captain James Cook, on his second voyage around the Pacific, dropped in on Norfolk Island. While he may have been the first European, he wasn’t the first human to come ashore on Norfolk. There is both environmental and archaeological evidence that Polynesians sailed to Norfolk and perhaps spent a couple of centuries at the back of Emily Bay. They were long gone before the first Europeans landed a forward party there in 1770.

Today Norfolk Island has a well set up airport, developed during World War II and updated again for the sake of the modern tourist trade to the island. It is not far from the centre of the Island where the main town centre of Burnt Pine is located. However, the ‘Capital’ of the island is Kingston which sits on the south coast of the Island where one of the Island’s two major jetties is located. This short southern coastline is the lowest geographical section of Norfolk and is where the first two settlements were established after 1788. This is also where the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area is located and because of its significance to Australian history, has been recorded on the World Heritage List.

Just after we got off the plane from Brisbane, we ran into an old colleague who recommended starting off our trip by going for a swim at Emily Bay at one end of the KAVHA area. We needed no further recommendation and so after checking in to our accommodation for the next three nights, the Governor’s Lodge Resort Hotel, we drove down the winding, hilly road to Kingston.

The image above of Emily Bay illustrates why this spot is a key place for Norfolk Island residents. We arrived just after school time and parents were bringing their children down for an afternoon swim. In the centre of the photo is a large outrigger that was being put through its paces across the bay and out into the surf beyond. Behind the beach, a large flat bottom boat was waiting for the low tide tomorrow where it would take tourists for a slow ride across the underwater beauties of Emily Bay. While we were there, some of the younger locals arrived with snorkels and flippers to head out for some slow swimming across the calm surface of the bay.

The image below is looking south from the western headland of the bay and shows the two smaller Islands, Nepean and Phillip Island, that sit just south of Emily bay. On this headland sat the almost intact ‘Salt House’ built in 1846. Unlike today, salt on Norfolk was not just for the table, it was mainly used for preserving meat, particularly pork; convicts were given a daily ration of 1 pound of salt meat . The waters of the bay were pumped into this salt house and fires were used to evaporate the salt.

After a swim and a wander around Emily Bay, we jumped into our hire car and headed to the other end of the KAVHA to the Kingston Pier.

Kingston Pier is one of two jetties that boats bring in goods to Norfolk Island. The confronting name of the stretch of foreshore between Emily Bay and Kingston Pier is Slaughter Bay. There is a reef that runs between the pier and the other end of Slaughter Bay and large waves were breaking over this reef for the enjoyment of a large number of local surfers who we were able to watch on our first afternoon. The reef at the centre of Slaughter Bay is where the First Fleet ship, the Sirius, was wrecked in 1790 bring supplies and convicts to Norfolk. The reef also protects the lagoon from allowing the large sharks that are plentiful in the waters around Norfolk Island to get close in to the shore. On the west side of Kingston Pier there is no reef that stops the Bronze Whaler sharks from coming right up to the edge of the pier. When we walked out on to the pier, there was a group of fishermen cleaning their catch and throwing the scraps back into the waters beside the pier. As we looked over the edge of the jetty, we were greeted with the sight of 4 or 5 large sharks surfacing to accept these late afternoon snacks.

As mentioned earlier, the buildings that cluster around Kingston Pier are part of the World Heritage area on Norfolk Island and have been described as of “outstanding significance to the Nation as a convict settlement spanning the era of transportation to Eastern Australia between 1788-1855”. Kingston is the largest landscape of 18th century buildings in Australia. It is the area at the back of Kingston Pier which is the landing site of the first settlers that arrived in 1788 but the buildings still standing here today are from the later settlement from the 1840s.

We parked our car near the pier and went for an inspection/ stroll around these buildings. The building closest to the pier is called the Flag House because it stored the colour-coded flags that were essential to signaling arriving ships as to conditions and landing processes. Nearby is the Pier store that now houses the Norfolk Island Museum. Next to it is the Guard House built in 1826 and is one of a number of the buildings in the area that incorporated a First Settlement (1788-1814) building. When the decision was made to abandon this settlement, the buildings were burnt to discourage other nations from taking them over.

One of the most interesting buildings in this area is the Crank Mill that sits roofless beside the Guard House. It was built in 1827 to grind the wheat and corn of the settlement and is the only surviving human powered Crank Mill built in Australia before 1850. It operated between 1837-53 and went on to later house at different times a store, a hospital, a military barracks and a boat shed.

Over the road from the Crankmill is the Royal Engineers Office, built in 1850 with attached stables. It houses today the Museum Shop. Scattered around this building are a number of old ‘lighters’ that were boats used to transfer goods and passengers to and from moored ships anchored off Kingston Pier. They were normally unpowered and were moved and steered using long oars (sweeps).

Wandering over the road from the Engineer’s Office is a large standing stone memorial to the arrival of the first settlement here in 1788. It reads “Lieutenant Philip Gidley King Royal Navy together with seven free persons, six female convicts and nine male convicts landed near this spot on 6th march 1788 to form the second British settlement in the South Pacific.”

In the background to the photo here is the ruins of the hospital built in 1829, constructed over the remains of a First Settlement building. It had an internal courtyard enclosed by a stone wall. As was to be expected in a hospital catering to a convict settlement, it was always overcrowded and occasionally patients had to be housed in a room over the road in the Crank Mill. It continued to be used as a hospital when the Pitcairn settlers arrived in 1856. The plaque next to the doorway to the hospital states… “Completed shortly after 1832 for use as the convict hospital and originally intended for 100 patients. The site is in the area identified as the location of the original government house from the first settlement occupied by Philip Gidley King.” The image below shows the internal courtyard of the hospital with Nepean Island in the background.

VISITING NORFOLK ISLAND…Part 2

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