Image for The outrage at the Australian government takeover of Norfolk Island

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Norfolk Island: Letters marking the Australian Government Takeover


The letters reproduced here were originally published in the Norfolk Island weekly newspaper The Norfolk Islander, on Saturday 2 July 2016. This was the day following the completion of a process carried through by the Australian Government and against the will of the majority of the Norfolk Island people, which stripped them of the limited form of self-government they had enjoyed as an external territory of Australia, and which incorporated them as a regional council area within the ambit of the state of New South Wales.

These nine letters provide a snapshot of sentiments current in the community about what has happened on the island, and of fears and hopes for the future. Two of the letters relate to the important and pressing issue of the change in biosecurity law applicable to the island. A final letter provides a reflection on Norfolk Island based on the experiences of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

These letters are all of the letters published by The Norfolk Islander on that day. They were not solicited, and apart from a small number of factual corrections have not been edited. (At a few points the language used by the correspondents is Norfolkese.) No letters celebrating the introduction of the new Australian regime were received by the paper’s editors. The letters are reproduced with permission of The Norfolk Islander and the correspondents themselves.

- Chris Nobbs
Norfolk Island, 8 July 2016


From Mary Christian-Bailey
Dear Sir,
So July 1st has come and gone. Some have tried to give the day a name, but I would not even dignify it with a title. It will go down in history as a day of shame for generations to come. To our Commonwealth appointees who thought they were coming in as our saviours, may I say this:
The people of this island, accustomed over a long time to meeting the needs of this community with proper planning, good housekeeping, sound budgeting and careful prioritising are aghast at what you have done, and the incompetence you have demonstrated in trying to force us into your mould.
You have robbed our elderly of their feelings of safety and security, you have deprived our young people of their rights to inherit an island home that was once productive and resourceful and nurturing. You have stolen our resources and claimed them as your own. You have disenfranchised many of our citizens, and taken away from others their means of sustaining themselves productively and with dignity. You have massively increased the cost of doing business. You have lied to us, and about us, you have ignored us, you have failed to show respect to our elected leaders. You have instituted a ruthless regime, which is allegedly rife with nepotism, cronyism and self-interest.
You have stolen those things we believed we owned as a community…our school, our hospital, our Post Office and our stamps, our radio station. Even our “town” where our forebears lived and worked and played and carried out their business from the time they arrived in 1856, has become, in your words, “another part of the Australian story.”
And because of all this you have also stolen our sleep, and at nights we lie grieving, feeling distressed and dispossessed. You have made us feel like exiles, even in our own homeland. Those familiar routines and values that were a part of our lives, developed over decades to suit our little island community, have just been wiped away.
And through all of the changes you are forcing on us, in the name of reform, changes which will not leave most of us better off, we have held it all together. We have chosen to remain peaceful and respectful, because that is our way. Many of our public servants have been forced to remain silent, not wanting to rock the boat, always mindful that they have families to feed and mortgages to pay.
Many of your people have been silent too. They came here to do a job, they have seen first-hand the grief and damage that it is causing, but they have not spoken out because it might obstruct their comfy career paths. Those who did appear to be questioning what was happening were apparently sent packing, with their tails between their legs and a gag on their mouths. And this week many more of them have left, leaving us behind to cope with the mess.
We are in disbelief that you have been allowed to come into this place and claim it as your own, expecting us to adopt your way of life in, a manner that only can be described as colonialist and racist. You thought that because we are few in number, you could get away with it. The sad thing is that in your arrogance, you thought you could turn us overnight into just another part of regional Australia. You thought you could come in and make a clean sweep of it, because you actually believed that what we had in place was insubstantial and worthless. You were so wrong, and because you did not ask us, the Norfolk Island experts, for advice, you have created a bureaucratic nightmare for yourselves, and a massive deficit of confidence in the community as we muddle through new arrangements that were not properly thought out. We are the ones who are having to pay for it both financially, and in terms of our mental and emotional wellbeing.
I hope the day comes when you are forced to say SORRY. Meanwhile, you may be congratulating yourselves because you think you have won the battle. A most ignoble victory. But you have not won the war. You may have broken our hearts, but you will never break our spirits.
And in the long run, you will be the losers. It was your decision to come here and antagonise us and insult us. You have even built a protective wall around yourselves, surrounding yourselves with people who will say the things you want to hear. You have missed out on the experience of being part of a very beautiful community, enjoying our warm and welcoming hospitality, sharing in our family life and in our celebrations, discovering and experiencing first hand a unique culture and heritage, and storing up rich and positive memories and friendships for yourselves and your families. You had the opportunity to assist us to manage our small remote island a little better, because we never thought we were perfect. All we ever wanted was a little bit of help to help ourselves.
I do not believe in Karma, because I do not always see people getting what they really deserve in this life, good or bad. But with God’s help, I will continue to stand up for Norfolk Island and fight for a just outcome and better things for the island’s people. I know many others feel the same. We can hold our heads high. You should hang yours in shame.
Yours sincerely, Mary Christian-Bailey.

From Ernie Christian Jnr
Dear Sir,
On this the 01/07/2016 I listened to the bells tolling to signify the loss of democracy and the official start of the federal occupation. It saddened my soul but in a short space of time my soul was lifted by the knowledge that this is the continuation of our fight for justice and democracy.
It would have been “so sensible” if the federals had talked to the government and the people of Norfolk rather than sending us Hardgraves and their lies.
Keep your heads held high people of Norfolk, we will win back our freedom and the bullies will leave our shores. The bells have spoken for us all.
- Ernie Christian Jnr.

From Brett Sanderson Dear Sir, Now the Commonwealth has created a hugely divided community, traumatised residents, ruined the economy, damaged tourism, removed major sources of revenue, forced long established businesses to close, set the Norfolk-Canberra relationship back a century, sacked countless workers, set up ‘Work for the Dole’, closed the Commonwealth Government Information Office, abolished our democratically elected Parliament, closed down our post office, customs and immigration, and created the world’s ugliest and most expensive footpath; they will walk away and leave the regional council to deal with the economic and social mess they have created. Yours etc, Brett Sanderson.
From ‘Kath B’ (a pseudonym)
‘Tent City’ is the name given to the peaceful occupation of the Old Military Barrack compound at Kingston by members of the local community, in protest against the changes introduced by the Australian Government. The compound contains the building previously used by the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly (now disbanded) and which remains empty. The occupation commenced on 27 April 2016 and continues at the time of writing. ‘Gary’ is a reference to the current Norfolk Island Administrator, Hon Gary Hardgrave.

Dear Sir,
There is no sewerage overflowing ANYWHERE in Tent City, nor has that chap set up any showers in there and the grass area IS being well maintained and nurtured. So no reason for you to put pressure on the Regional Council to have them moved out. If there is anything unlawful going on there why haven’t you acted upon the matter whilst you are in charge?
You need to know that the Norfolk grapevine works better than you think.
Oh and PS to the Regional Councillor straddling the fence – careful you nor get yours parts torn off on dem wire fence Brud, he’s taking you down with him.
- Kath B.

From Rick Kleiner (RAK)
This letter refers to the Preamble to the Norfolk Island Act of 1979, which makes reference to the Pitcairn Island heritage of the Norfolk Island people, all reference to which has been removed from the succeeding legislation, the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015.
Of the many things that need to be reaffirmed, rebuilt and initiated, I hope the Regional Council as one of its first acts reinstates the Preamble. Moving forward, it needs to be somewhere.
Thank you, RAK.

From Tane Cottle
Dear Sir,
At times of fundraising on Norfolk Island the compassion and generosity is overwhelming. I feel truly blessed to be a Norfolk Islander taking part with all those of Norfolk Island who call this place home and are not backward in coming forward to show their resolve in supporting N.I.P.D. by raising funds.
We have had so many good functions with amazing support, and not all get the thanks out there once finished but its talked about for ever after.
The flags, the hands, the pins, raffles and chocolate wheels, the bands, the dancing girls and sullen fetchen dee and daa. Overseas people whom of some give prizes and just wish to acknowledge their ancestry of the first fleeters.
Thank you all, this last one held at the Parish Centre was no different to all the others that make you feel pride in the giving nature of this place, the pie makers, desserts, the meat and veg donators, main meals, the sponsors, cooks, bar, music, decorators (dem table always look guud) and the organizers.
George, Ernie, Shel, Kaye (your fetchers), Derms (the surf board riders club), Sam, Joel and all yorleys offsiders, too many to mention all names.
And now the real push back has begun… We keep it up waa.
Kind regards, Tane Cottle.

From Patricia Magri
Importers of Fruit into Norfolk Island:
It’s evident that lots of ground-work has gone into your plans to provide fruit supplies into Norfolk Island and I think that those who have done the work are to be applauded for their quick-thinking, fast-acting initiative into becoming the Importers. For so long, there have been grizzles in the community from locals - and especially from visitors - about the lack of fruit for daily consumption and our children have not had the benefits of a proper balance of good nutrition. You’ve seen an opportunity and, to your credit, seized upon it to make it happen.
To still provide you and your families with opportunities and possibilities and a long-term income, as well as a fruit-outlet and nutritious benefits for the whole community, I am asking you, sincerely, to consider the following:
Instead of importing fresh fruit – could you import Certified root-stock? – lots of Certified root-stock?
The reasons for asking this question are many, but include the following:
 Less likelihood of introducing more diseases into the Norfolk Island community
 With modern propagation techniques and grafting, fruit stocks now bear in much shorter time-frames
 An ongoing industry for those who want to commit to establishing orchards
 Perfect opportunities for (especially older) people to grow their own fruit in pots or espaliered on verandahs or small gardens
 Diversity in the range of fruit available because of the local climate and growing conditions
 Business opportunities for those who want to value-add to abundant produce by making jams, preserves and other food products
 Possibility of using the excess solar power produced by the Power Station to establish a cool-store
 Instead of being like every other place in the world where you can purchase anything at any time, Norfolk can retain what remains of its unique environment
 Our kids will have the very best produce – (not just something that is called fruit but which is picked green, preserved or sprayed for transportation and sometimes filled with chemicals.)
 This place can become a show-place to the rest of the world because Norfolk Island can produce fruit that is seasonal, fresh and has travelled Zero Food Miles
This concept may delay the opening of your Outlet but it would not stop you and your families from becoming the Founders of an exciting organisation that provides a much-need commodity to Norfolk Island. The Outlet could, instead, begin by selling fruit trees.
For these reasons, for your love of Norfolk – and for future generations - please consider what I have said because this opportunity will never be available again.
I believe that, with your initiative, energy and enthusiasm … and with the contacts that you have already established …… you will not be satisfied with being told that it’s too hard – or that it can’t be done. I hope that you might say: OK, let’s see what we need to do to make this happen.
Please? Before it’s too late.
Sincerely, Trish Magri.

From Matthew Bigg, of Bigg Fresh Farm Produce
Dear Sir,
“Food for Thought”
Re Importation of Produce
I write this with great concern for recent changes to the Quarantine Act on Norfolk Island. It is announced that our past Act will be replaced with a new Bio Security Act specifically for the importing of goods into Norfolk Island as of the 1st July 2016.
Within this new Act there is now the ability to pursue through permits, pathways and scientific evaluation the import of so-called fresh produce. I do believe it will be a difficult process to obtain permission under the Bio Security Act however this raises all sorts of complications and risks to our Environment, our culture and the established Agriculture sector of this precious Island.
There are never perfect inspections undertaken. It is impossible to inspect every piece of fruit/vegetable that crosses the so-called border. If there is just one species/disease that slips through under the noses of the Department of Agriculture then this places Norfolk Island at terrible risk of an outbreak and could permanently damage the ability to continue growing the things that currently grow here on the island.
It saddens me again to sit and listen to government officials stating that implementation of such legislation will have no effect on our culture. Well I am yet to meet one of them that understands that when we talk about our culture it doesn’t just have to do with our genetic history. It is a mixture of many things and one of them is our ability here on Norfolk to “LIVE OFF THE LAND” and be self-sufficient. We eat within the seasons and enjoy a lot of wild fruits. These changes have placed this part of our culture at enormous risk.
I mentioned the agricultural sector or, could I say, the commercial farming sector. This sector is one of the most important. It gives life to the humans that live on Norfolk Island through the supply of daily picked fresh produce and I might add in some cases Biologically/Organically grown that has not been cold stored, has not been treated with chemicals for import requirements and has not travelled from afar to be made available to the consumer. I question what the condition of the produce that potentially could arrive on the shop shelf for purchase would be in. The growers on Norfolk Island
over time have lifted their game to provide healthier produce and because of that it has given the Norfolk Island tourism promoters a platform to promote the quality and availability of the fresh food here. I would not like to see all these efforts and advertising dollars be forgotten and wasted. It has taken huge amounts of effort from the farmers, restaurateurs and wholesalers to get to this point.
I have made myself known to the Department of Agriculture officers, that have told us of the changes over a couple of brief meetings and expressed my interest as a stake holder but not once have I been contacted prior to the legislation changes to be asked for my input into this type of change. I was just told it would be open to anyone. It is another careless and uninformed step taken by the Department lacking proper consultation with the Island people.
I feel very strongly about stopping any opening of such legislation as the risks far out-weigh the benefits (if any)!! I have total faith that the agricultural industry on Norfolk can sustain the population and through the right support channels we can enhance and grow the industry instead of just putting a Band-Aid, lazy/risky solution such as importing in place.
As a commercial grower on the island I do appreciate all the support and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to supply our community with fresh food and I will continue to do so into the future.
For anyone contemplating on importing producer etc on to Norfolk could you please carefully consider the ramifications that could potentially threaten the future of our fresh food industry and local flora and fauna, we have enough biological challenges already.
- Matt Bigg

From Richard Whittington, Kenmore, Queensland
Richard Whittington was Cultural Adviser to the Cocos Malay Community in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the lead-up to and during the Act of Self Determination held under United Nations’ supervision on 6 April 1984.
Dear Sir/Madam,
The latest news I have about Norfolk Island illustrates clearly and bleakly how dire the plight of Norfolk Islanders is and how disgraceful bullying and completely unacceptable are the conduct and actions of the Commonwealth Government and its bureaucrats. This was forcibly brought home to me when I heard/witnessed on TV that the democratically elected Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly had been dismissed (=sacked), that all the furniture had been removed from the Assembly Chamber so that nobody could meet there anymore, and that some Staff Members of the Radio Station had been dismissed (once again = sacked) because they held different views from those of the new regime, and that now all broadcasting material has to be approved by the new regime in its endeavours to brainwash the People of Norfolk Island into thinking that they are now “better off” and aiming at creating an undeserved and unwarranted legitimacy for the take-over. I cannot believe that these totalitarian and Orwellian measures are being carried out by Australia which professes to adhere to the principles of Western Democracy and to the acceptance of the United Nations’ Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights. The Cocos Malays were led to believe all of this and lost everything they had been developing under United Nations’ tutelage.
The very very sad thing is that this flagrant seizure of power and denial of Fundamental Human Rights has been/is being carried out by the Commonwealth which professes itself to be an outstanding example of Democracy. My thoughts fly to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands where similar disgraceful events took place after the 1984 Act of Self Determination. What words can be used to describe a
government whose words and actions display the worst of what Australians describe as totalitarianism and which vigorously criticises other Countries which act in such a way. The Cocos Malays discovered too late that all the promises made to them at the time of the Act of Self Determination were worthless. All the solemn commitments made to the Cocos Malays were broken. The Cocos Malays had looked forward to further developing the confident and happy Society which had been nurtured and approved by the United Nations. The bureaucrats ensured that after enduring many years of serfdom this dream never became a reality for the Cocos Malays.
Bureaucrats and politicians attempt to justify such actions by talking of the “efficiencies and economies” which will result from their actions. Everyone will be better off. Wrong! This is a robotic view of Society.
In “My Life on the Road” Gloria Steinem writes “ I sat with her at the outer edge of the firelight as she prepared a ritual that has survived centuries of land laws, warfare, lethal epidemics, outlawed languages and spiritual practices, and other attempts to take away home, culture, pride, family, and life itself.” She was with the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. As in the case of Cocos there will be bureaucratic attempts to take away all of this.
Among other things the Cocos Malays were promised that the powers of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands’ Council would be extended and strengthened. Under the United Nations, discussion and decision-making followed traditional Malay Cultural Practices. This promise was broken. The Council was abolished. Now the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly has suffered the same fate, taken over/dissolved by unthinking and unknowing bureaucrats. The claim is made that there was “full consultation”. Obviously the term “consultation” has a totally different meaning in bureaucratic-speak.
It is my earnest hope that the People of Norfolk will continue the struggle to ensure the continuation of their unique and precious Society to ensure its continuation and strengthening far into the future. We are told we live in a democratic Society. Let the Will of the Norfolk Islanders prevail!
- Richard Whittington

*Dr Chris Nobbs is an economist and social commentator currently resident on Norfolk Island, where he was born.