Residents of a tiny Australian island are calling for a return to self-rule to save their culture

BY OMAR DEHEN (SBS News)


On the external territory of Norfolk Island, a six-year fight against Australian rule by some residents is gathering momentum. It comes as a public inquiry begins into the suspension of its regional council - the island's last remaining local authority.

Source: SBS News/Omar Dehen

On the lawns of Norfolk Island’s old government building, a solitary green tent stands in daily defiance to Australian rule.


Signs around the tent embassy emphatically highlight the long-simmering frustrations among a sizable portion of the community here.


Painted in the island’s colours of green and white, one placard reads ‘Du We Giw Up, We Gwen Win’ in the traditional Norf’lk language. The translation: ‘If we don’t give up, we will win’. Another reads ‘Norfolk under Siege’ in English.


In the centre of town on this eight-by-five-kilometre island, a field of green hands - each one hand-painted and signed by a different community member – also serves as a symbolic demand for self-determination.


“If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say 90 per cent of our identity is gone,” says Leah Honeywood, a seventh-generation Norfolk Islander whose lineage traces back to the first permanent settlers on the former penal colony.


With a population of some 1,700 people, Norfolk Island has a rich, unique culture, its own language and a colourful history.


In 1855, Queen Victoria granted Norfolk Island to the Pitcairn Islanders, descendants of the infamous Mutiny on the Bounty. A year later, 163 men, women and children were settled there.


As tears well around her eyes, Leah claims the legacy of her ancestors has been devastated in recent years.


“They worked so hard and for so long to become a people and a race, and in five years someone has come in and obliterated that.”


“What’s changed is the Australian government has come in here and imposed their governance and their rules, and things like that just don’t apply to Norfolk.”


Island history

Britain transferred Norfolk Island to Australia in 1914, just prior to World War One. In 1979, it became Australia’s first non-mainland territory to be granted limited self-rule. The islan