• Locals celebrate Bounty Day on Norfolk Island (Photo by David Dare Parker for Heiress Films) (Heiress Films)Source: Heiress Films
This tiny rocky outcrop in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is still technically a territory under Australian control, but its home to its own highly distinctive way of life.
Genevieve Dwyer

31 Mar 2016 - 9:34 AM  UPDATED 21 Apr 2016 - 9:15 AM

Measuring just 8km long by 5km wide, covered with lush rolling green hills and surrounded by rocky shorelines, the tiny volcanic outcrop known as Norfolk Island is located over a thousand kilometres off the shores of Australia, and in many ways it couldn’t be more different from the mainland.

Here are just some of the many quirks that make the island so unique:


1. It has its own language


Norf’k (also known as Norfuk) is the unique local language that fuses a type of 18th-century English and Tahitian.


Unique phrases include Wataweih (Hello), Watawieh Yorlye? (how are you?) and Kushu (good).


2. The road rules are different there


Cows have right of way on Norfolk Island, not cars.



There’s just one roundabout on the island, no traffic lights and no public transport. Tourists are advised to get around by hire car as there’s apparently only one taxi on the island! 


3. It has its own thriving food industry



Nearly all locals produce their own fresh produce on Norfolk and there’s only one supermarket on the island. Owing to the island’s strict quarantine rules, designed to protect the island’s delicate ecosystem of unique plants and fruits, the only freshly grown foods that are imported are potatoes, garlic, ginger and brown onions.


All other food is grown on-island by locals and therefore the seasons dictate availability. 



That’s not to say that there is any shortage of lush and plentiful foodstuffs, as well as wealth of tropical fruits. The thriving island even has its own food festival, complete with top-end chefs and cooking lessons.



There is a local vineyard but most wine is imported from Australia.



4. It has a very unique phone book

The Faasfain (fast find) section of the Norfolk Island phone book features residents listed by nickname (Source: norfolkisland.com.au)


A new one is issued every three years and features a section with everyone listed by their nickname rather than their family name as so many share the same surname. Islanders are so much more familiar with one another's nickname that many have long since forgotten their birth names!


5. Thanksgiving is a big deal


The locals celebrate this unique occasion as a public holiday – one of the few places outside the United States to do so. Although for them, the occasion takes place on the last Wednesday in November, rather than the last Thursday.


It’s a tradition that began in the mid-1890s, largely thanks to an American trader, Isaac Robinson, who settled on the island, introducing locals to the occasion for the first time – and to the cornbread and pumpkin pie that it’s known for, before he died at sea the following year. Honouring his memory, the locals then carried on the tradition the next year and into the future.  More recently in the 1960s it was the American whalers based at the island’s whaling industry of the era who further cemented the tradition.



Like in the USA, and the fresh produce and island cooking of the harvest season, play a big part. Turkeys don’t form part of the local livestock though, so this meat is traded instead for roast pork and plenty of banana-themed dishes!


The day is celebrated at church where the building and its pews are decorated with this delicious bounty, which is auctioned off afterwards.


6. Getting there and away requires an intrepid journey


To get there from the Australian mainland, there are only two flights a week from each Sydney and Brisbane and you have to fly from their international airports. Supplies from the mainland come via ship but once a month, and offloading the cargo can be quite an adventure due to the rugged coastline which requires large ships to anchor at least 1km offshore.



This means that deliveries of even quite large items – such as vehicles, have to be ferried back and forth on small lighters (modeled after the old American whaling boats) to the tiny docks at Kingston or Cascade Pier, where an antiquated crane hoists the goods ashore.  



If the weather’s too rough, which it often is, this offloading may not be able to happen at all, and so the ship sails off again and you can be left waiting months for goods.


7. The fishing is INSANE



According to a local saying, on Norfolk they don’t call it fishing they call it “catching” because there’s so many fish it’s a breeze! Keen fisherman often snag huge local kingfish, snapper and trevally.



8. One of Australia’s most famous writers called it home


Probably the island’s most famous export is beloved author Colleen McCullough, known for her bestselling novels such as The Thornbirds.  Her husband Rick Robinson, was descended from one of the original Bounty mutineers. McCullough sadly passed away last year, but made sure that when she did so it was on the island which she so loved.


9. The flora and fauna is distinctive too


Thanks to the strict customs laws designed to protect the native ecosystem, there are no snakes on the island, nor are there centipedes, sand flies or fruit flies. As with virtually everywhere on earth though, there was no keeping the cockroaches out! While the wildlife is not so distinctive from elsewhere, there are 40 unique plant species, with the island the birthplace of that most famous of trees – the Norfolk pine.



10. The island was birthed out of mutiny


As explored in the SBS documentary Untold Australia: A Modern Mutiny, the infamous mutiny against Lieutenant Bligh on the Royal Navy vessel HMAV Bounty stills plays a big part in the island's history. Bounty Day for example, celebrates the birth of the current unique Norfolk culture and is the island’s most important historical event. 



After the mutineers began new lives in exile on Pitcairn Island with their Polynesian wives, it was their family and descendants that eventually set up camp on fellow Pacific island Norfolk, where many of the modern residents are also descendants of the original mutineers. This year's Bounty Day (on 8th of June 2016) will be a big one, as it marks the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders to Norfolk Island. 



Watch A Modern Mutiny to discover more about Norfolk Island.


What makes Norfolk Island so unique?
Complete with breathtaking scenery, a vibrant culture and fascinating history, Edwina Dick discovers Captain Cook’s “Paradise on Earth”.
A Modern Mutiny
With their own language, and their own hidden culture, many Norfolk Islanders don't see themselves as Australian – that it says so on their passport is merely ‘a technicality’.
Untangling the Norfolk Island web
Swapping some democracy for decent social services on a former convict island is proving complicated.