Cook’s reports of a lush, pine covered island in the South Pacific with potential for providing the English navy with masts, spars and sails, had been one of the strong points in favour of the selection of Australia as a British penal settlement. So just six weeks after the fist landing at Botany Bay, Phillip Gidley King and his small band of convict men and women and marines established the first outpost on Norfolk Island, and named it, Sydney. We celebrate this occasion on 6th March as ‘Foundation Day’.
Therefore, 26th January, 1788 is an extremely important date for Norfolk Island, because it effectively marks the start of our history of European settlement as well as Australia’s. And our first settlers were ‘First Fleeters’. Interestingly, we have a number of people living on the island who are descended from some of these remarkable people. In fact, there are two women whose female ancestors were tried at the same time in England, transported together on the first fleet and then both were selected to come to Norfolk Island because their skills and good behaviour marked them as ideal pioneers.
It is also interesting to note that many of the convicts who came to Norfolk Island between 1788 and 1814 were granted their freedom and became prosperous farmers here. They then went on to become some of the most successful landowners and business people of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales and their descendants have gone on to even greater things.
Unfortunately, Norfolk is also the final resting place of the ‘Sirius’, which was perhaps the best equipped vessel of the first fleet. She was certainly critical to the communications and supply lines between Sydney Cove and Norfolk Island and her sinking led to great hardship in both places. It took great ingenuity and courage to survive following the sinking and sadly, at least one species of bird was all but wiped out as a result. The ‘Providence’ petrel that nested in the roots of the pines on the hillsides was hunted relentlessly to feed the starving community.
However, both settlements did recover from this calamity and while the convict settlement on Norfolk was eventually closed in 1814, another was re-established in 1825. When this establishment was closed in 1856, Queen Victoria gifted the island to the Pitcairn Islanders, descendants of the mutineers from the ‘Bounty’ and their Polynesian wives and they made Norfolk their home from 8th June, 1856.
There are those who wonder why we celebrate Australia Day with so much fanfare yet do little to mark Waitangi Day, considering so many New Zealanders have made this their home. However, the celebration of Australia Day has a twofold significance for Norfolk Islanders. We celebrate the day to acknowledge our role in the Australian Commonwealth and welcome those members of our community who choose to take Australian citizenship; but we also pay homage to the vital role Norfolk Island played in the foundation of the Australian nation.
Bill Blucher and Marie Bailey - Australia Day Awards (OAM)
Alan Tavener (L) Citizen of the Year; Mark Karlsrap (R)
Junior Sports Award;
with the Administrator Owen Walsh and wife Bianca
'New' Australian Citizens - Ken Lunn, Dave South, Liz and Peter Walkinshaw