Royal commission into matters relating to norfolk island

Land interests of residents

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5.Land interests of residents

Some three years after the Pitcairners were settled in Norfolk Island grants of land in freehold commenced to be made of areas of up to fifty acres to the head of each family for its F basic subsistence Such allotments continued to be made for some time after the Pitcairners’ arrival and all land so alienated belonged to the grantees and their descendants That situation changed over the years with the arrival of non—Pitcairn immigrants to whom some of the descendants of the original settlers disposed of varying portions of their inherited holdings By 1934 only one of the original fifty acre grants remained intact.

Such land sales by Pitcairn descendants have had the effect of fragmenting land ownership in the Island and this has tended to increase over the past fifteen years to the point where now less than half of the original earlier grants of land are still in the hands of Pitcairn descendants.

While freedom to dispose of one’s property is the right of descendants of the original settlers as well as of any other citizens and while such right is recognised it was nonetheless contradictory to hear on the one hand in evidence expressions of intense attachment to land possession by Pitcairn descendants and the need for such land holdings in their way of life yet to be faced on the other hand by obvious evidence of willingness to sell what was allegedly such a highly regarded and traditional possession provided the price was attractive enough These sales do detract from the weight which one would otherwise give to arguments urging action to ensure preservation of the alleged traditional right of the Pitcairn descendants to freehold land in Norfolk Island.

The present Situation is that most adult residents in the Island, both of Pitcairn descent and others hold some interest direct or indirect (some t rough possible future inheritance) in freehold or leasehold land in the Island Farm holdings, private house blocks commercial use blocks and sites of social clubs are all so widely dispersed among all sections of the population that it would be impracticable even to consider reversion to a situation where such land interests were confined to Pitcairn descendants By sales over many years, which were executed in good faith by both parties a very substantial portion of Norfolk Island has been divested from its original owners and their descendants and this, which some may regard as regrettable in certain respects is something which cannot be reversed Many of the sales have resulted in nearly 1000 acres, valued at over $2.5m being owned at present by absentee land—holders.

However the sales of what some have alleged was their birthright to speculators an developers have caused the price of land to rise to what are extremely high levels for Norfolk Island (e g $20 000 an acre) This has produced a position where some Pitcairn descendants and their children may find it beyond their capacity to finance the purchase of any land in the Island.

It is therefore desirable in order to preserve aspects of a way of life that has a role to play in a tourist—based economy to encourage Pitcairn descendants to greater efforts to protect that way of life by retaining as much of their remaining land— holdings as possible.

One other particular aspect of the land interests of residents deserves special mention and that it is the real value to the Island of agricultural holdings. It appeared from the evidence that less than half of the meat and inadequate quantities of vegetables and fruit are produced in the Island for consumption there. With the advent of refrigerated transport and bulk processing and merchandising of food stuffs it is apparently cheaper, far more convenient (in spite of somewhat irregular shipping schedules) and in some cases, more hygienic, to use the imported products. Thus the need for land-holdings for food production has diminished remarkably, and what was once a subsistence economy (to which agricultural land was a first essential) is now no longer so, but is an economy dependent upon tertiary service industries, whose supply of most needs comes from outside the Island.

Nonetheless, one must give deeper consideration to the role in the overall economy of the Island to be played by persons’ interests in land-holdings. Without its essentially rural style environment, Norfolk Island would lose a great deal of its attractiveness to tourists and would suffer accordingly. The history of some other Pacific Islands affords ample evidence of this danger. It seems wise on balance, therefore, to encourage the retention of existing blocks suitable for agricultural pursuits, even though these may well be inefficiently utilised in the immediate future. Provided they are not used for non—primary industry purposes, such encouragement would assist in the preservation of an environment which has a major role to play in sustaining the economy. Overall policy with respect to land use should recognise the importance of these aspects to the well—being of the Island.

6.Residents’ Organisations

The following voluntary organisations in the Island were represented before the Commission at its hearings. One may interpret the activities of these organisations as reflecting the interests of their members. In addition to speaking of their activities they addressed the Commission in relation to its Terms of Reference.

All Uckland Society (purporting to represent all people in the Island)

Chamber of Commerce

Country Women’s Association of N.S.W. (Norfolk Island Branch) Flora and Fauna Association

Freedom Movement C seekers of complete independence for the Island

Hospital Board

Lions Club

Norfolk Island Citizens’ Association

Professional Officers’ Association

Red Cross

Rotary Club

Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme

Sunshine Club (voluntary helpers of older citizens)

Wives and Mothers’ Club

Young Residents’ Association

Youth Council

In considering the points of view advanced on behalf of the above groups several features emerge, namely:

    1. There is no overall unanimity amongst them in so far as the future of the Island is concerned

    2. The views of some individual members of a group clearly dominated the views expressed on behalf of that group. In Some cases it was very doubtful if the view put forward represented a true consensus of opinion within the group In some of the groups it was apparent that at least some of the few Pitcairn descendants in the group were being used as a front to mask the motives of the dominant members

    3. Not all members of a particular group participated in the preparation of the submission by that group
    4. One group was hastily formed after the announcement of the Royal Commission with the sole object of advocating complete independence

    5. There was a marked inability by several groups to take a long—term, broad, balanced approach to the future of the Island, and to consider the interest of all rather than their own sectional or selfish interests.

    6. Some persons subscribed to more than one group submission in spite of differences between the submissions.

That such a policy has not been evolved and vigorously pursued to date and that the Island’s obvious problems have been allowed to grow over many decades is an indictment of the administration of those successive mainland authorities which have been responsible for the Island’s well—being over the years A not untypical example of the relatively minor involvement of Pitcairn descendants in the commercial Sector in the Island is provided by certain aspects of the preparation of the submission presented to the Commission by the Chamber of Commerce — one of the more vocal of the Island organisations. Of the total financial membership of fifty-three, only twelve participated in the actual preparation of the submission. None of those twelve was a Pitcairn descendant; of the twenty-five who approved the submission, only three were Pitcairn descendants.

The overall impression conveyed by these groups was that of a community deeply divided into several factions and largely unable to find sufficient common ground upon which basis a program could be evolved to yield the greatest benefit for the greatest number. The divisiveness left one with a strong feeling that the most urgent need for this small community is the early determination for it of a lucid set of progressive policies for the long—term common good. These policies should seek to surmount the present factionalism and be implemented by local authority regardless of opposition from time to time by various minority interests.

Having said all the above, it should also be pointed out that the submissions of many individuals, and of sections of the submissions of some groups, contained clear and sound concepts regarding single aspects of the Commission’s Terms of Reference. These were most helpful and have been noted and weighed in arriving at the official recommendations in this Report. The overwhelming need, however, is for the all—embracing long—term policy previously mentioned, without which the Island will remain a faction—riddled community devoid of a clear sense of direction and at the mercy of interests which have only their own personal aggrandisement at heart, to the detriment of the Island and its way of life.

Most of the matters treated in this Report as requiring attention could and should have received that attention a decade ago at least and probably earlier That they were not attended to and that a Royal Commission was necessary in order to focus attention upon them is a regrettable commentary on the failure of successive Australian governments to lay down clear policies for the Island

The main blame for the Island’s problems does not rest in the Island Most of the long—standing ones have had their genesis and perpetuation in slothful and inept mainland adminis­tration which has proved itself unable to activate the seemingly clogged processes of government and to achieve successful solutions to the Island’s obvious difficulties It deserves to be stated that in spite of the sterling and most conscientious work by some individual Administrators in the Island Australia’s administration of Norfolk Island has been singularly unimpressive at the policy level

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