Any discussion of the historical rights of the Pitcairn descendants will always have an amorphous and unsatisfactory about it. However, it must be realised that the very origin of the alleged rights themselves is clouded. Their precise terms are far from clear. Changes in their form and in their importance have occurred over the years. Current approaches to them can only be on the basis of current conditions and likely developments in the future, and the past cannot be allowed to turn back obvious advances and needs. Consistent with that approach, though, is the desirability of retaining wherever practicable those characteristics of the way of life of a people who have been a remarkable feature of the South Pacific for two centuries. To this end it is recommended that some section within the Norfolk Island Public Service be made responsible for the preservation of the Island’s traditions and culture.
‘Norfolk Island’s Legal Position As A Territory Of Australia’
This guideline asserts that Norfolk Island is a Territory of Australia. However, during the Commission’s hearings it was repeatedly claimed that Norfolk Island was not an Australian Territory but was either a British Crown Colony or a separate and independent state. With respect to the former claim it was further alleged that the only power which had been conferred on Australia in relation to the Island was power to make laws for its internal government. The claims were made principally by some of those persons who had settled in the Island in recent years predominantly for the purpose of avoiding income tax, gift duty and death duty, and who had for some years conducted successful businesses or who had exploited the Island as a tax haven.
In support of their claims they not only relied on the interpretation they and their legal advisers placed on the relevant Imperial Acts and orders in Council, but also sought to establish that when the Pitcairners had been transferred to Norfolk Island in 1856 Queen Victoria gave Norfolk to them for themselves and their descendants to govern as they saw fit. They argued from this premise that the British Government acted unlawfully in committing the government of the Island first to the Governor of New South Wales in 1896 and second to the Commonwealth Parliament in 1914.
After losing many millions of dollars in revenue through the use of the Island as an income tax haven the Commonwealth Government in 1973 by an amendment to its Income Tax Assessment Act 1936—1973 severely curtailed the use of the Island for that purpose. The validity of this legislation was challenged in the Berwick Case.
As stated earlier in this Report, the High Court of Australia held in that case that Norfolk Island is a Territory of Australia and went on to state its legal position as such a Territory, viz. that the Commonwealth Parliament has plenary law—making power in respect of it.
‘The present and probable development of the economy of Norfolk Island’
To understand why the Island’s economy has evolved to its current state it may be helpful to consider its historical background.
In the very early days following the first convict occupation of the Island in 1788, great hardships were endured. At one stage, survival depended upon hunting sea-birds and collecting their eggs. No immediately arable land was available and the forest cover had to be removed laboriously by hand before any crops could be planted. As clearing proceeded, production of grains and other foodstuffs improved and the Island gradually became self—supporting in so far as those products were concerned. From time to time local pests, particularly caterpillars, blight, fly and the army grass worm, seriously interfered with progress in this direction. In spite of these difficulties, sugar cane, maize, fruits, vegetables, coffee plants and occasionally wheat were grown in quantity, maize being particularly effective in sustaining thousands of swine, the threat of which became Norfolk’s first export (to New South Wales). Although it had been intended to grow flax, that crop never prospered. This first settlement was, however, very successful in establishing roads and drains, dispersing the population of about 1000 throughout the Island, erecting some public buildings and houses, constructing the jetties at Kingston and Cascade and opening up sufficient arable land for self—sustaining agriculture. By 1796, 1528 acres had been cleared.
After that first convict settlement was abandoned in 1814, and all buildings completely destroyed, the Island remained unoccupied until 1825. It was during this interval that the encroachment of weeds upon the cultivated fields first began and the effects of this remain an agricultural factor of distinct significance.
In 1825, convicts were again sent to Norfolk and although there then ensued one of the worst and most brutal periods of penology in British history, it was accompanied by further significant advances in so far as the development of the Island and its economy was concerned. Additional land was cleared, weed-infested fields were cleaned up, huge public buildings were built to house convicts, gaolers, soldiers and administration personnel and homes were constructed for private citizens, roads were further extended and improved, and settlement expanded from the Kingston region into the upper tableland areas.
The two jetties of half—breakwater and half—wharf type construction, however, continued to remain unaltered and are of the same kind today.
During this second convict settlement, further animals were introduced to the Island including cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and goats. In 1846, it was reported that the Island held 5228 sheep and some wool was exported to New South Wales. Philip Island received its sentence of protracted death by the introduction during this period of rabbits, in addition to pigs and goats.
In 1855, the last shipload of convicts and their guards and accompanying settlers were evacuated from Norfolk, leaving only a small caretaker force in occupation to assist the Pitcairners on their arrival. Considerable stock, however, remained in the Island.
Therefore, when the 194 Pitcairn Islanders arrived at Norfolk on 8 June 1856, they came not as pioneers but as new tenants of an Island with valuable and significant developments in the form of roads, bridges, buildings, wharves of sorts and cleared arable land. They even took over a store of foodstuffs, numerous tools, agricultural equipment and the considerable stock left behind by the former convict community. They were thus most favorably situated to establish an agricultural economy and it was the pursuit of agriculture, plus fishing, that occupied them and their descendants for many years.
The Island remained basically dependent upon subsistence farming and fishing, plus imports of non-locally-grown materials, until well into the twentieth century. Crops raised were chiefly maize, kumeras (sweet potatoes) and yams. A little coffee was grown. Bananas, guavas, passion fruit, oranges, strawberries and vegetables of all kinds were cultivated. Pigs, poultry (particularly turkeys) plus cattle and a few sheep were the main livestock. Horses provided the means of both transport and agricultural powers
Trade with the Island was in a state of critical imbalance from the beginning. At the turn of the century exports were exclusively agricultural and only a fraction of the value of imports. The trade figures in respect of the year 1900 were as follows:
Exports and imports for the year 190020
Imports into Norfolk Island Exports from Norfolk Island
From N.S.W. £3829 To N.S.W. £1380
From N.Z. 1525 To N.Z. 140
Total Value £5354 £1520
Some idea of the items traded around that time is to be gained from the following details in respect of the quarter ended 31 March 1901.
Imports into Norfolk Island for the quarter ending 31 March 1901
Articles From whence Quantity Value
₤ s d
Alkali New South Wales 1 pkg 1 0 0
Axe-handles “ 1 pkg 1 5 0
Ammunition …………… …………… ……………
Bags …………… …………… ……………
Biscuits New South Wales 362 lb 6 5 0
Boots “ 4 pkg 32 10 0
Bath bricks “ 1 pkg 0 10 0
Buckets “ 3 pkg 3 10 0
Candles “ 110 lb 3 10 0
Chemicals “ 2 pkg 5 0 0
Cigars and Cigarettes “ 1500 No. 1 5 0
Confectionery “ 150 lb 3 0 0
Clocks “ 1 pkg 1 5 0
Cordage “ 1 pkg 0 10 0
Coffee …………… …………… ……………
Cutlery New South Wales 2 pkg 2 10 0
Cricket tools “ 1 pkg 3 0 0
Drapery “ 29 pkg 261 10 0
Earthenware “ 6 pkg 28 0 0
Flour “ 22,200 lb 105 0 0
Fruits, dried “ 420 lb 15 0 0
Furniture “ 19 pkg 30 15 0
Fish …………… …………… ……………
Glassware New South Wales 17 pkg 29 10 0
Groceries “ 9 pkg 10 10 0
Hardware “ 15 pkg 71 10 0
Ironmongery “ 12 pkg 21 10 0
Intoxicants – Beer …………… …………… ……………
Whisky New South Wales 2½ galls 3 5 0
Wine “ 3 galls 2 5 0
Iron, galvanized “ 4 pkg 13 0 0
Jams “ 78 lb 1 10 0
Molasses “ 3 cwt 4 10 0
Meats, preserved “ 1 pkg 2 5 0
Musical instruments “ 1 pkg 6 0 0
Oils, kerosene “ 128 galls 6 10 0
Oils, paint “ 15 galls 3 10 0
Oilmen’s stores “ 9 pkg 3 10 0
Millinery “ 2 pkg 4 0 0
Paints “ 90 lb 1 10 0
Rice “ 46½ cwt 36 10 0
Sugar “ 58½ cwt 59 0 0
Salt “ 4½ cwt 8 0 0
Soap “ 13½ cwt 13 5 0
Saddlery “ 4 pkg 15 10 0
Stationery “ 3 pkg 5 0 0
Sundries “ 17 pkg 40 0 0
Store “ 1 No 3 5 0
Seeds “ 1 pkg 2 0 0
Tea “ 410 lb 24 15 0
Tobacco “ 187 lb 19 10 0
Articles From whence Quantity Value
Wire “ 16 cwt 13 10 0
Whiting “ 1 cwt 1 0 0
Tinware “ 1 pkg 0 10 0
Tennis goods “ 1 pkg 2 0 0
Vestes “ 1 pkg 2 0 0
Paper bags “ 1 pkg 10 0 0
₤944 5 0 Exports from Norfolk Island fro the quarter ending 31 March 1901
Although attempts at commercial export of agricultural products were repeatedly failing, other minor changes were occurring. The establishment of the Melanesian Mission in Norfolk Island in the year 1866 was responsible for perceptible changes in both the trade and agriculture of the Island. The Mission became a large importer of a wide variety of goods for which it paid cash. In addition, it set about farming its relatively large land—holding of 1000 acres with a keenness and skill hitherto absent from the Island. In particular, the eradication of weeds on its lands was in marked contrast to other Island properties. Although this Mission had agricultural interests, it became in fact the first significant non—primary industry in the Island, namely the training of missionaries.
In 1902, there was established in the Island the Overseas Cable Station base which introduced a further non—agricultural element into the community.
Whaling had been carried on intermittently from the Island from 1863 and was a small but notably colourful industry. Up to shortly before World War II teams of men in two or three whale—boats, and using hand—flung harpoons and lances, would pit their seamanship and hunting skills against the ocean’s greatest leviathans in personal and mortal combat~ they would then tow their huge catches miles across high seas back to the Island, singing hymns of thanksgiving as they pulled on their oars. Though conducted with crude equipment (up to the late l940s when powered harpoons and launches commenced to be used) and accompanied by great danger, whaling remained an industry because of the obligation to discharge indebtedness to storekeepers. However, the price of whale oil gradually sank to levels which made it not worth the dangerous risks involved and the whales themselves became increasingly scarce around the Island, so the industry was abandoned in 1962—63. Other commercial fishing was attempted from time to time, but lack of adequate refrigeration storage banes bedeviling attempts at most commercial ventures based on agriculture and fishing. They still are today.
The growing of bananas flourished temporarily during the l930s when a disease affected the Australian mainland crops, but this trade petered out with the elimination of the disease. Trade in lemons (also their seeds and juice), passion fruit, coffee, bean seeds, tung—oil, butter and cut flowers were all tried and all failed commercially. Sawmilling continued to produce timber which was consumed in the Island. Some palm seed, avocado seed and pine seed was, and still is, collected and sold on the export market but the trade is small.
Interest by tourists in Norfolk Island seems to have commenced shortly after World War I. Three boarding houses accommodating some forty visitors were in operation in 1921 and an annual flow of some 250 tourists persisted in the early 192Os. By 1929, this intake had increased to some 800 and in the 1950s cruise ships brought several thousand tourists.
The Island’s chronic inability to become self-supporting in an economic sense was masked to a large degree by substantial contributions from outside, e.g. government subsidies in the form of outright grants and salaries, expenditure in the form of supplies, for the Mission and wages etc. paid by that institution, supplies for and salaries of the employees of the Cable Station, pensions and remittances to residents, drafts sent home by young men who had gone abroad to better themselves, expenditure by shipping companies and visitors etc.