‘THE NEED FOR ADEQUATE COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE ISLAND AND AUSTRALIA, AND THE REST OF THE WORLD’.
Norfolk Island cannot but be regarded as an isolated and remote habitation. It is 1676 kilometres from Sydney and 1063 kilometres from Auckland. Its nearest neighbours are Lord Howe Island 850 kilometres away and Noumea which is 750 kilometres distant. Its coastline is rocky precipitous and totally devoid of effective natural harbours for shipping. It is not on any shipping route of great importance, nor do major air routes pass directly over it. In the Island there live some 1600 permanent residents and, at any one time, approximately 300 to 600 tourists, two-thirds of whom come from Australia and one-third from New Zealand. The needs of all those people compel contact with the outside world and this communication is provided by air, sea and radio services.
A mixture of government and private enterprise organisations furnish the communication services.
The Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) (OTC) provides an overseas telegram service and a radio telephone service to Sydney. In emergencies the latter can be opened outside its official hours. In addition, also in emergencies, there is a radio-teleprinter link between the airport and Australia operated by the Department of Transport. Weather conditions can affect all these links, but generally the OTC service is regarded in the Island as being of a high standard.
The radio link is with OTC receiving and transmitting stations near Sydney and through the International Terminals in Sydney telephone calls can be connected and telegrams forwarded to destinations throughout Australia and overseas. OTC also provides communications with ships in the Norfolk Island area. Its Norfolk Island switchboard is manned by Administration personnel.
The total capital investment by OTC in providing these for Norfolk Island is $958,524, Both the telephone and telegram services are operated at a loss in spite of adjustments in structures having been made from time to time. The telegram from Norfolk Island to anywhere in Australia is less than the Australian domestic rate for telegrams.
While a reasonably effective radio service is provided Norfolk Island, high frequency radio can sometimes pose pro of reliability and quality, as it is susceptible to ionospheric disturbances. Technically, such problems would be entirely eliminated if the service could be carried by satellite or submarine cable. However:
In that the annual operating costs of an INTELSAT satellite earth station are approximately $1 m per year, INTELSAT-type satellite communication is not a viable medium for such a small traffic load, and;
Current international submarine cable plans do not include Norfolk Island as a landfall. A special cable service to the Island would again require level of traffic well in excess of any forecasts to make such a proposition economically viable.
A major international telecommunications service that is not yet widely available between Norfolk Island and Australia, but is likely to be offered in the future, is telex. At the moment only Qantas has telex facilities in the Island but a study is being conducted by OTC to examine the technical, financial and Operational aspects of introducing such a service.
It would also be possible for Norfolk Island to be included in a future Australian domestic satellite network in which simplified, less costly satellite earth stations would be feasible. Any such development would be dependent on whether an Australian domestic system could be justified on other grounds and even so any decision on superseding the current Norfolk Island installation would need to take account of all of the economic factors involved. This would place such an arrangement well into the future.
Local radio broadcasting
The Administration is licensed to broadcast 119 hours a week and operates a radio transmitter for such local broadcasts for seventy-seven hours weekly. The program is at present under review News broadcasts from outside the Island are mainly heard from New Zealand as the time difference (1½ hours) and atmospheric conditions sometimes make it difficult to pick up news broadcasts from Australia on medium frequency. Radio Australia which can be clearly received, carries world news but little Australian content. There are no television facilities in the Island to receive regular television broadcasts from either Australia or New Zealand. Some freak reception is occasionally viewed. Reception of radio is distorted in certain areas by the electric generators at the airport.
Local telephone services
Telephone outlets in the Island have been recently increased to 400, and these are interconnected by an automatic exchange, provided and maintained by the Administration.
One weekly newspaper and one monthly newspaper are printed in Norfolk Island with little Australian and overseas news content except items which directly concern the Island. Australian newspapers mainly arrive by air from Brisbane; they are costly and sometimes late in their delivery.
Mail is received and dispatched via both Australia and New Zealand. Bad weather can affect these deliveries. Most letter mail and small parcels are carried by air and large parcels by sea transport. The external postal rates are the same as those charged in Australia. The internal letter rate is one cent, but there is no postal delivery in the Island as mail is either delivered into post office boxes or handed over the counter at the post office.
Air transport services in Australia and on the Australia - Norfolk Island run are regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Air Navigation Act 1920-1973 and are subject to the in respect of licences and operational standards imposed by that Act. The New Zealand-Norfolk Island traffic is subject to t regulatory controls of Australia and New Zealand.
Two Qantas DC 4 Skymaster aircraft are available to carry passengers from Sydney to Norfolk Island and return, on schedule which vary over the year to accommodate the peaks and troughs of tourist traffic. Each plane can carry up to sixty-two passengers. The hard core of the service provides for flights every Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday, and additional flights are conducted during holiday periods. The return air fare from Sydney to Norfolk Island was at 30 June 1976 $225 for an adult and $1l2.50 for a child.
Air freight tends to build up and periods occur when Qantas must ban further acceptance of cargo. Freight charges at 30 June 1976 from Sydney to Norfolk Island were 58c/kg with a minimum of $3.20 and over 45 kg, 44c/kg.
In addition to the above under a pooling arrangement with Qantas Air New Zealand now operates the Norfolk—Auckland sector on four days a week using Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft, and a private service owned by Norfolk Island Airlines Limited operates a Beechcraft plane from Brisbane (via Lord Howe Island if required). The 30 June 1976 return fare from Auckland was A$151, children half price and the return fare from Brisbane was $275 children under 15 half price. Due to the limited cargo capacity of the F27 aircraft, the present services between Auckland and Norfolk Island are supplemented by a monthly freighter flight with an Argosy aircraft.
In medical emergencies, royal Australian Air Force ‘mercy flights’ from Richmond, New South Wales, using Hercules aircraft, may be made available without charge upon request by the administrator. Likewise, Royal New Zealand Air Force planes call for New Zealand tourists in medical emergencies. There are no major overseas air routes which cover Norfolk Island, hence Island residents wishing to travel abroad must first move to Sydney or Auckland and then transfer.
In addition to the above air services, there are itinerant aircraft movements to, from and through Norfolk Island. These range from light aircraft traffic calling at the Island on flights through the south-west Pacific area to commercial charter flights carrying passengers and cargo. In the last year there have been a number of passenger charters to and from Brisbane, and cargo charters, handling larger cargo items in freighter aircraft, to and from Sydney. These have supplemented the regular air services on an ‘as required’ basis.
These international non-scheduled operations at Norfolk Island can be expected to increase. They will consist of private flights and charter operations utilising primarily twin-engined light aircraft. Such flights will be to and from other islands in the south-west Pacific, as well as from Australia and New Zealand, and will be a consequence of the increasing sophistication range and navigational aids of light aircraft.
Vessels carrying cargo or passengers between Australia and Norfolk Island would, in the normal course of events, be required to be licensed under the Navigation Act 1912-1973 and to comply with Australian manning, wage and accommodation requirements. However, an Order in Council, promulgated in 1923 and still in tee, exempts Norfolk Island from the coasting trade and has the effect of allowing unlicensed vessels to trade between the Island and Mainland Australia.
Such vessels supply the bulk of the Island’s foodstuffs, fuel and general cargo. Regular shipping services were operated by the Karlander Line from Sydney (they ceased June 1976) and by a French line that operates a Sydney-Auckland route via Noumea and Norfolk Island under charter to an Australian company. There is also less regular service by a New Zealand line, mainly foodstuffs from Auckland. The low volume of cargo between the Island and New Zealand cannot sustain a regular service.
Fuel is carried from Noumea by a tanker which anchors off shore and discharges into bulk storage tanks at Ball Bay. There being no harbour in the Island, general freight is crane loaded into lighters off shore and towed by powered launches to the wharf side. (Earlier investigations of possibilities of constructing a harbour for large vessels have revealed the project to be uneconomic because of the costs involved.)
This ‘lightering’ operation is a major source of part-time work for Island labour and is extremely hazardous operation demanding the qualities of skills in boat handling and seamanship. In itself, however, as a means of handling cargo, it is, as stated earlier in this Report, less expensive than normal handling cost at many established harbours, including Sydney. Present volume of cargo handled is about 12 000 tonnes a year.
Costs of freight to the Island are very high They are of the order of $50 per tonne from Sydney for dry bulk cargo Some cargo boats also carry a few passengers to and from the Island.
The shipping services to the Island are unsatisfactory due to the small quantities of cargoes offering and the unbalanced nature of the trade. It would appear to be in the public interest for one line only to be assured of the Sydney-Norfolk Island traffic provided freight rates were carefully controlled.
A meteorological station maintains a 24 hour a day communication with Sydney and can be used for other purposes in cases of emergency.
Persons entering and leaving the Island are relatively impeded by official formalities. Tourists from Australia and w Zealand do not require either passports or visas to enter. Once in the Island they become automatically subject to the provisions laid down by the Immigration Ordinance relating to temporary visitors including the constraints pertaining to length of stay.
It can be seen from the above that certain deficiencies exist the communication network servicing the Island. At the same time, however, viewed against the background of the Islands established life style, and the ineradicable fact of its geographical situation, it could not be said that the present services are either inadequate or over—expensive with the exception shipping which has deteriorated over the last year.
This communications network is such a basic factor in the lands continued existence as a habitation for people, however, at those aspects of it relating to the air services in particular merit further examination.