Norfolk Island is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, almost 1700 km northeast of Sydney, midway between New Zealand and New Caledonia. Together with two neighbouring islands, it forms one of Australia’s external territories. Norfolk Island itself has an area of 34.6 km2, with no significant internal bodies of water but 32 km of coastline. The island’s highest point is Mount Bates (319m) but the majority of the terrain is suitable for farming and other agricultural purposes. The permanent population of Norfolk sits somewhere between 1800 and 2000 and almost everyone is involved with tourism.
Captain James Cook was the first European to discover Norfolk Island in 1774 where he noted two things that England badly needed: flax for making ropes and pine trees for ships’ masts. As a result governor Arthur Phillip was instructed to establish a colony with convict labour, which he did two months after landing in Sydney in 1788. The flax and timber proved to be of inadequate quality. Crops planted to help feed the struggling colony met with only variable success. The lack of a harbour was an enormous impediment to trade. So it remains today. No marinas or docks grace the shores of the island and everyone relies on air transport.
In 1856 the island was settled by a group of HMS Bounty mutineers from Pitcairn Island and the Tahitian women they brought with them. It was self-governed until 1897 when the territory came under the administration of New South Wales and later the Australian Commonwealth. Then, in 1979, the island was given a marked degree of autonomy and a nine-member legislative assembly was set up to run island services, including education, transport, health and law and order. The island has its own flag, international telephone code and apart from a 12% GST and various levies and excises, Norfolk residents paid no income tax or land rates. Cows have right of way on rural roads, and the island’s language, a mix of 18th-century sailors’ English and ancient Tahitian, is still widely spoken.
In October 2008 the Australian Home Affairs Minister warned that Norfolk Island was in danger of becoming a failed state. He referred to past parliamentary reports, which said the island government was in danger of becoming insolvent and recommended the territory be incorporated back into the Australian tax regime. In November 2010 the House of Representatives in Canberra passed a Territories Law Reform Bill. Norfolk Island’s chief minister told the island assembly he would agree to new laws to make the island more accountable, in exchange for federal cash and access to welfare and services. Some of the island’s long-held unique laws, such as not requiring the wearing of seat belts, would be overturned. A longstanding tradition in the very strongly Christian community, that burials are undertaken by the government and free to islanders, remains in force.
Before the chief minister’s announcement, it was understood only $220,000 remained in the island’s treasury coffers and bills were going unpaid. About a dozen retail outlets had closed in Burnt Pine, the island’s compact commercial centre, while other businesses had laid off staff due to a slump in visitor numbers. Under the new deal islanders are likely to pay some form of income tax, but would gain access to benefits including Medicare, family allowances and the dole. Many islanders blame authorities for wasting money on projects like extending the airport’s runway and argue an income tax haven encouraged doctors, teachers and other professionals to live and work there. Duty free shopping on the island also encouraged tourists. The move sharply divided opinion on the island, essentially between the Pitcairners who described it as a disgraceful sell-out of their independent values and those from Australia and New Zealand who felt the change was long overdue.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
Electricity is supplied from a central power plant that houses six 1 MW diesel generators that are entirely manually controlled. These consist of three Caterpillar units installed between 1987 and 1996, and three Cumins units purchased second-hand in 2000. The Cumins units are preferred, being simpler to operate and maintain. The base load of the island is 650 kW and the maximum load is 1,750 kW. The spiralling cost of diesel in recent years has meant that electricity prices have followed the same trajectory. In an effort to control demands on its electricity infrastructure, the island has some unusual rules regarding appliances. None larger than 2.5kW on domestic power systems, no air-conditioners (except for the chocolate shop) and almost no street lights (just one).
LPG is used for cooking, heating and some hot water. It is shipped in and transferred onshore through a pipeline to two 250 tonne tanks. It is then transferred to smaller road tankers or sold in portable 50 kg cylinders. Alternative energy sources have been discussed on Norfolk for many years and several schemes have been proposed. In 2008 all nine of Norfolk Island’s electricians were trained to become accredited solar PV installers. Since then some 344 solar systems or upgrades have been installed on the island with the considerable incentive of the Australian Government’s grid-connected solar rebate program. In total, solar power now accounts for 919 kW on line and is therefore close to the island’s average daily demand.
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
Norfolk Island generates about 0.95 tonnes of solid waste per person per year i.e. about 2,507 tonnes per year, excluding green waste. This figure also does not include materials burnt in backyard incinerators or food scraps disposed of to animals, worm farms or compost heaps. The current method of disposal is to take rubbish to a waste management centre where it is sorted into various streams. Some of the streams (copper, asbestos, aluminium and car batteries) are shipped to the mainland for either recycling or, in the case of asbestos, safe disposal. Green waste is chipped and composted and sold back to residents for garden mulch; useful household goods and some builder’s waste are sorted and available through the ‘revolve’ section of the waste management centre for reuse on the island. The remainder of the waste is taken to an open pit burn at Headstone Road, with the residue pushed into the sea through an open shute. Most glass and steel cans are also disposed of to the sea, although some whole glass bottles are returned for refilling by a local soft drink company. There are plans to install a glass crusher at the centre and to use the end product as substitute for sand in construction projects. White goods, paints and hazardous chemicals are currently being stockpiled at the centre. Hospital waste is incinerated at a separate facility
It has been long recognized that the open pit burning is unacceptable and alternative options including a high temperature incinerator have been considered. However, the start-up cost of about $10 million, and running it would cost a six-figure sum each year – beyond the island’s financial resources. Whatever the eventual chosen method of disposal, there are still many opportunities to reduce the volume of waste and to improve the effectiveness of recycling. Education of the community and tourists can play a major role as revealed in the findings of this student report into producing a waste and resource recovery education strategic plan 2008-2013. There is already an amazing example of recycling waste beer bottles to build a family home. Started in 1965 and finished in the 70’s this house was constructed with 36,000 bottles instead of bricks with Norfolk Island pine used for all the inside finishing.
Water Management & Security
Rainwater tanks are used to capture the majority of the island’s water supply although some hotels rely upon bore water as their primary source. However, a high incidence of gastroenteritis in both islanders and tourists has been recorded in recent years because deep ground water has apparently become contaminated with sewage effluent.
Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production
In 1975 the Australian Government engaged Professor G. J. Butland to undertake a population study of Norfolk Island. In his report Prof Butland concluded that: "If a concerted effort were made, backed by larger financial resources, the community could turn the very small area of the island to its own advantage by converting Norfolk Island into "the best small island in the world", a model haven of considerable beauty, of unique historical interest, of a thriving community, and of rest and relaxation - which are the objectives of the overwhelming mass of the tourists who make the journey to its shores." Today - 2011 - Norfolk Island is consciously working towards a future that is 100% sustainable. Almost all vegetables and meat are produced locally, with only certain items including potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and some meat being imported.
The founders of this website, Simon Bigg and Robin Adams of Camelot Gardens, are focusing principally on showcasing Norfolk as a biological showpiece to the world, where the major growers garden in a sustainable way, both commercially and domestically, working with nature, not against her. Bigg Fresh Farm has been operating now for about eight years and adopted a non-chemical, organic approach to produce a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs. Along with other growers they sell their produce at a Farmers Market held every Saturday.
Australian singer Helen Reddy has built a pilot aquaponics plant, similar to hydroponics, with a view to rolling it out elsewhere on the island. Local entrepreneur, Julian Cameron, established coffee plantations in 1999 and roasts and grinds his blend of Arabica beans. He also bottles local spring water. Brad Forrester began producing liqueurs in 1994 in his German made still, and offers 15 flavours, including Convicts’ Curse, made from whisky malt, and Pitcairn Passion, an enticing mix of strawberry and banana. Brad also makes and bottles soft drinks using natural essences. Richard Woodward has been brewing for the last 16 years and his pure malt beers, including Mutineer and Bligh’s Revenge, are premium ales. The Two Chimneys Winery has just produced their first small vintage.
There are no safe harbour facilities on Norfolk Island, with loading jetties existing at Kingston and Cascade Bay. All goods not domestically produced are brought in by ship, usually to Cascade Bay. Norfolk Air leases aircraft to provide regular passenger services to the island from Brisbane and Sydney three times a week, from Newcastle every Monday and Melbourne every Friday. Air New Zealand also has weekly flights to Auckland.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
Tourism is Norfolk Island’s biggest industry and underpins the local economy. Their strapline is ‘Welcome to the World of Norfolk. Small World. No Small Wonder.’ There is no shortage of information for visitors including Ask a Norfolk Island local, a novel blog that helps people with their queries before coming to the island. There are specialist travel companies and tour operators who can organise, or provide, whatever experience is sought from the island. Norfolk has the world’s second southernmost coral reef and Bounty Divers offers 30 dive sites. Other outdoor pursuits to enjoy include fishing, horse riding, golf, mountain biking, paintball, sea kayaking and outrigging. There are also ample opportunities to meet the Pitcairners, direct descendents of the mutineers who seized the Bounty from William Bligh by, for example, staying at accommodation like the Fletcher Christian apartments.
The history of Norfolk can be traced by viewing Cyclorama, a 360-degree artwork with commentary that is located at Burnt Pine, the commercial centre in the heart of the island, or by visiting the museum. At the Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area that received World Heritage listing in 2010, a number of the colonial Georgian buildings have been restored and are now run as a museum containing artefacts including items retrieved from British ships sunk in the area like HMS Sirius. The former military barracks now provide offices for the Norfolk Island Administration
There is a vibrant arts and crafts scene on Norfolk with a Community Arts Society, individual artists, quilters, a textile worker, tapa painter and a pottery producing high fired stoneware and porcelain. There are three annual music festivals, ‘Opera in Paradise’ held in February, Country Music in May and ‘Jazz in the Pines’ in December. Further information about all the latest events can be found at Norfolk Island Happenings and through Norfolk Islands Newspaper or Norfolk Online News.
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
Norfolk Island has around 200 native plants, including more than 40 only found here. At least 18 of the endemic species are rare or threatened. The Norfolk Island Palm and the Smooth Tree-fern, the tallest tree-fern in the world, are common in the Norfolk Island National Park but rare elsewhere on the island. Some 116 bird species have been recorded with the most notable being the endemic Green Parrot, Boobook Owl and Long-billed White-eye. A number of seabirds like the Masked Booby and Sooty Tern nest on Phillip Island. There is only one native mammal, Gould's wattled bat, which is very rare or may be extinct. Two terrestrial reptiles, a gecko and skink, are present but only found on Phillip Island due to predation by feral animals on Norfolk itself. A number of endemic invertebrates occur including one particularly impressive centipede that grows up to 150 mm long and 17 mm wide.
A Theatened Species Recovery Plan was published in 2010 setting out the actions necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, listed threatened species. The Green Parrot is one of the rarest and most endangered birds in Australia. It is only found on Norfolk Island where it is largely restricted to natural or semi-natural forests. The total population size is currently estimated to be 160 with 14 known breeding pairs and is primarily limited by the availability of predator-free breeding habitat and nesting sites.
Before European colonization, most of Norfolk Island was covered with subtropical rain forest, the canopy of which was made of Norfolk Island pine in exposed areas, with palm and tree fern species in moister sheltered areas. The understory was thick with lianas and ferns covered the forest floor. Only one small tract of rainforest remains within the Norfolk Island National Park, a protected area of 6.50 km² established in 1984 and managed by Parks Australia. It comprises two sections, Mount Pitt and surrounds on Norfolk Island and the neighbouring 1.90 km² Phillip Island, as well as the much smaller Nepean Island. The vegetation of Phillip Island was devastated due to the introduction during the penal area of pest animals such as pigs and rabbits, giving it a red-brown colour as viewed from Norfolk. However, pest control and remediation work by park staff has recently brought some environmental improvement. The majority of Norfolk Island has been cleared for pasture and housing. Sections of the coastline are under severe pressure from overgrazing and are falling into the sea. A quirk of the island is that privately owned beef cattle are allowed to roam free on the island to graze. However they’re causing major erosion and promoting growth of weeds like lantana that the Norfolk Landcare Group have been working to remove and replace with native trees.
Integrated Development Planning
In 2008 the University of Sydney, Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis, produced a case study of Norfolk Island in conjunction with the EcoNorfolk Foundation that was founded in 1999 by environmental lobbyist Denise Quintal. The foundation invited staff from the centre to visit Norfolk Island to brief key decision-makers on the Ecological Footprint concept and to undertake a number of Triple Bottom Line assessments of local businesses. Their partnership resulted in a report indicating that conservation, efficiency and reductions of the overall material metabolism of economic activity, for example by recycling and re-use, can be as effective as purely technologically-driven solutions, such as the introduction of renewable energy sources. There exists a history of technology implementations on small islands that have failed because of a lack of continuing skills and financial resources needed for operation and maintenance. This case study demonstrates exceptional sustainability performance in terms of material flow, and greenhouse gas emissions. The income growth scenarios show that – from a sustainability point of view – increasing tourist yield rather than tourist numbers is preferable for coping with price hikes and a finite resource base, and is also more likely to keep within bounds the strain on the island’s people and infrastructure.
In 2010 the Southern Cross University in northern New South Wales was awarded a grant from the federal government to establish the world’s first Personal Carbon Trading (PCT) program on Norfolk Island, aimed at both carbon emissions reduction and cutting obesity. Under the Norfolk Island Carbon/Health Evaluation (NICHE) three-year voluntary scheme that started in 2011, the 1800 permanent island residents will each receive an annual allocation of carbon credits. They will then be required to present carbon credit vouchers or a carbon credit card each time they purchase goods or services, and have points deducted depending on how greenhouse-unfriendly and unhealthy that product is. Those that involve a big carbon footprint, such as petrol, or an imported fatty food, would quickly use up their allocation. Those more environmentally friendly and healthy products – like a bunch of organic rhubarb grown on the island – would take up few, if any, carbon credits. Residents who use fewer units by walking or cycling instead of driving or using less electricity at home will be able to exchange any remaining credit at the end of the year for cash. The 30,000 tourists that visit Norfolk Island each year will also be issued carbon cards when they arrive and encouraged to get involved in the scheme. Prof Garry Egger, the team’s chief investigator, believes as a ‘closed system’ environment, Norfolk Island is an ideal location to conduct such trial as you can measure everything that goes in and out.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
The Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden Climate Change Strategy 2011-2016 recommends the preliminary adaptation, mitigation and communication actions that are required to manage the consequences of climate change and reduce the carbon footprint of the park. This strategy is an incremental ‘first step’ to what must be a long-term and enduring response, so will be subject to ongoing review.