“When the fog rolls in people go a little troppo”, says Jason from the island’s outdoors shop. I glance outside and see great wafts of fog rolling in, as if on queue.
But I don t need Jason to tell me people round here are nuts. The plane was just taxi-ing into the airport when I saw a man in his backyard simulating an air traffic controller.
As the week rolled on, it got crazier to start with then tapered off. Or had I just adapted to Norfolk’s unique lifestyle?
First of all, it was the radio station reading out the winners of their Christmas raffle - the first prize was 40 hours of labour that someone had donated. Not that there is anything weird about that, except that it shows the prevalence of bartering on the island. But then they read out the weather forecast – for yesterday. Who cares that it was 25 degrees and 88 per cent humidity yesterday. It is a forecast people!
And so unto the tourist office where we get chatting about how the cargo arrives. Norfolk lacks a jetty so loading and unloading is done out to sea. They tell us they can unload quite quickly as they are lucky because Norfolk doesn’t have any health and safety rules! This is true. The number of trucks with kids and dogs sprawled in the pick-up area is enormous. It looks like fun.
Growing up on Norfolk Island must be idyllic. The scenery is like The Shire in Middle Earth (not Cronulla). It may only be 8km long but the terrain is like New Zealand, lush, green and hilly but with an overlay of Fiji, with ever-rustling palm trees and sub-tropical breezes. Pastureland, avenues of pines and old-soul fig trees are sprinkled with plantation style homesteads, historic churches, cafes and small town attractions, like galleries.
But just in case that all sounds too benign and twee, take a hike in the national park, ringed by rugged cliffs which plunge to a sea that takes no prisoners.
It is an interesting mix today. Norfolk is a protectorate of Australia. The people are Australian citizens. It’s just that someone forgot to tell them that. “Things are different here”, is a common refrain.
They have their own flag (a Norfolk Island pine), their national anthem is God Save the Queen and they can even march as their own country in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. They have their own government and tax system and pay for their own education and infrastructure, though Australia supplies the teachers and Australia has ownership for Norfolk’s national parks.
But things are changing. Mostly because Norfolk has run out of money. Tourist numbers are down, partly because of the financial crisis but the real reason I suspect is because Australians and Kiwis can easily and cheaply travel to other, more exotic locations like Bali, Fiji and Thailand. As this goes to press (as The Norfolk Islander newspaper would say) Norfolk Island Government has run out of money, borrowed from Australia and is now in negotiation with Australia to become a more integrated part of the mainland.
What this will mean is anyone’s guess. Immigration to Aussies and Kiwis to permanently settle in Norfolk is now open (previously it had been more difficult to move there) and it will be interesting to see how much Norfolk changes under Aussie rule.
I hope that the things that make Norfolk unusual – the lack of OH&S, the kids stacked in the back of a ute, the right of way for cows don’t change too much. Because it is nice to see a pocket of the earth still living in the sixties, getting excited when they see a plane and where crazy is normal. As the tourist banner in the airport says: “Welcome Back to Earth”.