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An Uneasy Relationship

An Uneasy Relationship: Norfolk Island and the Commonwealth of Australia OPEN ACCESS

Maev O’Collins
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24h2qc
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  • Book Info
    An Uneasy Relationship
    Book Description:

    The situation of Norfolk Island, as a territory of the Commonwealth of Australia, is one of the historical anomalies in governance, which has persisted since 1914. It reflects the direct historical linkages between the British Crown and those Norfolk Islanders who were descendants of Pitcairn Islanders of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. Yet, once Federation was in the wind, the British Government, against the expressed wishes of the Norfolk Island community, sought to divest itself of all responsibility for Norfolk Island. There is a curiously 'Yes Minister' quality about the negotiations which lead to the final take-over by Australia, and the appointment of the first Commonwealth Administrator of Norfolk Island. The direct involvement of Atlee Hunt, then Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, eventually ensured the appointment of Michael Vincent Murphy. In order to achieve this end, Hunt had to fend off other applicants who were busy ingratiating themselves with the Minister for External Affairs Patrick McMahon Glynn and the then Prime Minister Joseph Cook. This is essentially a study of the relationships between governors, politicians, public servants and community leaders during the years which followed the take-over of Norfolk Island, and of the struggle of one Norfolk Islander, Charles Chase Ray Nobbs, against Australian administrative authority.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-99-5
    Subjects: Political Science
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  1. Recent archaeological research suggests that there had been a fairly continuous Polynesian settlement on Norfolk Island 500–900 years ago, but there was no sign of recent human habitation when Captain James Cook ‘discovered’ the island in October 1774.¹

    He was struck by the tall straight pines which grew there, concluding that these would be excellent masts for sailing ships. He also considered that the flax found on the Island would be suitable for sails and other products. It seemed at the time that the Island could became self-supporting, and that it would be able to export surplus produce to...

  2. Following the 1897 Order in Council, Norfolk Island became a quasi-dependency of New South Wales, although its position was still seen as that of a separate colonial entity. The Governor of New South Wales was empowered to act on behalf of the Imperial Government, and overall administration became the responsibility of the New South Wales Department of Lands.

    The 1896 report by Commissioners Carruthers and Oliver noted that there was a great deal of permissive occupancy, and that land grant records were often incomplete.¹

    Over the next few years, rumbles of discontent continued as Islanders asserted their rights to all...

  3. An Irish barrister, Glynn emigrated to Australia in 1880 and was a South Australian delegate to the 1897 Sydney and 1898 Melbourne Federal Convention sessions. He is perhaps better known for his whirlwind courtship and marriage to Abigail Dynon during the Sydney Convention, and as the delegate who successfully proposed the insertion, at the beginning of the preamble to the Constitution, of the words ‘humbly relying upon the blessing of Almighty God’.¹

    Glynn was a key player in the protracted negotiations between New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, and chairman of the committee which drafted the interstate agreement formalising...

  4. The Norfolk Island Bill (1913) was presented in Parliament and the Minister for External Affairs gave the Second Reading speech on 16 September 1913. He had been well-briefed by his Secretary and provided with copies of the relevant Orders in Council, Commissioner Oliver’s 1903 report, and other administrative and historical material.

    Glynn began by reminding his colleagues that, in 1909, a Bill for the transfer of Norfolk Island to the Commonwealth had been before the House. However, it had not proceeded, as further negotiation with the Governor of New South Wales had been required. In response to a question as...

  5. Once his position was assured, Murphy sounded out the possibility of his son Claude being appointed as his private secretary. Pointing out that he needed to have someone in the position who would work with him outside normal official hours, and with whom he could discuss sensitive community issues, he left it to Hunt’s discretion to advise if this would be acceptable.¹

    Aware of the ambiguous nature of his dual role as Administrator and Chief Magistrate, he was also anxious to provide greater professional status and financial security for his Court Registrar. He continued to promote a salary increase for...

  6. In July 1920, Lieutenant-General John William Parnell took over as the Administrator and Murphy retired to his home, ‘Rhodesia’ in Lindfield, New South Wales. In August, following the annual elections for the Norfolk Island Executive Council, Nobbs was elected Council President.

    The entries in the Administrator’s diary for the next three years provide more personal details regarding health problems and depression than Murphy, the ultimate public servant, would have seen as appropriate. Parnell took leave in April 1923, after a persistent eye infection threatened his sight. Later, he suffered two falls from ladders, which resulted in serious back injuries. Throughout...

  7. Although the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901, it took several decades to fully develop new protocols which reflected Australia’s new relationships with Britain and other foreign powers, and internal relationships with its component States. It was inevitable that, in dealing with several levels of national and international government authorities, some loose ends would remain. The two case studies discussed in this chapter reflect the interplay between different levels of government and the personalities of those involved, which, in even the most official and formal negotiations, often contributed to unnecessary tension and misunderstanding.

    The first example is the 1915...

  8. It is impossible to completely re-create the climate of the times in the early years of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, the letters, reports, and contemporary accounts which are available do tell us a great deal about the personalities, ambitions, successes and disappointments of the four main players in this story — Glynn, Hunt, Murphy and Nobbs. Of the four, Murphy has remained the somewhat shadowy and less definite character, although his friendship with Hunt, his readiness to support his staff, and his sense of commitment to promote economic development and social stability on Norfolk Island, are well-documented.

    There were inherent problems...