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The Territory of Christmas Island is a territory of Australia in the Indian Oceanmarker. It is located northwest of the Western Australian city of Perthmarker, south of the Indonesianmarker capital, Jakartamarker, and ENE of the Cocos Islandsmarker.

It has a population of 1,403 residents who live in a number of "settlement areas" on the northern tip of the island: Flying Fish Covemarker (also known as Kampong), Silver City, Poon Saan, and Drumsite.

The island’s geographic isolation and history of minimal human disturbance has led to a high level of endemism amongst its flora and fauna, which is of significant interest to scientists and naturalists.

Phosphate, deposited as Guano, has been mined on the island for many years. 63% of its is National Park and there are large areas of primary rainforest.

History

British and Dutch navigators first included the island on their charts in the early seventeenth century, and Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company vessel, the Royal Mary, named the island when he arrived on Christmas Day, 25 December 1643. The island first appears on a map produced by Pieter Goos and published in 1666. Goos had labelled the island Mony, not sure what it was.

The earliest recorded visit was in March 1688 by William Dampier of the British ship Cygnet, who found it uninhabited. An account of the visit can be found in Dampier's Voyages, which describes how, when trying to reach Cocos from New Holland, his ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction and after 28 days arrived at Christmas Island. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the West Coast) and two of his crewmen were the first recorded people to set foot on Christmas Island.

The next visit was by Daniel Beekman, who described it in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East Indies.

Exploration and annexation

Poon Saan in the evening
Poon Saan shops
The first attempt at exploring the island was in 1857 by the crew of the Amethyst. They tried to reach the summit of the island, but found the cliffs impassable.

During the 1872-76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist Dr John Murray carried out extensive surveys.

In 1887, Captain Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, having discovered an anchorage in a bay that he named Flying Fish Cove, landed a party and made a small but interesting collection of the flora and fauna. In the next year, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited it for ten days, accompanied by J. J. Lister, who gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection.

Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Sir John Murray for examination were many of nearly pure phosphate of lime, a discovery which led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on 6 June 1888.

Settlement and exploitation

Soon afterwards, a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Keeling Islandsmarker (some 900 kilometres to the south west) to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos.

Phosphate mining began in the 1890s using indentured workers from Singaporemarker, Malaya and Chinamarker.

The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate Commissioners and District Officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office through the Straits Settlementsmarker, and later the Crown Colony of Singapore.

Japanese invasion

From the outbreak of war in South East Asia in December 1941, Christmas Island was a target for Japanese occupation because of its rich phosphate deposits. A naval gun was installed under a British officer and four NCOs supported by Indian soldiers. The first attack was by a Japanese submarine that torpedoed a Norwegian vessel, the Eidsvold, loading phosphate in Flying Fish Cove. This was on 21 January 1942. The vessel drifted and eventually sank off West White Beach. 50 European and Asian staff and their families were evacuated to Perth. In late February and early March 1942, two aerial bombing raids and shelling from the sea led the District Officer to hoist the white flag. After the Japanese naval group sailed away the British officer raised the Union Jack once more. During the night of 10-11 March a mutiny of the Indian troops, abetted by the Sikh policemen, led to the murder of the five British soldiers and the imprisonment of the remaining 21 Europeans. On 31 March a Japanese fleet of 9 vessels arrived and the Island was surrendered. A naval brigade, phosphate engineers, and 700 marines came ashore and rounded up the workforce, most of whom had fled to the jungle. Sabotaged equipment was repaired and preparations were made to resume the mining and export of phosphate.

Isolated acts of sabotage and the torpedoing of the Nissei Maru at the wharf on 17 November 1942 meant that only small amounts of phosphate were exported to Japan during the occupation. In November 1943, over 60% of the Island's population was evacuated to Surabayan prison camps, leaving of total population of just under 500 Chinese and Malays and 15 Japanese to survive as best they could. In October 1945 HMS Rother reoccupied Christmas Island.

Sources:Public Record Office, England War Office and Colonial Office Correspondence/Straits SettlementsJ. Pettigrew: 'Christmas Island in World War II ' Australian Territories January 1962Interviews conduced by J G Hunt with Island residents, 1973-77Correspondence J G Hunt with former Island residents, 1973-79

Transfer to Australia

At Australia's request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia; in 1957, the Australian government paid the government of Singapore £2.9 million in compensation, a figure based mainly on an estimated value of the phosphate forgone by Singapore.

The first Australian Official Representative arrived in 1958 and was replaced by an Administrator in 1968. Christmas Island and the Cocos Islandsmarker together are called the Australian Indian Ocean Territories and since 1997 share a single Administrator resident on Christmas Island.

Refugee and immigration detention

From the late 1980s and early 1990s, boats carrying asylum seekers and mainly departing from Indonesia landed on the island. During 2001, a large number of mostly Middle Eastern persons landed with the intent to apply for asylum in Australia.

In 2001, Christmas Island was the site of the so-called "Tampa" controversy, in which the Australian government stopped a Norwegian ship, MV Tampa, from disembarking 438 rescued asylum seekers at Christmas Island. The ensuing standoff and the associated political reactions in Australia were a major issue in the 2001 Australian federal election.

Another boatload of asylum seekers was taken from Christmas Island to Papua New Guineamarker for processing, after it was claimed that many of the adult asylum seekers threw their children into the water, apparently in protest at being turned away. This was later proven to be false. Many of the refugees were subsequently accepted by New Zealand.

The former Howard Government later secured the passage of legislation through the Australian Parliament which excised Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone, meaning that asylum seekers arriving on Christmas Island could not automatically apply to the Australian government for refugee status. This allowed the Royal Australian Navy to relocate them to other countries (Papua New Guinea's Manus Islandmarker, and Nauru) as part of the so-called Pacific Solution. In 2007 the Department of Immigration finished construction of an "Immigration Detention Centre", containing approximately 800 beds. Originally estimated to cost $210 million, the final cost was over $400 million.

In 2007, the Rudd Government announced plans to decommission the Manus Island and Nauru centres; processing would then occur on Christmas Island itself.

Demographics

As of 2006, the estimated population is 1,493. (The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a population of 1,508 as of the 2001 Census.)

The ethnic composition is 70% Chinese (mainly Hokkien), 20% European and 10% Malay. Religions practised on Christmas Island include Buddhism 75%, Christianity 12%, Islam 10% and others 3%. English is the official language, but Hokkien and Malay are also spoken. English, Malay and Hokkien are lingua franca.

Postage stamps

A postal agency was opened on the island in 1901 and sold stamps of the Strait Settlements.

After the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), postage stamps of the British Military Administration in Malaya were in use, then stamps of Singaporemarker.

In 1958, the island received its own postage stamps after being put under Australian custody. It had a large philatelic and postal independence, managed first by the Phosphate Commission (1958–1969) and then by the Island's Administration (1969–1993). This ended on 2 March 1993 when Australia Post became the island's postal operator: stamps of Christmas Island can be used in Australia and Australian stamps in the island.

Government

Christmas Island is a non-self governing territory of Australia, administered by the Attorney-General's Department (before November 29, 2007 administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services). The legal system is under the authority of the Governor-General of Australia and Australian law. An Administrator appointed by the Governor-General represents the monarch and Australia.

The Australian Government provides Commonwealth-level government services through the Christmas Island Administration and the Department of Infrastructure. There is no state government; instead, state government type services are provided by contractors, including departments of the Western Australian Government, with the costs met by the Australian (Commonwealth) Government. A unicameral Shire of Christmas Island with 9 seats provides local government services and is elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Elections are held every two years, with half the members standing for election.

Christmas Island residents who are Australian citizens also vote in Commonwealth (federal) elections. Christmas Island residents are represented in the House of Representatives through the Northern Territorymarker Division of Lingiari and in the Senate by Northern Territory Senators.

In early 1986, the Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag; the winning design was adopted as the informal flag of the territory for over a decade, and in 2002 it was made the official flag of Christmas Island.

Economy

Phosphate mining had been the only significant economic activity, but in December 1987 the Australian Government closed the mine. In 1991, the mine was reopened by a consortium which included many of the former mine workers as shareholders. With the support of the government, a $34 million casino opened in 1993, but was closed in 1998 and has not re-opened. The Australian Government in 2001 agreed to support the creation of a commercial spaceport on the island, however this has not yet been constructed, and appears that it will not proceed in the future. The Howard Government built a temporary immigration detention centre on the island in 2001 and planned to replace it with a larger, modern facility located at North West Point until Howard's defeat in the 2007 elections.

Geography

Christmas Island
Located at , the island is a quadrilateral with hollowed sides, about in greatest length and in extreme breadth. The total land area is , with of coastline. The island is the flat summit of a submarine mountain more than , the depth of the platform from which it rises being about and its height above the sea being upwards of . The mountain was originally a volcano, and some basalt is exposed in places such as The Dales and Dolly Beach, but most of the surface rock is limestone accumulated from the growth of coral over millions of years.

The climate is tropical, with heat and humidity moderated by trade winds. Steep cliffs along much of the coast rise abruptly to a central plateau. Elevation ranges from sea level to at Murray Hill. The island is mainly tropical rainforest, of which 63% is National Park.

The narrow fringing reef surrounding the island can be a maritime hazard.

Christmas Island is south of Indonesia and about northwest of Perth.

Flora and fauna



Christmas Island is of immense scientific value as it was uninhabited until the late nineteenth century, so many unique species of fauna and flora exist which have evolved independently of human interference. Two species of native rats, the Maclear's and Bulldog Rat have gone extinct since the island was settled, the species of shrew has not been seen since the mid 1980s and may be already extinct, and the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, a small bat is critically endangered. Two-thirds of the island has been declared a National Park which is managed by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage through Parks Australia.

The dense rainforest has evolved in the deep soils of the plateau and on the terraces. The forests are dominated by twenty-five tree species. Ferns, orchids and vines grow on the branches in the humid atmosphere beneath the canopy. The 135 plant species include sixteen which are found only on Christmas Island.

The annual red crab mass migration (around 100 million animals) to the sea to spawn has been called one of the wonders of the natural world and takes place each year around November; after the start of the wet season and in synchronisation with the cycle of the moon.

The land crabs and sea birds are the most noticeable animals on the island. Twenty terrestrial and intertidal species of crab (of which thirteen are regarded as true land crabs, only dependent on the ocean for larval development) have been described. Robber crabs, known elsewhere as coconut crabs, also exist in large numbers on the island.

Christmas Island is a focal point for sea birds of various species. Eight species or subspecies of sea birds nest on the island. The most numerous is the Red-footed Booby that nests in colonies, in trees, on many parts of the shore terrace. The widespread Brown Booby nests on the ground near the edge of the seacliff and inland cliffs. Abbott's Booby (listed as endangered) nests on tall emergent trees of the western, northern and southern plateau rainforest. The Christmas Island forest is the only nesting habitat of the Abbott's Booby left in the world. The endemic Christmas Island Frigatebird (listed as endangered) has nesting areas on the north-eastern shore terraces and the more widespread. Great Frigatebirds nest in semi-deciduous trees on the shore terrace with the greatest concentrations being in the North West and South Point areas. The Common Noddy and two species of bosuns or tropicbirds, with their brilliant gold or silver plumage and distinctive streamer tail feathers, also nest on the island.

Of the ten native land birds and shorebirds, seven are endemic species or subspecies. This includes the Christmas Island Thrush, and the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon. Some 86 migrant bird species have been recorded as visitors to the Island.

Communications and transportation

Telecommunications

Telephone services are provided by Telstra and are a part of the Australian network with the same prefix as Western Australia (08). A GSM mobile telephone system replaced the old analogue network in February 2005. Four free-to-air television stations from Australia are broadcast (ABC, SBS, GWN and WIN) in the same time-zone as Perth. Radio broadcasts from Australia include ABC Radio National, ABC Regional radio and Red FM. All services are provided by satellite links from the mainland. Broadband internet became available to subscribers in urban areas in mid 2005 through the local internet service provider, CIIA (formerly dotCX).

Christmas Island, due to its close proximity to Australia's northern neighbours, falls within many of the more 'interesting' satellite footprints throughout the region. This results in ideal conditions for receiving various Asian broadcasts which locals sometimes prefer to the West Australian provided content. Additionally, ionospheric conditions usually bode well for many of the more terrestrial radio transmissions - HF right up through VHF and sometimes in to UHF. The island plays home to a small array of radio equipment that, evidently, spans a good chunk of the usable spectrum. A variety of government owned and operated antenna systems are employed on the island to take advantage of this.

Container port

A container port exists at Flying Fish Cove with an alternative container unloading point to the south of the island at Norris Point for use during the December to March 'swell season" of seasonal rough seas.

Railways

An 18 km standard gauge railway from Flying Fish Cove to the phosphate mine was constructed in 1914. It was closed in December 1987, when the Australian Government closed the mine, but remains largely intact.

Air travel

There are three weekly flights into Christmas Island Airportmarker from Perth, Western Australiamarker (via RAAF Learmonthmarker) and a weekly charter flight from Malaysiamarker operated by Malaysia Airlines on Saturdays.

Road transport

There is a new recreation centre at Phosphate Hill operated by the Shire of Christmas Island. There is also a taxi service. The road network covers most of the island and is generally good quality, although four wheel drive vehicles are needed to access some more distant parts of the rain forest or the more isolated beaches, which are only accessible by rough dirt roads.

Education

Christmas Island District High School is located on the island.

The island-operated crèche is located in the Recreation Centre.

The island includes one public library.

See also



References



Further reading

  • CIA World Factbook 2002
  • Charles. W. Andrews, A Description of Christmas Island (Indian Ocean). Geographical Journal, 13(1), 17–35 (1899).
  • Charles W. Andrews, A Monograph of Christmas Island, London,1900.
  • National Library of Australia, The Indian Ocean: a select bibliography. 1979 ISBN 0-642-99150-2
  • W. J. L. Wharton, Account of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, 10 (10), 613–624 (1888).


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