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The Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, also called Cocos Islands and Keeling Islands, is a territory of Australia. There are two atolls and twenty-seven coral islands in the group. The islands are located in the Indian Oceanmarker, about halfway between Australia and Sri Lankamarker.


In 1609 Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, but they remained uninhabited until the nineteenth century, when they became a possession of the Clunies-Ross Family. A Scottish merchant seaman named Captain John Clunies-Ross from the Shetland Islandsmarker explored the islands in 1825 with the intention of settling on them with his family. Alexander Hare, who had taken part in Stamford Raffles' takeover of Javamarker in 1811 landed and settled with his Slaves who originated from Indonesiamarker, the Cape of Good Hopemarker and East Asia. Clunies-Ross returned and set up a compound on South Island consisting of his family and some other settlers. Hare's severely mistreated slaves soon escaped to work under better conditions for Clunies-Ross. The workers were paid in a currency called the Cocos rupee a currency John Clunies-Ross minted himself and which could only be redeemed at the company store.

On April 1, 1836, under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings establishing the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle. To the young naturalist Charles Darwin, who was on the ship, the results supported a theory he had developed of how atolls formed. He studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens. His assistant Syms Covington noted that "an Englishman (he was of course Scottish) and HIS family, with about sixty or seventy Mulattos from the Cape of Good Hope, live on one of the islands. Captain Ross, the governor, is now absent at the Cape."

Annexed to the British Empire

The islands were annexed to the British Empire in 1857. In 1867, their administration was placed under the Straits Settlementsmarker, which included Penangmarker, Malaccamarker and Singaporemarker. Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886. The Cocos Islands under the Clunies-Ross family have been cited as an example of a nineteenth century micronation.

World War I

On November 9, 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I. The wireless telegraph station on Direction Island, a vital link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, was destroyed by sailors from the Germanmarker light cruiser , which was in turn surprised and destroyed by the Australian cruiser, .

World War II

During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link. Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as a base for German raider cruisers operating in the Indian Ocean. Following Japanmarker's entry into the war, Japanese forces did occupy neighbouring islands. To avoid drawing their attention to the Cocos cable station and its islands' garrison, the seaplane anchorage between Direction and Horsburgh islands was not used. Radio transmitters were also kept silent, except in emergencies.

After the Fall of Singaporemarker in 1942, the islands were administered from Ceylonmarker (Sri Lankamarker), and West and Direction Islands were placed under Allied military administration. The islands' garrison initially consisted of a platoon from the British Army's King's African Rifles, located on Horsburgh Island, with two guns to cover the anchorage. The local inhabitants all lived on Home Island. Despite the importance of the islands as a communication centre, the Japanese made no attempt either to raid or to occupy them and contented themselves with sending over a reconnaissance aircraft about once a month.

On the night of 8-9 May 1942, fifteen members of the garrison, from the Ceylon Defence Force mutinied, under the leadership of Gratien Fernando. The mutineers were said to have been provoked by the attitude of their British officers, and were also supposedly inspired by anti-imperialist beliefs. They attempted to take control of the gun battery on the islands. The Cocos Islands Mutiny was crushed, although they killed one non-mutinous soldier and wounded one officer. Seven of the mutineers were sentenced to death at a trial which was later alleged to have been improperly conducted. Four of the sentences were commuted, but three men were executed, including Fernando. These were to be the only British Commonwealth soldiers to be executed for mutiny during the Second World War.

On December 25, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-166 bombarded the islands but caused no damage.

Later in the war, two airstrips were built and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia and to provide support during the reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singaporemarker. The first aircraft to arrive were Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIIIs of No. 136 Squadron RAF. They included some Liberator bombers from No. 321 Squadron RAF (members of exiled Dutch forces serving with the Royal Air Force), which were also stationed on the islands. When in July 1945, No. 99 and No. 356 RAF squadrons arrived on West Island they brought with them a daily newspaper called Atoll which contained news of what was happening in the outside world. Run by airmen in their off-duty hours, it achieved fame when dropped by Liberator bombers on POW camps over the heads of the Japanese guards. In 1946 the administration of the islands reverted to Singapore.

Transfer to Australia

On November 23, 1955, the islands were transferred to Australian control under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 (an Australian Act) pursuant to the Cocos Islands Act, 1955 (a UK Act). In the 1970s, the Australian government's dissatisfaction with the Clunies-Ross feudal style of rule of the island increased. In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of AU$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. By agreement the family retained ownership of Oceania House, their home on the island. However, in 1983 the Australian government moved to dishonour this agreement, and told the former last ruler, John Clunies-Ross, that he should leave the Cocos. The following year the High Court of Australiamarker ruled that resumption of Oceania House was unlawful, but the Australian government ordered that no government business was to be granted to his shipping company, an action which contributed to his bankruptcy. John Clunies-Ross lives in exile in Perth, Australia, but his successors still live on the Cocos.


Cocos (Keeling) Islands
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of two flat, low-lying coral atolls with an area of , of coastline, a highest elevation of and thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation. The climate is pleasant, moderated by the southeast trade winds for about nine months of the year and with moderate rainfall. Cyclones may occur in the early months of the year.

North Keeling Island is an atoll consisting of just one C-shaped island, a nearly closed atoll ring with a small opening into the lagoon, about wide, on the East side. The island measures in land area and is uninhabited. The lagoon is about . North Keeling Island and the surrounding sea to 1.5 km from shore form the Pulu Keeling National Park, established on 12 December 1995. It is home to the only surviving population of the endemic, and endangered, Cocos Buff-banded Rail.

South Keeling Islands is an atoll consisting of twenty-four individual islets forming an incomplete atoll ring, with a total land area of . Only Home Island and West Islandmarker are populated. People from Home Island maintain weekend shacks on the lagoon shore of South Island and on some of the smaller islands.

Table of the islets, with areas, numbered islets clockwise starting in the north:

Map of South Keeling Islands (1889)
Map of South Keeling Islands
Nr. Islet
(Malay name)
English name Area

1 Pulau Luar Horsburgh Island 1.04 2 Pulau Tikus Direction Island 0.34 3 Pulau Pasir Workhouse Island 0.00 4 Pulau Beras Prison Island 0.02 5 Pulau Gangsa Woeplace Islets <0.01 <=""></0.01>tr> 6 Pulau Selma Home Island 0.95 7 Pulau Ampang Kechil  Scaevola Islet <0.01 <=""></0.01>tr> 8 Pulau Ampang Canui Island 0.06 9 Pulau Wa-idas Ampang Minor 0.02 10 Pulau Blekok Goldwater Island 0.03 11 Pulau Kembang Thorn Island 0.04 12 Pulau Cheplok Gooseberry Island  <0.01 <=""></0.01>tr> 13 Pulau Pandan Misery Island 0.24 14 Pulau Siput Goat Island 0.10 15 Pulau Jambatan Middle Mission Isle <0.01 <=""></0.01>tr> 16 Pulau Labu South Goat Island 0.04 17 Pulau Atas South Island 3.63 18 Pulau Kelapa Satu North Goat Island 0.02 19 Pulau Blan East Cay 0.03 20 Pulau Blan Madar Burial Island 0.03 21 Pulau Maria West Cay 0.01 22 Pulau Kambling Keelingham Horn Island <0.01 <=""></0.01>tr> 23 Pulau Panjang West Island 6.23 24 Pulau Wak Bangka ?Turtle Island 0.22

There are no rivers or lakes on either atoll; fresh water resources are limited to rainwater accumulations in natural underground reservoirs.

Cocos (Keeling) Island is located on almost exactly the opposite side of the globe as Cocos Island, Costa Rica.



In 2009, there are an estimated 600 inhabitants of the islands. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island (est. pop. 100) and the ethnic Malays on Home Island (est. pop. 500). A Cocos dialect of Malay and English are the main languages spoken, and 80% of Cocos Islanders are Sunni Muslim.


The capital of the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands is West Islandmarker while the largest settlement is the village of Bantam (Home Island). Governance of the islands is based on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 and depends heavily on the laws of Australia. The islands are administered from Canberramarker by the Attorney-General's Department (before November 29, 2007 administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services), through a non-resident Administrator appointed by the Governor-General. The current Administrator is Brian Lacy, who was appointed on 28 September 2009 and is also the Administrator of Christmas Islandmarker. These two Territories comprise Australia's Indian Ocean Territories. There also exists a unicameral Cocos Islands Shire Council with seven seats. A full term lasts four years, though elections are held every two years; approximately half the members retire each two years. Federally, Cocos (Keeling) Islanders form the electorate of Lingiari with Christmas Island and outback Northern Territory.

The islands have a five-person police force but their defence remains the responsibility of Australia.


Grown throughout the islands, coconuts are the sole cash crop. Copra and fresh coconuts are the major export earners. Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but additional food and most other necessities must be imported from Australia. There is a small but growing tourist industry.

The Cocos Islands Cooperative Society Ltd. employs construction workers, stevedores, and lighterage worker operations. Tourism employs others. The unemployment rate was estimated at 60% in 2000.

Communications and transport

The islands are connected within Australia's telecommunication system (with number range +61 8 9162 xxxx) and postal system (post code: 6799). There is one paved airport on the West Island, Cocos Island International Airportmarker, to which National Jet Systems operate scheduled jet services from Perth, Western Australia; and a lagoon anchorage.


There are two schools in the archipelago. They are on the two inhabited islands - one is on West Island and the other on Home Island.

School instruction is in English, and efforts are made to discourage students from speaking the local language (Cocos Islands Malay, a Malay dialect) on school premises.


File:Keelingsunset.JPG|Sunset over the islandsFile:Keelingpalms.jpg|Palm trees on the islands

See also


  1. The Clunies-Ross Chronicle
  2. End of a kingdom
  4. WebLaw - full resource metadata display
  5. ComLaw Act Compilations - Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 (34)
  6. CIA World Factbook
  7. Paige Taylor, Crime in paradise lost in translation "The Australian", August 17, 2009

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