Thursday, November 2, 2017


Image result for pictures of norfolk island
I happened to mention an upcoming trip to Norfolk Island to my dentist. He seemed interested so I continued. Referring to its penal settlement days, I said, "It would have to be a supreme irony wouldn't it? They managed to take an island paradise and turn it into a hell on earth."

He replied, "yes, just like Manus Island." I was about to spin my head Linda Blair style and spray him with "you're kidding aren't you? You're comparing Manus with Norfolk?" But remembering it's not the best of ideas to get involved in a political altercation with your dentist, especially as he's about to drill a tooth, I kept my mouth shut - figuratively speaking, that is. Doing it literally  would of course have defeated the purpose of a dental appointment. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been caught so flat-footed by his opinion. He is after all an upper middle class professional and, as so, obligated to have  the "correct" views so effective at setting the holder apart from the ignorant rabble. 

Once on the lonely but beautiful dot of land way out in the pacific, I couldn't help feeling, even though I'd grown up only  a suburban train ride from old Port Jackson, that I'd never been closer to Australian history. With the ruins of the old stone jail at my back, I gazed out over Sydney Bay and could have sworn I'd seen a ghostly image of the Sirius gamely fighting for its life against wind and tide, but defeated, drifting ever closer to shore until crashing stern-first and mortally injured onto a jagged reef.

By means of a rope floated by a barrel to shore and the setting up of hawsers, all on board were rescued and most of the urgently needed stores were gotten to dry land. It was however a cruel blow to the embryonic settlement, as indeed it was to the the settlement, almost as new, 1,100 miles away on the east coast of Australia. With food supplies critically low, it needed ships to fetch provisions from wherever possible.

The central idea of Norfolk Island becoming a breadbasket for the mother colony would not be realised and the island was abandoned just thirty seven years later in 1825.  However, with the process of removing the British criminal class to the Antipodes going full bore, the penal colonies in NSW and Van Dieman's Land were filling up alarmingly quickly. What to do with so many convicts, especially the desperados so dangerously bereft of hope that swinging from a hangman's rope looked more like an escape than a punishment? Once again, the island with its ubiquitous pines standing rigidly to attention - effectively inescapable * - began drawing men's minds. It was practically ready-made as a penal colony.

And so it became. Firstly for the worst of the worst, "the incorrigibles" as they were known, but perhaps more accurately described as those who couldn't be broken. And then there were the Irish rebels transported for the heinous crimes of insurrection and treason and still striking fear in English hearts. The irretrievability from depths of black depredations these first waves of convicts were thought to be marked by set the pattern of treatment of all convicts finding themselves on the island, regardless of later arrivals being garden variety convicts sent there simply because of continuing overcrowding in NSW.

That treatment, even allowing for the distortion of the view through a telescope from gentler, softer times as unbelievably brutal, was unbelievably brutal, although, in fairness, some of the commandants who are now considered as demented sadists, were probably simply products of their time trying to fulfill difficult duties. As in the British navy at the time, the lash was seen as the most efficacious method, perhaps the only method, of maintaining discipline. And given that a breakdown of discipline in the tiny colony struggling to survive could mean the sure ending of that survival, the lash was a tool used as frequently as hammers and chisels and for the pettiest of offences. The number of lashes men - and women, there being enough equal opportunity here to satisfy even the most aggrieved feminist - were sentenced to beggars a belief in survival of such an ordeal. It was evidently quite a science in establishing just how much a human could be flogged and still kept just this side of death.

 Image result for image of convict being flogged on Norfolk Island

 The prison the convicts spent hard labour in constructing for themselves was of the pentagonal type becoming fashionable at the time. Enclosed in a high surrounding walls, the central structure resembled a wheel with five spokes, the latter being cell blocks. The cells were a far cry from the spacious rooms equipped with radios and coffee and tea making facilities we've become familiar with via TV and films. In fact, measuring about five feet wide, seven feet deep and a little over six feet high, contained within walls over a foot thick, with a narrow door and no light, the prisoners were more entombed than locked up. In heavy rainfall, they were known to flood.

Image result for images of the old jail in Norfolk Island

It's perhaps surprising that in spite of all the physical tortures inflicted on the convicts, the rule against the prisoners speaking to one another was the most resented. It was as if this last indignity was what sealed their hell and they would risk the skin on their back to defy it.

So, back to my dentist's assertion that the treatment of the "asylum seekers" on Manus Island should be included in the same category as that once dished out out on Norfolk Island. Is it a fair statement? A glance at the photo below should settle that argument more swiftly than any argument in the history of  men's fractiousness has ever been settled.

Confusingly, in spite of conditions in the detention centre on Manus Island being declared by its residents and Australian bleeding hearts, with the ABC leading the charge, to be so dire as to be a black stain on our humanity, six hundred of the inhabitants are currently refusing to leave, dramatically filling wheely bins with water as if preparing for a siege. How could this be? Apparently two main reasons are behind this odd behaviour. Firstly, these fit, healthy young men, many claiming they've come from homelands torn by war -the question of why they didn't remain to help defend those homelands is rarely asked - are afraid for their safety. Who threatens their safety? Why, it must be those big, black, scary Papuans. So six hundred of these pansies couldn't defend themselves against the descendents of the fuzzy, wuzzy angels? Perhaps this explains why staying to defend their own countries would have been a waste of time. The ones who had stayed were probably glad to see the backs of them.

Their second objection to exiting this supposed hell-hole was that alternate accommodation was in no way ready to accept them. This ABC tries to legitimate this claim with its cameras panning across a scene filled with cranes and bulldozers. Unfortunately for the ABC, these scenes couldn't be captured without showing the big, gleaming, new building in the background. Fake news? Bet your arse it is.

As always, we're simply being gamed. Ironically, if these con-artists had've entered Australia legitimately, they would be being praised as the people who are building Australia, because, as everyone knows, it was multiculturalism that built Australia. To object by saying that this shot of "diversity" was only attracted to Australia after all the spade-work had been done would be churlish, not to mention unforgivably racist.

But in these days when truth is no defence, when postmodernists have abolished truth altogether, the lid must be kept on. But not to worry. That lid will one day be blown so high it may become a satellite. And truth will prevail. And that truth is that the brutality of our penal colonies was the bedrock of our nation, the soil out of which rapidly grew a gleaming civilization on the world's most ancient land. It was brutality in a brutal time. But that hardness created the men and women needed for the nation-building task ahead of them.

* But escape some did by stowing away on visiting ships, often American whalers whose captains were rarely averse to additional labour - especially when it cost little more than food and a rum allowance.


  1. Thank you John. A great read combining history and reality against PC nonsense.

    The closest I've got Norfolk Island are the pines at Manly beach!

  2. Thanks again katana. I hope you may one day have the opportunity to visit Norfolk.