Early Tourism


1906 brought John Watts Beattie to Norfolk Island to photograph the Mission and the Island.  He was one of the earliest photojournalist’s with a tourism-bent.  Glass plate photographs that record the beauty and majesty of the Pacific would not have been complete without the work of Beattie on Norfolk. 

The thirties brought tourism via the sea.  Post World War on and the ability to afford a trip abroad would see a certain type of traveller. In 1932 P&O announces a five-day cruise from Sydney to Norfolk Island that sells out in three days. There are a couple of great black and white prints at the ‘Lions Photographic Display’ in Kingston which will give you an idea of some of the first tourists to Norfolk.  Remembering that there was no commercial airfield as yet, this entailed visitors coming ashore in lighters and lifeboats.  Marie Bailey remembers going down to the jetty to view the visitors and being intrigued by the look of the lifeboat with its ropes encircling the gunwhale.  On that particular day  the crew were men of dark –skinned appearances and wore bright red topee hats.  

At the age of 6 or 8years old Marie was completely captivated by hat and ropes alike.  This is a fine reminder of the isolation and innocence of Norfolk Island and its people.  The question in my mind is what was the driving force behind the tourism to Norfolk at this time?  Was it the romance and history of the Bounty Mutineer legacy? Was it the convict ruin draw card?  Had the war enabled people to dream of visiting shores that had seemed too distant in the past?  How was the voyage marketed to a community in Australia and New Zealand, that was still in re-build mode after the sacrifices of WWI?  

With the arrival of these first tourists, came a need for housing and accommodating these weary travellers.  Some of the first accommodation houses on the island were - “felichita” (now the site of the Colonial), Deweville  (area behind and around the current Golf Club), “Cosy Corner” of Grassy Road (Beaumans), Sandiland Lodge (also Grassy Road) were born of necessity.  Norfolk Island hospitality was and still is legendary.

There was not a great deal of time between wars and with the advent of WWII came the need to produce an airstrip on the strategically placed Norfolk Island.  This strip was eventually to evolve into the access point for commercial aircraft.  There were scheduled runs for stock and produce for trade and passengers, naturally – all this from 1945 onward.

Concentrate and wonder about what it was exactly that met the eyes of those individuals fortunate enough to explore shores with a history so tantalising and contrasted that they could have been contained within the contents of a novel.  No mobile phones, no internet, television or abundance of vehicles.  It was not until well into the late 1980’s that cows were stopped from roaming the main drag of Burnt Pine.   The fifties and sixties brought fast thinking entrepreneurs that made an equally fast living out of cameras, transistor radios, hi-fi’s, jewellery, chinese imports and all and any manner of export that was at that time neither taxed nor bearing duty.  So Norfolk as a destination became a great drawcard for shoppers and those hunting a bargain that had not as yet been targeted by multinational duty free conglomerates.  This retail boom was fired by the word-of-mouth repeat tourist.  So the regular flights from Australia and New Zealand had a rippling effect within the island.  More  tourist beds became available and local pride stepped in to compete in availing the tourists with “the best” side – best place to stay.

Then too came the tax haven tourists – who cunningly lodged their offshore business address in Norfolk in order to avoid tax in Australia. Thus becoming the invisible tourist, that no doubt defined a part of the economic landscape, until changes in legislation and reform.

Imagining a Norfolk without an airfield and the network of roads and fences that now dictate the meanderings of our visitors is a little confronting.  With the advent of more and more tourists came their “needs”, wants and standards in accommodation.  We now have star ratings for our accommodation houses, large numbers of hire cars, numerous cafes and restaurants and tours aplenty.  Whereas in the earlier days, good clean honest accommodation wore pride of place, not internet, or cable tv.  Charm was and still is everything Norfolk.  However like every destination in the world we try to move with the times,  which is kind of ironic, when most lovers of Norfolk like the laid back, back-in-time ambiance.  Striking the balance without selling our soul will undoubtedly dictate survival within the tourist industry.  Or perhaps we will make a stand and draw back to the past where we produced more agriculturally and offer the world a tourist destination that remembers the old values of the past and reveres them over the fast moving and fleeting mainland hustle and bustle.


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