Now Reading
Meet Colleen Crane – Our Café Queen

Meet Colleen Crane – Our Café Queen

A lady involved with the Australian Scouts was holidaying on Norfolk. She wanted to know more about Girl Guides here so I sent her to see Colleen Crane; our longtime Guide and Brownie leader. After meeting Col at an island coffee shop, the lady returned and told me excitedly: “It feels like I’ve just encountered ‘Island Royalty’; everyone knows Colleen and she knows everyone!”

A truer assessment was never made. Col – affectionately known as ‘Aunty Col’ to many Norfolk sullun (people) – is like royalty. Holding court at her favourite table, Col can be found most mornings at a local cafe, sipping a cup of the notoriously weak, diluted coffee she prefers.

Colleen Crane (nee Buffett) is a proud Bounty descendant, the eldest of Heather and Colin ‘Boonie’ Buffett’s three daughters, and a passionate advocate for Norfolk’s language and heritage. Colleen enjoys working for her community and is an active member of the Hospital Auxiliary, NATIN (Norfolk Assists Those in Need) and the Norfolk Guides. Capably assisted by Beverley Buffett and Taleyah Jones she organizes activities for the Brownies every Wednesday afternoon.

Twenty years ago, Adelaide University’s eminent linguist, Professor Muhlhausler, and a teacher at the local school, Judith Davidson, asked Colleen and a fellow Islander, Archie Bigg, to set up the first Norf’k Language Camp for Year 9 pupils. From 2004 to 2019 Col and Archie arranged, and hosted, this annual celebration of island culture. The camp focused on language, stories, cooking, plaiting, fishing, music and games, and former students have fond memories of uproarious card games, delicious traditional food and learning about local customs.

Colleen has also served as a Buffett family representative on the Council of Elders, and in 2014 she journeyed 5000 km to Pitcairn Island – her remote ancestral homeland – to help Professor Muhlausler make a comparative study of the Pitkern and Norf’k languages. Colleen continues to promote cultural practices like wreath-making for funerals, plaiting hats and weaving baskets, and enjoys passing these skills on to the younger generation.

Colleen was born in Sydney in 1949, but came to the island six weeks later – the first baby to arrive by aeroplane. While her dad, Boonie, built a home for his family they lived with her grandparents, ‘Funnybill’ and ‘Locket’ Buffett, opposite Henny’s Lake. There were lots of lettle sullun (children) living nearby, so Colleen played with all the Randall, Christian, Adams, Evans and Quintal kids, but Robyn Butterfield (nee Burgess) and Elaine Buffett were special chums. They made cubbies in a giant banyan tree and boated and swam in Henny’s Lake.

They moved into their house in 1956 and had a country-style upbringing. Col and her sisters – Coral and Alma – had chores like bringing in the cows, and filling the kerosene lamps, but there was always time for fun, too. They rambled freely, going across unfenced paddocks to visit relatives and friends, and went fishing with Boonie and Funnybill. They especially liked Cockpit – swimming in the creek and the pools beneath the waterfall.

During the summer holidays they, along with other Islanders, camped down at Kingston in the old ruins which now make up the historical area. Everyone swam in Slaughter Bay and fooled around on the diving board that was bolted to the reef in those days. Colleen vividly recalls learning to swim; and loved having proper lessons with Mrs Norman, the Administrator’s wife.



In those pre-electricity and pre-TV times there were more gatherings in people’s homes; music, ping-pong or card nights were common forms of entertainment. It was a simpler existence; closer to nature, with people living off the land by growing vegetables and fruit, milking cows, fishing, gathering shellfish and making what they needed. Boonie was very creative and even built full-scale boats in his ‘workroom’; which was really the family’s lounge room… His three daughters always helped with such projects and Col’s mother, very patiently, tolerated the indoor carpentry and all the sawdust!

Col did her schooling on Norfolk but, at 15, was awarded a bursary to go to Sydney Girls Tech for a year-long secretarial course. She remembers being overawed by “…the big expanse of everything…” and was terribly homesick. She finished her studies and worked for Norfolk’s Administration, in various departments, for two years. Col met Bob Crane, who came to Norfolk with the Commonwealth Bank, and they married in 1967. In 1969 Bob, Col and new baby Darren, left Norfolk so Bob could work at the Toronto branch in NSW.

Again, Col was very homesick, but she and Bob linked up with other Norfolk expats or visitors whenever they could, and they took the posting knowing Col’s youngest sister, Alma, was attending Hunter Girls High. During the holidays, and on some weekends, Alma and her Island pal, Gaye Quintal, stayed with them. By then their second son, David, was also on the scene, so Alma and Gaye babysat the boys and gave the young parents a night off.

After working in several branches around the Newcastle and Upper Hunter region, Bob was transferred to the Northern Territory. The relaxed lifestyle and stark beauty of the Outback impressed the whole Crane family. They liked nothing better than heading for the bush; sleeping under the stars, camping beside northern rivers but always looking out for crocs! Bob and the boys were keen water-skiers, and they all fished and revelled in ‘outdoorsy’ activities. After four years in the Top End the Cranes went back to rural NSW with the bank.

During those years Col came home to Norfolk as often as she could, and kept in touch with letters, as phones were still rare on the island. Colleen’s sisters and parents visited her, too, but in the 1980s, her eldest son, Darren, decided to live on Norfolk. He found carpentry work and stayed with Boonie, who’d been alone since Col’s mother died. Finally, in 1993, Bob and Col took early retirement and returned to the Island.

Bob loved the place, got on well with Col’s family, and wanted to go fishing and spend time making wooden objects – pens, clocks and bowls – with Boonie in his shed. Col and Bob settled in Cascade Road, ran a catering business for 12 years, and started a Sunday market stall which sold wooden souvenirs, books, all sorts of knick-knacks and home-baked goods. Tourists and Islanders eagerly lined up each week to buy, and devour, Colleen’s tasty lemon pies, banana cakes and scrumptious coconut bread.

As a fundraiser for the Hospital Auxiliary, Colleen and Gaelene Nobbs-Quintal launched a weekly Jarroo Competition which continued for years. Jarroo is a card game, similar to ‘500’, and was introduced to the Pitcairners by visiting American whalers. It’s still popular here and – amid its tricks and trumps – you’ll witness the laughter, table slapping, Norf’k banter, ‘skunking’ (ensuring the opposing team wins no tricks) and general hijinks which make the game so much fun. Colleen is a skilled player and has taught this traditional pastime to many newcomers (myself included!) and younger sullun via these weekly games and the annual Camp.

Sadly, in 2007, Colleen lost her dad and Bob, and it was an incredibly tough time. Luckily, with the support of her sisters and the rest of her family, she was able to soldier on. Darren, now in Australia, and David, in New Zealand, have given her five grandchildren, and Col is a proud Nanny. Darren’s sons, Kye and Ryan, are both working on Norfolk, so Col sees them regularly, and she’s also close to her nieces and nephews, and their children.

Like her dad, Colleen has a great sense of humour, spins a good yarn and is a wonderful source of Norf’k language and history. Col’s a ‘straight shooter’ and will definitely say what she thinks, but she’s also the first one to congratulate others on their achievements. Her slightly mischievous nature might be described, in Norf’k language, as cussed, but she’s a generous person and if sullun are in trouble, Colleen is willing to help.

Her ties to community groups are very strong – something her mum always encouraged – and Col enjoys spending time with people – whether it’s playing board games with her sisters, whipping up pancakes for hungry Brownies or having a cup of her favourite ‘dishwater’ brew, and a chat, with friends. Col loves Norfolk, so I once asked her what tips she had for tourists. She said:

“Don’t stay in your hire car – get out and have a look at everything – and don’t just sit in a tour bus! I mean, there are some wonderful tours…but you should enjoy Norfolk’s everyday atmosphere. If you’re fit enough – have a swim, stroll on the beach or go walking in the National Park…”

Then Col paused, gave me a cheeky smile, and confessed: “…Mind you, I detest walking myself!” 


Image Credit: Hari Frohling


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 07 Issue 01, 2024. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.


Discover Norfolk, YourWorld & 2899 Magazine
© 2023 Insprint. All Rights Reserved.

Disclaimer: Contents of Discover Norfolk, YourWorld & 2899 Magazine are subject to copyright. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher is prohibited. The publication of editorial does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the views or opinions expressed therein. The publisher does not accept responsibility for statements made by advertisers. All images are copyright unless stated otherwise.