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Returning to Norfolk: Going back or going home?

Returning to Norfolk: Going back or going home?

Cloudy skies are rolling in
And not a friend around to help me
From all the places I have been
And I feel like going home…
              – Charlie Rich

There’s an old saying: Never go back. Often to re visit a much loved place is a mistake because it’s difficult to relive that earlier, ‘gollen’ time. However, after returning to Norfolk Island, I cannot agree. For me, and other people, going back to Norfolk makes perfect sense – it feels like going home. We yearn for that relaxed, welcoming community; a haven from the outside world which offers peace and solitude.

As the plane touched down, Norfolk’s green hills and stately pines came into view. I felt a rush of emotion and images flooded my mind; I remembered walking beneath towering tree ferns in the National Park, lazily floating in warm turquoise waters and rambling around Kingston in the twilight. Scents of citrus, moss and damp earth recalled lemon pies on Bounty Day, the wild splendour of the rainforest and the distant sound of thunder far out to sea.

This affection for the Island is not unusual – it seeps into the soul, making visitors feel at ease, and encourages them to return. From the start of the modern tourist era many travellers could not get enough of Norfolk Island. In 1980, Vera and Norm Lewis from Papakura, New Zealand, who had first come to the Island in 1950 were enjoying their 23rd visit. Vera recalled: “The first sightseeing truck was Marie Bailey’s. It had forms [benches]…and you had to go up onto it by a little ladder. It was a very nice tour. Marie would tell all about the history of the Island and it upset me for two days the first time I heard about the prisoners. All of Kingston was still a ruin and everything was derelict.”

Over three decades later, Norfolk Island’s intriguing blend of natural beauty, fascinating history and friendly people continues to captivate its visitors. Jim and Kaye Cumming from Burnie, Tasmania, have returned to Norfolk’s rocky shores year after year. In April 2013 they arrived for their 37th holiday. Kaye’s interest was sparked in the 1960s by a globe-trotting friend’s slide show of a Norfolk vacation. The immense pines, crumbling convict remains and Marie Bailey’s old Ford truck captured Kaye’s imagination and she was determined to visit.

They made their first trip in 1975 and Kaye remembers: “Jim swore and declared he’d never go back.” In time however, Kaye persuaded Jim to give Norfolk another try and they returned the following year, and “…he fell in love with it the second time.”

It may sound like a cliché but they really believe it is their ‘home away from home’. Swimming at Emily Bay is always a highlight and has allowed them to meet many people – locals and tourists. They’ve become good friends with Islanders, like Margaret and Ken Christian, and are pleased when shop and café workers remember and greet them. They’ve also forged close relationships with other regular visitors such as Kelvin and Lillian McGarr from New Zealand. In 2012 Kaye and Jim witnessed the McGarrs’ renewal of marriage vows at Pine Valley, where the happy couple enjoyed their 50th Wedding Anniversary and 20th return to Norfolk.

An added lure, in recent times, has been the chance for Kaye to find out more about her First Fleet ancestor, William Saltmarsh. The Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (KAVHA) Public Research Centre has allowed Kaye to uncover a fascinating story. Saltmarsh was convicted at 14 for stealing some handkerchiefs and was transported to Australia when he was 17. It is likely that he spent the first three years of his term in one of England’s rotting prison hulks. He remained in New South Wales until 1792 where he helped catch Australia’s first bushranger – an African man and fellow convict known as‘Black Caesar’.

Saltmarsh was then sent to Norfolk Island with the First Settlement where he fathered a son, also named William Saltmarsh. It is not known what eventually happened to Saltmarsh senior though he definitely left the Island and may have ended up in India. His son remained and became a farmer, only to be displaced at the age of twenty when the entire Norfolk Island colony was abandoned. All settlers were forced to leave their homes in 1814 and start again on the Norfolk Plains in Van Diemen’s Land. Saltmarsh Junior prospered in Tasmania and that’s how Kaye’s paternal line became established.

Today, Kaye and Jim keep in touch with their Norfolk network by phone and email and eagerly anticipate their annual pilgrimage to the South Pacific. They are warmly welcomed and well-treated when they return and cherish many aspects of the Island. They love swimming and snorkelling, eating the fresh local food and pottering about in Burnt Pine. The museums, amazing landscape and marvellous restaurants are enjoyable holiday attractions, but for the Cummings, “…getting to know the locals; being remembered and having that sense of belonging…” is what keeps them coming back for more.

Wendy Gisler from Brisbane first came to Norfolk when her parents Betty and Ray Budden gave it a glowing recommendation. A family tradition to visit Norfolk Island had begun with Wendy and her parents returning together many times. Later she brought her three daughters, often over Christmas. They swam at Emily Bay, enjoyed the Toy Shop’s dazzling array of Barbie dolls, petted Culla’s Clydesdales and fed ducks at Watermill Valley. Many of Wendy and Betty’s most precious memories of the children were linked to these idyllic holidays. Local, April Quintal was the girls’ babysitter and they loved her. They really enjoyed night drives to 100 Acres where they listened to ghost-birds while April told them spooky stories.

Wendy and her family were continually drawn to the Island because the laid back lifestyle was so appealing and “…the hospitality was incredible.” They stayed at the Fletcher Christian Apartments where the Christian-Baileys have always looked after them. Wendy treasures special moments they’ve shared with Islanders and fondly recalls Ngaire Douran’s sumptuous smorgasbords, featuring local delicacies at the Cat’s Restaurant, and believes Norfolk’s food is “fabulous”.The sweet, sun-ripened bananas are a particular delight.

Wendy has seen lots of changes on Norfolk Island, and although she and her husband Ken have travelled extensively, they still say that Norfolk is their favourite destination. Ken feels they’re treated like family and Wendy has made lifelong friends here. “Nothing else compares to Norfolk… it’s totally unique. When you get home you wish you could go back”.She has visited 20 times but Wendy’s last stay, in August 2011 was especially poignant as loved ones gathered to celebrate her youngest daughter Felicity’s wedding to Josh Barnes. With two grandchildren, Phoebe and Max, also enjoying the festivities it meant that four generations of Wendy’s family have now visited the Island.

The feelings of these Norfolk ‘enthusiasts’ are really not so extraordinary. Several years ago, while interviewing travellers for an online newspaper, I met scores of visitors who regularly returned to Norfolk. They are drawn back time after time as they feel a kinship to the place. They savour the tranquil atmosphere, the roaming cows and chooks, the quirky local characters and the breathtaking scenery. Kaye Cumming feels those tourists who only visit for one short stay, miss out and may never fully understand her passion for the Island. To appreciate Norfolk it helps to linger, to immerse oneself in the culture and ideally to come back for more.

This tiny community in the South Pacific grips the imagination of many people from all over the world. For those returning, the plane lands and a tide of memories surge through your mind: a rooster crowing raucously across the valley, sea mist and salt-spray creeping over the pier and the wind moaning in the pines. Former visitors and Norfolk devotees know that if ‘…Cloudy skies are rolling in, and [there’s] not a friend around to help me…’ they can return to the Island and it will ‘…feel like going home.’


Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 03 Issue 02, 2013. 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.


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