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The Norfolk Island Right of Way

The Norfolk Island Right of Way

What is Norfolk Island without its roaming cattle? They are the slow moving backdrop to almost any Norfolk scenery, blending quite seamlessly into the environment despite their massive size. They are the unlikely mascot of this Pacific paradise, and the island would feel empty without them. Perhaps the cows know this, for they respond to hollering and horn-tooting with a nonchalant expression and unhurried gait that seems to reflect self-importance – though the likely truth is that they couldn’t care less. It’s like a ‘no attitude’ attitude, and they work it to perfection.

It is possible that they have been informed of the Norfolk Island Traffic Regulation Act, Section Six: “He shall not negligently or wilfully prevent, hinder, or interrupt the free passage of any person, vehicle or cattle on the road”. Does this mean that cattle should not wilfully stand in the middle of the road when a car needs to pass? Of course not! This law applies only to humans – and the cattle know it! But what if, hypothetically speaking, a young girl of fifteen was to hit a cow on her motorbike? What if she was distracted by the wind in her face and the world at her feet, a world that was possibly rushing past a little over the speed limit? Well, it would depend on what happened to the cow.

If the cow were to die, then the person driving or in charge of the vehicle would pay a fine to the government of $120 and have three licence points deducted. But surely the cow must be at some fault for running in front of the motorbike without warning? Well, it seems the cattle must also know the Norfolk Island Pasturage and Enclosures Act: that the beast is allowed to be on the road. What about a clumsy black cow in the night falling off an embankment onto a car roof? Surely the cow is at fault and its owner is liable to pay damages? Nope. The owner of the beast is entitled to sue the driver of the car. If the cow dies, an amount may be calculated depending on the age of the cow, how many more calves it could have had etc. A recent case saw a local cattle owner awarded $3000 in damages. It’s enough to make you throw the car keys away and walk to town.

Luckily for Norfolk Island drivers, the insurance laws on island differ from the mainland. In addition to Personal Injury insurance, those on Norfolk are also insured for Third Party Property; a technical way of saying “Don’t worry, the cow is on us”. It’s just one of the perks to living on Norfolk Island – if you were to hit a cow on Sydney’s Pitt St, then you’d be in trouble.

All on Norfolk know that cows have ‘Right of Way’. They are tagged and maintained by island families, but essentially they are free agents, roaming the roads in lazy gangs, fertilising the grass and mowing the lawn. With such a sweet deal, you’d think the cattle would be content not to stray off the path. However, stories must have passed down through their generations of times when cattle could wander Kingston’s foreshores and the commercial centre of Burnt Pine; when they were free to inspect the comings and goings of the Norfolk Island Airport; of the days when people would mistakenly leave their gates open, and forbidden flowers would beckon. Then came ‘The Cattle Grid’. Several decades ago it was a luxury, but today the jittering ‘du-du-du-du’ sound as you enter a driveway is an expectation. So has this stopped the intrepid bovine forager? To a certain extent, yes, though like Charles Darwin’s Galapagos Finches, the Norfolk Island cattle are evolving by natural selection. If you’ve never seen a fully-grown cow jump a cattle grid, it is quite a sight.

And so, what of the young girl who careened into the cow? As she bounced in slow motion from the cow’s stomach to the asphalt, was she considering the threat of a fine or litigation? Was she angry at the hulking meat-suit who was sure to cause her some nasty scrapes and bruises? No. All she could think about was that the cow, whose eyes ogled at her like giant dinner plates, didn’t seem to appreciate the “sorry” she squeaked out before it all went dark. The last thing she saw was the cow barreling back to the common, no doubt entirely peeved that the scrawny girl had denied her Right of Way.

Mostly, Norfolk cows are the silent characters that colour the landscape. When they do make noise, it is usually a beckoning call to their calves, or the steady munch and chomp of constant grazing. Their footsteps are heavy on the earth, and you can almost hear them longing for the hibiscus bush just out of their reach. There is the squelch of rubber on road as you swerve to miss the fresh cowpat, then the splatting sound of the swerve being largely unsuccessful. These are as much the sounds of Norfolk Island as the wind passing through the pines.


Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 04 Issue 02, 2014. 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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