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Tune in to Norfolk: Radio Norfolk

Tune in to Norfolk: Radio Norfolk

Tune in to Norfolk: Radio Norfolk – A natural selection

“ …The film’s about a guy who comes from a downtrodden industrialized world and comes to a magical place full of unseen vistas. I was looking for the perfect place and I couldn’t find it anywhere… Then I saw a quick image of Kingston and the Norfolk Island terrain so I flew out there. I thought it couldn’t be as beautiful as the picture. But it turned out that it was, and I became set on bringing the film out here.”

I was listening to writer and director, Josh Wakely, talking to Radio Norfolk broadcast manager, George Smith last October. Wakely was on the island with his crew making a musical feature, My Mind’s a Melody, in collaboration with Daniel Johns from the famous Australian band, Silverchair. As I listened to him speak, it reminded me of my first visit to Radio Norfolk ten years ago. Back then, it was known as VL2NI and the broadcast manager was Margaret Meadows. Our interview had the same warmth and casual approach as there is today; and Josh Wakely sounded just as surprised as I was when first setting eyes on this delicious landscape.

Norfolk Island attracts a variety of people including artists, astronomers, researchers, holiday makers and itinerants. Everyone has a reason for coming here and they all have their own stories to tell. For many of them, Radio Norfolk is their first port of call. The island’s only radio station is unlike any other you’re likely to come across on the mainland; there, the interviewee is ushered into an enclosed room that is carefully controlled and soundproofed to eliminate all external noise. Come to the government-run radio station on Norfolk Island, however, and you can wander through its open doors to hear the DJ sing along to the track they’re playing; see the cows graze in the paddock outside, and listen to the birds croon their own special melody. If not for the satellite dish, it would be difficult to tell that this modest building is the heart of Norfolk Island’s radio communications.

Except for the broadcast manager, the radio is manned by paid casual and volunteer staff. Unfettered by mainland restrictions, they play an eclectic mix of music and this is a wonderful reminder of how radio used to be. The radio library has a history of creative force that lines every wall. Apart from a great (and oftentimes rare) selection of music there are a variety of interviews, dramas, Norfolk songs and much more to explore. Norfolk local radio must wear many hats, and listeners tune in to hear the shipping news, community events, public announcements, assembly meetings and various genres of music. In addition, broadcast manager George Smith, has worked with the local school, starting training in year 7, to develop a forum for Norfolk Island students to learn this media. Students are encouraged to speak the local Norfolk language if they can, because this assists in keeping the language alive.

Norf’k Talk

The Norfolk language, known as Norf’k, is an oral language that is derived from a mix of Tahitian and old West Country English. Fletcher Christian and his Bounty mutineers developed the hybrid tongue with their Tahitian partners. This parlance continued on Pitcairn Island before its descendants settled on Norfolk in 1856. Norfolk locals can still be heard speaking this charming dialect today. The language was introduced as part of Norfolk’s school curriculum in 2005, and now appears in UNESCO’s atlas under ‘Definitely Endangered’ languages. Thankfully, it is being revitalized and Radio Norfolk plays its part in this important cultural trend.

Some radio broadcasters use a mix of both English and Norf’k on their shows. Language is continually evolving, and Norf’k is kept alive, in part, because of the efforts of local radio. The Norfolk inflection has an engaging and rhythmical sound that is warm, easy-going and welcoming when blended with English. Consequently, locals and tourists alike can listen to Radio Norfolk and enjoy the mix and intimacy of the language. Australia and New Zealand have local stations that are dedicated to keeping alive the Aboriginal and Maori languages; Norfolk Island is similar, however the comparatively small population means that the language must be nurtured at every opportunity if it is to remain an integral part of the island’s cultural future.

No Man is an Island

There are times in life when we need to feel strongly connected to our humankind. Norfolk Island’s community is closely bonded, and there is one radio announcement that holds a place of reverence in the hearts of all locals. When the Pitcairn Anthem is played, people pause for a moment and wait for the broadcaster’s voice; for this haunting hymn alerts the listeners that someone has died. The broadcasters’ sensitivity conveys respect for those who have suffered. The community relies on the radio station to acknowledge its grief and share in its loss, and this in turn brings a sense of family to the island’s inhabitants. It is remarkable to witness the care and assistance given by locals during such difficult times.

Similarly, the radio spreads joy and enthusiasm when visitors come to perform. Many artists have been drawn to Norfolk, including Australian and New Zealand country singers such as Kasey Chambers, Gina Jeffries and Brendan Duggan. These Trans-Tasman entertainers have enjoyed the week-long Norfolk Island Country Music Festival, which takes place every May. They know that they can relax in the convivial atmosphere of the radio station and occasionally, musicians are happy to delight the radio audience with an impromptu song. Opera in Paradise and Jazz in the Pines are other events that integrate the natural beauty of the island with a heightened musical experience.

War and Peace

Long before Radio Norfolk was fully operational in the Sixties, Norfolk Islanders had a special place where they could communicate public notices. It was a pine tree affectionately known as ‘The Tree of Knowledge’, and locals would pin their notices on it for others to read. It was situated on the South West side of the island on, what was then called, Pine Avenue. However, in1942 Gen. McArthur recommended that the U.S. military needed an airstrip on Norfolk Island for strategic reasons. Pine Avenue was located near the proposed airstrip, and The Tree of Knowledge would soon disappear along with other pines and family homes in the vicinity. When construction was complete, Mr. Geoffrey E. McHugh (Chairman of the Works Committee) wrote a sincere and poetic letter to the people of Norfolk Island expressing his gratitude and sadness. In his thanks, he acknowledged the depth of emotional loss suffered by people on the island.

To the Kindly People of Norfolk Island

“ …One dear old lady was observed quietly weeping at the site of the Tree of Knowledge whose knots were deeply embedded in the lives of all. To her and those whose tears flowed – some because of hallowed homes torn down – we offer our deep sympathy.”

A small island such as Norfolk has a deep sense of connectedness that is born of nature and isolation, and the community must share its support and love if it is to survive during times of change and loss. Communication is essential to our sense of wholeness and well-being. This was made apparent when I spoke to Norfolk Islander, Tom Lloyd, who recalled an important moment in history back in 1936.

“Before the radio station came about, we just had a battery operated radio that would have to get charged up at the local petrol station. I can remember listening to the crackling of our old radio as they announced the abdication of King Edward V111 and the ascension to the throne of his brother, King George V1. We didn’t really know a lot about what was going on in the rest of the world at that time.”

It is hard to imagine a world without the modern technology of today. The internet, telephone, radio and television all play their part in keeping us up to date with local and global news. Radio Norfolk takes live feeds from the ABC and New Zealand radio programmes as well as U.S. pre-recorded shows. The station’s airwaves stretch out to those who are tuned in; this helps them feel connected to their community and to the world at large.

Some people say that they are drawn here by an inexplicable force. Josh Wakely saw a ‘quick image’; I read a chapter from Robert Hughes’s book, ‘The Fatal Shore’. No matter how we connect, we feel that we must make the journey; and when we arrive we are compelled to drive down to the heart of Norfolk – Radio Norfolk. The station reaches out to its listeners in both a formal and informal way. Whether it is the public announcements spoken in English or the casual banter of broadcasters speaking their blend of Norf’k, we are always learning about the Norfolk community, its people and its culture. Norfolk still has an old-fashioned innocence, and Radio Norfolk lets us know how that feels every time we ‘tune in’. Nature and technology make great bedfellows in this magical place, and we are forever grateful for this happy union.


Image Credit: Radio Norfolk – Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 02 Issue 01, 2012. 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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