Norfolk Island: An island murder mystery
Jul 8th 2004 | NORFOLK ISLAND
From The Economist print edition
An unsolved killing causes tension between Australia and its island territory
NORFOLK ISLAND has always been a place of refuge. About half its 2,000 people are related to the Bounty mutineers, whose descendants moved there from Pitcairn Island in 1856. Other settlers came seeking a quiet life in one of the South Pacific's few tax havens. Lately, though, Norfolk Island has endured what some islanders consider its most terrible trauma since the dark days of the early 19th century, when it was a repository for British convicts.
Last month, a coroner reported on the death of Janelle Patton, a 29-year-old Australian resident whose body was found dumped on the island's north coast in March 2002. She had been stabbed and beaten to death. It was the first known murder in the island's history. The coroner recorded an open verdict, but sent shockwaves through Norfolk Island's tight-knit community by naming 16 persons of interest in the case. An Australian politician, Ross Lightfoot, stirred more anxiety by claiming that police efforts were being frustrated by a husk of silence that surrounds Norfolk Islanders when they want to protect their own.
Many islanders were already smarting over an earlier report by a parliamentary committee on which Mr Lightfoot serves that called for an end to Norfolk Island's self-governing powers over immigration and revenue-raising (it has no income tax). An Australian territory, set 1,000 miles (1,600km) from the the mainland, Norfolk Island has long had uneasy relations with Canberra. Residents call it a distinct and separate settlement, as Queen Victoria once described it. But the nosy parkers in Canberra seem to have seized on Ms Patton's murder as an excuse to intervene.
Colleen McCullough, an Australian novelist who lives on the island, is fiercely critical of her country's policies towards her adopted home. Canberra is a child pulling the wings off the world's last specimen of a particular butterfly, she says. Her husband, Ric Robinson, a descendant of the immigrants from Pitcairn Island, and John Christian, a descendant of Fletcher Christian, the mutineers' leader, are among a group campaigning for self-determination. Mr Robinson argues that oil and gas deposits in Norfolk Island's territorial waters could underwrite its independence.
Other nationalists fear independence could make the island a money-laundering hub; they want to retain a loosened link to Australia. Canberra may have to steer carefully to avoid another mutiny.