Monday, February 12, 2007


Yesterday, when I was going through some old historical papers, I came across a Norfolk Island phone book for 1972.

I should tell you that in some respects,the 20th century came about 50 years late to Norfolk Island. When I first came in 1966, there were only a handful of party line phones on the island, most connected to the Administration, or people running essential services, and a few of the larger businesses. Even in 1970, when we first married, and I moved into Fletcher Christian, our number was "Four longs."

It was shortly after this that an automatic phone system was finally installed, and many of the locals vowed that they had no need of this modern technology.

In 1972, the Norfolk phone book consisted of just 3 folded foolscap pages.....six pages in all, with the back page inside and out being blank. Just four 1/2 pages are dedicated to the list of ordinary subscribers, and very few of these are people who had a phone just for personal domestic use! There is a whole page devoted to "How to Use the Automatic Telephone", with basic instructions like "Keep the receiver off while dialling" Come to think of it, real dialling is a thing of the past now!

Just a few years later, the local phone book had grown considerably in size. The old timers had put aside nostalgia for the days when news and messages were relayed by voice across the valleys. With a growing tourist industry, the pace of life had grown faster, and the telephone had become a convenient replacement for the leisurely visiting that had been the norm in earlier days.

There was resistance to the introduction of overseas calls in the later 70's. Cables (delivered by motor bike), and the new-fangled "telexes" were, we felt, sufficient to keep us in touch. I can even recall an Administrator of the time rejoicing in the fact that he could not be contacted by Canberra in a hurry!

The first overseas calls were operator assisted, and in many ways our exchange operators became very important in our lives. They were most obliging, even passing on messages or trying other numbers when someone was not answering their phone at the time. It was quaint, but typified the friendly old Norfolk ways.

Finally we got automatic ISD, and I remember the system having its official "opening" at a function at the South Pacific Hotel. It was a local hairdresser, known as "Susie Boobs" who had the honour of dialling the first call. Actually, the system had unofficially been in place a few days before, and a few lucky people had discovered this and jumped the gun to make calls to family and friends.

Well, we now have the Internet in a large percentage of Norfolk homes, and many people are taking advantage of the "Skype" technology to make very cheap calls using their computers. At around 3 cents a minute, it is a great improvement on the $1.50 per minute through Norfolk Telecom!

Within the next week or two, we will finally have mobile phones on Norfolk Island. We will get one...we even know what our number will be!

Mobile phones represent the collapse of just about the last barrier of resistance for Norfolk Island to being just like the rest of the world. Most of us are little sad, many are devastated. I suspect that in a year or two, the opposition will be a faded memory, just like it was in the 70's, when we embraced automatic telephones, and learned to enjoy the advantages of being able to keep in touch with one another.

By the way, the 2005-6 phone book has 76 pages in the White pages and 58 in the Yellow Pages. We have come a long way!

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