Thursday, November 15, 2007


Phillip Island is an offshore island, about 5 miles or 8 kms from Norfolk Island. There was a time when it was as green and wooded as Norfolk Island itself, but in the days of the Penal Settlement, goats, pigs and rabbits were released there to provide both sport and food for the colony, particularly the officers. The process of environmental degradation that this set in train meant that the island eventually could not sustain the pigs and goats. However, the rabbits remained, and developed some very unique characteristics through more than a century of inbreeding, including the ability to climb the stunted and lopsided trees.

The rabbits were finally eradicated only two decades ago. Some of the last ones, living in inaccessible places, presented quite a challenge. I am told that myxomatosis-infested fleas were actually attached to arrows and short down the sides of the cliffs! By that time, the island had become something of a desert, with just a little shrubby and stunted vegetation struggling to maintain a roothold in the soft red, purple and gold dirt. One cannot deny that the appearance of this island from the "mainland" of Norfolk was quite beautiful, especially with the sun shining on it, or when it was ringed by cloud.

Nevertheless, it was an environmental disaster, and the process of recovery needed to be set in motion. Before any large scale replanting could take place, earthworks needed to be carried out to prevent further erosion of soil from the gullies.

Whenever there was a helicopter "in town", we took advantage of the opportunity to carry equipment and materials to parts of the island. Otherwise everything needed to be transported by boat and up the steep rock climb to reach the main part of the island.

As well as replanting of native vegetation, there has been a good deal of natural regeneration, and at times, the formerly Uluru-style island actually has a glow of green.
There is good recovery of vegetation in the valleys, through re-planting and natural re-generation

It was most exciting when a native Abutilon plant, thought to be long extinct, was found still growing in a remote corner. This plant has now been propagated and grows in many Norfolk gardens. Another plant native to the island, the Phillip Island Hibiscus, is propagated in many mainland nurseries.

Phillip Island remains a special bird sanctuary. Sadly the Phillip Island Parrot is long-extinct, but it is a nesting place for many migratory sea birds. There is also a Skink and a Gecko, both extinct on the main island of Norfolk.

A gannet with her chick, which is fully-grown but still has its downy feathers
Today, Phillip Island is only visited by the more adventurous among us. It is a good fishing spot, and, as I mentioned in my last posting, a place to get away from it all. The more intrepid eco-tourist is able to book a guided tour on the island, and my son sometimes fills this role for David Biggs, who runs a charter boat and fishing service. Charles is very familiar with the island from his days working with Parks and Wildlife. in the recovery program.
In the days of the penal settlement, it was a popular place to "hide out" for those who were able to find a boat and escape. There is no safe anchorage there, and the access on to the main part of the island is difficult. Once there, walking is tiring, as your feet sink into the dry sandy soil. There is little shade from the sun, although that situation is changing as the flora recovers.

Looking back to Norfolk Island at sunset

One cannot help wondering if the day will ever come when Phillip Island has buildings, and people living on it. Will it become the ultimate eco-tourist destination, or perhaps a place where people actually live, a sort of outpost for Norfolk Island? If it had not been for the pigs and goats and rabbits, would there be people living there today, perhaps the more wealthy who enjoyed their "get away from it all way of life, and who could afford boats to come and pick up supplies regularly from the mainland .

There are many people on Norfolk Island who have never even visited this little island, so near yet so far away. They are content to watch it from Kingston, and the beach at Emily Bay, and just admire its strange and stark beauty.

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