Mixed language alive on Norfolk Island

Peta McCartney
(Australian Associated Press)

 

On an island renown for its history, natural beauty, simple lifestyle and great food, the sound of Norfolk Islanders speaking their own language is a surprise and a delight.

“Whutta-waye you?” (How are you?) and “Watawieh! All yorlye gwen?” (Hello! How are you all?) I hear frequently in my daily wanderings, as the locals greet each other.

The sing-song language, a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian, is the island’s secondary language after English, but it remains alive through the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, who arrived on the island in 1856, and other long-time residents who make up today’s population of around 1700.

Listening to this lilting “pidgin” English, hearing stories told and eavesdropping as residents stop and chat, brings an unexpected dimension to my visit in a way that’s difficult to pinpoint.

It’s as if history is just out of reach, around the next bend or rubbing my shoulders as I try and cram as much into my five-day stay as possible.

Norfolk Island has a yesteryear quality about it.

Situated about 1600 kilometres off the eastern coast of Australia and discovered by Captain Cook in 1774, the island’s sub-tropical climate and few residents make it a perfect place to explore.

Honesty stalls along the roads welcome buyers of home produce such as avocadoes, while abundant guava vines produce a bounty for the locals to pick and eat, or turn into jellies and jams for visitors to take home.

Locals stop and chat, and all wave a friendly greeting from their cars as I drive around discovering the island’s many attractions.

“Downtown”, the island’s World Heritage-listed Kingston area, will please any history buff, with its convict-built buildings and museums, and cemetery filled with the headstones of the island’s original dwellers.

Nearby, golden beaches beckon, calm and safe from breakers on the outlying reefs.

Picnic spots are plentiful and all with gorgeous views of the countryside or the ocean beyond, while dozens of bush tracks offer a chance to see the island’s elusive green parakeet.

All is a green, calm oasis, with temperatures almost never falling below 10C or above 26C, and the idea of being marooned without any of the danger is an easy daydream when cows are often the most frequent travellers on the roads.

Burnt Pine township, with its single roundabout and easy pace, is filled with little gems; there’s duty-free shopping for the bargain-hunter wanting to cash in on fashion, jewellery or Lego, while soaps smelling of Norfolk Pine can be bought from Norfolk Bath and Body.

Step through a time warp into Craig’s Knitwear for specialty hand-knits, with designs from 50 countries, including Bavaria and Scotland, as well as neighbouring New Zealand which offers garments combining possum, merino and mulberry silk.

Foodies get plenty of choice, with all local produce, fresh fish and beef, and seasonal menus giving chefs plenty of scope to showcase their talents, especially during Taste Norfolk Island’s food festival in November.

A range of activities, including chocolate making, pickling and sausage making, contribute to a week of activity, fitted around enough free time to relax and enjoy the sights and pleasures of a community who are ready to offer a warm “welkam” next time you visit.

As the locals say, “Yorlye kum baek sun”.


IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE:

Air New Zealand operate flights from Sydney every Friday and Monday, and from Brisbane every Saturday and Tuesday.

Norfolk Island Airlines operate flights every Saturday from Brisbane.

STAYING THERE:

A range of accommodation is available. South Pacific Resort’s Superior room with a queen and single bed starts at $160. For more, http://southpacresort.com.au/

PLAYING THERE:

Norfolk Island Food Festival, which has a range of set events and optional extras, runs from late November to early December. See www.norfolkislandfoodfestival.com or www.norfolkisland.com.au for more details.

The writer travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism.

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