Our canopied boat moored at Cossie Beach Cocos Islands

Cocos Islands in a Nutshell - Onward our Island

Author: Sue
Date: 7th October 2019

Who Owns the Cocos Islands?

  • The Cocos (Keeling) Islands, officially Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, are a remote territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean.  (Not to be confused with the Pacific Cocos Island, owned by Costa Rica), An administrator appointed by the Australian governor-general is the senior governmental official in the Cocos and a Shire Council administers most local government services.
  • Oddly, many other services are provided through agencies of the Western Australian state government, but Cocos Islanders vote in federal elections as part an electoral district of Northern Territory.

Facts and Factoids

  • There are 27 tiny islands here, in Cocos, on two atolls and the airport is on the largest of them, West Island, where I’m based, along with the territory’s administrative headquarters. Total land area 5 square miles Population (2016) 544.
  • The highest point in the territory rises to only 6 metres above sea level.
  • The Cocos Keeling Island Golf Club is the only course in the world that straddles an international runway.
  • Crime is very rare - a judge pops over from Australia every so often.

What's the History of the Cocos Islands?

The islands were uninhabited at the time of their first European sighting, in 1609, by the English mariner, William Keeling, who was working for the East India Company. They were first settled in 1826, by an English adventurer named Alexander Hare, who brought his Malay harem and slaves. But he didn't stay long.

The production and export of copra is the territory’s economic mainstay. The inhabitants are predominantly the descendants of the original coconut plantation workers, mostly of Malay origin, and gain, mostly enslaved. They were brought to the islands by John Clunies-Ross, a Scotsman who also settled here, in 1827–31. The islands formally became a British possession in 1857, but the Clunies-Ross family retained complete control, supported by a royal grant. The press referred to them. as 'Kings of the Cocos'. The locals settled for 'tuan'.

The islands were transferred from Great Britain to Australia in 1955, when n umerous Cocos Islanders moved to the Australian mainland in the, because of overcrowded conditions on the islands. Control and land ownership were gradually prised from the family, by the Australians. Today, some four-fifths of the population - Cocos Islanders, or Cocos Malays, as they are often called, together with the descendants of the Clunies-Ross family - live on Home Island. Most of the Cocos Malays speak a dialect of Malay and are Muslim. The islands' motto is spoken in Malay - Maju Pulu Kita (Onward our Island).

Arriving in the Cocos Islands

I've arrived from Christmas Island. First impressions are exciting - this is how one expects coral islands to look. It reminds me of Funafuti, the main island at Tuvalu, in that half the island consists of runway and the houses are built alongside it; but this is way more sophisticated. No games on the runway here. In fact, nothing on the runway, unless you want a hefty fine. It’s also used regularly by the Air Force. The bungalows are large and well-tended  and the few shops, one supermarket and restaurants are clustered in and around the airport. My lodging, like Tuvalu is just over the road (hopefully no rats this time) and is elegant and modern.

Is There Wi-fi in the Cocos Islands?

Wi-Fi has to be paid for and even then is only found in certain hot spots. I buy three hours, but then park it, as I realise if I go just up the road I can get a free connection from the airport. I sit on the benching outside for a couple of hours catching up, enjoying the balmy breeze.

More free Wi-Fi very early (the Air Force are in, noisily showing off) and then they cut the connection. So, I go back to my hotspot . Except you have to use your time consecutively here and it all got used up last night, even though I wasn’t online . You win some and you lose some.

The little airport comes alive twice a week when the plane from Perth comes in. It does a triangle via Christmas Island. The café/bakery does a roaring trade as folk congregate round the tables after they have checked in. The enterprising owner manifests again, once we have cleared security, with a chef’s hat and another, tiny coffee bar.

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