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A remote island paradise
POSTED | 22:26 PM | 01-04-2016

A remote island paradise

-- By Deborah L. Leenutaphong

If you’re looking for a quiet and relaxing vacation away from the crowds and multitude of tourists, the remote Cocos-Keeling Islands atoll is the ideal destination. With fewer than 700 inhabitants on the two inhabited islands, this picturesque island atoll has much to offer. Besides peace and tranquility, white sand beaches, crystal clear waters teeming with marine life and well-preserved forests await. The pristine reefs are home to a myriad of creatures large and small. The forests are host to a number of crab and bird species. Cocos-Keeling is a beach lover’s, scuba diver’s, naturalist’s paradise.

The Cocos Keeling Islands are group of 27 islands located in the Indian Ocean about 2,700 km northwest of Perth and consist of two atolls. The southern atoll, with its 26 islands, is the main atoll and it is here that the only two inhabited islands are found: Home Island and West Island. The remaining island, North Keeling Island, is uninhabited and has been set aside as a national park reserve.

 

Of the two inhabited islands, Home Island has the greater population with approximately 500 Cocos Malay people living there and this is where the international shipping port is located. West Island, on the other hand, has a population of approximately 140 people and it is here that the administration offices, airport, animal quarantine station, tourist facilities, restaurants, accommodations, and hospital are found.

The Cocos Keeling Islands have a very interesting and somewhat complicated history. This remote group of islands was first discovered in 1609 by William Keeling of the East India Company. However, it wasn’t until 1805 when British hydrographer James Horsburgh penned a detailed report on the islands that the “Cocos-Keeling Islands” were named.

Some years later in 1826, British merchant Alexander Hare arrived with 100 or so Javanese workers with the intent to establish a community and to process coconuts for their oil for export.

Round about the same time, another settlement was established by John Clunies-Ross. Mr Clunies-Ross also had a group of workers to farm coconut trees but instead of exporting just their oil, he also exported whole coconuts and later copra. Eventually Mr Hare left the islands and many of his workers went to work for Mr Clunies-Ross. There is still at least one direct descendant of Mr Clunies-Ross living on West Island.

 

Here is where it gets interesting. History has it that in about 1857, the Cocos-Keeling Islands were mistakenly annexed by the British. Their real intent was to annex Cocos Island in the Andaman Sea which was some distance away further to the north. Navigation wasn’t what it is today so it seems.

The next major event in its history occurred in 1901 when a relay station was established on Direction Island for an underwater cable network. During World War I the relay station was attacked by the German raider the SMS Emden. Fortunately, the attack was thwarted and the SMS Emden was sunk. The cable station was attacked once again in 1942 but this time by the Japanese. Thankfully, these attackers were also repelled.

As one can imagine, World War II was a very difficult time for the islands which were regularly bombed. This prompted the allies to build a 2,000-meter long airstrip which later became the current airport.

After World War II in 1955 the Cocos Keeling Islands were accepted by the Australian government as a territory. And later, in 1978, the islands were purchased from John Clunies-Ross for just over AU$6 million.

 

Unfortunately, the copra export business eventually became unprofitable and in 1987 the islanders voted for integration with Australia and were given Australian citizenship.

Nowadays the main income earner for the island group is tourism.

Currently Virgin Australia offers two flights a week from Perth to Cocos-Keeling Islands, one of which makes a stop in Christmas Island on the way.

For more information about the islands and what they have to offer, please visit the official website for Cocos-Keeling at this link: http://www.cocoskeelingislands.com.au/

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