A report, 150 years later, on the anniversary of the
arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders at Norfolk Island in 1856.
After exhausting but routine air flights it was
a joy to be met at the Norfolk Airport by a number of
smiling and friendly faces. They included Ron and Maureen
Edwards of Melbourne; Norfolk Islander Adrian Cook; and a
young representative of the Tahitians who live on Norfolk,
and others who had flown in for the 150th anniversary
celebrations from Tahiti and other distant points. This
handsome young fellow was at the airport to invite me to a
feast that was even then under way. The Tahitians, you may
recall, trace their lines back to the women who were on the
Bounty as it made its way to Pitcairn in 1789. A group of
wonderful people they are.
Exhaustion really sitting in, I begged off from
the greatly appreciated invitation, and made my way to the
Anson Bay Lodge some miles out from Burnt Pine, the
commercial center of Norfolk. Very close by the lodge is
the tiny bay (Anson) that is one of the many beauty spots on
Norfolk. Fruit trees of several kinds greeted us at the
lodge as Ron and Maureen very kindly guided me to the place
on the initial run.
In the evening Ron Edwards and I made then our
way to Kingston and the All Saints Church for its weekly
Sunday evening service. After a good sermon by the visiting
bishop, the thick stone walls of the church began to ring
with a Pitcairn sing-along, led by Tom Lloyd the long-time
editor of The Norfolk Islander newspaper who recently sold
the publication, but still cannot break all ties as he
continues to write news about the island. The sing-along
was truly "music to my ears" - every harmony and lyric
saying, "This is Pitcairn; this is the Pitcairners'
And that's the way the week of celebration began
- with much memorable music - and it ended the same way -
with rousing, rollicking Polynesian/Pitcairn/Norfolk music
in the small, neat but crowded Norfolk Island Airport as we
awaited a late flight back to Auckland on Sunday, June 11.
Gladys Lintz, president of the Bounty Association of Tahiti;
along with Archie Bigg, head of the Tahitians on Norfolk;
the likes of Trent Christian (son of Steve and Olive on
Pitcairn), one of Norfolk's "sweet singers" of
Pitcairn/Norfolk music; along with others of the Tahitians
and just plain "others" who were caught up in the singing,
were belting out South Pacific music that rode clearly over
the crowd noise. Such favorites as "Pearly Shells," "Beyond
the Reef," and a host of Pitcairn/Norfolk and Polynesian
pieces really made the joint jump.
But there in the
packed-to-the-wall-with-tourists All Saints Church on Sunday
night, the strains of the Pitcairn music certainly made the
occasion real for me. "The Ship of Fame" seemed to be a
What ship is this you're sailing in
This wondrous ship of fame?
The ship is called 'The Church of God'
And Christ, the captain's name.
Come join our happy crew
We're bound for Canaan's shore
The Captain says, 'There's room for you
And room for millions more.
The sing-along concluded with the plaintive but
beautiful "Pitcairn Anthem."
In between the many appointments and other
things to do (like slurping "thick shakes" at the Mall) it
was a joy to become better acquainted with the history of a
number of the musicians of Pitcairn and Norfolk. Certainly
these include Meralda Warren, still on Pitcairn, and Trent
Christian who now lives on Norfolk. Trent, I found from
others, is quite a sought-after singer on Norfolk, as
Meralda was when she was there some time ago. In 1999 Trent
appeared at Norfolk Island's County Music Festival and this
song's lyrics must then, now and always have particular
significance for him:
Six years I've been in the city
And every night I dream of the sea
They say home is where you find it
Will this place ever satisfy me?
For I come from the saltwater people
We always lived by the sea
Now I'm down here living in the city
And my island home is waiting for me.
And most of Meralda's song writing, as told to
me, is unknown but yet outstanding music. Among her music
are her compositions based on the shared historical roots of
the two-island communities: Away orn Pitcairn, In the Blood,
and The Bounty's gone, together with a fourth, on everyday
life on Pitcairn titled An unsuccessful day.
Here are snatches from her "In the Blood":
I've got the blood of the mutineers:
Christian, Young, McCoy
Quintal, Adams un all hem others
and later on stating:
Our mothers came from Otaheite
Tiopiti un sweet Maria.
Meralda, I find, is a major song writer. Her
work includes "Pitcairn Places," "Will we survive?", "Com share
with me," "The Cause," "Wishing," "Pitcairn Island," "Mussa Es the
Same" . . . and the list goes on and on.
The Norfolk singers most always liberally laced
their compositions with Pitcairn/Norfolk history. Some of
these sweet singers include Susan Pedle, Don
Christian-Reynolds, Peke Evans, Beverly Simpson, George
"Steggles" Le Cren, Eileen Snell, Archie Bigg, George
"Toofie" Christian and Kath King.
And, of course, the names of George Hunn Nobbs
and Driver Christian and the singing of their music were
among that music most heard throughout the celebration week.
As you can see, I found (and continually find)
the history and singing of Pitcairn and Norfolk music
On Monday there began a round of several days of
meetings, very helpfully arranged by Ron Edwards, with
Adrian Cook, John Anderson, Alice Buffett, and others. With
Adrian in two different meetings we discussed the role he
will play in "The Pitcairn Trials" appeal before the Privy
Council beginning in London on July 10. With John Anderson
it was a discussion of memories of Pitcairn people and
Norfolk history, and with Alice Buffett it was a very zingy
session in which she laid out the turf to be trod and I had
to tread it! She wouldn't even allow Ron to be part of our
interview; poor guy, he had to sit in the car! Alice is one
great and awesome lady, a real asset to the welfare of
Norfolk Island, and a formidable foe of anyone who tries to
oppose her vision of the island's future (which, believe me,
I did not try to do!).
A highlight of the week for me included a good
interview with the director of the Norfolk Museum (whose
name I do not find in my notes), and studying closely once
again there in the museum one of the Bounty cannon and
kettle, along with that precious little circlet "The
Pitcairn Wedding Ring." As I looked at the obviously thinly
worn and old ring the names of Ned Young, said to be its
original owner; Honor Maude, Hilda Young and Jennifer Toombs
came quickly to mind, all having had a part in its first
being on Pitcairn, then its recovery from being "lost," its
being saved from the scrap heap in Auckland, and finally the
gift of it to the Norfolk Pitcairners. I should mention
that the museum has been greatly upgraded since my first
visit there about 15 years ago, this is a real tribute to
Nigel Erskine who until not long ago served as its director.
The museum building is one of the 15 or 20 convict-built,
thick-walled stone buildings at Kingston, which is the
lovely Norfolk-tree-dotted flatland that welcomes any
visitor coming by sea to the island (of which there are not
many in this day of air travel). The two boat landings at
Norfolk are at Kingston and Cascade; like Pitcairn there is
no harbor at Norfolk.
But, of course, the "biggie" of the week was
Bounty Day, a Thursday, in which I reckon about 3,000 people
participated. As we were driven down from the center
residential area of Norfolk by Les Nola, who for many years
was Norfolk's only taxi driver (a wonderful guy, believe me)
, we stopped at what has to be the most (if not one of the
most) inspiring views on Norfolk - looking down on Kingston
from a considerable height, with the eternal green of that
flatland stretching out from the cemetery on the extreme
left to the wharf well off to the right; the great stone and
other buildings all in light tan color contrasting sharply
with the greensward and the pines that here and there dot
the whole. Like little toys, we could see the already
gathered hundreds of people and the many cars down there in
Kingston for the events of the Bounty Day.
The first event was the re-enactment of the
landing of the Pitcairners. On the wharf were hundreds of
Norfolk/Pitcairners, those Norfolk Islanders who trace their
line back through Pitcairn to the Bounty. All were in
costume which fit 1856, and among them in their own
distinctive garb were the Tahitians, most of them bedecked
with leis, flowery headpieces, and the most colorful of
dresses ("mumu's," which some people call similar Hawaiian
dresses, do not do them justice, so rich is their beauty).
A special group of "Pitcairners" arrived in the
boats to discharge their people onto the wharf to the cheers
of the hundreds already there. When all were on the wharf
there began speech-making. At last the entire group began
to move off toward several of the building strung out along
the mile-or-more-long greensward that is Kingston. At two
or three of the buildings there were stops with more
speeches being made (each having a special significance
which, unfortunately, I did not catch).
As the costumed hundreds began to parade along
the road toward the Kingston buildings, I caught the eye and
then the hand of KikKik Quintal, a one-time sweet singer of
Norfolk who is now about as ancient as I am. We briefly
recalled a joyful meeting some 15 years ago when his
outstanding voice gave special meaning to the weekly
Pitcairn sing-along at St. Barnabas Chapel in its country
setting a couple miles out of Burnt Pine. We greeted others
as they passed, friends we had made from earlier in the
week: Albert Buffett, Jillian Nobbs, (who came all the way
from England), Gladys Lintz, Amelia Maulaz (who came from
Chile), Sylvia Herrmann, and others . . . .
The huge contingent of costumed folk finally
arrived at the historic Norfolk Island cemetery. It is
historic in the sense that the first one third of it is
reserved for the headstones (and remains) of the convicts
who inhabited the island before the coming of the
Pitcairners. The middle third is given over to the
Pitcairners who came to Norfolk in 1856; and the last third
is the area in which the remains of those who have died more
recently are interred. It is a beautiful setting: the
stately pines towering over all, the waves crashing on the
shore only a few score feet away, the deep blue of the ocean
, and out in the distance lies Phillip Island. And joy of
joys, as we cast our yes seaward we clearly saw a whale
spouting and diving between the mainland and Phillip.
There just outside the cemetery the hundreds of
voices were raised in Pitcairn/Norfolk hymns, their special
harmony giving an almost reverent feeling to the scene.
When the hymns had been sung, numerous members of the huge
group stepped through the cemetery gate and began placing
wreaths at the headstones of those with special significance
to their lives.
Finally the hundreds of costumed participants
began the trek back across the length of Kinston, and with
one or two stops for more speech-making made their way to a
giant walled, square area, inside of which was to be held
the Bounty Day picnic. And what a feast it was. Maureen
Edwards and her and Ron's friends had put together a
sumptuous feast the likes of which I've not seen many times
in my long lifetime. And a duplicate of this feast was
happening all over the area - food, food, food! Against two
of the walls there were giant banners declaring "Nobbs," "Adams," "Quintal," . . . and in those areas gathered people
whose lines go back to (with the exception of Nobbs) to the
sailors of the Bounty. During our wanderings around among
the many groups of celebrants Ron had spied Mavis Hitch, one
of Norfolk's great - almost legendary - Polynesian-type
dancers (the dance sometimes simply called "hula" on
Norfolk). Though she, like many of us, had changed just a
bit since I visited with her 15 years ago, Mavis still
possesses that special Polynesian warmth and sun-kissed
beauty that is far deeper than skin. It was pure joy to
converse with her again.
The eating, and talking, and eating, and playing
, and eating, and eating and eating went on and on until,
finally at about four o'clock, more than well stuffed,
everybody began gathering up leftovers, tables, chairs, etc., and heading for home - just before a refreshing rain came
pouring down on Norfolk!
It had been an absolutely perfect day!
The rest of the week's days were more of the
same, meeting many good people, enjoying the special
beautify of Norfolk Island, pushing back not soon enough
from tables that were continually loaded with the best of
Friday found me revisiting the book store in the
island Mall, and the most interesting island tourist
information center to purchase a few books I had missed in
earlier visits in the week. It also included quite a time at
the Norfolk Island Post Office where I put finishing touches
to a number of notes to friends inside envelopes with the
special issue stamps on them that marked the anniversary.
And considerable time was spent in pasting some 35 different
Norfolk Island stamps onto a large package of books and
other material that was simply too heavy to carry on the
plane. That package, if it arrives like it left Norfolk, is
going to be one colorful philatelic cover! All hail the
patience of the post office guy who patiently doled them out
to me! I also picked up from Alan Tavener, Norfolk's genial
postmaster, a couple of the joint philatelic covers that
were issued by both Pitcairn and Norfolk. Alan, with whom
we correspond regularly from the PISC, is one of the most
accommodating postmasters in the world I believe - a really
The week's seventh day - Saturday - found me
where I am most every Sabbath day, this time in Norfolk
Islands' neat Seventh-day Adventist church, where much of
the services were given over to the church's and the church
members' relationship to the 150th anniversary celebration -
the pastor's sermon addressing Norfolk's, and the church's
future. An outstanding Norfolk/Pitcairn sing-along was a
highlight of the morning services. Some of the Tahitians,
and Ken Warren, up from Wellington I believe, were among the
congregants. Ken, with tears in his eyes, told me he was
planning a return (perhaps permanent) to Pitcairn in August.
The island's Adventist church owns and opens to the public
a South Pacific museum which probably has more examples of
Pitcairn crafts in it than any other place on Norfolk.
Saturday also included visits and drives around the island.
A good time all around it was.
And then came the farewell hours on Sunday at
the Norfolk Airport, the Tahitians and Pitcairn/Norfolk
Islanders joining in raising the roof of the otherwise neat
and tidy place. I recall spending a few minutes watching
the faces of the Air New Zealand personnel who were checking
baggage and authorizing boarding passes, as the music was
filling the airport. They could hardly keep their bodies
still, the music grabbing them by the heart and all but
shaking them into a hula!
So goodbye (sadly) once again Norfolk! Goodby
you wonderful Norfolk Islanders! What a truly fantastic
group of friendly and helpful people you are, each one of
you! For a reason I can explain - and don't feel any need
to anyhow - the words of The Coconut Song, so aptly speaking
to the bounty that is Norfolk compared to that of Tahiti,
kept coming back to me as I slowly walked out into the clear
, windy day to board the plane that would take me back to a
part of civilization that hasn't got a clue about the grace
and beauty and quiet peace that is Norfolk Island:
We've gut a palm tree
We've gut a pine
We've gut wahines
And never you mine
We've gut everything Tahiti gut
We only not gut a coconut.
--Herb Ford, PISC Director