Norfolk Island’s historical dilemma

Bruce Baskerville on TVNI

I was interviewed in 2011 for Norfolk Island television station TVNI (click on the TVNI link above) on the periodisation of Norfolk Island’s history, which I argue should be abandoned in favour of a thematic or place-based history.  This is a brief segment of a longer interview, made when I was Site Manager of Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area on the island between 2008 and 2011.

The Island’s history has, since the 1960s, been presented as a series of ‘Three Settlements’.  The First Settlement was between 1788 and 1814, ending when all the islanders (convicts and descendants of convicts and free settlers) were deported to Van Diemen’s Land.  The Second Settlement was between 1824 and 1856, when it operated as a secondary place of punishment in the New South Wales and then the Van Diemen’s Land convict system.  The Third Settlement has operated since 1856, when the Pitcairn Islanders (descended from HMAT Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian partners) were resettled on Norfolk Island in the convict-built town of Kingston, later spreading across the whole island.

The Lone Pine on Point Hunter, Kingston was a seedling when the Polynesians left Norfolk Island about 350 years ago.  It has witnessed people shaping and reshaping the island ever since.  Photo mrbbaskerville 15 November 2009

The Lone Pine on Point Hunter, Kingston was a seedling when the Polynesians left Norfolk Island about 350 years ago. It has witnessed people shaping and reshaping the island ever since. Photo Bruce Baskerville 15 November 2009

In this interview I argue that this periodisation operates to divide the past into mutually exclusive eras that denies the settlement on the island by Polynesians between c1000 and c1650 (known from the archaeological record), and denies the possibilities for any contact between the convicts and the Pitcairners (which are known from the documentary record to have taken place).  It privileges one historical period over others, to the detriment of all islanders today.  Confronting this dilemma is part of Norfolk Island’s journey into the 21st century.

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