SYDNEY – The descendants of Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers will lose control of their bankrupt South Pacific island home as Australia prepares to strip the territory of self-government.
Norfolk Island Chief Minister Lisle Snell said he was informed this week of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to shut down the local nine-person parliament and make the population of about 1,800 people pay federal taxes.
“Norfolk Islanders will lose their identity, they will lose their way of life,” Snell said.
The tiny outcrop, which was settled by ancestors of the mutineers in 1856, is on the brink of financial collapse and relies on emergency aid from the Australian government 1,000 miles away in Canberra. The island has seen no significant investment in infrastructure since the 1970s, with deteriorating roads and an electricity network on the brink of collapse.
“Infrastructure on Norfolk Island is run down, the health system not up to standard and many laws are out of date,” said Jamie Briggs, assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development. “As Australian citizens, residents on Norfolk Island deserve equal access to government services and entitlements as those residing on the mainland.”
The subtropical island, a former penal settlement, is steeped in the history of the British Royal Navy mutineers, whose story was immortalized in a 1935 movie starring Clark Gable as Christian.
The sailors set Capt. William Bligh adrift in 1789 after his expedition to bring breadfruit back from Tahiti floundered. A handful of the mutineers first found refuge on Pitcairn Island. All but one died, including Christian, within a decade. Their wives and children survived and the community grew.
When Pitcairn could no longer sustain them, 193 men, women and children in 1856 made the five-week sea crossing to Norfolk Island. Some islanders still speak a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian. The telephone directory is so crammed with mutineer names such as Christian, Quintal and Adams that people are also listed by nickname.
The local government has an annual budget of about $23 million, which it raises through a goods and services tax.
Briggs said the government will amend the Norfolk Island Act to replace the Legislative Assembly with a regional council. Residents will have to pay income and business taxes and in return be entitled to welfare, he said.