Putting little-known Norfolk Island on the Games map

Shae Wilson is a proud Norfolk Islander.

Gold Coast (Australia) (AFP) – Shae Wilson is only 19 and already well on the way to becoming a Commonwealth Games star back home — not bad for a lawn bowler.

That said, perhaps it’s not difficult to be famous in Norfolk Island, a rocky speck between Australia and New Zealand with a population of less than 2,000.

Most outsiders would not be able to find Norfolk Island, best known as a home to descendants of the Bounty mutineers, on a world map.

But Norfolk’s inhabitants are fiercely proud of their unique culture, and have chafed at control from Canberra under the island’s status as an Australian territory.

“Growing up there is really cool, there is so much freedom, it’s safe and you can really do anything you want without having to worry about other people,” Wilson said.

“On Norfolk you can leave your front doors open, your car unlocked,” said Wilson, who is weighing up leaving the island to study having finished at the one school there.

“I’ve been on and off (the island, often for bowls) but I’ve never lived off Norfolk. But I will at some stage. If I want to do further education, such as university, I’d have to leave.”

Norfolk Island has 18 competitors at the Commonwealth Games at Australia’s Gold Coast, 10 of them in lawn bowls — Wilson the youngest — and the others in shooting.

– ‘You always get homesick’ –

Norfolk Island is classified as an external territory of Australia and its currency is the Australian dollar, but don’t call these proud islanders Australian.

Wilson, Norfolk born and bred, is competing alongside her stepfather Tim Sheridan under the Norfolk flag.

Many of Wilson’s friends have left Norfolk to study or work, mostly to eastern Australia, but they tend to return to raise a family, she said. 

“You always get homesick because Norfolk is so different to everywhere else,” said Wilson.

The island measures just five miles (eight kilometres) by three and its inhabitants speak mostly English and Norf’k, a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian.

These are troubling times for the Norfolk people, having been largely self-governed until just a few years ago, but now ruled by Canberra under a controversial reform. 

Fearing the erosion of their culture, they took the Australian government to the United Nations last month in a bid to reassert control over the secluded outpost.

Norfolk made their Commonwealth Games debut in 1986 and have been at every Games since, winning one medal in that time, a bronze in lawn bowls.

There is just one bowling club on the island, with two greens and 40 active members.

The world is quickly changing, but Wilson said that Norfolk is still a place where “everyone knows everyone” — and all your business too.

So is that good or bad?

“That just depends, depends what it is!” the teenager laughed.