Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sources on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands

William Clunies-Ross with his wife Clara Clunies-Ross and children  [between 1908 and 1921]
Clunies Ross family photography collection.

Sources on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands: An Annotated Bibliography

There is something about the history of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands that defies the telling. Partly it is conceptual; stories of men making kingdoms resemble fairy-tales not scholarly work. Partly it is practical; the available historical accounts are patchy at best. No one can be blamed for the lack of historical overviews--the islands form a unique and tiny part of the world. Moreover, the sources contradict only to limited extent, so if we put all the information together, a clearer image emerges.

Some of the books are not concerned with the Cocos Malays so much as the monarchy and the military history of the islands.

To discover the origins of settlement on the islands, some details come from reports which, rejoicing in monarchy, seem to drip with flattery—for example, Hughes, Kings of the Cocos. You can find the odd mention of the origins in conventional histories either of Southeast Asia or Australia. 

Delving deeper into the international academic journals have some references. However, the smaller journals--dedicated to, and written by, the specialists--shed more light. They reveal gems of scholarship about forgotten corners of the region. The Brunei Museum Journal furnishes us with a great example. I have never heard of this museum, let alone their journal; my usually reliable university library does not stock it either. In this journal, we find Saunders' article on the merchant adventurers. Similarly, the now defunct, Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand provides us with Tarling's article. And Gibson-Hill's article in the  Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society has proven most useful in my researches.

The following bibliography is dedicated to sources I have found useful in studying the history and culture of Cocos Malays of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. I am using an ingenious listing format: namely the order in which I have read, or intend to read, them! Moreover, the referencing style is rigorously inconsistent. Finally, I am certain that my division of "Secondary" and "Primary Resources" is untenable according to a post-structuralist undergrad essay I wrote, but I can't find that essay right now. For the purposes of this blog "Secondary" includes scholarly and works that are not self-published; "Primary" includes documents, archives and self-published works. 

With so few entries, I need your help. Please send me suggestions!


  1. "Cocos Malaise" produced by the Dateline program from Australian broadcaster, SBS. Argues that, through White racism, Home Islanders have been sorely treated after integration with Australia. No longer available on on SBS website but can be seen on YouTube.
  2. "Dynasties: Clunies Ross". Australian broadcaster ABC produced this documentary about the Clunies-Ross family, which effectively ruled the Cocos (Keeling) Islands for over 150 years.

The author of the website noted "The road sign reads Sauchiehall. That's also the name of one the busiest shopping streets in Glasgow!!". The flags are are apparently for QEII's visit, in 1954.

Secondary Sources

  1. Adelaar, S 1996, 'Endangered Malayic isolects: the case of Salako, Sri Lanka Malay and Cocos Malay', in JT Collins & H Steinhauer (eds), Endangered languages and literatures in Southeast Asia, Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology, Leiden.
  2. Sander Adelaar. "Malay in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands" in Reconstruction, Classification, Description. Festschrift in honor of Isidore Dyen, Bernd Nothofer (ed.), Hamburg: Abera Verlag (Asia Pacific), 1996.
  3. Armstrong, Patrick. 1991. Under the Blue Vault of Heaven: A study of Charles Darwin’s Sojourn in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Indian Ocean. Centre For Peace Studies, Nedlands, WA.
  4. Bunce, Pauline. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Australian atolls in the Indian Ocean.
    I found this book the best starting place for researching the Cocos Islands. Luckily I read it early on! But even as my research progresses I find that I keep going back to this work. I think it provides the best overall picture of the islands.
  5. Bunce, P. 1987. Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Cocos Malay culture. West Island, Cocos (Keeling)Islands: Department of Territories. A great introduction to Cocos Malay culture with invaluable photos.
  6. Bunce, Pauline. "Out of sight, out of mind...and out of line. Language Education in the Australian Indian Ocean Territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands". In Vaughan Rapatahana, Pauline Bunce, English Language as Hydra.  Multilingual Matters, Bristol, Buffalo and Toronto, 2012, xxv + 275 pp, , ISBN 978-1-84769-750-9, ISBN 978-1-84769-749-3. Chapter concerns the status of Cocos Malay language in relation to the education of Cocos Malays students on Home Island
  7. Castles, Ian. 1992. First Counts for Christmas Island and the Cocas (Keeling) Islands: 1991 Census of Population and Housing. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.
  8. Crusz, Noel, The Cocos Islands Mutiny, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, WA, 2001.
  9. Dutt, Srikant. "The Cocos-Keeling Islands".  Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Sep., 1981), pp. 476-483. Thanks to Russel Palmer for sending this to me!
  10. Gibson Hill, .C.A.  “Notes on the Cocos-Keeling Islands”. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Vol. XX. Part 2, p. 162 
    The author spent 10 months on Direction Island in 1941 and prepared an extremely valuable record of life. He also provides a useful bibliography:
  11. Wan Hashim Wan Teh & A. Halim Ali. Rumpun Melayu Australia Barat.  1999. Penerbit UKM: Bangi. ISBN 967-942-437-5 (paperback).
    Written in Malay, this book apparently describes the Cocos Malays who have emigrated to Western Australia. The website contains a few typos, e.g. "Albury" (presumably Albany?), "Kathara" (Karratha?). Nevertheless, I'm sure this will be a valuable source. Thomas Barker is helping me get it from Malaysia, thanks Dr Barker! 
  12. Herriman, Nicholas & Monika Winarnita. "Sinetron keeps link with Indonesia
    Short piece argues that Home Islanders' connection with Indonesia is facilitated by watching soap operas! It is directed at a general audience
  13. Hunt, J.G. 1989. The revenge of the Bantamese: factors for change in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands 1930-1978. PhD thesis, Australian National University, Canberra.
    In the mid-1800s, convicts and indentured labourers called "Bantamese" (Orang Banten) were brought from Java to work on the Cocos Islands. In this thesis, Hunt provides a good overview of the history of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, with a focus on the Bantamese.
  14. Hunt's thesis, "The Revenge of the Bantamese" provides some promising theses:

  15. Hunt's thesis, "The Revenge of the Bantamese" also reveals quite a bounty of books and articles:

  16. Hobson, V. 2008. Our island home: the story of the circumstances which led to the Cocos Malays relocating to Western Australia – some via Christmas Island. Sydney: Frontier Services. Since the 1970s,  Cocos Malays have migrated to Western Australia. Some of their stories of relocation are collected in this publication.
  17. JS Hughes, Kings of the Cocos. 1950, Methuen
  18. Kerr, Alan. A Federation in the Seas: An account of the Acquisition by Australia of its external territories."Chapter 11: Cocos (Keeling) Islands)", pp. 267-313.
    This chapter covers the legal and diplomatic aspects of the transfer of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands from the UK to Australia. This transfer was announced in 1951 and became operative in 1955. Original documents relating to this transfer can be found on pp. 292-313.
  19. Lapsley. 1983. Cocos Malay syntax. Unpublished MA thesis, Monash University, Melbourne. Tony Lapsley was a translator with the Cocos Malay contingent that went to the UN in 1984 to announce integration with Australia. This thesis describes the grammar of the Cocos Malay language/dialect.
  20. Ken Mullen, Cocos Keeling--The Islands Time Forgot.
  21. Ken Rossam. Operation Pharos: A History of the Allied Airbase on Cocos (Keeling) Islands During World War IIWoodfield Publishing (Oct 2000)
  22. Saunders, G. 1980. Seekers of kingdoms: British adventurers in the Malay Archipelago. Brunei Museum Journal  137–54. In the 1800s, various Europeans, and especially British men, decided to set up kingdoms for themselves in Southeast Asia. This article. written for the historian, describes Alexander Hare and his founding of a settlement in the Cocos Islands.
  23. T.E. Smith. 1960. "The Cocos-Keeling Islands: A Demographic Laboratory". Population Studies, 14 (2), pp. 94-130. Written for demographers, this article describes factors which increase and decrease the population of Home Island (e.g. fertility, disease, migration etc.).
  24. Sonderberg, C (2014) 'Cocos Malay', Journal of the International Phonetic Association vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 103-107.
  25. Phillip Tahmindjis, "Australia, the Cocos Islands, and Self-Determination". In  the 1984 Act of Self-Determination, the Cocos Malays of Home Island voted that the Cocos Islands should become part of Australia. Written a legal studies audience, this article assesses this Act and what it says about the interaction of international and Australian law.
  26. Nicholas Tarling. The Annexation of the Cocos-Keeling Islands. Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand Vol. 8, Iss. 321959. Describes how, in 1857, the British annexed the Cocos (Keeling) Islands by accident.
  27. William Thorn, The Conquest of Java. Prof Adrian Vickers suggested I read this. According to the cover the book describes "Nineteenth-century Java as seen through the eyes of a soldier of the British Empire". Chapter 9 is entitled "Mutiny and Mangos" and apparently describes Raffles' relationship with Alexander Hare, who first settled on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
  28. Welsh, A 2001, 'Verbal Affixes of Cocos Malay', Masters (Preliminary) thesis, Bundoora, La Trobe University.
  29. Welsh, A 2015 'Cocos Malay Language Since Integration with Australia', Shima: The international journal of research into island cultures, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 53-68.
  30. Welsh, Alistair (1999). 'The Cocos Malay Language', Pelangi: An Educational Magazine about Indonesia, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 6-9.
  31. Winarnita, Monika & Nicholas Herriman. "Caring and Family"
    In many local marriages, a spouse has had to migrate to Home Island. Written for scholars in the social sciences, this article analyses marriage migration on Home Island.
  32. Wood Jones, F. Coral and Atolls.

Primary Sources 

  1. Clunies-Ross. The Clunies-Ross Chronicle. Written by the last 'King', this book chronicles many of the events during his rule.
  2. Australian National Archives. Go to  and search "Cocos" or similar. Paul Tickell put me onto this great source of digitized photographic images of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. I need to be wary as Christmas Island and Cocos Islands photos are intermingled.
  3. HMS Beagle, the ship carrying Charles Darwin, visited April 1-12, 1836. Three diarists kept an account of the visit, Darwin himself, Captain Fitzroy, and Syms Covington. The three diary accounts are kept together in a wonderful Blog.
    You can find the Syms Covington journal by itself online. 
  4. C.A. Gibson Hill. "Documents relating to John Clunies Ross, Alexander Hare and the early history of the settlement on the Keeling Islands" Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Vol 25, No. 4/5 (160). Reprints early documents pertaining to the Cocos Islands 1809-1857. Apparently this was reprinted.
  5. C.A. Gibson Hill. The Colourful Early History of the Cocos Keeling Islands. Apparently this is a reprint of "Documents relating to John..." above.
  6. Cocos Capers. Collection of stories written by local residents and visitors, mostly from the Australian mainland. 
  7. Bruce Clunies-Ross, Cocos Maritime History: A History of the Ships and Boats of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean. This manuscript is sold at the Cocos Tourism office.
    This is the act that enabled "acceptance of the Cocos or Keeling Islands as a Territory " of Australia
  9. United Nations Department of Political Affairs, Trusteeship and Deolonization. "Issue on Cocos (Keeling) Islands" No 11, April 1978.
    This provides great insight into how the UN perceived the issues leading up the Act of Self-determination.
  10. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands – Fact sheet 103
    This URL gives an overview of some of the archives possessed by Australia relating to the Cocos Islands.
  11. "Chapter 8  Commonwealth Infrastructure On The Indian Ocean Territories"
    Provides useful information on the construction of houses, wharves, roads and other critical infrastructure.
  12. Cocos (Keeling) Islands Annual Report 1983-84. Department of Territories and Local Government. Australian Government Publishing Service Canberra 1984.
    I haven't accessed the Annual Reports yet, but they should provide helpful info about the last 3 decades.
  13. Bureau of Statistics 2 001 population for Cocos Keeling Islands. Page 12 lists the 1996 population on census night as 655 and then, in 2001, 621.$File/2015.5_2001.pdf
  14. Bureau of Statistics, 2011 data on Cocos Keeling Islands. Lists the total population as 550. Some of the census data appear inaccurate; i.e. is hard to reconcile with my impressions from living here.
  15. Cocos (Keeling) Islands--Interpretation Plan 2008 This document is intended to describe how Home Island heritage might be best displayed to tourists etc. In doing this, it also provides useful information on Home Island heritage.

Web Stuff

  1. On the Cocos Malays in Borneo

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nicholas,

    Just wanted to say thanks to you and your wife for putting together this bibliography. I've never been to the Cocos Keeling islands but I'm hoping to get there someday. For now I'm firmly planted in the US. I've had a fascination with the islands for a while now and enjoy reading what little material I can get my hands on.

    This one web page helped me immensely!