Monday, 28 July 2014

Visiting West Island--Cocos (Keeling) Islands

West Island, of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, has a population of around 200 people. They  mostly come from mainland Australia. These locals form a very interesting and  welcoming community, welcoming  a constant stream of tradespeople, specialists and tourists. My family and I spent 10 days on West Island, joining the visitors who are the subject of this blog.

Tropika & Cocos Club  

Cocos Club during the day
Some locals and visitors like to have dinner at Tropika restaurant or visit the Cocos Club. I went to these destinations with my iPhone to provide some snapshots of visitors on the nights of July 23 and 24, 2014 . At the Cocos Club, which comprises a bar and a pool table, the mood was very relaxed with people of diverse ages inside and out of the club; sunburnt tourists like me can enjoy a cool drink in the tropical breeze. Tropika restaurant is run by the Cocos Co-operative. It has a nightly buffet popular with hungry families. Now for some of the people I met...


John is from near Utrecht. He is employed by Geoscience Australia and remotes in to Cocos from his Canberra office. His job involves maintaining and reading very sensitive instruments which measure air pressure. Eight of these machines on different parts of West Island measure atmospheric change, nuclear particles, and things like that. They can pick up nuclear blasts anywhere in the world. These are part of a global network of machines. The data collected goes back to the CTBTO (an international organisation preparing for a complete ban on nuclear tests) in Vienna. After MH370, the missing Malaysian Air flight, he checked the instruments for slight deviations in air pressure that a passing plane can cause, but in this case, nothing turned up. After work, John is taking kite surfing lessons on this visit. This is his second time on Cocos:
"I hope to be back in three months it, yeah it's awesome; the fact that it's an island y'know and there's nothing to do except the marine life." 


Steven with his doof doof' shirt. Kelly, pictured
in the background playing pool, was on my laptop and wrote

"Kelly shooting awesome pool in the background,
I believe she is a legend on Island." I'm in no position to disagree.
I met Steven at the Cocos Club, playing pool and hanging out with some local and tourist friends. His 'doof doof' shirt, as he calls it, lights up in response to loud noises; many of them where whoops of joy when he or his playing partner sunk a ball. He was very much the life of the party  His Mum is from Singapore and migrated to Christmas Island, where she began working for an airline operating out of Indonesia. 
Steven was born on Christmas Island and raised there for 18 years. He always has seen his calling in the airline industry, especially as cabin crew. So he began working his way up, literally. From Christmas Island as a travel consultant to his current position as a Virgin cabin supervisor. This position, as I understand it, means he's in charge of the flight stewards:
Helping the concerned family
Christmas will always be home and Cocos is pretty much like being at home...I've been flying up here for 3 and a half years. Crew love coming up here due to the lifestyle. Those [crew] who come up here are more community oriented--we don't need to be within network range.
The next day I met Steven at "Tropika" the local evening restaurant. He was speaking fluent Malay with a Cocos Malay worker Vivian. He downplayed his language abilities, but the next day when one of the elderly Home Island residents was flying to Perth for a serious operation, he was there to help the family by drawing on his Malay.

Kevin and Paul

Kevin and Paul
Kevin and Paul are doctors originating from New Zealand. Kevin has been living in Perth, where he started kitesurfing around 2002-2003. At that time, kitesurfing was a relatively new pastime, being only a few years old. It was quite dangerous then as a lot of the technologies which have subsequently made the activity safer had not been introduced. He experienced kitesurfing on Cocos relatively early. "A guy named Ian from Perth had a windsurfing shop in Perth and delved into kitesurfing and set up a camp on West Island". He "put up a canvas top . We were a group of 18 [and] were new to kiting. We had to share the kites". At that stage of technology there "were only two lines" meaning you could control the direction you traveled but not the power. "Once you were hooked in"to the kite through the harness "you couldn't get out". At the time no-one really knew what they were doing. Sometimes they got dragged several kilometers and had to drag the gear all the way back. It was called the "walk of shame". Paul reunited with Kevin on a visit in Perth  "We went to uni together, studying medicine in Dunedin [New Zealand]. I knew these guys [who I studied with] lived in Perth." They discovered that they shared a passion for kitesurfing. As a result, they are taking this holiday on Cocos together.


Shane is on island as a "subby" (subcontractor) doing maintenance of the air conditioners. He works with Hooch. Hooch lives on Christmas Island and does some aircon contracting on Cocos. He started in the marine industry being a decky (deckhand) on a prawn trawlers in Western Australia's northwest.  
This is his second time on Island. He's basically here for the week. Playing golf (Scrubbers) is a once in a lifetime thing, he says it is a once in lifetime. "love the place, love the water, love the marine environment; the  fishing, spearfishing, four-wheel driving that sort of thing". It's also the community life that he likes. "When you come to these isolated areas, community has a major role. You meet someone you say hello. You get in the smaller townships there's total different".

Rosemary and Ben

Rosemary and Ben
Rosemary is returning to Cocos Islands after two decades of being away. Her ex-husband Peter Greaves used to teach here. She is delighted to have brought her son with her. I asked what she like about living her in the early 1990s. She responded that it was the:
"Simple pleasures; you made fun out of nothing. We used to  have dinner parties on the runway and the siren went off (for an approaching plane) we would pick up the table and run to the side. There was met [meteorological] bureau and they had flat roof so we had dinner party on that". I asked her what made her bring her son, Ben with her: " I just wanted to my son back it was really important. Because Ben had seen list of photos of DI [Direction Island], and him as a smiley happy baby. He was 21/2 when we left and Emma [my daughter] was almost 5. This is twenty hears later." Rosemary explained that Ben has been really impressed by the experience: "he's just saying I had no idea of how good it is. On Direction Island today I was a bit frightened because The Rip [a famous snorkeling spot] was really was fast but we saw sharks and reef fish; so you know his mother thing. I'm so lucky my 22 year old wants to travel with me. I'm in Busselton teaching and he's doing an electrical apprenticeship in Perth without his mother."

Scroungers Golf

'Scroungers' posing on the runway

Drinking and laughing took
precedence over golf shot accuracy
Aside from the Cocos Club, I took part in Scroungers' golf. This is a Wednesday evening institution. Locals and visitors alike hack there way through nine holes of the 'golf course' such as it is. More than twenty of us played, writing our names on our balls. We formed four teams and played 'Ambrose', namely the game in which all team members hit from the best positioned ball of your team.The game was full of mock competition with players cursing themselves and others. Everyone brought beer and other such beverages in cool bags. The greens are astroturf (artificial grass), the fairways are rough. Twice you need to drive over the airport runway. But not even the arrival of an RAAF (Australian air force) plane could interrupt the merriment.

John, Scroungers organizer (pictured holding onto flag), takes to his heels as golf balls start whizzing  around the green.


This blog not anthropology, just a little insight into the many people who travel to the island for short stays. As stated, they are welcomed by the local community. In the future, I'd like to write more about this local community. This is because, although part of the same atoll, there are many differences between the cultures of West Island and Home Island.


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