DAA ENT’ NORF’K WERD (Part One) ... by Rachel Borg

Is it, or isn’t it?  That is often the question.  So many times over the years I have heard it said that one word or another is not a Norf’k word.  What makes a word a Norf’k word or not; and who might decide if it is in fact a Norf’k word or not?  Should we have word-police out on the beat reining in any unruliness and keeping good order?  If we did, it is unlikely they would be terribly effective in any event; people at the very best of times can be wilful and disobedient.  The Supression Years did not quite suppress the language but it sure went a long way driving it underground and weakening the ties that bind.

Perhaps one of the best examples in our times of whether a word is, or isn’t a Norf’k word is 'auwas’.  Older generations insist that ‘auwas’ is not a Norf’k word yet its continued widespread usage is undeniable.  If the level of usage alone becomes the determining factor, auwas is quite likely now a legitimate Norf’k word.  Perhaps auwas is an indication of the increasing Anglicisation of Norf’k; and in this context do we then ask ourselves whether it is important to consciously foster and retain words like ‘aklan/ucklun’ in favour of ‘auwas’ to keep Norf’k broad and maintain language integrity.

Perhaps it is acceptable to say that a consistent level of usage over a reasonable period of time and space is what makes a word a Norf’k word – a bit like the People’s Choice Awards really.  ‘Auwas’, on this basis alone, is probably here to stay whether we like it or not.  It is of course nigh on possible to compel people to use one word in preference to another; especially if the methodology is none too subtle, and why would you want to anyway? 

Just what is the impetus or motivation which sees some words go and others stay?  When it comes to how words arrive into our vocabulary natural uptake and absorption is a far more authentic notion than ‘artificial insemination’ (can we say that on a family show?)  but perhaps they both have their rightful place in our current linguistic climate.  In the end, it is only ever the will of the people which can adopt a new word, or reinvent an old one, and then carry it forward into the future as a living entity.

Some Norf’k words with somewhat mysterious origins seem to be words centred around matters of delicacy where code words help to lessen shame, embarrassment or somehow recognise that there are social and other delicacies also at play.  These are the words which seem to hide behind the real word origins; they may very closely resemble the proper word’s original pronunciation but a slight slip of the tongue takes the heat out of them; it’s a kind of semi-sanitation which saves a deft clip over the ears or a firm chastisement from your elders.  These include words like seplobuujiip’duuks, and fepetini.  Other words of this ilk include litikin which  seems to almost have a made-up feel about it.  There have been, and continue to be, any number of people very clever at word-play and coining new words in Norf’k; these people become powerful linguistic socialisers.  Burus, butus, brutus, rotos and rutus also belong among these kinds of ‘artificial’ words.  They might start out as ‘in’ words, in-jokes or clique words which spread wide enough to make themselves reasonably well-known, but their obscure and unusual construct make them unrecognisable to many when they stand on their own and are generally only picked up by others when used in context.  People can be coy in revealing the origin of such words so as not to offend.

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PEACE ON EARTH ... GOODWILL TO MEN (Part Two) ... by Rachel Borg

To the astonishment of those in the vicinity, Department of Main Roads staff, islanders and defence personnel alike, just eighteen short hours after the final mat on No. 1 runway was laid, the third Hudson dropped its landing wheels and unexpectedly began to descend.  Big stuff was surely coming.  In an act of daring that would make Flying Officer Keller a kind of enduring local hero and earn him a place in the Island’s history books, instead of making the planned air-drop of Christmas goods carried on board for the troops stationed on the Island Keller took matters into his own hands and, contrary to official protocol, made up his mind that the surface was safe enough to land on.  He made a split-second decision to personally deliver the Christmas cargo simply by saying to anyone who cared to listen ‘I am going down to have a look at the tarmac’.  It was a calculated risk and a temptation obviously too enticing to resist. 

While the other two Hudsons circled overhead like hawks after five low, fast and exciting pass-overs the Hudson bomber under Geoff Keller’s steady hand landed illegally in a thrumming roar and a cloud of sand and dust to deliver food and Christmas parcels to the Kiwi forces stationed on the Island.  Landing in a flurry of wide-eyed astonishment and excitable babble this was to be the first plane to touch-down directly onto Norfolk soil; and only the second to come to rest since Sir Francis Chichester and the ‘Mme Elijah’ made its sea-landing in 1931.

As the Hudson drew to a stand-still people crowded around excitedly.  According to Michael Terry in ‘Bulldozer’ which details the war role of the NSW Department of Main Roads Flt Lt Keller later declared ‘What a job to keep that runway clear!  Those islanders had never seen a plane land and didn’t savee the danger.  And when it stopped there was such a rush that I couldn’t get near it.’    

For this rash but generous act the Hudson crew eternally endeared themselves to both the forces stationed here at the time and the Islanders—who were often also beneficiaries to these goods in return for their many reciprocal kindnesses to the troops.  When the dust cleared and the excitement died away somewhat everyone settled down to a very merry Christmas; the larder now well stocked with Christmas goodies.  Fittingly, the bomber’s occupants were guests of Administrator Sir Charles Rosenthal at Government House for Christmas dinner. 

Flt Lt. Keller went down in the Island’s history books on that day.  He was on the Island about 300 times over the duration of the war.  He was very busy ferrying new planes from Hawaii to New Zealand and flying prisoners of war out of Changi.  During his war years he logged some 37,000 flying hours.  In retrospect Keller’s actions on that Christmas day so long ago were not unexpected, this RNZAF pilot had also been the first to land at Tontouta (New Caledonia).

Over the passing years Geoff Keller and his family returned to the Island where they maintained minor celebrity status and even today Islanders still re-call with much fondness Flt Lieutenant Keller and his delicious act of rebellious Christmas cheer!  

While there was no enemy invasion here during the war, thanks to the airport built to ensure peace on earth, today we have a regular aircraft service which remains the backbone of our economy and continues to bring goodwill to all men, women and children.  Year-round, and particularly over the festive season, ‘mana from Heaven’ still drops out of the sky in the welcome shape of friends and family home for Christmas and holidays—as well as our much anticipated Christmas mail and airfreight.  The construction of the airport opened up a brand new world and wonderful new opportunities for our tiny Island home and it has become the lifeblood of our community; the ultimate santa sack which year in year out remains the gift which keeps on giving. 

Meri Kresmes yorlye, en’ Haepi Nyuu Yia!  Mieh yu haew’ joiyas en prohspras Nyuu Yia s’ fulap f’ orl em gud gud thing.  Tek keya yorlye, stop sief en duu guud f’ wan’nedha.

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Peace on Earth ... Goodwill to men (Part One) ... by Rachel Borg

The Christmas story is one of new life, faith and hope.  Here on Norfolk we are so very fortunate to live in a place of peace and tranquillity, a place without war or persecution; and under a democracy in which freedom of speech and freedom of association are perhaps too often taken for granted.  We have the right to choose our faith, to practice it without restriction, and to celebrate it in the manner which we see most fit. 

In times of war many individuals and families have ultimately paid a very high price for the liberty and peace we enjoy today.  During World War II this tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean was identified by General Macarthur as being strategically important in the Pacific War effort.  As a result the airport was constructed in 1942 and as part of this war effort many Islanders had their homes destroyed and their land resumed to build the airport.  The famous Pine Avenue was also bulldozed to the ground and with it went one of the most cherished pine trees in our history—the Tree of Knowledge.  Although the losses were clearly distressing and considerable to the Islanders, in the overall scheme of things and measured against other losses elsewhere, these were not huge sacrifices and certainly in the long-term the benefits would far out-weigh the loss. 

Although the wounds of personal and communal loss were new and raw, there was soon to come a wonderful and uplifting event which would prove itself to be an iconic moment for those who witnessed it; and one which would be told and re-told many times over in the days and years ahead. 

It was Christmas Day 1942.  At around 11.00 am the thunderous drone of three Royal New Zealand Air-force Lockheed Hudson bombers loomed loud and low over the quiet Norfolk skies.  The new airstrip, commissioned by the United States Government to protect the interests of the allied countries in the Pacific had only very recently been completed.  The New Zealand company, the 36th Battalion, designated as ‘N Force’ and made up of 1,488 personnel was stationed on the Island having been dispatched to protect the airfield.

When the whistle blew on 24 December five thousand feet of temporary marsden matting had been laid along No. 1 runway—but the airstrip was not yet officially opened.  The following day dawned bright and clear; it was the kind of day or moment in time when people remember exactly what they were doing.  As the drone of engines drew closer people came running from near and far; one young Island girl barely able to contain herself dropped the potatoes she was peeling for Christmas dinner and rushed to the site still in her ‘wearing’ or house dress, much to the chagrin of her mother who at some later point in the day would no doubt ‘split heaven and earth’ for this highly improper transgression!  The planes had flown in from Whenuapai and the first two roared over low and fast raining their Christmas loads of ‘manna from Heaven’ by parachute as planned; but the packages burst open on impact the result of which was that there were now frozen mutton, Christmas puddings and fresh green peas strewn all over the airstrip.  Fortunately the third plane contained one slightly brash airman by the name of Flt Lt. Geoff Keller, along with his co-pilot Peter Dunning, Navigator E. W. Butcher, Wireless Operator J. L. Sale, and Squadron Leader R. Magill, the Officer-in-Charge of 40 Squadron, plus seven bags of mail.   Unbeknownst to all at the time Flt Lt Keller was about to do something of an unplanned, slightly rebellious, and most certainly an unofficial nature.

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GIFTS FROM THE PAST (Part Three) ... by Rachel Borg

The use of natural fibres for any number of purposes, as well as their names rauhulu (banana bark) and m’uu (cliff flax) also speak to this material legacy.  The many practical and ornamental ways to which they can be turned has enjoyed a resurgence of interest and popularity in recent decades ensuring that the art-form and skill required to make such items does not die out.

One of the loveliest and for me relatively recent revelations has been the discovery of Pitcairn taapa (bark cloth) made by the women and on special occasions gifted to passing ship’s captains.  There are some wonderful pieces of Pitcairn tapa to be found in repositories around the world.  In an act of wonderful kindness and generosity when Mauatua, Fletcher Christian’s partner, discovered that the wife of Peter Hayward who had sailed on board the Bounty on that fateful voyage had given birth to a child in England she sent him a beautiful roll of tapa cloth—the most esteemed gift of any she could give.  Incredibly, Mauatua’s four-sided whale-bone i’e (Norf’k e’e) or tapa beater still survives on Pitcairn Island.  Anyone who has ever attempted to beat out a piece of aute (paper-mulberry) or other cloth-producing bark will know how what much hard word it is.  Tapa was primarily used to clothe the women and children and partially clothed the men.  It was turned to many other purposes and it is interesting to know that it continued to be made on Pitcairn until the 1930s. 

The last of our Polynesian foremothers, Teraurua (Susannah) died in 1850; six short years before the entire Pitcairn community transferred to Norfolk Island.  It was the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the six foremothers and the mutineers who made the journey to Norfolk in 1856. 

When we think of gifts and giving sometimes it is nice to look beyond the tinsel covered boxes and ponder on the gifts from the past.  All of these wonderful things we can feel, and touch, and see.  Through them we get a glimpse, some slight essence perhaps, of the women and what they were doing on Pitcairn.  After more than 2,000 books, four or five major motion pictures and over two hundred years of history there is very little further that can be said about some ‘naughty blokes who nicked a ship’—arguably his-tory has been well and truly told.  The women, their stories, and their culture however remain largely untold.  These treasures tell a small and important piece of  her-story.  They are a part of the wonderful legacy left behind by our foremothers; Teio (Mary), Mauatua (Isabella), Tevarua (Sarah), Teraura (Susannah), Vahineatua (Prudence), and Toofaiti (Nancy) – they are the gifts which connect us down through the generations; many of these items have in fact been passed down through the generations and tell the stories of generations of Island families; they carry the mana (energy and power) of our forebears, the men and women who used them over and over again.

At this special time of the year as we gather with family and friends and celebrate the reason for the season or enjoy the festivities which bring us all closer together as a community it is nice to ponder on the continuum of life and those who have nurtured us over the generations and guaranteed the survival of that little Island community and ultimately enabled us to move on and forward into each new year.

One of the greatest gifts in life must surely be a sense of humour; in those early years of murder and mayhem I am sure those women must have called upon this essential resource often.  An adult world can be so serious at times; through the innocent eyes of children we can often see a new and different world, one in which hope and optimism shines.  Perhaps through the eyes of a child we can learn to laugh again.  My little girl came home from school the other day all bright and starry eyed.  She proudly asked me ‘What do you get if you eat tinsel?’ – Tinsel-itis of course!!  It made my day and reminded me about the preciousness of little things.

En main wathen aewa yu duen des Kresmes—traien nor it tuu mach’ dem tinsl!  (Whatever you are doing this Christmas—try and not eat too much tinsel!)  

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