NON A PITKERN NORFK PERSPECTIVE

A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIFE OF A DEEP SEA WHALER ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, October 12, 2012


‘High on the cliffs of Norfolk’s green Isle,

Women and children are waiting the while.

Far down below the whale-boat men row,

As after the humpback the Norfolk men go

Each man at the boat strains hard at his oar,

They head for the whale and away from the shore.

Up at the bow the harpoon man stands,

A steel shafted harpoon clutched tight in his hands.

Row, my love row, and bring back to me

The king of the ocean, the prize of the sea’

– lyrics from ‘Norfolk Whalers’ by Harry Robertson

Over the past two weeks we have featured a tribute to the life and times of one of our greatest whalemen, George Henry Parkin Christian.  Of course old Uncle Parkins has long left us, and the whaling days are now well behind us—as it must be.  Sometimes this is an awkward past, and one that is difficult to talk about in a modern context as Norfolk Island now sits proudly within the confines of the Southern Whale Sanctuary.


Today it is Spring-time upon The Rock.  The sun is shining benevolently and ‘Our World’ is an effervescent sprinkling of beautiful multi-hued greens and bright sparkling blues.  Life is full of promise as Nature busily sets about reviving and rejuvenating itself all around us.  The ocean rolls gently in as at last it begins to warm up and come to life again.  New beginnings are emerging from every nook and every cranny and for some weeks now the whales in their age-old timeless ritual have again been seen intermittently as they make their annual journey past our rocky Island shores.


For almost as long as whaling and sealing was carried out in the southern ocean Norfolk Island has been a welcome landfall for passing whaling vessels; be they American, British, New Zealand or Australian.  And for almost as long as the Pitcairner community has made their home on this tiny isolated landfall the art of bay-whaling (and also deep-sea whaling) has been a significant part of this Island’s story; until of course the Island’s last whaling station closed down in the 1960s and brought a firm and fitting end to the long and arduous era of whaling.


Whale oil was of course liquid gold.  For a very long time it lit and lubricated the world; and it made whale-oil testers like ‘Brassie’ Adams big men in the eyes of others.  Brassie, and men like him, were highly valued for their skill.  They carried enormous responsibility on their shoulders and their mistakes could be costly.  Whale oil needed to be ‘cooked’ to a certain temperature for a specific period of time to obtain the highest clarity and quality of whale oil.  Anything less than the best quality oil would fetch a lower price and less return on what was essentially very laborious and filthy work.  To test or assess the oil you had to spit in it and Brassie was our man; he had a certain knack for testing the oil’s readiness for market.  So, as you can see, his was a rather special gift.


Generation upon generation of Island men were involved in the whaling industry either at home, or abroad and this week we are going to take a look at what life may have been like for those Island men, like Parkins Christian and a host of others, who left their families behind and joined the deep-sea whalers. 


Believe it or not, by the 1830s Australia was supplying almost half of the massive British demand for whale products, and whaling had become Australia’s biggest export earner.  In 1798 British laws protecting the East India Company were also modified so that all British ships were allowed to go whaling in the Pacific Ocean; and here on Norfolk a noticeable number of American whaling vessels were also calling in to the Island.  Business was thriving in what was clearly a rapidly expanding industry.  And in this regard, the Pitcairn Islanders move to Norfolk Island in 1856 could perhaps be seen as fairly providential. 


The deep-sea whaling ships plying the Pacific were generally going after the big square-headed sperm whales because of the very valuable clear waxy head-oil called spermaceti which the whales use to modify their buoyancy.  Spermaceti was used to make top quality candles and the whale blubber was being boiled down to provide less valuable general-purpose oil.  Whalers collected ‘whalebone’ as well – which was actually the baleen plates from the whale’s mouths (used by the whale to filter tiny animals from sea water).  Baleen is flexible, very much like keratin—the substance in our fingernails—and people used it to make stiffening ribs in garments such as ladies corsets.


Life on a deep-sea whale ship was of course no bed of roses, crammed as they were into a stinking hot ship for two or three years at a time with a gang of tough and often violent companions from all walks of life; and more often than not commanded by equally short-tempered, iron-fisted men.  The work itself was hard and dangerous, especially when the light sleek whaleboats were lowered into the water and the chase was on.  Though they did have a mast on which a sailed could be hoisted, they were usually rowed to the rhythm of working songs or shanties which set the pace as they rowed.   It is believed that several of our beautiful old Island hymns, especially those of American origin, came from this period in our history.  Three of our most loved hymns ‘Let the lower lights be Burning’, ‘In the Sweet By and By’ and ‘The Ship of Fame’ all have strong nautical themes, as well as associations with promise, paradise, and redemption.  ‘Let the lower lights be burning’ was written by US singer, songwriter and song leader Philip Bliss in 1871 and central to its theme is the fact that the Grand Master will take care of us from His great lighthouse; if we in turn take care of the ‘lower lights’ and keep them burning here on earth.  Philip Hayward in ‘Bounty Chords’ relates an incident during the late 19th Century when a local whale boat was pulled far out to sea by a harpooned whale and had to find its way back to the Island in the dark.  In order to keep their spirits up, and to seek some divine assistance, the crew sang this hymn as they rowed.   


Meanwhile on-shore the Islanders realising the men’s plight had lit lanterns to guide them back to shore.  From whence the light was coming the sounds of that very same hymn drifted out on the ocean wave to where the men were faithfully rowing ashore.  ‘In the Sweet By and By’ was written by USA composer J. P. Webster and writer J. S.Bennett in the mid-1860s and holds for us all the eternal promise of paradise and reunion.  And finally, ‘The Ship of Fame’ was said to have been composed on Norfolk Island, possibly by Driver Christian and George Hunn Nobbs, when the whaling industry was first started in about 1870.  When sung in the old style, this was clearly used as a song of metre to set the rhythm of the men’s oars as they rowed.  This hymn reassures us all that Christ is at the helm; and that there is room on board for us all.


Of course some kind of faith is important when fear is both friend and foe.   At the bow of the whale boat the steady-eyed harpooner stood and braced his leg against the clumsy cleat to keep his balance as he held a hand-harpoon at the ready; and at the rear of the boat was the boat steerer’s platform where the steerer kept a firm and steady hand on the tiller.  Attached to the harpoon was a very long length of rope neatly arranged in two very large coils, often nestled securely in round wooden tubs, which were designed to run out smoothly once the whale was made fast.  As you can well imagine, once a whale had been harpooned the rope ran out at lightening speed and from there the whale would drag the boat around behind it before it finally tired.  The slim double-ended design of the whaleboats ensured that it was highly manoeuvrable in the water and could travel smoothly and quickly through the water irrespective of whether it was being dragged by the bow or the stern. 


When the whale had finally tired the crew could then get the boat in close enough to deliver the death blow with another harpoon.  At this time, some might say that faith was the only protection that a man who found himself in close proximity to an injured whale might be afforded; a quick flick of a sperm whale’s tail could smash a flimsy whaleboat into tiny matchsticks in mere moments, drowning or seriously injuring the boat crew in less than a heartbeat.


But work, and work hard they must.  A whale-ship’s captain could not return until he had a full quota of whale oil and for this reason whaling vessel voyages averaged between two and five years; the longest whaling vessel voyage ever taking up eleven long years.  And bearing in mind that nobody got paid until the goods were delivered back to the ship’s home port, there was little reward at the end of a day’s work; and plenty of room for a disgruntled man to vent his displeasure. 


In the down-time when the ship was ship-shape and there was no wind or whales in sight the men’s minds and hands turned to other pursuits; to scrimshaw (whale-bone carving), to god, or his foe, to fighting, to gambling, and to card games such as Jarro.  Or they sung shanties—and dreamed no doubt of a different kind of life.


The whale-ship crews generally slept in the forecastle, which was cramped, dark, and stuffy.  The boat steereres, ship’s carpenters, cooper, and cook shared slightly better accommodation amidship, while the mates shared cabins for two of the officer’s saloon.  Only the captain had his own cabin (generally about 2 ½ by 2 metres) and the greatest of all possible luxuries—his own toilet!  All other hands on deck used the ‘head’—a seat with a hole in it which was suspended over the water near the bow of the ship.


Salt junk (dried and salted meat) and hard tack (rock-hard ‘ship’s biscuit’) were the basis of all meals, along with other staples such as small amounts of potato, peas; and sometimes fish.  Molasses could be spread on biscuits or used to sweeten the so-called ‘coffee’; and the water which was barely potable tasted so foul that it had be flavoured with something to make it almost palatable.  The standard weekly ration on an Australian whale-ship was 7 lb (pounds) biscuit, 3 ½ lb flour, 10 ½  lb meat, 1 ½ lb sugar or molasses, 3 ½ oz (ounces) tea.  This was supplemented by whatever could be picked up along the way.

 

There was however generally one thing which was almost always in plentiful supply—you guessed it—whale meat!  It was of course a very cheap and readily accessible way of feeding the crew; however as you can imagine, it was not a favourite and crews quickly tired of it.  It has a very strong smell and flavour, and it was tough and almost black with blood.  In fact there are still some Islanders around who remember eating whale meat (as steaks or in stews), and yet others who remember the Island whalemen skimming the ‘scraps’ (pieces of whale skin) that floated to the surface of the oil during ‘cooking’ (rendering down of blubber).  It tasted like pork crackling.  


Cooks on board the whale ships had to be extra resourceful and find creative ways of serving the whale meat and keeping the crews bellies (if nothing else) reasonably happy.  To make whale rissoles for example the skull of a small sperm whale had to be broken open with an axe, then the brains were mixed with flour, shaped into patties or rissoles and fried (in whale oil). 


There were of course some things which might turn almost every whaler off his grub.  In the later years of the whaling industry one Islander working on a whaler recalls how the cook used to hang his underwear out over the galley stove! 


‘Doughnuts’ were a much sought after specialty.  Not the lovely light, fluffy, sugary kind to which we are now accustomed, but ship’s biscuits fried in whale oil.  They were supposed to be quite delicious.  In fact so delicious were they that some skippers banned them until a minimum amount of whale oil had been collected—as an incentive for the crews to work harder!


As you can well expect with such a diet sailors quite often suffered from scurvy—a debilitating disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency which results in loose teeth, hair loss, and swollen and painful bones and joints.  The obvious remedy was to visit ports (and Islands such as Norfolk and Pitcairn) where they could buy (or barter for) fresh fruit and vegetables containing the restorative key ingredient.  For the whaling captains however, this simply presented another dilemma.  The downside of such a shore visit was the ever-present fear that crew members would desert ship.  Some Islanders will be familiar with the story of Gilbert Jackson’s forebear John Jackson, an American Negro slave who swam in to the Island from a whale-ship, married an Islander, and went on to raise a family here.  Local legend still has it that this gentle old Afro-American whaler was buried standing up. 


Believe it or not back in these dim, dark days a fairly common remedy for scurvy consisted of putting the sufferer in shore on a deserted island and burying him up to his neck for a day or two!  Doctoring and dentistry (which mostly consisted of pulling out rotten teeth) was also very crude to say the least and was generally done by the captain or mates; without the use of anaesthetics.  And when a man’s body was finally committed to the briny it was they who also performed the burial rites as they saw fit.   One can hardly blame a man really for wanting to jump ship!


Most people today would probably now admit that Nineteenth Century whaling involving sailing ships, row boats, and hand-harpooning was a slow and laborious process; and one which is not widely believed to have had an enormous impact on overall whale numbers—although it did affect the whale’s access to sheltered breeding areas.   It was more likely Twentieth Century whaling, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, that drove almost all whale species to the brink of extinction.  In fact there are several of the old Island whalemen still alive today who will not hesitate to tell you that the Russian factory-ships were a large part of the reason why the Island’s whaling industry came to an abrupt end.  Of course to this mixing pot we must also add the fact that the discovery of oil and gas, which did a better job for a fraction of the price, was also rapidly changing the world in which we live.


Perhaps then, in the final round-up, what we must all admit is that globally sustained bay-whaling and deep-sea whaling combined had been so relentless and successful than black whales had all but disappeared from the face of the earth.  Then take into consideration the fact that the early whalers did not take care to spare females; even pregnant ones, or those cows with calves in tow.  Without even the scantest regard for sustainability of numbers the world’s whale populations were bound to a brutal and rapid decline.  There were still black whales at sea of course, but they now avoided the dangerous bloodied bays and estuaries.  Indeed, there are still a number of older Islanders around who will say that the whales learnt to avoid Norfolk Island learning in time to give it a very wide berth.  A status quo which seems to have been maintained to this day. 


Before whaling reached its bloody zenith the whales would often come close in to the Island’s shore-line to rub the barnacles off their backs and on a still clear night the sound of the whale song could be heard echoing up through the valley systems.  Among the most remembered of these whales was the albino whale which once used to come into Ball Bay.  In recent years to my knowledge at least one Island fisherman has seen a whale doing this very thing; rubbing the barnacles off its back close in-shore.  Imagine that.  How special to think that one day as whale numbers increase and whale populations once again place their trust in the hands of men, that this might once again become a regular occurrence.


The global and island-based whaling industry dwindled slowly away and the Island whalers one by one hung up their harpoons and flensing knives.  Perhaps no one had noticed, or cared to admit, but the writing had certainly been on the wall for some time.  By the end of the Twentieth Century commercial whaling had all but ceased to exist; and retrospectively of course this is a wonderful thing. 


But if we take a long, hard, and honest look at our whaling past we cannot deny the length and breadth of this history; nor should we forget its significant contribution to our community’s way of life.  Whaling does have a rightful place in our history books; if it is only that we respectfully pay tribute to those Island men who worked hard to provide for their families, and pay homage to those who died in pursuit of the whales.  Retrospectivity has its place of course; but serves little purpose other than to perhaps give us the benefit of time and distance to learn from our past mistakes. 


Now we can all be so much more thankful of the fact that we live in the Southern Whale Sanctuary; and acknowledge how fortunate we all are to be able to enjoy the magnificent annual whale migration as a part of the grand and wondrous scheme in which Nature maintains its eternally intricate and ever-so delicate balance. 


Today most people would probably admit that Nineteenth Century whaling; which involved sailing ships, row boats, and hand-harpooning did not have an enormous impact on overall whale numbers, although it did affect the whales’ access to sheltered breeding areas.   


It was more likely the savagery of Twentieth Century whaling, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, that drove almost all whale species to the brink of extinction; there are indeed still several old Island whalemen alive today who will not hesitate to tell you that the Russian factory-ships were a large part of the reason why the Island’s whaling industry came to an end with such resounding finality.


Of course we cannot undo what is done; but we can provide a better future for the new generations of whales whose forebears have survived the carnage and continue to grace our Island waters.  It was what it was; and it is now as it has to be.  In this time of new beginnings we can choose to ‘stop the blubbering’ and start celebrating the fact that today we shoot whales with cameras—and not harpoons.



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THAR SHE BLOWS CAP’N! part two ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, October 05, 2012


A TRIBUTE TO UNCLE PARKINS CHRISTIAN cont.

Almighty God, we supplicate Thy providential care over those members of our families who may be engaged into the boats during the whaling season.  Watch over them and preserve them amidst the dangers to which they are exposed.  Preserve goodwill and brotherly kindness between the parties engaged, give them success of the season which would be beneficial to them and their families, and at the conclusion of the season may we say with thankful hearts, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits”.

Hear us, O Father in Heaven, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Amen.

Somewhere along the way George Henry Parkin Christian, our greatest and most famous whaleman, more affectionately known as Parkins would also find the time to marry and father children.  He married Augusta Ross Adams, known as ‘Ross’, on Norfolk Island in the temporary Church of England on 3rd March 1874.  They were wedded by Rev. George Hunn Nobbs, while Mary Buffett along with Parkins’ brother Hunt were witnesses.  Between 1875 and 1889 Parkins and Ross had eight children to their name—four boys and four girls. 


In many of the older photographs of Kingston looking along the Slaughter Bay foreshore you will see what was once a convict constable’s cottage.  This cottage is still referred to by the old Islanders as ‘Ross’s’ and the beach area in front of it as ‘under Ross’s’.  This is where the happy couple set up house. 


How often one wonders might the solitary figure of Ross Christian have stood there in front of the little family cottage, looking out towards the empty horizon for a sign of Parkins.  One ponders on the fact that perhaps the greatest angst of a sailor’s wife might be that the heart of her one true love belongs to another.  And what the sea takes; she does not so easily give back.  This proverbial ‘other woman’ is a hard taskmaster—but a faithful mistress.  When she grabs a man by his vitals she is reluctant to let him go; and once fallen to her spell, she is harder than any flesh and blood woman to get out of one’s system. 


But then again, Ross was born into a whaling community, the words of the above doxology which annually blessed the Island’s whaling fleet at the beginning of each season had echoed singingly in her ears for as long as she could ever remember.  She understood the risks; and the rewards.  As much as a whaler learnt to be resilient; a whaleman’s wife (and a sailor’s wife) soon learnt to be patient, thankful, and ever prayerful. 

    

In addition to the twenty-five years Parkins spent on the largest wooden whaling vessel ever built, the Charles W. Morgan, throughout his lifetime Uncle Parkins was to also spend time on the Island trading vessels and it was during a trip taking goods to the Kermadecs, then known as the Sunday Islands, that he met and befriended Raul Sunday Bell, better known to most Islanders as Roy Bell.  When Sunday Island was closed down Roy moved to Norfolk Island and still on Norfolk today Mr Bell is well recognised for his early photographic work (Islanders such as Alice Buffett and the late Jean Sim being amongst those who worked at hand-colouring his photographs).  As a matter of interest, Roy Bell was also a noted taxidermist and sent many stuffed specimens of Norfolk Island birds to the far-flung corners of the globe.  Mr Bell also brought with him a very good variety of sweet potato known locally as the ‘Sunday Island Red’.


Parkins later also worked for a time on the building of St Barnabas Chapel out at the Melanesian Mission, erected between 1875 and 1880 as a memorial to Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, the first Bishop of Melanesia, who was martyred in the Solomons in 1871.


It is also interesting to learn that it was at the home of Parkins Christian that those Islanders interested in Methodism met with Methodist lay preacher Alfred Phelps who had signed up on an American whaler ‘Canton’ as ship’s cook but on falling ill he was put off on Norfolk in 1879 to recuperate, at which time he sewed the seeds of the Methodist faith.   He preached here until 1882 and went back to America but persuaded by his loyal Island followers, he returned with his wife in 1884 and within a few months they held their first gospel temperance meeting in a small guardhouse on the property of Jonathan Adams in October 1884.  


The establishment of the church caused considerable disturbance and division in the local community and rather heated exchanges (including one incident in which those agen them locked the faithful inside their own church!).  During this period Chief Magistrate Arthur Quintal was led to swear in special constables in order to keep the peace following a series of uproars, ‘violent deeds’ and abusive language between ‘the Church people and the Phelpites’.  The ‘Phelpites’ or Methodists were given permission to use the Old Military Barracks as a church.  The men cut the trees to shingle the roofs and gave up their watches, pipes and tobacco and the women sold their jewellery and wedding rings.  It opened debt free; and despite its rough and rocky start Methodism continued to grow on the Island until in 1903 when the local church became attached to the Methodist Church in Australia. 


Mr Phelps died on the Island in 1890 and Mrs Phelps expressed a desire to return home to America.  Having no ready cash the congregation decided to take to the ocean to try and catch a southern right whale, the largest and most lucrative of the whales, to fund her return journey.  A miracle happened!  Though the season was ended and the boats had been packed away they took to the ocean in prayer and brought home the prize of the sea—a right whale.  This providential whale was henceforth referred to as ‘The Lord’s Whale’ and very soon Mrs Phelps was homeward bound.   


Uncle Parkins was one of the earliest converts to Methodism and there can be no doubt that the deep comfort of his faith was a saviour; to him and to his family.  Ross Christian had suffered Parkins long absences, as many a seaman’s wife must until in August of 1899 she finally took her leave of us, dying after a long illness and just over two months after the birth of her last child.  Hers had been a hard lot, and his had been no easier.  Parkins had suffered through the loss of his wife, his father, his brothers, and sadly he also lost a son before his time. 


In recent decades there were still older Islanders who could remember a devout Uncle Parkins doing a little preaching at the Methodist church and how wonderfully he could sing; but they would often qualify their comments with the fact that they knew little else about him.  And this perhaps is essentially what forges a legend such as Parkins.  You could know some of him; but no-one could really ever know the true sum of him.


In many ways it seemed that Uncle Parkins was hard—and hard to get to know—but life had made him that way.  Men who spent long years at sea and suffered the kinds of deprivations that were a normal part of life in the age of sail were bound by their very nature to become hardened men.  As First and Second mate on the ‘Charles W. Morgan’, his command of the men necessitated a certain level of sternness and discipline in maintaining peace and good order.  In essence it was he who must hold the upper-hand at all times; but clearly in saying that there were many sides to this man, and there were few who might ever know them all.  There was clearly also a much softer side to Parkins.  The ‘Morgan’ of course had many captains over his twenty-five years of service.  On one particular cruise Captain James A. M. Earle wrote in his log on 27 October 1903 that ‘George Parkins Christian is a most reliable second officer from Norfolk Island’. Other reports about Parkins say that the young son of Captain Earle idolised Parkin and that he spent a great deal of time with the captain’s son while on watch making him all kinds of toys.


For those who knew Parkins quite well he was said to have carried the heavy burden of unresolved issues.  Perhaps in many ways it was an accepted part of the life that he lived and had come to understand; but when you come to realise the enormity of loss, and what dark secrets he may have carried in his soul, and that Uncle Parkin was to suffer more than one great tragedy in his life, perhaps it is only then that we can come to understand him a little better. 


There was one terrible tragedy in his life for which Uncle Parkin would probably never fully recover; the surrounding circumstances of which forever remain a mystery.  It is said that Parkin went out in a boat one day with one of his sons and that Uncle Parkins returned while his son did not.  This kind of tragedy goes a long way towards understanding who Parkins was as a man; particularly in later life.  Few men can talk easily, if at all, of such things and for many the pain is such that it too is best left alone and buried.  Parkins’ son Howland was born in 1883.  He was drowned in New Zealand having been lost at sea while crossing the bar at Manakau some time before 1920.  Such events irrespective of the circumstances, and blameless as they might well be, are painful and carried through life with enormous difficulty. 


Like many Islanders, that Parkins was a strong swimmer could never have been in doubt.  At one time he worked as a Pearl Diver at Thursday Island, and was also a diver for the Auckland Harbour Board.   He also rescued a teenage girl who had fallen overboard at night in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, earning him the Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal.


Up until several generations ago, it was not unheard of for Islanders to swim without a second thought to Nepean Island, up and down the length of Emily and Slaughter Bay several times over, or out to the outer rock stacks and bombora.


Accidents during the whaling days were of course unavoidable, and boats were also occasionally lost.  It was not uncommon for the Island’s whalemen to be called upon to swim back in to shore.  The whalers also swam down to tie the whale jaws shut to prevent them filling with water and sinking as they towed it back in.  Some people may remember that Frankie Christian could swim underwater from the reef to the shore holding his breath, and that he once pulled at the jetty, set his sights on joining the ship sitting off the Island and promptly swam out to it.  While these might all seem like super-human feats to us today, to those old Island men and women it was simply all in a day’s work.


These tales of yore do of course then become the tales of men that we in this modern age never tire of hearing; and sometimes come to disbelieve.  Parkins was one such headline stealer.   A mysterious man and the kind of man who left more questions than he did answers will always leave his mark in people’s memory.  Those who knew him, as much as you could know such a man, sometimes felt that he hid more of himself than he was prepared to reveal.  He was a man who carried many secrets, some of which he would be bound to take with him to the grave; and perhaps even onward to that ultimate place of reckoning.  You see, when talk turns to Uncle Parkins there is often a strange reticence, awkward silences, and much uncertain talk sprinkled with liberal doses of dem-tull (hearsay).  A great deal about this man lingers in that sticky nether region between truth and legend.  Black-birding (Pacific Islander slave trading) is a phrase which crops up all too often in these conversations and it was of course not uncommon for whaling vessels and trading vessels to moonlight picking up additional work along the way.  There are rumours too of skulduggery in which a black man was killed in a fight in which Parkins Christian came out best.  This too we must leave to a man and his Maker.    


It is certain that there were many things which Uncle Parkins never talked about; things perhaps no man might easily bring home to his wife or children.  A sailor’s lore you see is that which only he and his kind might ever understand.  He has two lives and never the twain shall meet; when a sailor comes home from the sea in theory he leaves his sea-life behind him.  And inevitably there comes a time for all old men of the sea to come home; and Parking was no different. 


But somehow his eye never seemed to stray too far from the crest of a wave.  Between 1923 and 1925 a number of Island men were engaged in the construction of a sixty-one foot schooner the ‘Resolution’ under the guidance of Charlie Bailey and Uncle Parkins.  It had long been a dream of the Island men to build a vessel of their own to trade local produce in New Zealand.  Sourcing the materials was both difficult and laborious; but they worked consistently at their goal, all the while singing, and downing large quantities of switzel (cold lemon tea).  To the undying credit of these local men, New Zealand shipwrights would later declare that the ‘Resolution’ was ’30 percent stronger than normal construction’. 


The ‘Resolution’ was finally launched in December 1925 in Emily Bay and made her maiden voyage to New Zealand.  For trivia buffs; the first person who stepped aboard her in Auckland was Malcolm Champion; the Island-born 1912 Stockholm Olympic swimming Gold Medallist.


Parkins was of course a natural and fitting choice to captain the Resolution, and it was certainly not his sea-faring abilities which saw this ill-fated Island venture vanish into the ether.  In the New Year the schooner set off laden with Island fruit but unfortunately under sail it was alternately beset by headwinds or be-calmed resulting in a protracted journey in which the produce spoilt and unsalable.  Later in an attempt to alleviate the problem the ‘Resolution’ was fitted with a motor, too small but the only one which could be afforded.  Yet still she continued to make poor passage and plagued by mounting debts it was finally decided that it be sold to Burns Philp and Company in 1927 where she continued as an inter-Island trader until she simply disappeared.  It eventually transpired that she had mysteriously sank at her mooring in Vila harbour in 1949.  Despite the venture’s ultimate failure the ‘Resolution’ well demonstrated the determination, tenacity, and ingenuity of the Islanders in the face of overwhelming hardship and adversity—and of course it takes far greater resilience to move on from such failure.  


In 1896 Uncle Parkins was listed as a ‘whaleman & farmer’.  Among his people he commanded a level of respect and reverence that was obviously well earned. He had certainly had a very long and distinguished sea-going career and in later years Leon ‘Bubby’ Evans remembers a much older Parkins going from house to house selling ‘wuhuu’ (woohoo) beans which he had grown out at Steeles Point.  The Islanders called Uncle Parkins ‘The Woohoo Man’ and Bubby says Parkin always smelt strongly of wuhuu beans. 

 

It hardly seems credible that they are one and the same person this ‘Woohoo Man’ and our Old Man of the Sea; but they most certainly are—for there could only ever have been one Uncle Parkins.


That Parkins Christian was a handsome and imposing man, large framed, and strong-willed is in little doubt.  That he was a stern and upright man; and one that was difficult to know is also certain.  Whether his long life at sea was born of circumstance or not; whether he chose it, or it chose him, is by the by and can only be speculated upon; because of course it makes his story no less extraordinary.  On an Island which values seamanship so highly Parkins has earned himself a semi-hero status; and an enduring place in our history books.  As the last surviving male of the original Pitcairners, outlived only by Aunt Selina who died in 1943, his place is even more firmly secured—but of course it did not make him immortal.  Uncle Parkins had been in characteristically good health up until late in August 1940 when he was admitted to hospital for treatment.  For the last week of his life his suffered from senility and died of arteroeslerosis.  He died on 28th August in his eighty-eighth year; the last male survivor of the Pitcairners who arrived on Norfolk in 1856. 



He had seen lot of water come and go under the proverbial bridge; and probably had sometimes caught the smoky scent of burning bridges.  Throughout his almost ninety years he had seen whaling reach a frenzied and dizzying height; and he had seen more than his fair share of generations come and go.  By the 1960s, just two short decades after his death, the whaling industry would come to a grinding halt.  It had been in savage decline for some time and was no longer sustainable.  The great glory days of whaling in which he had played such a large part, now belonged to the past—and that was just how it must be.  Today there are only a handful of Island whalers who live to tell their tale and when they are gone a long chapter in our history will finally close.


While the words of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous poem ‘Requiem’ paints a picture of restful peace and tranquillity ‘under the wide and starry sky dig the grave and let me lie’ it is somehow difficult to apply its most famous line ‘home, home is the sailor home from the sea’ to old Uncle Parkins.  He was born to a long line of saltwater people, the sea that had owned them, and provided for them for a greater part of their lives, it is also a stern master which takes its portion.


Still, one can’t help but wonder if Uncle Parkins was really laid to rest in the place ‘where he longed to be’ or would he perhaps have been more at home resting on the comforting bosom of the eternally rolling ocean wave?  Uncle Parkins always looked so uncomfortable on the land, and perhaps it was that a land lubber’s life was more foreign to him than any other he had ever known.  In the old photos Parkins’ eyes never seem quite focused on the near at hand.  It is almost as if those old eyes are perpetually fixed on some distant far-away horizon; as he sits there waiting impatiently for the next ship to pull in and spirit him away.


In many respects one is drawn to believe that Uncle Parkins was born a restless soul and that the only place that he could be, or was ever truly at home, was at sea.  It was after all what he knew—and what he did best.  To us Parkin’s legacy is a great one; he came from a glorious by-gone age of romance, adventure, and immense personal danger and in this world he stood head and shoulders above most men; with good reason.  As John Masefield wrote in ‘Cutty Sark’ of his most uncommon kind—


“They mark your passage as a race of men

Earth will not see such as these again.”


Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Leon ‘Bubby’ Evans for sharing his later-life recollections about Uncle Parkins and to Mary Cooper for sharing her research.  Sincere thanks as usual also to the wonderful supportive staff at the Norfolk Island Museum and Registry Office who are always so willing to assist and share their knowledge and resources.


Bibliography

Norfolk Island South Pacific – Island of History and Many Delights – Jean Edgecombe (1999)

Norfolk Island an Outline of its History1774 - 1968 – Merval Hoare (UQP 1969)

Norfolk Island and its Third Settlement – Raymond Nobbs (Library of Australian History 2006)

The Pitcairn Islanders of Town Cemetery Norfolk Island – Shane Quintal (2008)

Norfolk Island Whaling Days Tales & Yarns – by Robert Graham Tofts

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THAR SHE BLOWS CAP’N! ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, September 28, 2012


A TRIBUTE TO UNCLE PARKINS CHRISTIAN

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy

From his lighthouse ever more.

But to us He gives the keeping

Of the lights along the shore.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother,

Some poor sailor, tempest tossed,

Trying now to make the harbour

In the darkness may be lost

Let the lower lights be burning!

Send a gleam across the wave!

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman

You may rescue, you may save ...

-           Let the Lower Lights Be Burning (Philip Bliss 1871)


Uncle Parkins Christian at six foot eight was a very big man.  He had to be.   He was born to the sea and a life where strength, endurance, and a quick wit soon sorted out the wheat from the chaff.


A die-hard romantic would say Parkins Christian was nothing less than impossibly handsome; and at the very least others would concede that he was a very distinguished looking gentleman.  Through the eyes of a small child Uncle Parkins’ staunch upright demeanour must have made him appear terribly austere and stern; but for his one saving grace—a hint of a twinkle which lingered in the corner of his sharp observant eyes.


Standing head and shoulders above most men, he could not help but cut an imposing figure as he went about his business.  In fact everyone who ever knew or met him would agree that there was something about Uncle Parkins which compelled people to stand up and take notice.  Doubtless he had a very commanding air about him, and one accepts without question that he was a forthright, no-nonsense kind of man who didn’t beat about the bush; or suffer fools unnecessarily.  My guess is that in anybody’s account-book George Henry Parkin Christian was a man to be reckoned with; and certainly anybody who rose to such dizzying heights as a seaman and whaleman could be nothing less—and live to tell the tale.


How I would have liked to have met him this George Henry Parkin Christian; this flesh and blood man of myth and legend.  He was after all our most famous seaman and whaler—and a man well worth his salt.  For Uncle Parkin you see was born in a time when many a man who made his life on the briny was a whole lot less.


One always suspects that there was far more to Parkin Christian than ever met the naked eye.  Something veiled and much more intangible than might be revealed at first glance; the kind of quality that’s hard to ever put a finger on.  A quality which made him unknowable; but at the same time made him irresistible.  Like a moth to a flame, it is this untouchable, enigmatic aura which draws us inevitably towards him; it makes him all the more alluring and intriguing—even through the eyeglass of time and distance.


Parkins was born the great-grandson of the infamous mutineer Fletcher Christian of HMAV Bounty and his Tahitian partner Mauatua.  By virtue of association alone, this fact quite likely made Parkins a noteworthy figure in the maritime world before he even opened his mouth or lifted a finger; and no doubt it earned him an immediate level of respect in the rough and tumble world of deep-sea whaling.  Perhaps it was this ‘breeding’ too which gave him his thick powerful build and extraordinary good looks.  And no doubt it gave him his stamina and endurance for if a long life and robust health are any measure Uncle Parkins had the constitution of an ox; and yet as much as it served him well, he also used it well. 


George Henry Parkin Christian, or ‘Parkins’ as he became more generally known among his people, was born on Pitcairn Island to Isaac and Miriam ‘Milliyarm’ Christian on 16 October 1853 and he was a mere two years old when the Pitcairners arrived on Norfolk Island in the Morayshire in 1856.


Along the way young Parkin’s had also won himself a new playmate when the family was joined by his little brother Reuben Denison Christian who was born aboard ship on the outward journey.


In their new homeland, following the allotments of houses, Parkin’s father and mother Isaac and Milliyarm Christian moved into Number 10 Quality Row with their [then] five children.  All told Isaac and Milliyarm would go on to have sixteen children together; and like so many large families of this time, their eventual fates were to be somewhat mixed.    


By the time the Pitcairners came to Norfolk Island in 1856 many of the Pitcairn Island men were already experienced whalemen having previously taken up work on passing whaling vessels.  Following British settlement at Sydney Cove, and the lifting in 1798 of British laws protecting the East India Company’s interests in whaling in the Pacific Ocean, whaling and sealing in the southern ocean expanded considerably and both Pitcairn and Norfolk Island soon formed part of a welcome network of landfalls where whalers and sealing vessels could replenish stocks of water and re-victual their ships.


Although whaling vessels were officially banned during the convict period on Norfolk Island they did still call in from time to time to bring supplies, and increasingly to re-stock until the Pitcairners in the subsequent settlement were occasionally welcoming up to four ships at a time bartering and trading fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, soap, meat, dripstones and as well as other tradable commodities for goods such as tea, sugar, flour, clothing, and tools.


The Pitcairn and Norfolk Islanders were, and are without question still, superb seaman.  The sea was a big part of their life and their livelihood.  They were never far from it and whaling presented them with a fortuitous opportunity to make a supplementary living, albeit a chequered and at times quite unprofitable one. 


By November 1857 thirty-three Islanders, Isaac Christian among them, had formed a local bay-whaling company by pooling their funds together and purchasing the Island’s first two whaleboats ‘Black Billy’ and ‘Hicks’ from the American whaler ‘Andrew Hicks’.  This began what was to be a long Island tradition.  With the skills they had picked up crewing American, English, Australian and New Zealand whale-ships which were frequenting these waters, and through their own Island-based operations, generation after generation of Island men became adept whalers through the age of sail and continuing on right up until the 1960s. 


Norfolk Island’s first whaling season of 1858 brought the Islanders oil to the value of around £500 and at its peak in the 1880s and 1890s more than half of the island’s adult male population was engaged in whaling.  The benefits to be had in putting a few ‘spondulicks’ in their pockets far outweighed the dirty highly pungent business of rendering down blubber to extract the oil in order to satiate the world’s thirst for whale oil which lit and lubricated a large portion of the globe until underground oil was discovered in America. 


Norfolk Island presented another mutually beneficial opportunity.  American whaling captain’s wives, and sometimes children, often retired to the safe haven of the Island while their husbands and fathers went whaling.  Whaling expeditions were often lengthy as whaling captains could not return to their home ports without their full quota of whale oil, and this of course left ample time for the American whaling wives to teach the Islanders the finer points of needlework, how to make American pies, and introduced to the Island the harvest-style Thanksgiving Day celebration which still continues to this day.  In fact, this ongoing American contact became so important that from 1887 to 1908 there was an American consulate on the Island and Isaac Robinson, an Englishman who married into the community, acted as an agent and trader and became American Consul organising supplies and ensuring that the Islanders were paid for them.


Hardly surprising then that Uncle Parkins and his brothers would follow in their father Isaac’s footsteps.  It was what they would come to know best—whaling—and subsistence farming.  Parkins, as well as brothers Hunt and Leonard, would all become whalers.  But what set Parkins apart from all other Island whalemen was the extraordinary length of his off-Island whaling career; and the height to which he rose as a professional whaleman.


Whaling of course is as perilous as it is laborious and in this the grand old age of sail, it was also a damnably time-consuming business.  Most deep-sea whaling voyages averaged between two and five years, and the longest whaling vessel voyage ever was an astounding eleven years in duration.  It also came at great cost; and as you can well imagine, the fatalities were not always extracted exclusively from the ocean’s bounty. 


By April 1868 Parkins’ little brother Reuben, who had been born on board the ‘Morayshire’, had died at just eleven years of age.  Then, on 31 October 1877 the family was beset by another great tragedy.  Whaling would ultimately take Parkins’ father Issac’s life at the close of October 1877, the circumstances of which were both moving and tragic. 


On the afternoon of 30 October whales had been spotted close in-shore and it was expected that the whalers would return with their prize well before sun-down.  It was not to be.  As predicted Isaac’s boat had made fast to a whale early in the evening, at which time the whale proceeded to drag the boat out to sea.  The whale was travelling with her calf and when the calf was to be taken the cow made straight for the boat and with a deft flick of her flukes stove it in like a basket.  In the melee the men, by now far from land, found themselves in rather forlorn circumstances.  The night closed in around them and they were forced to stand in the badly damaged boat which was taking on water.  The wind had also come up, and the sea was becoming increasingly rugged; but far worse the strong ebb tide now also made it impossible for the men to swim the three miles to shore.


A not insurmountable feat given that the Islanders were strong and frequent simmers. 


Indeed they were very comfortable in the water and not generally fazed by such distances; but in this instance the circumstances made even the idea of a shore-ward swim out of the question, despite the fact that under more favourable conditions such a feat had been easily achieved by Island whalemen on a number of earlier occasions. 


As the night wore on the men in the whale boat attempted some minor running repairs hoping to at least hold the boat together; and six times during the course of the night the boat rolled over completely.  Very soon the stranded men were all suffering much from the deleterious effects of the cold, and sharks soon came in large numbers to feast on the dead animal.  One man recalling feeling a shark graze roughly against his body. 


Exhaustion too was by now also beginning to set in and at about six on the following morning Parkin’s father Isaac Christian lost his fight, dying from cramp and exposure after having now been at sea all night.  Issac’s two sons Hunt and Earnest were in the boat with him and Hunt Christian lashed his father’s body securely to his in order that he might try and bring it ashore for burial.  By the time they were rescued some eight to ten miles off-shore two other Island men were also very close to death; but nothing of course could be done for poor Isaac who had gone the way of all the earth.


It was understandably a grievous time for this close-knit Island community.  Earlier that month Isaac’s nephew Jacob Christian had also died as a result of a severe leg wound occasioned by his spade during flensing operations.  In time Parkins brother Hunt Christian, who had brought their father’s body ashore on that fateful day, would die prematurely in 1905 at the age of 60 years having also been injured in an accident.  Hunt had been in a critical state and lingering for some months before he finally died on June 8th (Bounty Day) and the Bounty Ball which was generally held in the evening came to nothing on account of poor Hunt’s death.   


Ten years before his father’s death Parkins went to sea; he was just was fourteen years old.  Having gone to sea so young, and having spent such long periods of his life on the crest of an ocean wave, it was a given that over the years Parkins would come home to news that was both good; and bad.  It was an accepted part of the business of whaling and all who participated in it knew that the price to be paid was at times considerable.  Not only was there a high cost in human life, but in the men’s  very long absences great strain was also placed on whaler’s wives and their children.


Despite this high cost, it would of course in time become almost the only kind of life that Uncle Parkins knew and understood.  At this tender age he first joined on as a crew member of the Sydney whaler “Robert Towns” in the 1870s.  It was later wrecked in a hurricane and Parkin’s for a short time took up a landlubber’s life again.   


While in Auckland an opportunity arose for him to use his skills in ship-building until he ventured away again to the sea.  This time on the renowned American whaling ship the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ of which he was to spend approximately twenty-five years of his life as a crew member.  This beautiful old American whaling vessel was in fact the largest wooden whale-ship ever built and today she can still be seen dominating the waterfront at Chubb’s Wharf where she has been restored as the crown jewel of the Mystic Seaport Museum’s collection in Connecticut.  Originally built in 1841 in New Bedford the ‘Charles W. Morgan’  saw long and good service until she finally ended her whaling days in 1921.  Her overall length is 113 feet, and she has a 27-foot 6-inch beam.  When fully rigged she was capable of carrying some 13,000 square feet of sail.  The huge try-pots used for converting or rendering down the blubber into whale oil sat forward; and below were the cramped quarters in which her officers and crew lived for years at a time. 


As you can imagine life on board the whalers in the days of sail and oar was particularly arduous.  As whale captains could not return until they had their full quota of oil whale ship crews often spent the lien owed them by making purchases against ships stores or whilst docked in port.  Thus the whalemen would often find themselves sailing back into the whaling company’s home port in debt to the company and forced to sign straight back on again; each stint adding another few years to their often already long life at sea.


On the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ Parkins worked hard making his way up to become Boat-steerer, Second Mate, and finally First Mate.  As a steersman he was renowned.  It was said of him that, “given a good ash steer oar ... he could almost lift a whaleboat round, so great was his strength”.   Though his length of service in this position proved that he was obviously highly proficient in the position of First Mate, Parkins would also from time to time be demoted and signed on as Second Mate—if the son of the ship’s owner was on board and occupying the position of First Mate.  Doubtless Uncle Parkins still performed many of the duties of First Mate; and that was just how it was.


Parkin’s roles of First and Second Mate on the ‘Morgan’ most certainly meant that he was no man’s fool.  He was an imposing kind of man; big in stature and big in standing.  When he spoke you knew he meant business and it was always easy to see how he would have remained well in command of the whale-men aboard the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ who, where they to follow the general trend of sailors, seamen, and whalers of their time, would have been a motley assortment of men from places far and wide, and from many walks of life.  Most certainly the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ crew lists suggest this was likely the case.


This was also why, with very good reason, when there was trouble brewing aboard the whale-ships that the First Mate was called ‘the blower’ and the Second Mate ‘the striker’; from whence comes the old nautical term ‘blow the man down’.  If there was any sorting out to be done below decks the message would have to be clearly delivered—with resounding physicality if need be.


In 1905 the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ was lying off Norfolk Island when certain crew men stirred up trouble on board.  Four crewmen King, Rose, Rodman and Larcon deserted but were soon recaptured and hauled back.  They were refused duty and put in irons for several days until they promised better conduct.  Rose however remained unrepentant and troublesome and in June was flogged for defying the Mate.  Life on the whaling ships was clearly no barrel of treacle.


For those interested in our maritime history, one of the beautifully restored whaleboats from the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ is housed in the National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, Sydney.  Beneath the fresh navy blue and white paint are a multitude of chinks and chunks which tell the story of its hard working life.  Deep-sea whaling in the age of sail was surely never made for the soft-bellied gentry and unschooled city folk; it was hard, dangerous, and dirty work. 


Like all Islanders Uncle Parkin was resourceful, multi-skilled, and willing to turn a hand to anything.    These qualities have long been a characteristic marker of Island men and have often been seen as a valuable asset to employers.  In fact so varied were his duties that on one occasion when the cook on the ship died after a serious illness Uncle Parkins job was also to perform the reading at the funeral and committal service.    

        

Parkins made many voyages on the ‘Charles W. Morgan’ some lasting for several years or more.  It was a way to make a living; and that George Henry Parkin Christian was good at what he did was never in any doubt.  But his job was certainly a hard one; he stood in an unenviable nexus of power in which he was responsible for keeping a motley and often unruly crew of hard men, sometimes criminals escaping the long arm of the law, all living in close confines, from all walks of life, and many ethnic backgrounds under sufficient control to get the job done; while at the same time dealing with the competing pressures of keeping the captain and the ship owners equally (if not more) happy than the crew itself.  Clearly Parkins job as First and Second Mate was not one for the faint-hearted or the squeamish. 


In 1792 the ‘Morgan’ was the second last vessel to call in to the Island; and there is also a wonderful old photograph of her sitting off the Island in all her glory with her sails unfurled in 1920.  She was indeed an old friend to the Islanders and while Parkins was of course not the only Island man to serve on her; he would be her most faithful servant treading her boards for a period spanning from 1893 – 1913 and making a total of twenty-two voyages on her. 


An extra-ordinary life, and an extra-ordinary man, in anybody’s measure. 


To be continued next week ...

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MAKING DIAMONDS OUT OF SQUARES ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, September 14, 2012



Ours is a unique and dynamic Island community 1600 kms off the east coast of Australia.  With our government, commercial, and not-for-profit partners we going into the business of making diamonds.  The ‘Making Diamonds’ project will ensure broad economic benefits and economic sustainability for our community by improving diversification; while providing business and employment opportunities, and wider associated flow-on effects into the future.  We are currently seeking support for Stages 1 & 2 of the M.D.O.S. (Making Diamonds out of Squares) Project.


Well who wouldn’t want to make diamonds?  If we could all make diamonds then maybe our troubles would be few ... if only it were that simple? 


Please don’t take this concept of making diamonds too literally; but perhaps it is that simple.  You see we can all walk around a long time in this life with our eyes shut tight until one day a man happens along and says open your eyes, open your mind, and think creatively about the possibilities; and this is how it’s done.  Every time you give such a man problems, he will invariably come back with a solution; and a damn good one at that!  Not a new set of problems; that’s the old ‘round peg in a square hole’ routine—and nary a diamond to be found there now is there.


This week at the Paradise Hotel, at the instigation of the Administrator, The Hon. Neil Pope that’s exactly what the very dynamic and enthusiastic grants guru Patrick Moriarty of Our Community has been doing to the eyes and minds of seventy enthusiastic grants training participants—opening them!  Teaching people in a practical, open, and approachable style how to think creatively and laterally, how to find solutions to perceived problems, break down barriers, and open up pathways in the grant writing and application process.  And finally, how to realise their vision through the grant-making process. 


There are now seventy people living breathing grant writers in our community who have benefited from this course which covered everything from positioning organisations to embark on the grant seeking process, including organisational planning, forming community partnerships, becoming a grant-scout to identify the grants portfolio which best suits your organisation, writing grants, and implementing and monitoring grants.   There were many great and innovative ideas and projects tossed around throughout the duration of the course, and no doubt many more exist in the wider community—and there are seventy great grant facilitators in our midst ready to turn the grant processes into a reality.


Grants are of course not, and can never be, the sole key to economic sustainability; but they are a wonderful way for people, communities, and organisations to enhance the ‘common wealth’ of the communities in which they live.  For those people and organisations on the Island who have community-based projects in mind grants are just one of the many ways in which we can make them happen. 


Every year there is over $60b available through grants from all sources and believe it or not, it does not always get fully expended.  Where are they then?


Government grants can be sourced at Federal, State and local or regional level.  There are also corporate grants and sponsorship programs, as well as private philanthropic organisations such as trusts, and foundations.  As a starting point try the following really great websites:-

  • grants.myregion.gov.au
  • communitybuilders.nsw.gov.au
  • ourcommunity.gov.au. 

Grants cover a very wide range of areas and a good ‘grant scout’ quickly realises that if you have an idea there will be a grant out there somewhere, or even a range of grants, that will cover your project.  Think laterally; and think locally, nationally, and internationally.  Even if your project is small—think big! 


As a general rule grants are designed to enrich and benefit entire communities through the provision of services, resources, events, projects, cultural experiences and community based activities.  Local course participants showed particular interest in areas such as economic development and diversification, healthcare, education, arts, culture, language, environment, agriculture and horticulture, sustainability, industry, energy generation, waste management, tourism, history, preservation and conservation, and a range of other locally relevant areas of interest.


These seventy proficient grant-writers living in our community now have the skills and resource base to facilitate these grant-based projects.  So, for anyone who was unable to attend the workshop and who may be considering, or will now consider, making grant applications in the future here are a few key pointers to get you, and keep you, on the right track:-


PLAN – business or organisational planning, as well as grant planning itself, is essential to success.  Be clear on what it is that you want from the grant; and why you want it.  Target, tailor, and refine your plan and application.   Align your values with the funding agency.  Be aware also that many of the perceived barriers in relation to grants not extending to Norfolk Island, including advice that Norfolk Island is ineligible for certain grants, lack of ABN (Australian Business Number), post-code issues, and other discrepancies or problems pertaining to Norfolk Island’s participation in the grant-making process are either currently being looked into with a view to overcoming them, or can be generally quite easily overcome by contacting the grant-makers direct;


EVIDENCE – you will be required to provide concrete evidence of need ie the bricks and blocks of support for your proposal;


STEPS & STAGES – how will you achieve what you want, and how much will it cost?  Two particularly important issues for grant applicants to consider in our community is the high level of voluntary or in-kind contribution which should be factored in as part of the co-contribution process.  Grant makers also like to see applicants and/or their community partners putting some ‘blood’ (cold hard cash) into the project, no matter how small it is, as this is generally perceived as a good indicator of commitment.  Consider also different grants for different stages of your project.  Consider risks, barriers, any possible conflict of interest, ethics, opportunities, viability, suitability, capability, cost effectiveness, value-for-money, and impacts as well as long term benefits and outcomes for our community in the planning process and in your grant application;


TIMING – be realistic with timelines and what is achievable within the time allowed.  Estimates often blow out;


PARTNERSHIPS – forming community partnerships increases the chances of success and multiplies out the benefits; when planning projects optimise the chance of success by thinking about multi-functionality, multi-use, mutual or multiple benefit, etc


CONTACT – get in touch with the grant-maker once you have planned out your application, create relationships, know why you want the grant before you pick up the phone and have your questions prepared in advance.  Discuss your application and find out whether it’s worth applying.   Be brief and to the point – they’re busy people too.  It is also a good idea to contact other successful applicants or organisations to get a handle on how the grant-maker was to deal to deal with, ask them about the secrets to their own success, and get a copy of their application if they are willing to share it.


Other useful tips to come out of the workshop regarding the grant-making process include:-

  • Being clear, concise, and creative on WHY you want it, WHAT you want, and HOW you will get it.
  • ‘Read the guidelines’ and make sure that you are eligible, that you meet the grant criteria, don’t leave blank spaces, and make yourself a checklist.
  • Plan and think ahead.
  • Be critical - ask yourself would I fund my own program?
  • Persist – take ‘no’ as ‘maybe’.  Remember not winning is not losing; however stalking and murder are illegal!
  • ‘Read the bloody guidelines’.  Did I repeat myself?  Yep, it’s VERY important to read the guidelines.

Finally, grants are not handouts or cash grabs.  Grant making is a competitive process and you have to deliver.  Don’t forget to bring the Island, your organisation, and your plan to life and think about why Norfolk is the best place in the world; and why your group is the best group in the world.  It’s not just enough to say because it is’ we have to say ‘why’ it is is.  Start from there and guess what, we can all turn—

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THE GIVING TREE ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, August 31, 2012


Have you ever thought, in all its beautiful spreading symmetry, just how flawlessly evolved and wonderfully adapted the majestic Norfolk Island pine is to its natural environment?  How its wide searching roots anchor it so solidly to the earth and in faithful partnership helps it weather passing storms; the very same spreading roots which are so perfectly designed to track down and absorb both surface water and soil nutrients; or how its intricately designed branches and needles capture the moisture in the atmosphere and channel it, like one large life-giving funnel, down towards a grateful base; or perhaps how its long soft-wood cells, turgid with sticky sap, allow it to bend and flex with the gusty and sometimes near-cyclonic winds.  Or how its high salt-tolerance allows it to thrive in the kind of exposed environment that many other lesser trees would shirk at; or likely shrivel up and die in.  Or even maybe marvelled at some other small wonder;  how it manages to re-shoot, like some giant cut-and-come again vegetable, when it is constantly lopped.  How even when it begins to suffer the tribulations of dry-rot, its sturdy reliable cambium layer ensures that this hardy tree lives on in dignity for many years to come.  Or  perhaps you’ve rolled around in your hands the weighty seamless wonder of those beautiful, solid, fine-celled pine knots found at the base of every living limb which too acts as a sturdy anchor against the roaring tempests. 


Perhaps it is that you have simply stood at the base of a grand old-growth pine reaching endlessly up to the heavens and just marvelled at its awe-inspiring lofty height, its mammoth girth, and its reassuring rustic beauty while trying to imagine what secrets to creation and evolution it might hold; or what history it has seen come and go throughout its lifetime.


What a truly admirable tree our Norfolk pine is, how perfectly it is made, and how lucky we are that it calls this Island home.  Over the generations we have, and continue to, turn its bounty to a myriad of uses; always remaining forever grateful for the fact that despite the many things it is good for, it was never good enough to provide the British fleet with ships masts!


This of course all begs a far bigger question.  Do we as humans beings stop and think often enough or hard enough about what it is that we take, and how much we take; let along what it is that we should give back in return?   Even if we are all not environmental warriors, hopefully most of us have begun the journey at least in some small way, towards contemplating the impact of our lives on our local environment—and upon our planet. 


In this current age where climate change looms in all our lives as such a large, sobering, and controversial issue in all our lives, it behoves us all to think a lot more seriously about what we give or contribute to our environment’s health and well-being, and what is it that we take away.  When is it that we as individuals personally decide that we have taken enough and start giving back?  Without plants, without trees and algal blooms and the like, we have no oxygen; without oxygen life cannot be sustained.  If the trees are not here tomorrow; chances are that we may not be either.


Do we as human beings know when enough is enough; when it is that we should stop taking, and start giving?  If you believe the climate change specialists, it seems clear that sometimes we do not.


Many might say that the ultimate sacrifice in life is to die so that others might live.  Many would say that it is at that point someone, or something, has given too much of itself; and that something, or someone has taken too much.  Curiously, there is a huge and very human dilemma to be found on both sides of this particular coin.  A die-hard tree hugger might say don’t take even one single tree; while a die-hard capitalist says take all the trees and damn the consequences.  Is there a fair or a middle ground to be had?  Should we, and do we, as individuals hold the responsibility for what is rightfully a collective answer?  I suspect we do.


In 1964 a very special book entitled ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein was published.  It was simply written and sparsely illustrated; but highly evocative.  This book contains a curious parable of sorts in which a boy and a tree form a special and loving bond and travel through life together.   When the boy is young, they play together and are happy.  As the boy grows he sees less of the tree (and more of girls).  Yep, that sounds familiar!  In time the boy needs money, so the tree gives of her fruit; and a house, so she gives of her branches.  And on it goes until the tree is just a lonely old stump and the boy has become an old man in need of a friend.  The tree has nothing left to give, but the boy is now tired and wants to rest.  So the tree offers her stump to the boy—and they are together again as they have always been—and the tree is happy ... or is she?


Is this the kind of happy ending we want for our trees;  if indeed it could ever be considered a happy ending?  Do we want to get off somewhere along the way and tell them both, the boy and the tree, that enough is enough, or do we follow it through to the bitter end, to the point where we are left feeling compelled to re-write the ending and create our own paper-back version of a happy ending; only by then of course it is too late to undo what is done.  We all need trees in some way or another; but so do we need oxygen.  Life depends on it.  So, perhaps we just need to plant more trees? 


This week this quite lovely, but highly thought-provoking story, has been translated into Norf’k as a reminder to us all that we should give back as much as we take out of or beautiful Island environment and try if we can to leave our world—the ‘World of Norfolk’—a far better place than how we found it.  And stick up for the trees sometimes; until of course the trees can learn to speak for themselves!


Aa Giwen Trii

Lorng taim bin gat wan trii,

En shi lauw wan letl boi

En aa boi yuus’ kam ewri dieh

En tek ap em liif

En miek’ apu en plieh king o’ d’ stiks

En shimi ap aa trank

En swing fram em braanch

En it orl em fruut

En dem tuu yuus’ gu plieh haidhoep

En wen hi s’ fatu hi yuus’ baeliap iin em shied

En aa boi lauw aa trii ... plenti

En aa trii kwait haepi.

Bat taim gu orn.

En aa boi s’ uwai en s’ begen’ aata orn’ gehl

En plenti taim aa trii s’ liiwet her worn. 

Den wan dieh aa boi kam gen aa trii gien en aa trii tal ‘Kam boi, kam klaim ap mais trank en swing fram em braanch en it em or fruut en plieh iin mais shied en bi haepi.’


‘Es ai s’ tuu big f’ klaim en plieh’ aa boi tal, ‘Ai s’ want’ bai’ thing, gaed’baut, en haew sam fan.  Ai gwen’ want’ spohndooliks.  El yu giw mi sam?’


‘Oe, es ai tuu sohri’, tal aa trii, ‘ai gat noen, ai uni gat’ sam ai  liif en em or fruut.  Tek mais fruut, Boi, en sel et ap Fuudis ef yu want.  Den yu gwen bi gat sam yu  mani en yu gwen bi haepi.’


En soe daa boi klaim aa trii tek em fruut en kaali et wieh.

En aa trii haepi.

Bat aa boi stop wieh f’ lorng taim ... en aa trii haten en s’ kam kain’ dauli. Den wan dieh aa boi tan ap en aa trii shiek f’ glehd en shi tal ‘Kam, Boi, klaim ap mais trank en swing fram em branch en bi haepi’.


Oe es ai tuu bisi f’ klaim’ trii’ aa boi laan.


‘Ai want wan said ai el gu stop en kiip waam iin’  hi tal.   ‘Ai want wan toela en sam letl salan en soe ai want wan said f’ lew.  Yu el giw mii wan said f’ lew?’


‘Ai gat noe said’, tal aa trii, ‘Ap ya in’stik es said ai lew, bat yu el kat orf mais braanch en bil wan said f’ lew.  Den yu gwen’ bi haepi’.


En soe daa boi kat orf em braanch en kaali et wieh f’ bild wan said f’ hi lew.

En aa trii haepi.

Bat aa boi stop wieh lorng taim.  En wen hi kam baek, aa trii daa haepi shi kaa haadli el tal enithing.


‘Kam boi,’  shi, wispa,’ kam uya en plieh’.

‘Ai s’ kam tuu oel en saed f’ plieh’  tal aa boi.  ‘I want wan ai boet f’ tek mii uliaa’au, faa wieh fram ya.  Yu kaa giw mii wan ai boet?’

‘Kat daun mais trank en miek wan yu boet’  tal aa trii ‘Den yu gwen bi el siel wieh ... en bi haepi’.


En soe daa boi kat daun aa trank en miek wan hi boet en siel lorng wieh awieh.

En aa trii wos haepi ... bat nort riili.

En aafta lorng taim, aa boi tan ap gien.

‘Ai sohri, Boi’, tal aa trii, ‘bat ai nor gat enithing laefor f’ giw gen yuu—

mais fruut s’ gorn’.

Mais tiith kaaduu’, tal aa boi, ‘Dem s’ tuu wiik f’ it em fruut’ hi tal.

‘Mais braanch s’ gorn’  tal aa trii. ‘Yu kaa kam swing orn—‘

‘Oe let ai laan, ai es noe spring chiken enimor’, tal aa boi, ‘Es ai s’ kam tuu oel f’ swing orn em braanch’.

‘Mais trank s’ gorn’  laan aa trii, ‘Yu kaa klaim orn—

‘Ai tuu slipi f’ gu klaim’ trii’, tal aa boi.

‘Ai sohri’ aa tri tal haat muus’ breken, ‘Ai wish ai gat samthing f’ giw yuu ... bat es ai s’gat nathing laef.  S’ d’ wieh ai s’ kam;  ai es uni oel stamp.  Ai sohri ...

‘Ai nor want mach diisdiehs’ tal aa boi, ‘jes wan said f’ stiehwelaut en bailiap wen want; ai s’ dan’ saewej, en orl mais epitutus s’ ap ran wieh orn mii’.

‘Wael’, tal aa trii, staanen ap torl, mach es wieh shi el, ‘wael, wan oel stamp es gadan f’ stidaun orn en tek et iisi.  Kam, Boi, kam uya stidaun.  Stidaun en stiehwelaut.

En aa boi did.

En aa trii wos haepi.

Daaset yorlye.  D’ en 


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SOMETHING FISHY IS GOING ON HERE ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, August 24, 2012


Some fish are rather more famous and fabulous than others.  They are the ritzy-glitzy members of King Neptune’s court, frequently found adorning the best addresses around town, hogging the limelight, and commanding the big bucks; their names strung up high in eternal flickering neon.  The price of this fishy fame is of course always high—sweet death becomes them does it not.


There far down below, underneath these watery glamour-zons of the ocean, live little-known minions, or should I say minnows, schooling around in blissful anonymity.  Today these lesser piscine beauties are often overlooked in the journey from sea to plate.  They are snubbed and terribly ignored in favour of the larger more toothsome delicacies such as trumpeter, kingfish, or snapper.  In the long-ago time when Islanders fished almost daily from the rocks and jetties for their supper no such blatant favouritism ever existed—if you wanted to eat you ate everything that you caught, including the little fingerlings.   Fussy fisherman always went the hungriest.


That having been said, every Islander usually still has a favourite rock-fish.  One of these very delicious and very underrated aforementioned ‘lesser’ fish is the humble lgarfish; or as it is better known in Norf’k the ise fish.  There are many among us who will have seen famed Island angler Foxy McCoy standing quietly at the shallow end of the Kingston pier on dusk at the end of a lovely warm day picking off these little delicious silver stream-lined delicacies.  These same small schools of isi, along with its lesser cousin the Long Tom, can also be seen off the Cascade Jetty where similar conditions prevail.


The common name garfish is so commonly used throughout the world that it speaks for any number of elongated, long-beaked little fishies; understandable when we learn that ‘gar’ is an Old English word meaning ‘spear’.  For us here in Norfolk, our garfish is that which comes from the Hemiramphidae (garfishes or half-beaks) family and there are two species which have been recorded Euleptorhamphus viridis (Longfin or Long-beaked Garfish) which has a longer lower jaw and grows up to 60 cm and Hyperhamphus australis (Eastern Sea Garfish) which also has a characteristic longer lower jaw and matures at 21 cm but can be found up to 41 cm.


Here on the Island you will often find the garfish and long-toms getting around together.  Two long-toms, from the family Belonidae, have been recorded on Norfolk Ablennes hians (Flat Needlefish or Barred Longtom) and Platybelone argulus (Keeltail Needle Fish).  They are quite distinct in shape and colour having a long thin jaw with relatively large pointed teeth and silver body with a greenish-blue tint and the barred long-toms of course have distinctive vertical bars at the posterior end.  Long-toms are also generally bigger than the garfish and as they eat other fish they can put up a bit of a fight and sometimes can be seen skipping across the water.

But enough talking about Tom, who can get very long—up to 1.5 metres if you believe everything you read.  Let’s instead get back to our beloved little isi (sometimes spelt issy, izzy, isi or ise – but let’s not quibble).


Garfish, sometimes also called pipers, are long slender silver and rather curious looking little fish with characteristically elongated jaws.  They are found near the surface, particularly at night, and over their feeding beds during the day.  They are generally herbivorous feeding on seaweeds and algal filaments, but are also believed to eat small crustaceans and other tiny morsels.  That’s what makes them so delicious – you are what you eat!


Not only are they found high in the water column but they tend also to be frequently found in the warmer shallower waters in protected areas in bays and around jetties where they can both shelter and feed.  Next time you’re at the Kingston or Cascade Jetties keep a lookout for them, they are often there moseying around.


For the intent angler their long snouts mean that they don’t bite like other fish;  a little flick at the right time can set the hook nicely.  They can also go off the bite rather quickly and many anglers say they have a keen sense of smell.  They are relatively easy to catch if you know how; and practice always makes perfect.  Remember small fish = small mouths + small bellies.  So small long shank hooks, a light line, and nice small pieces of bait are best; many Islanders like to use a tightly rolled ball of bread or dough as bait.  Remember also that these in-shore fish prefer to feed at a certain level, so many people say that keeping your bait at the right level is half the battle.


With its lovely fine-textured flesh, the garfish are one of the nicest and best eating fish in the sea, but like many other rock-fish they are full of tiny bones and butterfly filleting can be a little fiddly and better suited to the bigger end of town.  If they are of a good size and you have a very sharp knife (I believe the term is ‘sharp enough to shave a bishop’) then go for it, otherwise smaller ones are best and most simply prepared by rolling with a rolling pin (covered in gladwrap), glass bottle, tall glass or similar before being cooked whole.  Rolling out involves pressing the fish flat, and rolling over the body firmly.  By doing this the spine will lift out neatly, which is much easier to eat than laboriously picking out lots of small fine bones. To cook your garfish coat the fish liberally in flour and drop into a nice hot oily-buttery pan until crisp, and sprinkle liberally with salt.  This is a favourite Island way to cook fresh fish just off the water (just don’t tell your cardiologist!).           


There are several theories as to how this fish earnt its Norf’k name.  Under gaafish (garfish) in Speak Norfolk Today by Alice Buffett, OAM we find the following entry ‘F’ d’ handed iyas sens salan from Pi’kern lew orn Norfuk mus orl dem bin yuus’ dipen orn’ fish en’ tieti en’ plan f’ dems regla fuud.  Garsfish get d’ niem “Ise” said Aunt Ise bin gat speshel naek f’ kech en roel en kuk ‘garfish. (For the first hundred years after the Pitcairn Islander relocated to Norfolk Island, a lot of the Islanders depended upon fish.  Sea garfish is believed to have derived its name ise from Aunt Ise (Isobel Christian) who was especially skilled at catching, rolling out, and cooking the garfish.   


This seems to be the theory most commonly bandied about since the 1950s and 60s; but based on the fact that many of our Island fish names come from out Tahitian heritage there may be another explanation.  Just think of the all fish names of Polynesian origin, the yawa, aatuti, naenwi, hiilor, aabuuka, oefi, ohuu, y’holi, and p’oew as well as all the other sea creatures such as the buhi, au, totowe kraab, wana and hihi and finally tala for fish spine and palu our word for berley.  Add to this the fact that on Pitcairn, the home of the Bounty people until 1856, are other Tahitian-origin fish and shellfish names such as the faafaia, fetue, the hue fish, tunu, manimani, matapau, uau, upi, uulwa, rule, tamoi, moi, tatala, and ihihi. Given this historically weighty evidence, and the very distinct shape of the garfish, as well as its widespread occurrence (including in Tahiti-Pitcairn-Norfolk) it is my most humble opinion that our Norf’k isi, ihi, or isi-fish (garfish) and Pitcairn’s isi, ihi or izi-fish (garfish) may have come from a core Tahitian word ihe – a dart or a spear, and that our garfish name (shared alike with our Pitcairn cousins) more than likely comes from a very specific characteristic (ie the shape) of a very easily recognisable fish; rather than one particular person said to be good at catching and rolling it out. Ihe has also been recorded as the Tahitian name for Hemiramphus dussumieri (Dussumier’s Garfish).


To attribute Isobel Christian nee Adams as the source of both the Pitcairn and the Norfolk isi/ihi-fish name is also quite problematic in that Aunt Ise was only four years old when she left Pitcairn to come to Norfolk and would not yet have been so skilful at catching and rolling out garfish as to have earnt the kind of reputation which might have resulted in a fish being named in her honour.


In my humble opinion the softly spoken Norf’k ise is probably another pronunciation for Tahitian ihe which has been varied or slowly altered over time.  In some ways it does also seem much easier to say ise than it is to say ihe. And for those who think in might not be possible; why is it that on Norfolk some people’s Long Toms are other people’s Long Johns!!  And why did my childhood ears hear ‘sleepy dolly’ for the Island fish slipi dohli (slippery dory).  This is simply part of the quirky curious nature of all languages; and especially those that have had a long and primarily oral tradition.   And yes, despite the fact that ‘s’ is not found in Tahitian, it does appear in some rather unusual places in Norf’k’s Tahitian vocabulary such as can be found in epitutus, hulus, and baabahulus—and if it’s there, we can safely assume that at one point or another we must have found ‘s’ useful!   


It is also an interesting aside to learn that according to Davies Tahitian Dictionary the specific name for garfish in Tahiti is oiri – ‘the garfish, of which there are several species’.

At the end of the day it is not for me to say one way or anther where and how a fish name might have come into our vocabulary, but what is important to be respectful, broad-minded and careful with our linguistic history.  Much of Norf’k’s linguistic origins are so obscured by change, and time leaves it largely hidden from our view, but with hard work, perseverance, and patience we can still peel back the layers and find some wonderful hidden gems.  Or we can sit on the jetty with a rod in our hand, and the sun on our back—en kech kapl’ ise-fish f’ sapa (and catch a few garfish for dinner).   Neither is a waste of time; but words for all their worth don’t fill a rumbly tummy nearly as well es wan ala tuu’dem isi-fish el – en nor mus sweetes!!  (as one or two isi-fish will, and are not nearly as delicious!!)

 

References

Uckluns Norf’k – Peter Muhlhausler, Rachel Nebauer-Borg, Piria Coleman (2012)

The Pitcairnese Lanauage - Ross & Moverley (1964)

Speak Norfolk Today - Alice Inez Buffett (1999)

A Tahitian and English Dictionary 1851 – John Davies (London Missionary Society)

List of Norfolk Island Fish Species – Compiled by Jack Marges (based on research conducted by Dr Malcolm Francis & Dr Jack Randall)

Please 'contact us' for more information.

SOMETHING FISHY IS GOING ON HERE ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, August 24, 2012


Some fish are rather more famous and fabulous than others.  They are the ritzy-glitzy members of King Neptune’s court, frequently found adorning the best addresses around town, hogging the limelight, and commanding the big bucks; their names strung up high in eternal flickering neon.  The price of this fishy fame is of course always high—sweet death becomes them does it not.


There far down below, underneath these watery glamour-zons of the ocean, live little-known minions, or should I say minnows, schooling around in blissful anonymity.  Today these lesser piscine beauties are often overlooked in the journey from sea to plate.  They are snubbed and terribly ignored in favour of the larger more toothsome delicacies such as trumpeter, kingfish, or snapper.  In the long-ago time when Islanders fished almost daily from the rocks and jetties for their supper no such blatant favouritism ever existed—if you wanted to eat you ate everything that you caught, including the little fingerlings.   Fussy fisherman always went the hungriest.


That having been said, every Islander usually still has a favourite rock-fish.  One of these very delicious and very underrated aforementioned ‘lesser’ fish is the humble lgarfish; or as it is better known in Norf’k the ise fish.  There are many among us who will have seen famed Island angler Foxy McCoy standing quietly at the shallow end of the Kingston pier on dusk at the end of a lovely warm day picking off these little delicious silver stream-lined delicacies.  These same small schools of isi, along with its lesser cousin the Long Tom, can also be seen off the Cascade Jetty where similar conditions prevail.


The common name garfish is so commonly used throughout the world that it speaks for any number of elongated, long-beaked little fishies; understandable when we learn that ‘gar’ is an Old English word meaning ‘spear’.  For us here in Norfolk, our garfish is that which comes from the Hemiramphidae (garfishes or half-beaks) family and there are two species which have been recorded Euleptorhamphus viridis (Longfin or Long-beaked Garfish) which has a longer lower jaw and grows up to 60 cm and Hyperhamphus australis (Eastern Sea Garfish) which also has a characteristic longer lower jaw and matures at 21 cm but can be found up to 41 cm.


Here on the Island you will often find the garfish and long-toms getting around together.  Two long-toms, from the family Belonidae, have been recorded on Norfolk Ablennes hians (Flat Needlefish or Barred Longtom) and Platybelone argulus (Keeltail Needle Fish).  They are quite distinct in shape and colour having a long thin jaw with relatively large pointed teeth and silver body with a greenish-blue tint and the barred long-toms of course have distinctive vertical bars at the posterior end.  Long-toms are also generally bigger than the garfish and as they eat other fish they can put up a bit of a fight and sometimes can be seen skipping across the water.

But enough talking about Tom, who can get very long—up to 1.5 metres if you believe everything you read.  Let’s instead get back to our beloved little isi (sometimes spelt issy, izzy, isi or ise – but let’s not quibble).


Garfish, sometimes also called pipers, are long slender silver and rather curious looking little fish with characteristically elongated jaws.  They are found near the surface, particularly at night, and over their feeding beds during the day.  They are generally herbivorous feeding on seaweeds and algal filaments, but are also believed to eat small crustaceans and other tiny morsels.  That’s what makes them so delicious – you are what you eat!


Not only are they found high in the water column but they tend also to be frequently found in the warmer shallower waters in protected areas in bays and around jetties where they can both shelter and feed.  Next time you’re at the Kingston or Cascade Jetties keep a lookout for them, they are often there moseying around.


For the intent angler their long snouts mean that they don’t bite like other fish;  a little flick at the right time can set the hook nicely.  They can also go off the bite rather quickly and many anglers say they have a keen sense of smell.  They are relatively easy to catch if you know how; and practice always makes perfect.  Remember small fish = small mouths + small bellies.  So small long shank hooks, a light line, and nice small pieces of bait are best; many Islanders like to use a tightly rolled ball of bread or dough as bait.  Remember also that these in-shore fish prefer to feed at a certain level, so many people say that keeping your bait at the right level is half the battle.


With its lovely fine-textured flesh, the garfish are one of the nicest and best eating fish in the sea, but like many other rock-fish they are full of tiny bones and butterfly filleting can be a little fiddly and better suited to the bigger end of town.  If they are of a good size and you have a very sharp knife (I believe the term is ‘sharp enough to shave a bishop’) then go for it, otherwise smaller ones are best and most simply prepared by rolling with a rolling pin (covered in gladwrap), glass bottle, tall glass or similar before being cooked whole.  Rolling out involves pressing the fish flat, and rolling over the body firmly.  By doing this the spine will lift out neatly, which is much easier to eat than laboriously picking out lots of small fine bones. To cook your garfish coat the fish liberally in flour and drop into a nice hot oily-buttery pan until crisp, and sprinkle liberally with salt.  This is a favourite Island way to cook fresh fish just off the water (just don’t tell your cardiologist!).           


There are several theories as to how this fish earnt its Norf’k name.  Under gaafish (garfish) in Speak Norfolk Today by Alice Buffett, OAM we find the following entry ‘F’ d’ handed iyas sens salan from Pi’kern lew orn Norfuk mus orl dem bin yuus’ dipen orn’ fish en’ tieti en’ plan f’ dems regla fuud.  Garsfish get d’ niem “Ise” said Aunt Ise bin gat speshel naek f’ kech en roel en kuk ‘garfish. (For the first hundred years after the Pitcairn Islander relocated to Norfolk Island, a lot of the Islanders depended upon fish.  Sea garfish is believed to have derived its name ise from Aunt Ise (Isobel Christian) who was especially skilled at catching, rolling out, and cooking the garfish.   


This seems to be the theory most commonly bandied about since the 1950s and 60s; but based on the fact that many of our Island fish names come from out Tahitian heritage there may be another explanation.  Just think of the all fish names of Polynesian origin, the yawa, aatuti, naenwi, hiilor, aabuuka, oefi, ohuu, y’holi, and p’oew as well as all the other sea creatures such as the buhi, au, totowe kraab, wana and hihi and finally tala for fish spine and palu our word for berley.  Add to this the fact that on Pitcairn, the home of the Bounty people until 1856, are other Tahitian-origin fish and shellfish names such as the faafaia, fetue, the hue fish, tunu, manimani, matapau, uau, upi, uulwa, rule, tamoi, moi, tatala, and ihihi. Given this historically weighty evidence, and the very distinct shape of the garfish, as well as its widespread occurrence (including in Tahiti-Pitcairn-Norfolk) it is my most humble opinion that our Norf’k isi, ihi, or isi-fish (garfish) and Pitcairn’s isi, ihi or izi-fish (garfish) may have come from a core Tahitian word ihe – a dart or a spear, and that our garfish name (shared alike with our Pitcairn cousins) more than likely comes from a very specific characteristic (ie the shape) of a very easily recognisable fish; rather than one particular person said to be good at catching and rolling it out. Ihe has also been recorded as the Tahitian name for Hemiramphus dussumieri (Dussumier’s Garfish).


To attribute Isobel Christian nee Adams as the source of both the Pitcairn and the Norfolk isi/ihi-fish name is also quite problematic in that Aunt Ise was only four years old when she left Pitcairn to come to Norfolk and would not yet have been so skilful at catching and rolling out garfish as to have earnt the kind of reputation which might have resulted in a fish being named in her honour.


In my humble opinion the softly spoken Norf’k ise is probably another pronunciation for Tahitian ihe which has been varied or slowly altered over time.  In some ways it does also seem much easier to say ise than it is to say ihe. And for those who think in might not be possible; why is it that on Norfolk some people’s Long Toms are other people’s Long Johns!!  And why did my childhood ears hear ‘sleepy dolly’ for the Island fish slipi dohli (slippery dory).  This is simply part of the quirky curious nature of all languages; and especially those that have had a long and primarily oral tradition.   And yes, despite the fact that ‘s’ is not found in Tahitian, it does appear in some rather unusual places in Norf’k’s Tahitian vocabulary such as can be found in epitutus, hulus, and baabahulus—and if it’s there, we can safely assume that at one point or another we must have found ‘s’ useful!   


It is also an interesting aside to learn that according to Davies Tahitian Dictionary the specific name for garfish in Tahiti is oiri – ‘the garfish, of which there are several species’.

At the end of the day it is not for me to say one way or anther where and how a fish name might have come into our vocabulary, but what is important to be respectful, broad-minded and careful with our linguistic history.  Much of Norf’k’s linguistic origins are so obscured by change, and time leaves it largely hidden from our view, but with hard work, perseverance, and patience we can still peel back the layers and find some wonderful hidden gems.  Or we can sit on the jetty with a rod in our hand, and the sun on our back—en kech kapl’ ise-fish f’ sapa (and catch a few garfish for dinner).   Neither is a waste of time; but words for all their worth don’t fill a rumbly tummy nearly as well es wan ala tuu’dem isi-fish el – en nor mus sweetes!!  (as one or two isi-fish will, and are not nearly as delicious!!)

 

References

Uckluns Norf’k – Peter Muhlhausler, Rachel Nebauer-Borg, Piria Coleman (2012)

The Pitcairnese Lanauage - Ross & Moverley (1964)

Speak Norfolk Today - Alice Inez Buffett (1999)

A Tahitian and English Dictionary 1851 – John Davies (London Missionary Society)

List of Norfolk Island Fish Species – Compiled by Jack Marges (based on research conducted by Dr Malcolm Francis & Dr Jack Randall)

Please 'contact us' for more information.

SPEAK ENGLISH PROPERLY WHY DON’T YOU! (part two) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, July 20, 2012


It turns out that the question of English influences on the Norf’k language is a far bigger subject than first thought; and perhaps this is not surprising given the role Englishmen, the British relm, and the English language has played in the story of the Islanders over the decades.  Following on from last week we continue our journey, this week and next, in which we take a little look at English-sourced terms in the Norf’k language. 


It is not so much an exhaustive, or definitive list, or necessarily even the correct answer to a Norf’k word’s origin as it is a starting point—more a little food for thought than anything else.   


Please excuse the frankness with which some of the following information is laid down, it is not meant in any way to offend.  Instead, perhaps it might inspire some healthy debate and reveal some further evidence on just how and when these words came into the language, and how meanings have been adapted, expanded, or changed over time, though many of the origins are probably long gone from living memory. 


For some readers this will be the driest and most uninspiring list; for others it will be an endless source of fascination.  Whatever your point of view, here they are:-


N: j’lili – to prepare or bring together spontaneously.  Although there has been some suggestion that this word may be an anthropynm, it is rare for Islanders not to remember the original person to which it was attributed; added to which anthroponyms are often pre-cursored in Norf’k by simis (like) or daa thing f’ ... (that thing of ...). This Norf’k word may also come from English ‘jolilly’ which means excellent, splendidly, delightfully.  It was a part of Standard English until around 1850 and then became a colloquialism.  In Norf’k we often say j’lili ap (j’lili up) when bringing something special together rather quickly like an outfit to wear out, or a something little special for an unplanned visitor or meal dinner.


N: huf – the human foot or feet.  The use of ‘hoof’ to denote the human foot was an low colloquialism used in English from the late 16th-20th Century.  In Norf’k lieg (leg) is a claque of Tahitian avae meaning either leg of foot or a combination of both.  Similarly in Norf’k lieg refers to all, or any part of the ‘leg’ from the hip down to the toes, so the use of ‘huf’ (as well as fetlock and shin) are all useful points of difference or distinction.   ‘Tek yus huf orf aa tiebl bembeya yu kechet fram Mam-mam’. (Take your feet off the table in case you get in trouble from Mum-mum!)  If you want to achieve some semblance of speed in Norf’k you would say ‘kam wi haewt’ hufet’ (Come, we will have to hoof-it).


N: Lord Haeri! – many people who have lived on Norfolk Island for a long time will invariably have heard this fairly old exclamation used in a wide range of contexts, mostly used as an equivalent to ‘good gracious’.  ‘Lord Haeri, wats aa thing shi gat orn?’ (Goodness gracious, what is that thing she is wearing?)    Some may even have heard English speakers say Lord Harry! Or heard them refer to Old Harry – the devil.  This colloquialism came into use from around 1740 and by virtue of extension, to ‘play old Harry’ was to play the devil. 


N: glista – an enema; to give or receive (though I expect most of us would have rather distinct preferences in this department!)  In English ‘glister’ (both a noun and a verb) was a part of standard English until 1889 and meant ‘a glass or tumbler’.  Perhaps a glass instrument was used to perform this rather undignified procedure?  Whatever the good or finer points of investigative journalism may or may not be; I personally will not be calling in the experts on this one!


N: buuji – an enema; to give or receive same by the introduction of water into the bowels.  Likewise this is of English origin.  Probably from English ‘bogee’ or ‘bougie’ which came to mean forcing a mixture of cement and water into the required position by means of compressed air; which in turn originated from the medical sense of ‘bougie’ which is a slender flexible instrument introduced into passages or orifices in the body.  There are some who would appreciate the sweet justice intended by the following extended Norf’k example ‘Ai wish aa dokta buujii e’e kos bin tuu nehsi f’ lew lornget’ (I wish the doctor would recommend an enema for my partner who has been irritable and nasty and hard to live with lately).  I think now we have covered all bases; on this topic at least.


N: liki – literally means ‘leaky’, but in Norf’k refers to anything which is leaking; in other words to cry, to have a liki ruuf (a leaking roof), or to lie or fib (to be leaking ie as unsound as a leaking boat).  It’s exciting therefore to learn that in English ‘leaky’ also means one who is unable to keep a secret; or one who is tearful and apt to weep.  This is the kind of core concept with its literal connotations which would have historically made the meanings easily understood by non-English speakers as well; such as our Polynesian foremothers.


N: boel –  to make a hole in anything; for example in broad Norf’k when you have a hole in something like a bucket we don’t generally say ‘it has a hole in it’ we say ‘yus baket s’ boelet’ (you bucket has been boled).  In this context the word ‘bole’ in English, when used as a noun, is a small opening in the wall for the purpose of letting in light and air.


N: gajan/gijan – a mild exclamation, closer to an expletive like ‘damn’ and reasonably similar to ‘blow it all!’ or ‘heaven only knows!’.  In Norf’k we might say ‘Gujan noe wathing dem tuu kased thing gwen’ duu neks’ (Heaven only knows what those two mischievous mites will go next).  In English ‘gudgeon’ means a trick or cheat, to bait, an easy dupe, to be gullible and in this there are hints to the possible origin of the Norf’k word and its usage.  A ‘gudgeon’ is also a part of a ship ie the socket for the pintle of a rudder; but the term is multifunctional and has many applications. On Pitcairn Island there is a placename ‘Gudgeon Harbour’.


N: aanti (‘Aunti) – menses.  In Norf’k we say ‘yu gat aanti’ (You’ve got Auntie).  English terms include ‘to have one’s grandmother’, ‘little friend’, and ‘have Auntie with one’; this was a low colloquial term used until c. 1830.   The Norf’k term may also come from Tahitian aahi which means a rag or torn piece of cloth; certainly the similarities in pronunciation and meaning may have been helpful on Pitcairn Island in the very early days.    Even today the oldest generation of Norfolk Island women will still sometimes also use the term ‘you have your rags’ for which in Norf’k you might use a malu (narrow girdle, possibly from Tahitian marou or maro) or aanti raeg (Aunty-rag).


N: raentaen/orn d’ raentaen – on the town, a spree, a riotous good time. ‘Yu es salan bin orn d’ raentaen’ (You are someone who has been out and had a very long and very good time!)  This word no doubt comes from the English usage of ‘rantan’ meaning a spree from c. 1710, and ‘on the rantan’ on the spree, drunk; used colloquially from c. 1790

N: rock of Gibraltar – the rock [of Gibraltar] itself is a very large monolith which is the main feature of the city of Gibraltar.  This phrase was used in colloquial English from 1840.  In Norf’k it is mostly used in reference to the solidity of relationships ‘Dem tuu sohlid es d’ rok’ Jibrohlta’ (they are solid as the Rock of Gibraltar)


N: gari – an accumulation of dirt, dust, grime, grease, etc. In Norf’k it is the kind of thick or in-ground grime that is very difficult to get rid of from anything, including bodies and clothes.  This may have been originally a whaling term from the ‘gurry’ or refuse left over from processing whale blubber; it was also is used in reference to the ‘gurry’ or refuse from cleaning fish in general.  Perhaps it initially originated from dialectal ‘gurry’ or diarrhoea.  In other words ‘gurry’ is the unpleasant by-product of organically unpleasant and odoriferous processes which produce ‘sludge’. 


N: malis/maligrabs – moody and irritable.  ‘Shi yuus’ get d’ malis plenti’ (She is often moody and irritable).  This word comes from English ‘mulligrubs’.  In English you might be ‘in one’s mulligrubs’, or you could just as easily wash or work the mulligrubs out of a moody brain.


N: rip/ripteya/ripteyabas – rip, rip-tear and rip-tear-burst are the literal translations of these Norf’k terms and are used variously to describe going fast, working excessively hard  and fast (sometimes without due care), and also in reference to a person who ‘rips-into’ something or someone.  Giwet’rip (give it a rip) is also used similarly; but can also mean just as innocuously to take a turn or a spin of something, or test it out (especially if it is motorised).  Similar usage is found in dialectal and colloquial English where you will find rip to mean ‘scold, reproof, to use bad language, to swear, a quick run or rush; let her rip or let her go’; and ‘ripe and tear’  used in the context of ‘being very angry’.


N: mai haet!(my hat!) – an exclamation, similar to ‘my goodness’.  This mild colloquial exclamation ‘My hat!’ was used in English until c. 20th Century.  Many people have also probably heard people say things like ‘If it snows tomorrow I’ll eat my hat’.  Clearly the odds are quite good that the hat and your intestines will be safe from the indignation! ‘Mai haet dem es big fish brad’ (My goodness they are big fish my friend).


N: fatiguu (fatigued) – those who remember the late George ‘Steggles’ LeCren will probably remember him using this term when it was time to head for the hills.  Though he did love many things French, and was quite famous for his originality.  He was a very creative and funny man and I was never quite sure if he coined this word himself or not.  It was a curiosity to uncover the following entry in a dictionary of English slang and colloquialisms ‘fati-gu’ed/fattygewled – a jocular pronunciation of fatigued, possibly originally from a dialect pronunciation.’  Stegs spoke beautiful old broad Norf’k.  I never heard him speak anything else and he was the only person I ever heard use this particular word in this way (along with its little idiosyncratic pronunciation); and I still wonder to this very day if he heard it among the older generations of Islanders he grew up with pronouncing it and using it in this way. 


N: gerli (girlie) – is used in Norf’k as a common noun as in standard English, but regular use can sometimes turn it into a proper noun, such as to be found in names like Girlie Reuben (Christian) and Girlie Dicky or Aunty Girlie Nobbs.  It is used in Norf’k as it was used in English colloquial language between the late 19th and 20th centuries and though not an unexpected derivative, it is nevertheless a distinctive one.


And now for the final word of the week.  Among the highly multifunctional words in Norf’k we find the word ‘snich’ (snitch); which of course we ‘snitched’ from English.  We use this word in many and varied ways.  As a simple point of reference we will refer to the wonderfully creative and quintessentially English and children’s author Roald Dahl who uses this word most eloquently in The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant).  As the BFG most gallantly said ‘I would rather be chewing up rotsome snozzcumbers than snitching things’.  He later goes on to plead to his ‘human bean’ friend Sophie, as he takes down a bottle of his most delicious drop of frobscottle, and urges her by way of explanation ‘But please when you see how truly glumptious it is, do not be guzzling the whole thing.  Leave me a little snitchet for my supper’.  


This last reference will bring instant recognition to many Islanders, especially those who have reached their half-century, many of whom will have been told at some point or another as children ‘Gat snichet f’ sapa des nait’ (There is very little  to be had for dinner tonight).  As a Norf’k point of reference we also remember a quintessential iconic Islander no longer with us, the take a moment to remember one of our beloved centenarian, Auntie Gordie Beveridge, who like many of her generation spoke with equal finesse a most beautiful and proper form of English without a hint of accent; as well as a very broad and equally exacting form of Norf’k.  She could so easily and effortlessly switch from one to another and when she turned her bright, exceedingly perceptive eyes upon one and said with typical frankness ‘Wathen yorlye udeya snichen up?’ (What are you over there ‘snitching’ up?) you would know unequivocally that some indiscretion had not escaped her notice!  Such is the power of speaking your piece ‘properly’.


References

Lakeland Dialect –The Journal of the Lakeland Dialect Society (2011)


A Dictionary of Slang Unconventional English - Eric Partridge (George Routledge & Sons Ltd, 1936)


Speak Norfolk Today an Encyclopaedia of the Norfolk Island Language – Alice I. Buffett (1999)


The Pitcairnese Language – A.S. C. Ross ( 1964)


A Tahitian and English Dictionary – J. Davies (1851)


The BFG – Roald Dahl (1982)

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SPEAK ENGLISH PROPERLY WHY DON’T YOU! (part three) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, July 20, 2012


Music and dance have long been a part of Island culture.  It was and still is to be found everywhere in copious quantities; but in the past it was omnipotent – it was to be found in homes and in churches, people sung as they walked and talked, as they tarried, or gathered together with or without good reason, as they rowed the whale-boats, before and after they ate, and as they worked together, played and partied together, or went on picnics and riding expeditions.  Finally, and with great difficulty, they sing when they say goodbye.  Islanders are raised to sing together and are often to be heard singing alone.  They sing out of habit or for the sheer joy of it.  They sing for sentimental reasons, they sing to heal, and they sing for fun.  How can we keep from singing? 


Perhaps singing might be regarded as universal, but it is the high frequency and its connection to identity which makes it a matter of cultural distinction.  It is one of the great touchstones of Island life and in times gone by most Island homes had an accordion, piano, or a ukulele – and no respectable home was without a pair of spoons with which to make music.  Not that you really needed any of these things; all you need is a voice and in the age-old way you can always be singing at the top of your voice and at the drop of a hat.  So, maybe not all of us are pitch perfect! 


Music is still an intrinsic part of Island life even though technology has changed the way in which many people spend their time.  Music is strongly connected to our sense of ‘Island-identity’ and no more is this apparent than in our enduring repertoire of beloved old Norfolk hymns.  This week as we continue on with our exploration of English archaisms, dialectal, and colloquial influences it is interesting to reflect on the fact that until fairly recent times Islanders did not tend to compose and record songs and hymns in Norf’k or publish their poems and stories in the Norf’k language.  Invariably such compositions deferred to English – and a fairly proper form at that.  It has therefore been very exciting over the last twenty years or more to see an increasingly ‘public’ face to the Norf’k language.  We have entered a brave new world.


There is a growing sense of pride in the Norf’k language and a stronger sense of its legitimate place within the Island community; and in a much wider context.  That having been said, mention should be made of at least a few of the pioneer Norf’k writers like Jackie-Ralph Quintal, Ena-Ette Christian, and Archie Bigg who have paved the way for the written word; and singer-songwriters like Eileen Snell, Kath King, and Don Christian-Reynolds who have brought music to our ears—in Norf’k.


As usual, nothing contained herein is meant to offend but simply to record the history of the Norf’k language.  If some of these terms came through with our mutinous sea-faring fore-fathers it does nothing more than reflect the kind of language commonly used by them at the time.  Norf’k is not guilty of erudition, it is a working language of a working people and as such is designed to be easily understood by all who used it.  This week in the final round up of English-origin terms in Norf’k we will begin with the most wonderful Island musical term of all:-


N: kraek’eya (crack your ears) – in Norf’k this generally refers to singing or playing music beautifully; anything that is beautiful to listen to eg something pitch-perfect, sweet sounding. ‘Mai werd aa singa el kraek’ eya’ (My word that singer can crack your ears ie sing beautifully) or  ‘Hi el kraek guud wen hi s’ redi’ (When he’s in the mood he can crack or sing beautifully)    ‘Crack’ in the English sense refers to anything which is first class or excellent.  From c. 1790 this colloquial expression was especially to be found among athletes, regiments and riflemen.  Many readers will also be familiar with the English term a ‘crack shot’ when used in reference to a very good marksman, also the term ‘get cracking’ (to get a move one), and ‘to crack on’ (to verbally carry on) are sometimes also heard.  Others may also be familiar with the term ‘cracking’ in the context of ‘a cracking good time’ and the dialectal use in reference to long pleasant conversation eg ‘They sat by the fire cracking away into the night’.  In English, and particularly in Ireland, the word crack, or ’craig’ means news, gossip, fun, entertainment or enjoyable conversation/  The English crack was borrowed into Irish as craic in the mid-20th century and the Irish spelling was then reborrowed into English.  The term crack is ultimately derived from the Middle English crak, meaning "loud conversation, bragging talk". The context involving "news" and "gossip" originated in Northern English and Scots. A book on the speech of Northern England published in 1825 equates crack with "chat, conversation, news".  A collection of folk songs from Cumberland, Fletcher Christian’s stomping ground, which was published in 1865 refers to villagers "enjoying their crack".  How about that!


N: dablbehnk (double-bank) – to double-bank is to ride one up against one another ie banked up (especially on a horse); but on other conveyances as well ‘Plenti letl salan uya bin haewt’ gu dablbehnk orn’ hors f’ gu d’ skuul’ (Lots of children here used to have to double-bank on a horse to go to school).  Today in English we would simply say ‘I’ll take you for a double’ and that a motorbike has a ‘pillion passengers’.


N: jinka – a large, long, low, flat-decked ‘sled’ with wheels used to cart logs of timber.  In English this was known as either a jinker or a junker and was also a large conveyance for transporting logs. ‘Aklans griet graenfaadha bin gat’ jinka’ (Our great-grandfather George ‘Putt’ Nobbs had a jinker)


N: skini – in Norf’k a ‘skini’ is a very bad or unlikeable character.  It is a vulgate term which I suspect is fairly gender specific; to be frank a skini is a ‘bastard’.  ‘Dem oel salan wud bi tal hi es riil skini!’ (The old people would say he is a very bad person, difficult to like and difficult to get on with).    Though not necessarily easy to see the relationship, ‘skinny’ in English is to caste one’s skin, to strip naked.  It is possible when you strip someone naked, to the bare bones, you will see them for who they truly are (and not necessarily like what you see).  You all of course know about skinny-dipping—I am just hazarding a guess?  On Norfolk if you ‘skin-out’ a hihi (periwinkle) patch, or ‘skin’ a fruit tree, it has been stripped bare—and that’s not nice is it?


N: dienti (dainty) - if there could ever be such a thing as a terribly English Norf’k word, I am sure it would have to be ‘dainty’.  If an old Islander enquired as to whether ‘Yu gwen’ it yus dienti?’ (Are you going to eat your dainty?) then they would be referring to a small ‘dainty delight’ a delicious little delicacy or treat, sweet or savoury, of generally no more than a mouthful or two temptingly served and pleasing both to the palate and the eye, such as a ‘dainty pastry’.  In times gone by letters of poetry and whimsy might be addressed to a dear dainty delicious darling and in Phantasmagoria the English writer Lewis Carroll  speaks of ‘swallows ere returning to the toothsome dainty’, which was in this case great mouthfuls of oatmeal porridge.    


N: tini (tinny) – to be very lucky, a lucky shot or fluke, prone to experience good luck ‘Mai werd daa es tini shot paat’ (My goodness, that’s a lucky shot partner).  In Australian English we also find ‘tinny’ which means unusually lucky.  You will also find there terms such as ‘tin-arsed’, ‘tinny-arse’, and ‘tin-arsey’ as well (how creative we human beings are!) 

N: kehk (cack) – in Norf’k this term is used as both a noun (excrement or animal manure) and a verb (to void excrement).  If something ‘ties kehk’ (tastes cack) it follows that it has a most unpleasant taste.  If ‘yu gwen dorgs kehk’  (you are going to dog’s cack ie you are going ‘off’ home).  ‘Cack’ was originally Standard English where it was eventually taken up into dialectal English.  You may be familiar with English terms such as ‘cack-handed’ or ‘cacky-handed’ for left-handed people.  And since sometimes it seems rather difficult to get one’s head out of the toilet, that which we in Norf’k euphemistically call khlohset (closet), the Pitciarners call ‘duncan’.  Did you know that danken, dunnaken-or-kin, dunny-ken, or –kin is an English low colloquial term for the good old-fashioned privy and that the ‘dunnaken dray’ was the night cart.  So it’s probably no mistake that Australians go to the dunny, and Pitcairners go to the ‘dunn’ken’ (duncan), while Norfolk Islanders under the greater influences of English civility and standards of sense and sensibility spoke and behaved more ‘properly’.  Norfolk people say ‘ai gwen orn’ klohset’.  Which leads to that wonderful old idiomatic Norf’k expression ‘Yu haendi es’ khlohset’ (Your as handy as a closet or toilet) to which the pre-scripted reply is ‘Gat noe hoel iin’ (Without a hole in it!) 


N: aa boi in’ boet (the boy in the boat) – the clitoris.  In low English it is phrased slightly differently as ‘the little man in the boat’ and was in use from around the mid 19th – 20th Century.  Norf’k speakers, especially the older generations, with their love of the lyrical tidied it up by turning it into an alliterative phase which rolls more smoothly off the tongue; but could just as easily still earn you a clip over the ears—no matter how poetic you might have made it sound!


N: sponduuliks – money, cash.  This term was recorded in English with varied spellings spondolic(k)s, spondulicks, - ix, -ics, -lacks.  It was to be found in English and American English in the mid 1850s.  Given the sustained contact on Pitcairn and Norfolk Island with the American whalers it is possible that this term came through with the south-sea whalers.


N: griisi lak – ‘greasy luck’ means good luck.  This term ‘greasy luck’ is recorded in English and American English.  Originally the term applied to whale-ships, and specifically those having ‘greasy luck’, ie those who returned to their home ports in good time with a full cargo of oil.  On Norfolk Islanders very soon began to set up there own whaling operations.  This ceased in the mid 1960s and in time whaling has become a distant memory for most of us; yet the term ‘greasy luck’ still endures.  Still today, on both Norfolk and in the America, if you wish someone ‘greasy luck’ or if they have ‘greasy luck’ they have generally been fishing and were lucky.  Conversely if someone goes fishing and ‘skunks’, both here and in the States, they come home with nothing.


N: kech et (catch it) – to be in trouble, to be scolded, reprimanded, or castigated.  Sometimes terms with rather powerful consequences and connotations like ‘catch it’ have the ability to endure, are very rarely misconstrued, and are just as effective today as they were in the 1800s!  In Norf’k we might say ‘Hi iin deya kechenet’ (He is in there catching it).  There are a number of more modern English terms which convey similar sentiment ‘he’s getting a roasting’ and ‘she’s giving him what-for’ are among them.  An older Islander recently said to me ‘Shi kam iin ya bloe d’ traips aut’ mii’ (she came in here and blew the tripes out of me).  Although the person concerned was visibly upset and pained by her experience, to me it was a rather beautiful, colourful, and very English way of describing a most unpleasant experience.  For those who don’t know tripe is the stomach lining of cattle.  It is not considered particularly palatable by many people today and it requires a degree of preparation to make it so.


N: s’ kech (have caught) – this is of course not to be confused with ‘kech et’ (catch it), and hopefully this condition itself is not catching!  ‘Catch’ in this case is to become pregnant and it still means this in Norf’k.   In the wider English context ‘catch’ was a colloquialism mostly used by the lower classes in the late 19th – 20th Centuries with the same meaning as found in Norf’k.

N: ketchap – this Norf’k term comes from English ‘catchy’ and means attractive in both contexts. ‘Mai werd meses, yu kwait kechap desdieh’ (My word Missus, you are quite ‘catchy’ ie dressed up today)


N: taata – used in reference to a person of either sex known for a particularly negative or vexing trait ‘Hi es riil taata f’ daa, gu skin em fruut trii en liiw noen f’ enibohdi aels’ (He is a known rogue for that, to strip the fruit trees and leave none for anyone else).  In Tahitian taata is a multifunctional word.  From a base meaning of man, humankind, a human person (male or female) many other word forms are derived.  In English the word ‘tartar’ also has a very long and interesting history.  Perhaps because these two words are homophones it was easily taken up and applied on Pitcairn in the early years, or perhaps it came through much later on.  It is a word most commonly found among the oldest and most broadest Norf’k speakers.


In its historical English context the Tartars or Tartarians (properly Tatar, the ‘r’ being inserted in Medieval times) were native of central Asia, the home of a fierce war-like race.  The word was coined to suggest that the Asiatic hordes who occasioned such anxiety in Europe came from hell (Tartaraus) and were the biblical locusts of Revelations.  In time the word ‘tarter’ was extended and used in the context of a thief, a strolling vagabond, or a shaper; and also to refer to someone who was adept eg ‘He is quite a tarter at cricket’.  A ‘tartarian’ was a strolling vagrant, a thief, a sharper, or a swindler.  The following is found in A New Canting Dictionary 1725 ‘catch a tarter – said, among the Canting Varlets, when a Rogue attacks one who he things a Passenger, but proves to be [of the 59th order of rogues], who in his Turn, having overcome the Assailant, robs, plunders and binds him’.  From this account one can certainly gleam a fair appreciate of the dark nature of this term when used in old broad-Norf’k.   Of course in more modern English the term can take on a much lighter note, for example ‘I haven’t always been an old tartar you know, at one time I was a gay and giddy girl, just like all the other girls’.


Whatever its rightful origin ‘taata’ is one of those old broad Norf’k words which I suspect is very close to obsolescence.  And it is not alone.


While language change is not necessarily a regretful thing and must be considered a part of the natural course or progression of things, what is perhaps more regretful to some is the loss or watering down of broad Norf’k as it increasingly assimilates into English.  But having said that; we are nevertheless increasingly lucky in a modern context that we can now celebrate our differences and not see the Norf’k language and culture as less than or inferior to any other language, including English.  Today we are taught to respect one another more, to celebrate our personal histories and   our heritage, and more freely exercise our individual right to speak and write our own language and express our culture without fear or favour.  Here on Norfolk we are also extremely fortunate to be supported in those endeavours by a band of passionate, respectful, and dedicated people from all walks of life and many professions who encourage this right and are committed to ensuring that the Norf’k language survives into the future. 


If we were ever to look for one over-riding factor to explain why the Island’s language did not disappear into the mists of time or crumble under such sustained pressure to ‘speak English properly’ and to stop ‘murdering Her Majesty’ it is that to speak Norf’k is a joy.  It is too much fun to stop and being persecuted throughout the ‘suppression years’ for speaking it did not stop many of the old Islanders from going back for more Norf’k but it did drive the language underground to the degree that some experts have speculated on the fact that Norf’k may be a cant or secret code language.  Which it is not; though at times some Islanders do seem to derive a perverse kind of pleasure in the obscurity which can sometimes be achieved from speaking broad Norf’k in front of non-speakers.


There are of course some Islanders who still wear the psychological scars of the suppression years and for various reasons they either point-blank refuse, or simply cannot bring themselves to speak anything other than their most proper English in mixed company; in part because they feel that others might think the language, and by extension its speakers, are somehow inferior.  Today this protective reflex has created a noticeably insular or closed attitude to ‘outsiders’ among many native Norf’k speakers.


At the end of this dilemma lies the fact that most Islanders today now also probably want to be recognised as being culturally distinct; they are desirous of the recognition of the separateness of their language and culture, not because it is elitist or makes them any more special or different to the next person but because it is intrinsically and irretrievably tied to their sense of self and sense of identity. 


In its formative years on tiny isolated Pitcairn Island the language itself was perhaps more akin to a masterless ‘bitsa’ puppy than anything else; it roamed freely, wove and dove in and out about the heels of the Polynesian and English people on its Island home keeping a steady eye on what looked good, or tasted good, and what it found appealing, or useful.  It hoarded these tid-bits away like bony-treasures for a time when they might be needed again.  Everything the bitsa took on board would serve some future purpose and with ‘bitsa’ this and ‘bitsa’ that a workable language was quickly formed.  It was one which worked where and when it was needed, and the bitsa was soon content and happy with its lot in life; it did not need to look further afield for (as everyone knows) the happiest dog in the world is the masterless ‘bitsa’ who roams the land with its nose pressed expectantly into the prevailing wind forever anticipating the next exciting discovery or grand adventure but never straying too far from the security of home. 


The myriad of sources, differences in pronunciation, and sentence construction is part of what can sometimes make Norf’k difficult to speak for some new speakers.  Those who have an ear for it might find Norf’k relatively easy to understand—while others find it utterly confounding.  Added to this is a curious linguistic time lag.  As we have seen over the last three weeks, much of its English content is archaic and colloquial, and much of what is obsolete in standard English still remains in Norf’k.   Of course even on a good day the English language is in itself a very curious beast, and you can certainly see how it has helped to make the Norf’k language also seem more peculiar (or unique) than what it already is.  Then finally add to this melting pot the fact that there are curiosities and peculiarities specific to both the Polynesian and English languages from which it is derived which also raise a head in Norf’k


Many of the questions relating to word origins in Norf’k will probably remain eternally unanswered.  Perhaps the real question that Norf’k speakers who wish to retain the language, and especially those who care about its continuation, should ask themselves is whether broad Norf’k is worthy of conscious conservation or whether it is more desirable to allow the effects and forces to which many endangered living languages are vulnerable to continue; at the risk of eventual and perhaps total assimilation into English. 


What kind of language will we be speaking in the future?  Will it be English spoken with a Norf’k accent, or a watered-down version of broad Norf’k; which some have already coined as English-Norf’k.  Perhaps at the end of the day it is best to not lose too much sleep over either proper English; or proper Norf’k.  As fast as dictionary makers try to capture today’s language; it has moved on and is gone.  It is unlikely that one day, much like our forebears were urged in no uncertain terms to speak ‘proper-English’, that our children will be told firmly to speak ‘proper-Norf’k?  But it is food for thought.  Aunt Nin always said ye’orlye (ye all [of] ye) not yorli; and Islanders like Jeannie Mitchell and Dottie Quintal always insisted that the only ‘hour’ was on the clock ‘ent auwa, es aklan!’ and it is not English ‘our’; it’s Norf’k aklan (our clan).  In other words—speak proper Norf’k why don’t you! 


Dii ala dieh, daa ala dem, deswi ala daetwe, bembeya ala bemeya, fehmli ala fehmle – domain ala dumain waa (lornges wi nor lorset!) 


References

Lakeland Dialect –The Journal of the Lakeland Dialect Society (2011)

A Dictionary of Slang Unconventional English - Eric Partridge (George Routledge & Sons Ltd, 1936)

Speak Norfolk Today an Encyclopaedia of the Norfolk Island Language – Alice I. Buffett (1999)

The Pitcairnese Language – A.S. C. Ross ( 1964)

A Tahitian and English Dictionary – J. Davies (1851)

Wikipedia search for dialectal ‘crack’ – downloaded 27/07/2012

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