The Territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, also called Cocos Islands /ËkoÊkÉs/ and Keeling Islands, is a territory of Australia, located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Christmas Island and approximately midway between Australia and Sri Lanka.
The territory consists of two atolls and 27 coral islands, of which two, West Island and Home Island, are inhabited with a total population of approximately 600.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of two flat, low-lying coral atolls with an area of 14.2 square kilometres (5.5Â sqÂ mi), 26 kilometres (16Â mi) of coastline, a highest elevation of 5 metres (16Â ft) and thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation. The climate is pleasant, moderated by the southeast trade winds for about nine months of the year and with moderate rainfall. Tropical cyclones may occur in the early months of the year.
North Keeling Island is an atoll consisting of just one C-shaped island, a nearly closed atoll ring with a small opening into the lagoon, about 50 metres (160Â ft) wide, on the east side. The island measures 1.1 square kilometres (270 acres) in land area and is uninhabited. The lagoon is about 0.5 square kilometres (120 acres). North Keeling Island and the surrounding sea to 1.5Â km (0.93Â mi) from shore form the Pulu Keeling National Park, established on 12 December 1995. It is home to the only surviving population of the endemic, and endangered, Cocos Buff-banded Rail.
South Keeling Islands is an atoll consisting of 24 individual islets forming an incomplete atoll ring, with a total land area of 13.1 square kilometres (5.1Â sqÂ mi). Only Home Island and West Island are populated. The Cocos Malays maintain weekend shacks, referred to as pondoks, on most of the larger islands.
There are no rivers or lakes on either atoll. Fresh water resources are limited to water lenses on the larger islands, underground accumulations of rainwater lying above the seawater. These lenses are accessed through shallow bores or wells.
Cocos (Keeling) Island is located on the opposite side of the globe from Corn Island, Nicaragua, relatively close to Cocos Island, Costa Rica.
Flora and fauna
In 2010, the population of the islands is estimated at just over 600. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island (estimated population 100) and the ethnic Malays on Home Island (estimated population 500). A Cocos dialect of Malay and English are the main languages spoken, and 60% of Cocos Islanders are Sunni Muslim, the other 40% are Christian.
In 1609, Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, while serving in the East India Company, but they remained uninhabited until the 19th century.
In 1814, a Scottish merchant seaman named Captain John Clunies-Ross stopped briefly at the islands on a trip to India, nailing up a Union Jack and planning to return and settle on the islands with his family in the future.
However, a wealthy Englishman named Alexander Hare had similar plans, and hired a captainÂ â" coincidentally, Clunies-Ross' brotherÂ â" to bring him and a harem of forty Malay women to the islands, where he hoped to set up his own private residence. Hare had previously served as governor of Maluka, a colony in Borneo, and found that "he could not confine himself to the tame life that prosy civilisation affords".
When Clunies-Ross returned two years later with his wife, children and mother-in-law, and found Hare already established on the island and living with a private harem, a feud grew instantly between the two men. Clunies-Ross' eight sailors "began at once the invasion of the new kingdom to take possession of it, women and all".
After some time, Hare's women began deserting him, and instead finding themselves mates amongst Clunies-Ross' sailors. Disheartened, Hare left the island. He died in Bencoolen in 1834.
Clunies-Ross' workers were paid in a currency called the Cocos rupee, a currency John Clunies-Ross minted himself that could only be redeemed at the company store.
On 1 April 1836, HMSÂ Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings to establish the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle. To the young naturalist Charles Darwin, who was on the ship, the results supported a theory he had developed of how atolls formed, which he later published as The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs. He studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens. Darwin's assistant Syms Covington noted that "an Englishman [he was in fact Scottish] and HIS family, with about sixty or seventy mulattos from the Cape of Good Hope, live on one of the islands. Captain Ross, the governor, is now absent at the Cape."
Annexation by the British Empire
The islands were annexed by the British Empire in 1857. This annexation was carried out by Captain Stephen Grenville Fremantle in command of HMSÂ Juno. Fremantle claimed the islands for the British Empire and appointed Ross II as Superintendent. In 1867, their administration was placed under the Straits Settlements, which included Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886. The Cocos Islands under the Clunies-Ross family have been cited as an example of a 19th-century micronation.
In 1901 a telegraph cable station was established on Direction Island. Undersea cables went to Rodrigues, Mauritius, Batavia, Java and Fremantle, Western Australia. In 1910 a wireless station was established to communicate with passing ships. The cable station ceased operation in 1966.
World War I
On the morning of 9 November 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I. A landing party from the German cruiser SMSÂ Emden captured and disabled the wireless and cable communications station on Direction Island, but not before the station was able to transmit a distress call. An Allied troop convoy was passing nearby, and the Australian cruiser HMASÂ Sydney was detached from the convoy escort to investigate.
Sydney spotted the island and Emden at 09:15, with both ships preparing for combat. At 11:20, the heavily damaged Emden beached herself on North Keeling Island. The Australian warship broke to pursue Emdenââ'âs supporting collier, which scuttled herself, then returned to North Keeling Island at 16:00. At this point, Emdenââ'âs battle ensign was still flying: usually a sign that a ship intends to continue fighting. After no response to instructions to lower the ensign, two salvoes were shot into the beached cruiser, after which the Germans lowered the flag and raised a white sheet. Sydney had orders to ascertain the status of the transmission station, but returned the next day to provide medical assistance to the Germans.
134 personnel aboard Emden were killed, and 69 were wounded, compared to only 4 killed and 16 wounded aboard Sydney. The German survivors were taken aboard the Australian cruiser, which caught up to the troop convoy in Colombo on 15 November, then transported to Malta and handed over the prisoners to the British Army. An additional 50 German personnel from the shore party, unable to be recovered before Sydney arrived, commandeered a schooner and escaped from Direction Island, eventually arriving in Constantinople. Emden was the last active Central Powers warship in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, which meant troopships from Australia and New Zealand could sail without naval escort, and Allied ships could be deployed elsewhere.
World War II
During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link. The Cocos were valuable for direction finding by the Y service, the world-wide intelligence system used during the war.
Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as an airfield for German planes and as a base for commerce raiders operating in the Indian Ocean. Following Japan's entry into the war, Japanese forces occupied neighbouring islands. To avoid drawing their attention to the Cocos cable station and its islands' garrison, the seaplane anchorage between Direction and Horsburgh islands was not used. Radio transmitters were also kept silent, except in emergencies.
After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, the islands were administered from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and West and Direction Islands were placed under Allied military administration. The islands' garrison initially consisted of a platoon from the British Army's King's African Rifles, located on Horsburgh Island, with two 6-inch (152.4Â mm) guns to cover the anchorage. The local inhabitants all lived on Home Island. Despite the importance of the islands as a communication centre, the Japanese made no attempt either to raid or to occupy them and contented themselves with sending over a reconnaissance aircraft about once a month.
On the night of 8â"9 May 1942, 15 members of the garrison, from the Ceylon Defence Force, mutinied under the leadership of Gratien Fernando. The mutineers were said to have been provoked by the attitude of their British officers and were also supposedly inspired by anti-imperialist beliefs. They attempted to take control of the gun battery on the islands. The Cocos Islands Mutiny was crushed, but the mutineers killed one non-mutinous soldier and wounded one officer. Seven of the mutineers were sentenced to death at a trial that was later alleged to have been improperly conducted. Four of the sentences were commuted, but three men were executed, including Fernando. These were to be the only British Commonwealth soldiers executed for mutiny during the Second World War.
On 25 December 1942, the Japanese submarine I-166 bombarded the islands but caused no damage.
Later in the war, two airstrips were built, and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia and to provide support during the planned reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore. The first aircraft to arrive were Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIIIs of No. 136 Squadron RAF. They included some Liberator bombers from No. 321 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF (members of exiled Dutch forces serving with the Royal Air Force), which were also stationed on the islands. When in July 1945 No. 99 and No. 356 RAF squadrons arrived on West Island, they brought with them a daily newspaper called Atoll which contained news of what was happening in the outside world. Run by airmen in their off-duty hours, it achieved fame when dropped by Liberator bombers on POW camps over the heads of the Japanese guards. In 1946, the administration of the islands reverted to Singapore.
Transfer to Australia
On 23 November 1955, the islands were transferred to Australian control under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 (an Australian Act) pursuant to the Cocos Islands Act, 1955 (a UK Act). Mr. H.Â J. Hull was appointed the first Official Representative (now Administrator) of the new Territory. He had been a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Australian Navy and was released for the purpose. Under Commonwealth Cabinet Decision 1573 of 9 September 1958, Mr. Hull's appointment was terminated and John William Stokes was appointed on secondment from the Northern Territory Police. A media release at the end of October 1958 by the Minister for Territories, Mr. Hasluck, commended Mr. Hull's three years of service on Cocos.
Stokes served in the position from 31 October 1958 to 30 September 1960. His son's boyhood memories and photos of the Islands have been published. C.Â I. Buffett MBE from Norfolk Island succeeded him and served from 28 July 1960 to 30 June 1966, and later acted as Administrator back on Cocos and on Norfolk Island. In 1974, Ken Mullen wrote a small book about his time with wife and son from 1964 to 1966 working at the Cable Station on Direction Island.
In the 1970s, the Australian government's dissatisfaction with the Clunies-Ross feudal style of rule of the island increased. In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of A$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. By agreement, the family retained ownership of Oceania House, their home on the island. However, in 1983, the Australian government reneged on this agreement, and told John Clunies-Ross that he should leave the Cocos. The following year the High Court of Australia ruled that resumption of Oceania House was unlawful, but the Australian government ordered that no government business was to be granted to Clunies-Ross's shipping company, an action that contributed to his bankruptcy. John Clunies-Ross now lives in Perth, Western Australia. However, some members of the Clunies-Ross family still live on the Cocos.
Extensive preparations were undertaken by the government of Australia to prepare the Cocos Malays to vote in their referendum of self-determination. Discussions began in 1982, with an aim of holding the referendum, under United Nations supervision, in mid-1983. Under guidelines developed by the UN Decolonization Committee, residents were to be offered three choices: full independence, free association, or integration with Australia. The latter was preferred by both the islanders and the Australian government. However, a change in government in Canberra following the March 1983 Australian elections delayed the vote by one year. While the Home Island Council stated a preference for a traditional communal consensus "vote", the UN insisted on a secret ballot. The referendum was held on 6 April 1984, with all 261 eligible islanders participating, including the Clunies-Ross family: 229 voted for integration, 21 for Free Association, nine for independence, and two failed to indicate a preference.
The capital of the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands is West Island while the largest settlement is the village of Bantam (Home Island). Governance of the islands is based on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 and depends heavily on the laws of Australia. The islands are administered from Canberra by the Attorney-General's Department (before 29 November 2007 administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services), through a non-resident Administrator appointed by the Governor-General.
The current Administrator is Barry Haase, who was appointed on 5 October 2014 and is also the Administrator of Christmas Island. These two Territories comprise Australia's Indian Ocean Territories. The Australian Government provides Commonwealth-level government services through the Christmas Island Administration and the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. As per the Federal Government's Territories Law Reform Act 1992, which came into force on 1 July 1992, Western Australian laws are applied to the Cocos Islands, "so far as they are capable of applying in the Territory."; non-application or partial application of such laws is at the discretion of the federal government. The Act also gives Western Australian courts judicial power over the islands. The Cocos Islands remain constitutionally distinct from Western Australia, however; the power of the state to legislate for the territory is power delegated by the federal government. The kind of services typically provided by a state government elsewhere in Australia are provided by departments of the Western Australian Government, and by contractors, with the costs met by the federal government.
There also exists a unicameral Cocos (Keeling) Islands Shire Council with seven seats. A full term lasts four years, though elections are held every two years; approximately half the members retire each two years. Federally, Cocos (Keeling) Islanders form the electorate of Lingiari with Christmas Island and outback Northern Territory.
Defence and law enforcement
Defence is the responsibility of the Australian Defence Force. There are no active military installations or defence personnel on the islands. The Administrator may request the assistance of the Australian Defence Force if required.
Civilian law enforcement and community policing is provided by the Australian Federal Police. The normal deployment to the island is one sergeant and one constable. These are augmented by two locally engaged Special Members who have police powers.
Since 1992, court services have been provided by the Western Australian Department of the Attorney-General under a service delivery arrangement with the Australian Government. Western Australian Court Services provide Magistrates Court, District Court, Supreme Court, Family Court, Children's Court, Coroner's Court and Registry for births, deaths and marriages and change of name services. Magistrates and judges from Western Australia convene a circuit court as required.
Home Island and West Island have medical clinics providing basic health services, but serious medical conditions and injuries cannot be treated on the island and patients are sent to Perth for treatment.
There is a small and growing tourist industry focused on water-based or nature activities.
Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but most food and most other necessities must be imported from Australia or elsewhere.
The Cocos Islands Cooperative Society Ltd. employs construction workers, stevedores, and lighterage worker operations. Tourism employs others. The unemployment rate was 11.3% in 2006.
The Cocos Islands are geostrategically important because of their proximity to Indian Ocean and South China Sea shipping lanes. The United States Armed Forces have planned to construct airbases on the Cocos Islands, capable of supporting drone-based espionage and surveillance over the South China Sea. Euronews described the plan as providing Australian support for increased American presence in Southeast Asia, but likely to upset Chinese officials. James Cogan has written for the World Socialist Web Site that airbase construction at Cocos is one component of Obama's "pivot" towards Asia, facilitating control of the sea lanes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and potentially allowing US forces to enforce a blockade against China. After plans to construct airbases were leaked to the Washington Post, the then Australian defence minister Stephen Smith stated that the Australian government views "Cocos as being potentially a long-term strategic location, but that is down the track."
Communications and transport
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands have fifteen kilometres of highway.
There is one paved airport on the West Island. A tourist bus operates on Home Island.
The only airport is Cocos (Keeling) Islands Airport with a single 2,441Â m (8,009Â ft) paved runway. Virgin Australia operates scheduled jet services from Perth Airport via Christmas Island. After 1952, the airport at Cocos Islands was a stop for airline flights between Australia and South Africa, and Qantas and South African Airways stopped there to refuel. The arrival of long range jet aircraft ended this need in 1967.
An interisland ferry, the Cahaya Baru, connects West, Home and Direction Islands.
There is a lagoon anchorage between Horsburgh and Direction islands for larger vessels, while yachts have a dedicated anchorage area in the southern lee of Direction Island. There are no major seaports on the islands.
The islands are connected within Australia's telecommunication system (with number range +61 8 9162 xxxx). Public phones are located on both West Island and Home Island. A reasonably reliable GSM mobile phone network (number range +61 406 xxx), run by CiiA (Christmas Island Internet Association), operates on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. SIM cards (full size) and recharge cards can be purchased from the Telecentre on West Island to access this service.
Australia Post provides mail services with the postcode 6799. There are post offices on West Island and Home Island. Standard letters and express post items are sent by air twice weekly, but all other mail is sent by sea and can take up to two months for delivery.
.cc is the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It is administered by VeriSign through a subsidiary company eNIC, which promotes it for international registration as "the next .com"; .cc was originally assigned in October 1997 to eNIC Corporation of Seattle WA by the IANA. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also uses the .cc domain, along with .nc.tr.
Internet access on Cocos is provided by CiiA (Christmas Island Internet Association), and is supplied via satellite ground station on West Island, and distributed via a wireless PPPoE-based WAN on both inhabited islands. Casual internet access is available at the Telecentre on West Island, and the Indian Ocean Group Training office on Home Island.
The National Broadband Network announced in early 2012 that it would extend service to Cocos in 2015 via high speed satellite link.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands have access to a range of modern communication services. Digital television stations are broadcast from Western Australia via satellite. A local radio station, 6CKI â" Voice of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, is staffed by community volunteers and provides some local content.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands receives a range of digital channels from Western Australia via satellite and is broadcast from the Airport Building on the West Island on the following VHF frequencies:
From 2013 onwards, Cocos Island will receive four Malaysian channels via satellite:
There is a school in the archipelago, Cocos Islands District High School, with campuses located on West Island (Kindergarten to Year 10), and the other on Home Island (Kindergarten to Year 6). CIDHS is part of the Western Australia education School instruction is in English on both campuses, with Cocos Malay teacher aides assisting the younger children in Kindergarten, Pre-Preparatory and early Primary with the English curriculum on the Home Island Campus. The Home Language of Cocos Malay is valued whilst students engage in learning English.
- Index of Cocos (Keeling) Islands-related articles
- Banknotes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
- Cocos Malays
- King of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
- Pearl Islands (Isla de Cocos, Panama; Cocos Island, Costa Rica).
- Â This article incorporatesÂ public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document "2003 edition".
- Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands homepage
- Areas of individual islets
- Atoll Research Bulletin vol. 403
- Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism website
- Noel Crusz, The Cocos Islands mutiny, reviewed by Peter Stanley (Principal Historian, Australian War Memorial).
- The man who lost a "coral kingdom"
- Amateur Radio DX Pedition to Cocos (Keeling) Islands VK9EC