Norfolk Island running on fumes as residents grapple with fuel shortage

  • @kathymarksoz

The pace of life is always slow on Norfolk Island, a scenic speck of land in the Pacific Ocean settled by descendants of the Bounty mutineers.

Now it has ground to a halt, because the island has run out of petrol.

Situated 900 miles east of Brisbane, the island – just five-miles long by three-miles wide – depends on supplies delivered by ship. But when a tanker arrived with a fuel delivery recently, the sea was too rough for it to enter port and unload. For 10 days, it anchored off the coast, within tantalising view of the residents. Then it had to continue on its way.

Now only emergency reserves of petrol are left and they have been reserved for visitors, since the tourism industry keeps Norfolk – an external territory of Australia – afloat. As for its 2,000 or so residents, they are dusting off their bicycles (not the ideal mode of transport on the hilly island) or getting around on foot. Andre Nobbs, the Tourism and Industry Minister, told ABC radio that the next ship was due to arrive from New Zealand next Thursday with 100,000l of fuel. "In the interim period we've got pretty much of an emergency management situation of the remaining fuel stock," he said.

Originally settled by East Polynesian seafarers, the island was colonised by Britain in the 18th century. It later became the site of a notoriously brutal penal colony and was dubbed "Hell in the Pacific". After the colony moved to Tasmania, Queen Victoria offered the island to the heirs of HMS Bounty mutineers, who had outgrown their original home, Pitcairn Island. They relocated in 1856 and their descendants constitute half of today's population.

Barry Soley, who runs a petrol station on the island, said some motorists had filled up during panic-buying earlier this week. Others had "missed the boat"and did not even have enough fuel for their lawnmowers.

Mr Nobbs said tourists hiring rental cars would be allowed to fill up with A$50 (£34) of petrol. They were being given priority, because "the tourism industry is what supports the island", he said. Locals, he suggested, should take in the beautiful scenery while travelling around under their own steam.

Norfolkers with Pitcairn blood speak their own language, a blend of Tahitian and 18th-century English, which is a legacy of the British sailors who took Polynesian wives.