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Christmas Island

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Territory of Christmas Island
Anthem:  Advance Australia Fair
and largest city
Flying Fish Cove ("The Settlement")
Official languages English ( de facto)
Ethnic groups 70% Chinese, 20% European, 10% Malay
Demonym Christmas Islanders
Government Federal constitutional monarchy
 -  Queen of Australia Elizabeth II
 -  Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
Quentin Bryce
 -  Administrator Brian Lacy
 -  Shire President Gordon Thomson
Territory of Australia
 -  Sovereignty
transferred to Australia

 -  Total 135 km2 
52 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0
 -  2009 estimate 1,402 ( n/a)
 -  Density 10.39/km2 ( n/a)
26.96/sq mi
Currency Australian dollar ( AUD)
Time zone ( UTC+7)
Calling code 61
ISO 3166 code CX
Internet TLD .cx

The Territory of Christmas Island is a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean. It is located 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) northwest of the Western Australian city of Perth, 360 km (220 mi) south of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and 975 km (606 mi) ENE of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

It has a population of 1,403 residents who live in a number of "settlement areas" on the northern tip of the island: Flying Fish Cove (also known as Kampong), Silver City, Poon Saan, and Drumsite.

The island’s geographic isolation and history of minimal human disturbance has led to a high level of endemism among its flora and fauna, which is of significant interest to scientists and naturalists. 63% of its 135 square kilometres (52 sq mi) is an Australian national park. There exist large areas of primary monsoonal forest.

Phosphate, deposited originally as dead marine organisms (not guano as often thought), has been mined on the island for many years.



British and Dutch navigators first included the island on their charts in the early 17th century. Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary, a British East India Company vessel, named the island when he sailed past it on Christmas Day in 1643. A map by Pieter Goos, published in 1666, was the first to include the island. Goos labelled the island "Mony"; many are not sure what this means.

William Dampier, aboard the British ship Cygnet, made the earliest recorded visit to the island in March 1688. He found it uninhabited. Dampier gave an account of the visit which can be found in his Voyages: Dampier was trying to reach Cocos from New Holland. His ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction, arriving at Christmas Island 28 days later. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the west coast). Two of his crewmen were the first humans known to have set foot on Christmas Island.

Daniel Beekman made the next recorded visit, chronicled in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East Indies.

Exploration and annexation

Poon Saan in the evening
Poon Saan shops

The first attempt at exploring the island was in 1857 by the crew of the Amethyst. They tried to reach the summit of the island, but found the cliffs impassable.

During the 1872–76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist Dr John Murray carried out extensive surveys.

In 1887, Captain Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, having discovered an anchorage in a bay that he named Flying Fish Cove, landed a party and made a small but interesting collection of the flora and fauna. In the next year, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited it for ten days, accompanied by J. J. Lister, who gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection.

Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Sir John Murray for examination were many of nearly pure phosphate of lime, a discovery which led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on 6 June 1888.

Settlement and exploitation

Soon afterwards, a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (some 900 kilometres to the south west) to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos.

Phosphate mining began in the 1890s using indentured workers from Singapore, Malaya and China.

The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate Commissioners and District Officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office through the Straits Settlements, and later the Crown Colony of Singapore.

Japanese invasion

From the outbreak of war in South East Asia in December 1941, Christmas Island was a target for Japanese occupation because of its rich phosphate deposits. A naval gun was installed under a British officer and four NCOs supported by Indian soldiers. The first attack was carried out on 21 January 1942 by the Japanese submarine I-159, which torpedoed a Norwegian vessel, the Eidsvold, while it was loading phosphate in Flying Fish Cove. The vessel drifted and eventually sank off West White Beach. 50 European and Asian staff and their families were evacuated to Perth. In late February and early March 1942, two aerial bombing raids and shelling from the sea led the District Officer to hoist the white flag. After the Japanese naval group sailed away, the British officer raised the Union Jack once more. During the night of 10–11 March a mutiny of the Indian troops, abetted by the Sikh policemen, led to the murder of the five British soldiers and the imprisonment of the remaining 21 Europeans. On 31 March, a Japanese fleet of 9 vessels arrived and the island was surrendered. A naval brigade, phosphate engineers, and 700 marines came ashore and rounded up the workforce, most of which had fled to the jungle. Sabotaged equipment was repaired and preparations were made to resume the mining and export of phosphate.

Isolated acts of sabotage and the torpedoing of the Nissei Maru at the wharf on 17 November 1942 meant that only small amounts of phosphate were exported to Japan during the occupation. In November 1943, over 60% of the Island's population was evacuated to Surabayan prison camps, leaving a total population of just under 500 Chinese and Malays and 15 Japanese to survive as best they could. In October 1945 HMS Rother reoccupied Christmas Island.

Transfer to Australia

At Australia's request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia; in 1957, the Australian government paid the government of Singapore £2.9 million in compensation, a figure based mainly on an estimated value of the phosphate forgone by Singapore.

Under Commonwealth Cabinet Decision 1573 of 9 September 1958, D. E. Nickels was appointed the first Official Representative of the new Territory. In a Media Statement on 5 August 1960, the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, said, among other things, that "His extensive knowledge of the Malay language and the customs of the Asian people... has proved invaluable in the inauguration of Australian administration... During his two years on the Island he had faced unavoidable difficulties... and constantly sought to advance the Island's interests." John William Stokes succeeded him and served from 1 October 1960 to 12 June 1966. On his departure he was lauded by all sectors of the Island community. In 1968 the Official Secretary was re-titled an Administrator in 1968 and, since 1997, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands together are called the Australian Indian Ocean Territories and share a single Administrator resident on Christmas Island. A list and timetable of the Island's leaders since its settlement is at and in Neale (1988) and Bosman (1993).

Refugee and immigration detention

From the late 1980s and early 1990s, boats carrying asylum seekers and mainly departing from Indonesia landed on the island. In 2001, Christmas Island was the site of the Tampa controversy, in which the Australian government stopped a Norwegian ship, MV Tampa, from disembarking 438 rescued asylum seekers at Christmas Island. The ensuing standoff and the associated political reactions in Australia were a major issue in the 2001 Australian federal election.

Another boatload of asylum seekers was taken from Christmas Island to Papua New Guinea for processing, after it was claimed that many of the adult asylum seekers threw their children into the water, apparently in protest at being turned away. This was later proven to be false. Many of the refugees were subsequently accepted by New Zealand.

The former Howard Government later secured the passage of legislation through the Australian Parliament which excised Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone, meaning that asylum seekers arriving on Christmas Island could not automatically apply to the Australian government for refugee status. This allowed the Royal Australian Navy to relocate them to other countries (Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, and Nauru) as part of the so-called Pacific Solution. In 2006 an Immigration Detention Centre, containing approximately 800 beds, was constructed on the island for the Department of Immigration. Originally estimated to cost $210 million, the final cost was over $400 million.

In 2007, the Rudd Government announced plans to decommission the Manus Island and Nauru centres; processing would then occur on Christmas Island itself.

In 2010, 30 asylum seekers died off the coast of the island as the boat they were travelling on crashed into the rocks off Flying Fish Cove.


As of 2006, the estimated population is 1,493. (The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a population of 1,508 as of the 2001 Census.)

The ethnic composition is 70% Chinese (mainly Cantonese), 20% European and 10% Malay. Religions practised on Christmas Island include Buddhism 67%, Christianity 11%, Islam 10% and others 2%. English is the official language, but Chinese languages and Malay are also spoken.

Postage stamps

A postal agency was opened on the island in 1901 and sold stamps of the Strait Settlements.

After the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), postage stamps of the British Military Administration in Malaya were in use, then stamps of Singapore.

In 1958, the island received its own postage stamps after being put under Australian custody. It had a large philatelic and postal independence, managed first by the Phosphate Commission (1958–1969) and then by the Island's Administration (1969–1993). This ended on 2 March 1993 when Australia Post became the island's postal operator: stamps of Christmas Island can be used in Australia and Australian stamps in the island.


Christmas Island is a non-self governing territory of Australia, currently administered by the Attorney-General's Department Administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services before 29 November 2007. The legal system is under the authority of the Governor-General of Australia and Australian law. An Administrator appointed by the Governor-General represents the monarch and Australia.

The Australian Government provides Commonwealth-level government services through the Christmas Island Administration and the Department of Infrastructure. There is no state government; instead, state government type services are provided by contractors, including departments of the Western Australian Government, with the costs met by the Australian (Commonwealth) Government. A unicameral Shire of Christmas Island with nine seats provides local government services and is elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Elections are held every two years, with half the members standing for election.

Christmas Island residents who are Australian citizens also vote in Commonwealth (federal) elections. Christmas Island residents are represented in the House of Representatives through the Northern Territory Division of Lingiari and in the Senate by Northern Territory Senators.

In early 1986, the Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag; the winning design was adopted as the informal flag of the territory for over a decade, and in 2002 it was made the official flag of Christmas Island.


Phosphate mining had been the only significant economic activity, but in December 1987 the Australian Government closed the mine. In 1991, the mine was reopened by a consortium which included many of the former mine workers as shareholders. With the support of the government, the $34 million Christmas Island Casino and Resort opened in 1993, but was closed in 1998 and has not re-opened. The Australian Government in 2001 agreed to support the creation of a commercial spaceport on the island, however this has not yet been constructed, and appears that it will not proceed in the future. The Howard Government built a temporary immigration detention centre on the island in 2001 and planned to replace it with a larger, modern facility located at North West Point until Howard's defeat in the 2007 elections.


Christmas Island

Located at 10°30′S 105°40′E, the island is a quadrilateral with hollowed sides, about 19 kilometres (12 mi) in greatest length and 14.5 km (9.0 mi) in extreme breadth. The total land area is 135 square kilometres (52 sq mi), with 138.9 km (86.3 mi) of coastline. The island is the flat summit of a submarine mountain more than 4,500 metres (14,800 ft), the depth of the platform from which it rises being about 4,200 m (13,780 ft) and its height above the sea being upwards of 300 m (984 ft). The mountain was originally a volcano, and some basalt is exposed in places such as The Dales and Dolly Beach, but most of the surface rock is limestone accumulated from the growth of coral over millions of years. “The summit of this mountain peak is formed of a succession of tertiary limestones ranging in age from the Eocene (or Oligocene) up to recent reef-deposits, with intercalations in the older beds of volcanic rocks.”

The climate is tropical, with heat and humidity moderated by trade winds. Steep cliffs along much of the coast rise abruptly to a central plateau. Elevation ranges from sea level to 361 m (1,184 ft) at Murray Hill. The island is mainly tropical rainforest, of which 63% is National Park.

The narrow fringing reef surrounding the island can be a maritime hazard.

Christmas Island is 500 km (310 mi) south of Indonesia and about 2,600 km (1,600 mi) northwest of Perth.

Flora and fauna



Red-footed Boobies


Common Noddy


Brown Booby

|} Christmas Island is of immense scientific value as it was uninhabited until the late 19th century, so many unique species of fauna and flora exist which have evolved independently of human interference. Two-thirds of the island has been declared a National Park which is managed by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage through Parks Australia.


The dense rainforest has evolved in the deep soils of the plateau and on the terraces. The forests are dominated by 25 tree species. Ferns, orchids and vines grow on the branches in the humid atmosphere beneath the canopy. The 135 plant species include at least eighteen which are found nowhere else.

Christmas Island’s endemic plants include the trees Arenga listeri, Pandanus elatus and Dendrocnide peltata var. murrayana; the shrubs Abutilon listeri, Colubrina pedunculata, Grewia insularis and Pandanus christmatensis; the vines Hoya aldrichii and Zehneria alba; the herbs Asystasia alba, Dicliptera maclearii and Peperomia rossii; the grass Ischaemum nativitatis; the fern Asplenium listeri; and the orchids Brachypeza archytas, Flickingeria nativitatis, Phreatia listeri and Zeuxine exilis.


Two species of native rats, the Maclear's and Bulldog Rat, have become extinct since the island was settled. The endemic shrew has not been seen since the mid 1980s and may be already extinct, and the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, a small bat, is critically endangered and possibly also extinct.

The annual red crab mass migration (around 100 million animals) to the sea to spawn has been called one of the wonders of the natural world and takes place each year around November; after the start of the wet season and in synchronisation with the cycle of the moon.

The land crabs and sea birds are the most noticeable animals on the island. Twenty terrestrial and intertidal species of crab (of which thirteen are regarded as true land crabs, only dependent on the ocean for larval development) have been described. Robber crabs, known elsewhere as coconut crabs, also exist in large numbers on the island.

Christmas Island is a focal point for sea birds of various species. Eight species or subspecies of sea birds nest on the island. The most numerous is the Red-footed Booby that nests in colonies, in trees, on many parts of the shore terrace. The widespread Brown Booby nests on the ground near the edge of the seacliff and inland cliffs. Abbott's Booby (listed as endangered) nests on tall emergent trees of the western, northern and southern plateau rainforest. The Christmas Island forest is the only nesting habitat of the Abbott's Booby left in the world. The endemic Christmas Island Frigatebird (listed as endangered) has nesting areas on the north-eastern shore terraces and the more widespread Great Frigatebirds nest in semi-deciduous trees on the shore terrace with the greatest concentrations being in the North West and South Point areas. The Common Noddy and two species of bosuns or tropicbirds, with their brilliant gold or silver plumage and distinctive streamer tail feathers, also nest on the island.

Of the ten native land birds and shorebirds, seven are endemic species or subspecies. This includes the Christmas Island Thrush, and the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon. Some 86 migrant bird species have been recorded as visitors to the Island.

Communications and transportation


Telephone services are provided by Telstra and are a part of the Australian network with the same prefix as Western Australia (08). A GSM mobile telephone system replaced the old analogue network in February 2005. Four free-to-air television stations from Australia are broadcast (ABC, SBS, GWN and WIN) in the same time-zone as Perth. Radio broadcasts from Australia include ABC Radio National, ABC Regional radio and Red FM. All services are provided by satellite links from the mainland. Broadband internet became available to subscribers in urban areas in mid 2005 through the local internet service provider, CIIA (formerly dotCX).

Christmas Island, due to its close proximity to Australia's northern neighbours, falls within many of the more 'interesting' satellite footprints throughout the region. This results in ideal conditions for receiving various Asian broadcasts which locals sometimes prefer to the West Australian provided content. Additionally, ionospheric conditions usually bode well for many of the more terrestrial radio transmissions – HF right up through VHF and sometimes in to UHF. The island plays home to a small array of radio equipment that, evidently, spans a good chunk of the usable spectrum. A variety of government owned and operated antenna systems are employed on the island to take advantage of this.

Container port

A container port exists at Flying Fish Cove with an alternative container unloading point to the south of the island at Norris Point for use during the December to March 'swell season" of seasonal rough seas.


An 18 km standard gauge railway from Flying Fish Cove to the phosphate mine was constructed in 1914. It was closed in December 1987, when the Australian Government closed the mine, but remains largely intact. Because of its very small population size, Christmas Island has the longest railway per capita in the world, more than 100 times of the average length.

Air travel

There are three weekly flights into Christmas Island Airport from Perth, Western Australia (via RAAF Learmonth) and weekly charter flights from Malaysia and Singapore by Malaysia Airlines and Silkair.

Road transport

There is a new recreation centre at Phosphate Hill operated by the Shire of Christmas Island. There is also a taxi service. The road network covers most of the island and is generally good quality, although four wheel drive vehicles are needed to access some more distant parts of the rain forest or the more isolated beaches, which are only accessible by rough dirt roads.


The island-operated crèche is located in the Recreation Centre. Christmas Island District High School, catering for students in grades P-10 is run by the Australian Education Department. Students wishing to complete the last two years of high school or university education must do so on mainland Australia.

The island has one public library.

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