Cocos Keeling

Donald Begg
Fri 5 Oct 2018 10:58
We anchored in the lagoon under Direction Island in the early afternoon of the 25th September. This is the classic tropical atoll, palm-fringed, turquoise-watered, dangerous to navigate at night but relatively easy in sunlight owing to the visibility of the coral reefs under the surface. It is one of those places where you can drop your anchor and watch it dig in in the sand. You can also see the numerous black-tipped sharks swimming around the boat. Black tips are harmless, aren’t they? The bathing ladder Is down, anyone for a swim? The beaches, needless to say, are perfection.
But it feels, and is, very remote, and there is very little there. There are no inhabitants on Direction Island, although there is the occasional camper or day beach-tripper. Home Island is a wet and windswept two-mile dinghy ride away, and West Island, the main settlement, is a ferry ride from Home. The latter is the main settlement for a small Muslim Malay community, and West is the main settlement for the handful of Australians. The only significant raison-d’être for the whole community is the airfield, which is considered to be strategically and militarily important. They are making a brave effort to develop tourism, with beaches, diving, kite-surfing, but with two expensive flights a week from Perth and one small hotel they are short on infrastructure. There is little wifi and no mobile phone coverage. Needless to say, the Australians welcomed the ARC fleet and they did their best to entertain us and make a modest profit from us.
There is history. Direction Island was the link-point for the trans-Indian Ocean communications cable, and housed an important manned station, reduced to rubble in the 1960’s after the demise of the telegraph. The German raider Emden ended her run here. She landed a party to demolish the cable station in 1914, the station managed to get a signal away and alerted HMAS Sydney, and Emden’s remains are now a historic wreck on nearby North Island. The atoll was run as a copra plantation by the Scottish Clunies-Ross family and its descendants until 1978. Their house on Home Island is an interesting piece of Victoriana, fronted with glazed white lavatorial bricks imported from England a century and a half ago.
The atoll is Australian and fun. We swam, we snorkelled, we barbecued, we re-provisioned from the two modest shops. But we had the long sea passage to Mauritius hanging over us. Personally, I am more receptive to idleness in Paradise after rather than before the work is done, and I think that most of us were anxious to be on our way after a couple of days.