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COCOS KEELING ISLANDS
GPS 10 29 19.13 S 105 37 50.31 E
The Cocos Island group is composed of 27 separate islands that are located about 2700km north west of Perth. The climate is warm and humid with temperatures averaging 27C. Most rainfall occurs from November to April. Cocos is located about 900 kilometres south west of Christmas Island.
It was this group of islands that led to Charles Darwin's formation of the theory of coral atoll formation in 1836. Since Darwin's day the islands have continued to be a unique place for coral atoll research.
On his voyage home after a three year journey aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin stayed for only 10 days where he recorded evidence to support his theory of coral atoll formation, "Fringing reefs are converted into barrier reefs and barrier reefs, when encircling islands are thus converted into atolls", he wrote in 1836.
It was the only coral atoll he had ever visited to support his theory.
Darwin's theory recognises an evolutionary sequence by vertical reef growth from volcanic island fringing reefs, through barrier reefs, to coral atolls driven by gradual subsidence of the volcanic island core.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands were named after sighting of the group by Captain William Keeling in 1609. However, records of his sightings were not known until 1631. They are recorded with the name Cocos Eylanden in a manuscript map drawn by Hessel Gerritsz.
In 1805, James Horsburgh, a British hydrographer, charted the islands and called them the Cocos-Keeling Islands.
On the 6th December 1825 Captain John Clunies Ross, when on a short stop over on the Islands, cleared an area on Direction and Horsburgh Island and planted cereal and vegetable crops. At the time, Captain Ross was sailing a trading vessel called the Borneo for Alexander Hare's trading company. It wasn't until the following year that a settlement was established by Alexander Hare on Home Island. With him, he brought a crew of mainly Sumatran and Javanese seamen and women of various nationalities.
In 1827 John Clunies Ross settled himself on Pulu Gangsa but later moved to the South Island. He was determined to establish a good reputation in trading. Hare on the other hand led a colourful, free and easy life. He desired and sought obscurity and his behaviour, according to Clunies Ross, became unbalanced. Both Hare and Clunies Ross put forward claims for ownership of the Islands. However, in 1831 Hare left and died in Batavia in 1834.
From then on the people of Cocos cleared all the native vegetation to plant coconut trees where they extracted the oil from the coconuts to sell and trade as Copra. Trade in coconut products continued until 1987. John Clunies Ross and his family to follow became 'Kings of Cocos', where they ruled for more than 150 years.
In 1857 the Islands were declared as part of the British Dominions. Responsibility for supervision of the Island alternated between the Governments of Ceylon, the Straits Settlements and Singapore. In 1886 Queen Victoria granted all of the Islands, under certain provisions, to John Clunies Ross.
Towards the end of World War Two the RAF established an air base on the islands. Prior to that the Japanese had attacked the islands with aircraft many timers.
In 1951 the Australian Government establishes an airfield on West Island and in 1955 the islands become Australian territory.
Eventually in 1978 the Government of Australia purchased the majority of the Islands from John Cecil Clunies-Ross for Au $6.25 million. In 1979 under a local Government ordinance the Government transferred the majority of land to the Cocos Island Council.
On the 4th April 1984 the Cocos Malay residents voted to become part of Australia, and in an Act of Self Determination witnessed by the United Nations it is now administered by the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Shire Council.
The Royal Australian Navy's first engagement in battle was near the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in November 1914 when the HMAS Sydney was sent to destroy the SMS Emden, a 118 metre German warship independently cruising the British trade routes in the southern oceans.
A shore party from the Emden landed to destroy the wireless and cable station on Direction Island. While the landing party was ashore, the HAMS Sydney arrived and engaged the Emden.
The battle lasted for about 2 hours until the Sydney out maneuvered and out gunned the Emden. Badly damaged and sinking, she ran aground off the southern end of North Keeling Island, (now Pulu Keeling National Park) and lay at rest there until 1960 when a Japanese scrap metal company salvaged the metal from the vessel. The remains have since slipped back down the reef, where they now lie in 8 metres of water.
The SMS Emden is now registered as an historical shipwreck.
Today there are two inhabited islands in the Cocos group. Home Island is where the Malay community live and West Island contains the airport and accommodation for contract workers.
Apart from sailing there in your own yacht, the only way to get to Cocos Island is to fly there on one of the twice weekly flights from Perth.
Virgin Australia flies to Cocos from Perth via Christmas Ialand. The islands are a developing tourist destination and are very popular with those who enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving.
Television on the island comes both from Australia and Malaysia and is a reflection of the the 80% Malay population.
The legend of Pulu Maria.
Two children went missing from one of the small islands in the southern atoll, now called Pulu Maria, named after the eldest child. Their disappearance baffled the family and the locals who left them on the beach to play while they went cutting trees for firewood. when they returned the children were gone. Pulu Maria is no larger than 40sqm they searched but found nothing, they even set the tiny island on fire just to flush them out but no sign of them was ever found.
Quick Facts about Cocos Island
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