Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Introduction There are 27 coral islands in the group. Captain William KEELING discovered the islands in 1609, but they remained uninhabited until the 19th century. From the 1820s to 1978, members of the CLUNIE-ROSS family controlled the islands and the copra produced from local coconuts. Annexed by the UK in 1857, the Cocos Islands were transferred to the Australian Government in 1955. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island and the ethnic Malays on Home Island.
History

Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, in 1609, but they remained uninhabited until the nineteenth century, when they became a possession of the Clunies-Ross Family. Slaves were brought to work the coconut plantation from Indonesia, the Cape of Good Hope and East Asia by Alexander Hare who had taken part in Stamford Raffles' takeover of Java in 1811. A Scottish merchant seaman called Captain John Clunies-Ross, who had also served under Raffles in the takeover, set up a compound and Hare's severely mistreated slaves soon escaped to work under better conditions for Clunies-Ross.

On April 1, 1836, HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings establishing the profile of the atoll. To the young naturalist Charles Darwin, who was on the ship, the results supported a theory he had developed of how atolls formed. He studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens. His assistant Syms Covington noted that "an Englishman (he was of course 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."

The islands were annexed to the British Empire in 1857. 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 nineteenth century micronation.

On November 9, 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I. The telegraph station on Direction Island, a vital link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, was attacked by the German light cruiser SMS Emden, which was then in turn surprised and destroyed by the Australian cruiser, HMAS Sydney [1].

During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link. Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as a base for enemy German raider cruisers 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 2 Ɨ 6 in (152 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 8-9 May 1942, fifteen 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, although they killed one non-mutinous soldier and wounded one officer. Seven of the mutineers were sentenced to death at a trial which 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 to be executed for mutiny during the Second World War.

On December 25, 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 reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore. The first aircraft to arrive were Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII's 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.

On November 23, 1955, the islands were transferred to Australian control under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955. 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 AU$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 moved to dishonour this agreement, and told the former last ruler, 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 his shipping company, an action which contributed to his bankruptcy. John Clunies-Ross lives in exile in Perth, Australia, but his successors still live on the Cocos.

Geography Location: Southeastern Asia, group of islands in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Indonesia, about halfway from Australia to Sri Lanka
Geographic coordinates: 12 30 S, 96 50 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: 14 sq km
land: 14 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes the two main islands of West Island and Home Island
Area - comparative: about 24 times the size of The Mall in Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 26 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical with high humidity, moderated by the southeast trade winds for about nine months of the year
Terrain: flat, low-lying coral atolls
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location 5 m
Natural resources: fish
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: cyclone season is October to April
Environment - current issues: fresh water resources are limited to rainwater accumulations in natural underground reservoirs
Geography - note: islands are thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation
Politics

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 [2] [3] and depends heavily on the laws of Australia. The islands are administered from Canberra by the Attorney-General's Department[4] (before November 29, 2007[5] 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 Neil Lucas PSM , who was appointed on 30 January 2006 and is also the Administrator of Christmas Island. These two Territories comprise Australia's Indian Ocean Territories. 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.

The islands have a five-person police force but their defence remains the responsibility of Australia.

People Population: 596 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: NA
15-64 years: NA
65 years and over: NA
Population growth rate: 0% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: NA
Death rate: NA
Net migration rate: NA
Infant mortality rate: total: NA
male: NA
female: NA
Life expectancy at birth: total population: NA
male: NA
female: NA
Total fertility rate: NA
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Cocos Islander(s)
adjective: Cocos Islander
Ethnic groups: Europeans, Cocos Malays
Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, other 20% (2002 est.)
Languages: Malay (Cocos dialect), English
Literacy: NA
Government Country name: conventional long form: Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands
conventional short form: Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Dependency status: non-self governing territory of Australia; administered from Canberra by the Australian Attorney-General's Department
Government type: NA
Capital: name: West Island
geographic coordinates: 12 10 S, 96 50 E
time difference: UTC+6.5 (11.5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: none (territory of Australia)
Independence: none (territory of Australia)
National holiday: Australia Day, 26 January (1788)
Constitution: Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act of 1955 (23 November 1955) as amended by the Territories Law Reform Act of 1992
Legal system: based upon the laws of Australia and local laws
Suffrage: NA
Executive branch: chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by the Australian governor general
head of government: Administrator (nonresident) Neil LUCAS (since 30 January 2006)
cabinet: NA
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; administrator appointed by the governor general of Australia and represents the monarch and Australia
Legislative branch: unicameral Cocos (Keeling) Islands Shire Council (7 seats)
elections: held every two years with half the members standing for election; last held in May 2005 (next to be held in May 2007)
Judicial branch: Supreme Court; Magistrate's Court
Political parties and leaders: none
Political pressure groups and leaders: none
International organization participation: none
Diplomatic representation in the US: none (territory of Australia)
Diplomatic representation from the US: none (territory of Australia)
Flag description: the flag of Australia is used
Demographics In 2007, there are an estimated 596 inhabitants of the islands. [1] The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island (est. pop. 120) and the ethnic Malays on Home Island (est. pop. 500). A Cocos dialect of Malay and English are the main languages spoken and 80% of Cocos Islanders are Sunni Muslim.
Economy Economy - overview: Grown throughout the islands, coconuts are the sole cash crop. Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but additional food and most other necessities must be imported from Australia. There is a small tourist industry.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $NA
Labor force: NA
Labor force - by occupation: note: the Cocos Islands Cooperative Society Ltd. employs construction workers, stevedores, and lighterage workers; tourism employs others
Unemployment rate: 60% (2000 est.)
Budget: revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
Agriculture - products: vegetables, bananas, pawpaws, coconuts
Industries: copra products and tourism
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: NA
hydro: NA
nuclear: NA
other: NA
Exports: $NA
Exports - commodities: copra
Exports - partners: Australia (2006)
Imports: $NA
Imports - commodities: foodstuffs
Imports - partners: Australia (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $NA
Currency (code): Australian dollar (AUD)
Currency code: AUD
Exchange rates: Australian dollars per US dollar - 1.2137 (2007), 1.3285 (2006), 1.3095 (2005), 1.3598 (2004), 1.5419 (2003)
Fiscal year: 1 July - 30 June
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 287 (1992)
Telephone system: general assessment: connected within Australia's telecommunication system
domestic: NA
international: country code - 61; telephone, telex, and facsimile communications with Australia and elsewhere via satellite; 1 INTELSAT satellite earth station (2001)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 2, shortwave 0 (2004)
Radios: 300 (1992)
Television broadcast stations: NA
Televisions: NA
Internet country code: .cc
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 2 (2000)
Internet users: NA
Transportation Airports: 1 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2007)
Roadways: total: 22 km
paved: 10 km
unpaved: 12 km (2006)
Ports and terminals: Port Refuge
Military Military - note: defense is the responsibility of Australia; the territory has a five-person police force
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: none