THERE were never indigenous people on Christmas Island. It was only populated in the early 19th century when it was discovered that the island was sitting on top-grade phosphate.
Christmas Island was, by then, a part of the British protectorate and was under the administration of Singapore.
Malaysians from the Straits Settlements such as Penang, Malacca and Singapore flocked to Christmas Island in droves to work the mines, eventually settling there. They stayed put even after Singapore sold the island to Australia in 1958.
Although the island is Australian territory, uses Australian currency and has Aussie channels on radio and TV, the decades of segregation (from Australia) in the past has seen a strong sense of community forged among the ethnic groups.
Since the turn of the century and right up to the present, Europeans have mainly confined themselves to the Settlement, where there is a small supermarket and several restaurants; the Malays live in the Flying Fish Cove (also known as Kampong) where community leaders give weekly silat and kompang lessons; while the Chinese reside in Poon San (Mandarin for “in the middle of the hill”) which comes complete with a karaoke hall that is also used for mahjong sessions.
While phosphate is a finite resource (with many expecting for it to run out in 15 years), Christmas Island has found what could be a new lifeline – tourism.
Enter Gee Foo, a local entrepreneur who runs a travel exchange on Christmas Island. For years, she has been chartering direct weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Christmas Island, mainly to serve islanders with extended family and friends still back in Malaysia.
Now she has partnered a tour company here, Kris International Traveltours (who sponsored this trip), and they now have exclusive rights to the direct KL-Christmas Island flights. – By Regina Lee
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