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History of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands

 

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an Australian Territory located in the Indian Ocean some 2800 kilometres north-west of Perth. The territory consists of 27 coral islands in two atolls having a total land area of about 14 square kilometres.

The islands became an Australian Territory from 23 November 1955 with the proclamation of the Cocos (Keeling) Island Act 1955. Prior to this time they had been administered as a British possession by the Colony of Singapore and, from the middle of the nineteenth century, had been administered by British Governors in Ceylon or Singapore (the Straits Settlements).

Official Flag
Unofficial Flag

 

The Cocos Islands were uninhabited in 1609 when Captain William Keeling (East India Company) explored the region.  The first permanent settlement on the islands was a party led by Alexander Hare, which arrived in 1826.  Hare's party commenced commercial activity with the harvesting of coconuts and the production of coconut oil. A second settlement was begun in 1827 with the arrival of a party led by Captain Clunies-Ross. Clunies-Ross was also keen to exploit the islands' coconut supplies. In 1886 Queen Victoria granted all land on the islands to George Clunies-Ross (the third descendant of Captain Clunies-Ross) and his heirs in perpetuity.

The islands were strategically important to Australia in both world wars, as a communications and transport link across the Indian Ocean. In World War I the cable station on Direction Island was attacked by a party from the German cruiser Emden. Caught without warning by HMAS Sydney, the Emden was severely damaged and, on orders from the captain, driven ashore on North Keeling Island. Similar installations were attacked by the Japanese during World War II. The Allied forces occupied the islands for most of the war, constructing an airstrip in 1944. From 1944 to 1946 the islands came under military administration.

From 1955 Australian administration of the territory was the responsibility of an Official Representative of the Australian Government. This arrangement was altered in 1977 with the appointment of an Administrator reporting to the Minister for Territories. A Cocos-Malay Local Government Council was created in 1979 and in 1984 the Islanders voted for full integration with Australia. In 1978 the Australian Government purchased from Mr John Cecil Clunies-Ross the remainder of his property on the islands with the exception of his house on Home Island (it was purchased by the government in 1993).

Source: National Archives of Australia, Fact Sheet 103; and
Bureau of Meteorology Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2007

Records of the administration of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The Archives' office in Perth holds a wide range of records documenting the administration of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands since they became an Australian Territory.  The office in Perth also hold records of other government agencies with roles in providing services to or on the Cocos Islands. These agencies include the Bureau of Meteorology (records include those of the Cocos meteorological recording station), the Civil Aviation Authority, Australian Construction Services (for details of the construction and maintenance of Commonwealth facilities on the islands), and the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (for information on the Cocos Island Animal Quarantine Station).

At the Federal level the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an electoral district of the Commonwealth Division of Lingiari in the Northern Territory.

Source: National Archives of Australia, Fact Sheet 103; and
Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) Copyright
Commonwealth of Australia 2007

 


General Facts About the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, AUSTRALIA
As listed by the World CIA Facts Book

Location: South-eastern Asia, group of islands in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Indonesia, about halfway from Australia to Sri Lanka
Population: 574 (July, 2006 est.)
Nationality:  Cocos Islander
Languages: Malay (Cocos dialect), English
Dependency State: non-self governing territory of Australia; administered from Canberra by the Australian Department of Transport and Regional Services
Capital: West Island
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
Chief of State: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by the Australian Governor General; 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 are held every two years with half the members standing for election
Judicial Branch: Supreme Court; Magistrate's Court
Official Flag: the flag of Australia
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.
Labour Force: the Cocos Islands Cooperative Society Ltd. employs construction workers, stevedores, and lighterage workers; tourism employs others
Agricultural Products: vegetables, bananas, pawpaws, coconuts
Industries: copra products and tourism 
Currency: Australian dollar (AUD) 
Mobile Phones: analogue cellular service available 
Telephone System: connected within Australia's telecommunication system; international country code - 61; telephone, telex, and facsimile communications with Australia and elsewhere via satellite; 1 INTELSAT satellite earth station
Military: defence is the responsibility of Australia; the territory has a five-person police force


 

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