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Cocos Keeling Island – Australia’s Forgotten Islands

05 Jun 18
Peter Bull
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From Peter Bull:

Following on from the reference to Cocos Keeling Islands in our latest newsletter, I recommend to you this link to a documentary on Cocos Keeling Islands provided by John Phillips. You have to sign up for a SBS on demand account with a valid email address to which a validation email can be sent to watch it but you should find it to be worthwhile for our members who have served or visited the islands in the past.

It doesn’t cost anything and I found it to be very interesting because I knew very little about the cultural influence and strategic location of Cocos Keeling Islands. I am now better informed.


From Tony Fisher

This video is definitely worth watching.

There is no mention in the program about OTC’s long history and involvement on Cocos-Keeling Islands, – with the wireless and cable station, – and much later with the Vista service that brought modern day communications to the people of Cocos-Keeling.

Never the less, – the SBS program is not about the history, – more of the uncertainty of the future of the people and their very insular way of life.

For any-one interested in the history of the Cocos Keeling Islands, – there are a couple of very well written books to be tracked down, – one from each of the “perspectives” of the ruling Clunies-Ross family, and that of the Cocos-Malay people.

“Cocos” is an incredible place to visit. I was lucky enough to be there over the Australia Day long weekend in 2017.

Regrettably it is a very strategic location for Australia’s defence capability. Absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was the sole reason the Australian Government went out of their way to de-stabilise and bankrupt the Clunies-Ross family back in the ’70’s, – which paved the way for Australia to “offer” self determination to the local people, and the grand carrot to become part of Australia.

Up to the north, – Christmas Island (Indian Ocean Territories) is facing the same dilemma in respect of its strategic location. In some respects even more so that Cocos Keeling, as “The Rock” is far and away more defensible than the coral atoll at Cocos.

Defence is moving ahead with plans for militarisation of both these Australian Territories. Cocos will lose it’s “golf course”.

The CI runway will need to be extended, and thank goodness it will finally get an ALS. Landings there are pretty “seat of the pants” when the cloud cover is down at or near ground level, – which is pretty frequent.

Apparently the new fibre cable is already landed on CI, – but the Australian Government has kept pretty quiet about it. It does make me wonder though, – why NBN has pushed ahead and installed literally thousands of satellite services on CI. It is actually quite humorous to see. In the 12 months between my last 2 trips, they have sprouted like a mushroom farm on just about every building on the island.

P.s. The old OTC Cocos Island 7.3m Vista dish (West Island) is still there, (probably installed by Greg Suttle circa 1985???), – albeit re-furbished and most likely in use for something else these days. It still has its original “opening” plaque on the base.. The Vista facility was officially opened by Sir Ninian Stephens.  It is the satellite dish in the SBS footage.


From Noel Sutherland

Some old photos taken from the top of the 20m mast at West Island which is beside the old OTC Vista dish in 2011.

The site is owned by Air Services with Telstra facilities co-located.

Noel Sutherland’s only recollection of Cocos Is was landing on the island in an RAAF chartered 707 in 1965 on the way to Penang, Malaysia with his parents. Due to the Indonesia Confrontation at the time they could not fly over Indonesia.

He remembers walking across the runway from one beach to the other.

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