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Cocos Keeling Island – Indian Ocean Getaway

Kitesurfing Prison Island - CKITA

Text by Deborah Dickson-Smith

Christmas Island’s closest Indian Ocean neighbour, the Cocos Keeling Islands, lie just 1,000km to the west, and were likewise settled to be exploited rather than admired for the natural tropical paradise it is now.

The Scottish Captain John Clunies-Ross converted Cocos into a coconut plantation using Malay labour, establishing his own personal fiefdom on the island, even issuing the currency, which could only be redeemed in his general store.

Strategically positioned midway between the Maldives and Australia, Cocos provided an ideal location for an early telegraph station in 1901, and as result became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of WW1. In WW2, two airstrips were built and Cocos became an important airbase for the re-invasion and liberation of Malaysia and Singapore.

In the 1970’s the Australian government became increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Clunies-Ross family were still running the island as a feudal ‘micro-nation’, and forced the sale of Cocos to the Commonwealth. The Malay community is still there today, as are the rows of coconuts trees across most of the islands, but the coconuts are no longer harvested commercially, and lay rotting where they fall.

Cocos’ main business today is tourism and though home to a population of just 600 people, there’s plenty to do both on the islands and in and on the lagoon.

For more on what to see and do on Cocos, check out our latest issue, available at your closest distribution outlet or you can read it online.

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