The Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Cocos (Keeling) Islands The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are situated in the Indian Ocean approximately 2,700 kilometres north-west of Perth, Western Australia and 1000 kilometres south-west of Java.

The Islands are of volcanic origin and are made up of 27 coral islands, 26 of which form a typical horseshoe-shaped atoll surrounded by a coral reef. The other island, North Keeling island is approximately 30 Km north of the main group.


The Cocos (Keeling) Islands were discovered by Captain William Keeling in 1609. In 1825 Captain John Clunies-Ross, an employee of Alexander Hare, made a short stop over on the Islands, cleared an area on Direction and Horsburgh Island and planted some cereal and vegetable crops. The following year, Hare, with a crew of mainly Sumatran and Javanese seamen and women of various nationalities, established a settlement on the main atoll.

John Clunies-Ross settled on South Island. Both Hare and Clunies-Ross forwarded claims for ownership of the Islands. However, Hare became ill and left in 1831 and died not long after in Batavia. John Clunies-Ross and his future generations became "Kings of Cocos" ruling for another 150 years. Native vegetation was cleared and coconut trees were planted for trade in coconut oil and copra.

In 1857 the Islands were declared part of the British Dominions.

In 1886 Queen Victoria granted all the islands to George Clunies-Ross (grandson of John Clunies-Ross) and his heirs, with a reservation that the Crown could resume land for public purposes and to conduct cable communications.

In 1955, the Islands were accepted as a Territory of Australia. In 1978 the Australian Government purchased from Mr Clunies-Ross, his property interests in the Islands, other than his family home on Home Island.

In 1979 ownership of the village area of Home Island was transferred to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Council, the local governing body elected by the Home Island community, to be held in trust for the residents.

In 1984 the remainder of the land within the islands, apart from land owned by the Commonwealth and Mr Clunies-Ross, was transferred by trust to the Council on behalf of the Islander community.

In 1993 the Commonwealth of Australia purchased the remaining property of Mr Clunies-Ross on Home Island.

On 6th April 1984 the Cocos community, in a United Nations supervised act of Self Determination, voted overwhelmingly to integrate with Australia. The Government made a commitment at that time to raise services and standards of living to comparable mainland Australian levels as soon as possible.


The total population at the 1996 census was 655, about 80 per cent of whom are residents on Home Island, where the majority of the Cocos Islander community resides. They are descendants of the original settlers. They speak their own dialect of Malay, as well as English. They have evolved a unique culture which reflects their diverse origins and Islamic traditions. The 130 remaining residents live on West Island, where the main Commonwealth facilities, including the airport are located. They are mostly Australians from the mainland on two or three year postings


Policing commenced in 1991, with members from the Australian Federal Police and a Special Constable from the local community with plans for further recruitment and training. The special constables have an important role with their knowledge of the language and the culture of the community.

The Australian Federal Police also run an education program for schools and the local community on the role of the police. A book titled 'The Cocos Police and You' has been well received. It is published in both Malay and English.


The climate is tropical with high humidity. Temperatures range from 20 deg C to 30 deg C. The average rainfall is 2000mm per annum, falling mainly from January to August.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands - World War 1 - Emden

At the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, The German Cruiser S.M.S. Emden on November 9th approached Direction Island in the Cocos(Keeling)Islands with the intention of destroying the British Cable and Wireless station on the island. A naval battle ensued between the SMS Emden and the HMAS Sydney an Australian cruiser. The Emden was destroyed and was run aground by her commander, Captain von Muller on North Keeling Island (now Pulu Keeling National Park). She lay at rest there until 1960 when a Japanese scrap metal company salvaged the metal from the vessel. The remains have slipped back down the reef, where they now lie in 8 metres of water.

The Emden is now registered as an historic shipwreck.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands - World War 2

Following the entry of Japan into the second World War in 1941, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands again became the focus of interest because of its strategic position with the potential for an aircraft landing strip on West Island and the existing Cable and Wireless Station on Direction Island. Troops were sent from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to defend the Islands. Secretly, the Japanese had already constructed a fuel depot on North Keeling Island. Eventually this was discovered and destroyed.

On 8th May 1942, a mutiny occurred. It was unsuccessful and following a Field General Court Martial, three servicemen were executed.

Later, during World War II, a strategic airstrip was built on West Island with Spitfires and Mosquitoes. 8,300 allied personnel were stationed there at one stage. In addition to the Cable and Wireless Station on Direction Island a Catalina flying boat base was also located there.The island was shelled during the war by the Japanese.

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