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Memento : Issue 25
January 2004 MEMENTO 7 Intemperate language in government files As my research gathered momentum, it quickly emerged that the tense and often vituperative nature of some official and unofficial communications during the post-Federation years also reflected historical relationships between Britain, the colony of New South Wales and Norfolk Island. At the same time, informal contacts affected official decisions in unexpected and surprising ways. It is hard to describe how exciting it was to suddenly come across personal notations, often in exasperated and intemperate language, in the margins of formal reports, official despatches, and letters from lobbyists or complainants. These illuminated situations and issues from the past in a way that can never be completely understood by just reading the carefully worded official communications. After the transfer to Australian control, Norfolk Islander CCR Nobbs continued to campaign vigorously for greater indepen- dence and deeply resented the authority of the Commonwealth Administrator. Letters in the official file on his complaints to the Administrator had notations such as 'Who are "we"? Mr Nobbs is the only complainant', and an observation by Secretary Atlee Hunt that the letter 'appears to contain further evidence of Mr Nobbs' policy of obstruction'. By February 1918, it appeared that even the Minister (my grandfather) had had enough, commenting rather sternly that 'Similar complaints in the past have not raised any prima facie evidence of reasonableness'. Serendipitous discoveries of particularly useful material greatly enlivened and enriched the daily research routine. Checking boxes of photographs that spanned several periods, I came across one with the wonderfully evocative description: 'Four Imperial Bushmen, natives of Norfolk Island, in Common- wealth contingent sent to London for the Coronation of King Edward VII; also one clergyman and one civilian, London'. Nothing could have better depicted these Norfolk Islanders' fierce loyalty to the British Crown and their sense of betrayal when unceremoniously handed over, first to New South Wales, and then to Australian control. Disputes in the time of Spanish flu Other valuable discoveries included fragile material rescued by the Archives, such as the Administrator's official diaries for 1915--19. The diaries had been extensively water-damaged, but I was able to look at them with the assistance of a conservator who turned the pages for me. At first the entries were routine, but when we reached the end of 1918 we found a few roughly typed pages attached by a rusty pin. This was the semaphore record of communications on behalf of Administrator Murphy to the captain of the Southern Cross. The vessel had arrived from New Zealand and reported a person on board with a high temperature. On board were passengers for the Melanesian Mission, and the ship also had passengers to collect. It was at the height of the Spanish influenza epidemic, an obvious threat to a small enclosed community, and Murphy was taking no chances. This terse record of signals reveals Murphy's refusal to allow any direct contact and the captain's protests. SHIP: Is the doctor coming off? SHORE: No. Not permitted. SHIP: We must have food, water. SHORE: Will try to get supplies and medicine. SHIP: We protest against treatment. SHORE: The Administrator will be informed. NAA: CP 697, Administrator's Diary, 1918 Finally, Murphy decided that a shore boat would take embarking passengers to 'High Rock', where they would be collected by the ship's boat after the shore boat withdrew. Reading records such as these gave me a sense of 'being there' with those who were facing difficult times and decisions. All this would not have been possible without the enthusiastic and know- ledgeable support of so many at the National Archives. On reflection, seren- dipitous may not be quite the right word after all! orfolk Island (left) Lord Augustus Loftus, Governor of NSW, and members of staff visiting a Norfolk Island home, 1884. The islanders in the photo are believed to be Mr George Hunn Nobbs and his family. NAA: A1200, L16593 (above) Anson Bay, Norfolk Island. NAA: A1200, L16471