Celebrate Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island

Peta McCartney
Emily Bay is the setting for Norfolk Island's traditional Thanksgiving lunch

It's far from an Australian custom, but celebrating Thanksgiving Day on Norfolk Island feels right, even though its origins began in Protestant England and it's been one of the United States' most important events since the 1600s.

It's not hard to draw parallels between the life forged by the descendants of the Bounty mutineers since their arrival on Norfolk Island from Pitcairn Island in 1856, and North America's early European pioneers.

While the Pitcairners were left infrastructure and animals when the Norfolk Island penal colony failed, they and the early European pioneers were forced to endure the hard realities of survival.

The presence and influence of American whalers on Norfolk in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as US soldiers during WWII, gave the islanders a reason to incorporate Thanksgiving into their own lives, and the tradition remains an integral and important event on its annual calendar.

With November 29 a public holiday on Norfolk, various churches hold Thanksgiving services, including All Saints Anglican church in the heart of the World Heritage-listed Kingston.

The church walls are lined with recently harvested corn stalks, heavy with ripe ears of corn, while baskets of fruit and vegetables, much like the traditional Anglican harvest festivals of old, are scattered along the aisles for sale after the service.

The pews are packed, with the vast majority of available seating cordoned off for the island's Pitcairn descendants and residents.

If you are a visitor it seems like a privilege to be able to squeeze up the back and witness this decades-old tradition take place, with formal prayers, hymns of praise and other segments conducted in the Bounty descendants' own language.

The produce on display is quickly snapped up after the service as everyone heads off to enjoy the rest of the day.

As part of the Taste Norfolk Island food festival, a traditional Thanksgiving lunch has been organised a short distance away, under marquees overlooking the clear waters and golden sands of Emily Bay.

Everyone is in a party mood and conversation is easy as we're served from burgeoning tables of roast meats, traditional Tahitian fish salad, corn, coconut bread and salads.

As we take a break for dessert, local Bob Tofts takes us on a brief but grim journey into the island's whaling industry, which ran and "spilled blood into Slaughter Bay" from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.

He shows us the piercing heads of nine foot lances, while other harpoon heads were hollow so gelignite could be stashed and detonated once inside the whale.

It is a sobering reminder of the harsh practices and dangers faced by sailors, many of whom died, as they tried to make a living from the bounty of the seas.

"Norfolk Islanders are still hunting whales," Bob says, with a slight pause as eyebrows are raised.

"But nowadays it's with their cameras!"

We are glad to hear that whale numbers continue to rise, and as we return to our Thanksgiving feast, a little glad of the American influence in giving us an excuse to enjoy some of this South Pacific island's sweetest fare.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand operates flights from Sydney every Friday and Monday, and from Brisbane every Saturday and Tuesday.

Norfolk Island Airlines operates flights every Saturday from Brisbane.

STAYING THERE: A range of accommodation is available. South Pacific Resort's Superior room with a queen and single bed starts at $A170.

PLAYING THERE: The 2018 Taste Norfolk Island food festival is held from November 26-30. It will include a range of set events and optional extras and will incorporate Thanksgiving Day. See www.norfolkislandfoodfestival.com or www.norfolkisland.com.au for more details.

The writer was a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism.