Living on Lord Howe Island


A mysterious mass migration

Posted by Pinetrees Lodge – Saturday, June 01, 2013

Lord Howe Island is part of Australia, indeed New South Wales, but we’re a bit different. While we have no dream of self-government or semi-autonomy (is that how you describe Norfolk Island?), we do have a healthy disrespect for mainland authority. So often, when mainland regulations are applied to Lord Howe, they just don’t work. This list of examples is endless, and includes bans on buying local meat and milk, bag limits for recreational fishing and state-wide fire bans which are enforced on Lord Howe even during periods of cool, rainy weather.

If we don’t like mainland authority, what do you think our opinion is of those ‘expats’ who try to impose mainland authority, particularly those who live amongst us? Well, in all honesty, we like them and welcome them into our community. A lot of the time, they have a difficult job to do. We may not like their planning decisions, red tape, or local tax hikes, but at the same time, their kids go to school with ours and we see them every day at the local shop. On the mainland, you don’t get to see the man who refused your garage extension or the woman who fined you for pruning your native tree that you planted in your garden. On Lord Howe, and I guess in other very small communities, you’ll probably sit next to that person when you go out for dinner on Saturday night (and you’ll have to make conversation with them about the weather or the football). Can you feel the tension?

Luckily, we mostly handle the tension with humour, a shrug and the typical Lord Howe smile, and the community continues to function in a relative state of happy harmony. Some people even take the tension on as a way of defusing it. One former Administrator of the Lord Howe Island Board, the local council, made lifelong friends when he called his yappy Sydney silky terrier “FUNIC” – a well-known islander acronym for mainland public servants which means Fairly Useless Non-Islander Clown (or something like that).

Recently, there’s been a mass defection of senior Lord Howe Island Board officers. I’m not sure what’s going on at the Board, but it’s been a bit like the migration of the muttonbirds. One day there seems to be thousands of them, all squawking loudly, and the next they’ve all gone. Is it the number of daylight hours, changes in temperature, gravitational patterns or just an innate sense of needing to be somewhere else? Or is it the typical human motivations of power, frustration, ambition or stress? Whatever the case, there’s enough material for a great novel. The CEO, as the Administrator is now called, took up a high-powered position in Newcastle, leaving the business manager in charge, but only after making a few radical last-minute changes, or so the story goes. The engineer moved back to his old job in Canberra (safely inland), to support the Brumbies and build really big roundabouts. The marine parks manager moved to Groote Eylandt, for some bizarre reason. The works manager is moving to Port Lincoln to run a much larger airport than the one at Lord Howe. I’ve heard that there’s still one more to go, but please don’t say that you heard it from me. Lord Howe gossip is notoriously unreliable. When the Harvard Business School people talk about “complete loss of corporate knowledge”, they could use Lord Howe as a case study.

Meanwhile, the islanders find the mass migration amusing and intriguing, and luckily have some confidence that they can manage their own affairs (as they’ve done since the early 1800s). On Tuesday afternoon when I spotted it, almost all islanders, including the usual stirrers, had been at Michael “Humpty Mick” Thompson’s funeral. So who was responsible for this sign on the official Lord Howe Island Board noticeboard?

Where did they go? 

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About Dani Rourke

HELP! I have 2 children, 25 staff and up to 75 guests. I was a lawyer for 10 years, but escaped. My husband and I moved from Sydney to beautiful Lord Howe Island to run Pinetrees Lodge, which has been in my family for 6 generations. I'm writing about family business, island life and the whole work/family disaster. Did someone say balance? When I'm not writing, my lovely staff do it for me - they see more of the island than I do.

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