Cocos (Keeling) Islands, one of Australia's most remote external Territories, are situated in the Indian Ocean 900 km west of Christmas Island - just an hour's flight away. The 27 coral islands in the group, only two of which are currently inhabited, were first discovered by Captain William Keeling in 1609 but were not settled for a further 200 years. In 1827, Captain John Clunies Ross arrived with his own family for a second visit and a few years later turned his attention to planting out coconut palms and trading in coconuts, coconut oil and copra. In 1978 the Australian Government purchased the Clunies-Ross interests and in 1984 the Cocos community chose to integrate with Australia.
The first group of settlers brought to the islands was predominately Malay Muslim and today, after eight generations, the existing society (most of whom live on Home Island) is deeply committed to the Islamic religion with their own mosques, leaders and ceremonies.
Other historical facts are that in 1836 Charles Darwin visited the islands aboard HMS Beagle and formed his theory on atoll formation; in 1914 the German light-cruiser SMS Emden was scuttled on North Keeling following its encounter with HMAS Sydney, and in 1944 West Island was home to more than 7000 troops from Britain, Canada, Australia and India while an airstrip was built. This airstrip (which runs down the centre of the golf course!) is still in use today - when the twice weekly plane is due to land, the runway lights come on, a little man in a jeep drives madly up and down the strip to make sure nothing obstructs it, sirens sound and the local population lines the perimeter fence to welcome visitors and returning friends and family.
Lisa from C.I. Travel had found us 3 nice units, Cocos Cottages, facing the runway/golf course and with suitable coconut palms for attaching dipoles to. Unfortunately we hadn't allowed for a coconut falling on June's Buddypole antenna, nor for the fact that we arrived at the beginning of Ramadin when all the best Muslim-run restaurants closed for a month, nor for the largest explosion ever recorded in our solar system which shut down propagation for a few days. In our 2 weeks' stay and after a lot of hard work on dead bands we were lucky to make 3,500 contacts - a sad contrast to the German group who preceeded us making 19,000 contacts in good conditions, though admittedly they had better gain antennas and more power than us. Still, one Stateside guy seemed a little flabagasted when he told us he was running 1500 watts into a 6 element 10m beam and we answered we were running 100 watts into a dipole strung between a coconut palm and our unit! Such is life!
It was nice to live in shorts, T-shirts, sunscreen and insect repellant for a couple of weeks. Daytime temps were around 30C but the southeast trade winds cooled things down morning and night. The coral atoll offers world-class snorkelling and diving whilst a few beaches are great for family swimming and barbecues. The sunsets aren't bad either! The roads are well maintained but driving hazards consist of dodging fallen coconuts, crabs and the many feral chooks which roam the island. Again our party consisted of Elizabeth VE7YL, June VK4SJ (who succumbed to the Cocos brand of flu for a few days) and myself, Gwen VK3DYL. Oh, and Lisa, I now know what a "Balinese bathroom" is - hi!!!