The Slatest

Mutiny on the Bounty Descendants Are About to Lose Control of Their Island

Hand-written script notes from Mutiny on the Bounty scrawled by Marlon Brando. Brando, Clark Gable, and a startlingly young Mel Gibson each played the leader of the mutiny in different movie versions depicting the event. The Gibson one is pretty bad.

Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

In 1789, a group of British Royal Navy mutineers set their tyrranical captain William Bligh adrift and, along with the wives they had taken earlier in Tahiti, settled on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific Ocean. Within a decade, almost all of them had died—but their children created a tight-knit community which, in 1856, relocated to Norfolk Island far off the coast of Australia. Many residents of Norfolk Island today are descendants of the mutineers, and some still speak a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian. While the island’s residents enjoy Australian citizenship, they have also governed themselves through a local parliament—until now. Bloomberg Business reports:

Norfolk Island Chief Minister Lisle Snell said he was informed Wednesday of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to shut down the local nine-person parliament and make the population of about 1,800 people pay federal taxes. …

The tiny outcrop … is on the brink of financial collapse and relies on emergency assistance from the Australian government 1,700 kilometers (1,000 miles) away in Canberra. The island, measuring 8 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide, has seen no significant investment in infrastructure since the 1970s, with deteriorating roads and an electricity network on the brink of collapse, a parliamentary committee reported last year. …

“Infrastructure on Norfolk Island is run down, the health system not up to standard and many laws are out of date,” Jamie Briggs, the assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development, said in a statement Thursday. “As Australian citizens, residents on Norfolk Island deserve equal access to government services and entitlements as those residing on the mainland.”

Although the move is obviously a blow for the island’s autonomy, it won’t necessarily encroach upon the residents’ customs and traditions. (About half of the current population is descended from the Pitcairn settlers.) In exchange for paying income and business taxes, the island’s inhabitants will now receive welfare benefits and much-needed infrastructure aid. That sounds like a reasonable trade-off—but thus far, residents seem to oppose it. Perhaps they inherited some of their ancestors’ rebellious spirit.