THE beauty of a holiday in what used to be known – quite properly – as the “hellhole of the British Empire” is that a week on Norfolk Island feels like a month.
There’s so little to do that if you retired there you’d hardly notice when you slipped the mortal coil.
My journey wasn’t exactly voluntary. I’m writing what I hope to be the definitive history of the three aspects of the island’s horrific past (and present) – the sadistic penal settlements; the invasion of the “Bounty” mutineers’ descendants from Pitcairn; and the disgraceful activities of the Anglican missionaries who stole children from the surrounding islands to turn them into little Christians while they slaved on the mission farm.
I needed to make one final trip there to witness Bounty Day, the annual celebration by the Pitcairners’ descendants of their arrival in 1856 and to complete my research.
It’s so hilly that you can’t walk or ride bicycles, but happily the hotel provided a car. That was when I discovered that my ACT driver’s licence had expired.
Fortunately my wife was able to drive us around, but the morning after I returned I headed for the Woden branch of the ACT Government’s shopfront, Canberra Connect. I expected the usual two-hour wait while bored and dilatory attendants (such as one finds on Norfolk) dawdled their way through the red tape. And my heart sank when I arrived at 10 to nine to discover a queue of at least 20 people ahead of me before the doors opened.
But then, as the portals parted, something quite extraordinary occurred. The queue shot forward, each one of us welcomed by a charmingly helpful woman who immediately gave me the necessary form (and pen) on a clipboard; I took a seat and set to, but before I even got past the “given names” up came my number on the screen beckoning me to station 7.
In fact it was so quick I went to the wrong station, but the delightfully helpful young lady there didn’t mind a bit. She looked me up on the computer, checked the details, then directed me across the aisle for an eye test; whipped around and conducted it herself.
I passed with flying colours and then, blow me down, she sat me in a chair and took my picture. She even let me smile for it. Smile! By now I couldn’t get the grin off my face. Then I signed it and she warned me it might take a couple of minutes to process. It did – two minutes exactly.
She handed it over, processed my Visa card and set me on my way.
As I walked out the door, I checked my watch. It was 9.12am. That was astonishing in itself, but it wasn’t the best part of the experience. That was the absolutely charming and helpful manner that pervaded the entire operation and everyone involved… and that lady who welcomed us even took the time as more clients were arriving to say “Cheerio” with a genuine smile.
Canberra, I doffs me cap. It was sooo nice to be home.