Christmas Island

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Christmas Island
Territory of Christmas Island
圣诞岛领地 / 聖誕島領地  (Chinese)
Wilayah Pulau Krismas  (Malay)
Flying Fish Cove at Christmas Island.jpg
Flying Fish Cove, the territory's capital
Australia on the globe (Christmas Island special) (Southeast Asia centered).svg
Location of Christmas Island (red circle) and the location of Australia mainland (continent in red)
Sovereign state Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia
British annexation6 June 1888
Transferred from Singapore to Australia1 October 1958
Named for Christmas Day
and largest city
Flying Fish Cove
("The Settlement")
10°25′18″S105°40′41″E / 10.42167°S 105.67806°E / -10.42167; 105.67806
Official languagesNone [lower-alpha 1]
Spoken languages
Ethnic groups
  • 21.2% Chinese
  • 18% Malay
  • 12.7% Australian
  • 8% English
  • 2.5% Irish
  • 40.8% other (including Straits Indians and Eurasians)
Demonym(s) Christmas Islander
Government Directly administered dependency
Charles III
David Hurley
Natasha Griggs
Gordon Thompson
Parliament of Australia
represented by Northern Territory senators
included in the Division of Lingiari
135 km2 (52 sq mi)
 Water (%)
Highest elevation
361 m (1,184 ft)
 2016 census
1,843 (2016) [1] (not ranked)
10.39/km2 (26.9/sq mi)(not ranked)
GDP  (nominal)2010 estimate
US$52,177,900 [2]
Currency Australian dollar (AU$) (AUD)
Time zone UTC+07:00 (CXT)
Driving side left
Calling code +61 891
WA 6798
ISO 3166 code CX
Internet TLD .cx [3]
Christmas Island
Simplified Chinese 圣诞岛
Traditional Chinese 聖誕島

Christmas Island is a non-self-governing external territory of Australia, as of February 2020, administered by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications [60] (from 29 November 2007 until 14 September 2010, administration was carried out by the Attorney-General's Department, [61] [62] and prior to this by the Department of Transport and Regional Services). [63]

The legal system is under the authority of the Governor-General of Australia and Australian law. An administrator appointed by the Governor-General represents the monarch and Australia and lives on the island. The territory falls under no formal state jurisdiction, but the Western Australian Government provides many services as established by the Christmas Island Act. [64]

The Australian government provides services through the Christmas Island Administration and the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. Under the federal government's Christmas Island Act 1958, Western Australian laws are applied to Christmas Island; non-application or partial application of such laws is at the discretion of the federal government. [65] The act also gives Western Australian courts judicial power over Christmas Island. Christmas Island remains constitutionally distinct from Western Australia, however; the power of the state to legislate for the territory is delegated by the federal government. The kind of services typically provided by a state government elsewhere in Australia are provided by departments of the Western Australian government, and by contractors, with the costs met by the federal government. A unicameral Shire of Christmas Island with nine seats provides local government services and is elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Elections are held every two years, with four or five of the members standing for election. [66]

Federal politics

Christmas Island residents who are Australian citizens vote in Australian federal elections. Christmas Island residents are represented in the House of Representatives by the Division of Lingiari in the Northern Territory and in the Senate by Northern Territory senators. [67] At the 2019 federal election, the Labor Party received majorities from Christmas Island electors in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. [68] [69]

As of 2020 women held two of the nine seats in the Christmas Island Shire Council. [70] Its second President was Lillian Oh, from 1993 to 1995. [71]

Residents' views

Residents find the system of administration frustrating, with the island run by bureaucrats in the federal government, but subject to the laws of Western Australia and enforced by federal police. There is a feeling of resignation that any progress on local issues is hampered by the confusing governance system. A number of islanders support self-governance, including shire president Gordon Thompson, who also believes that a lack of news media to cover local affairs had contributed to political apathy among residents. [72]

Flag of Christmas Island Flag of Christmas Island.svg
Flag of Christmas Island


In early 1986, the Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag; the winning design was adopted as the informal flag of the territory for over a decade, and in 2002 it was made the official flag of Christmas Island.


A proportional representation of Christmas Island exports, 2019 Christmas Island Product Exports (2019).svg
A proportional representation of Christmas Island exports, 2019

Phosphate mining had been the only significant economic activity, but in December 1987 the Australian government closed the mine. In 1991, the mine was reopened by Phosphate Resources Limited, a consortium that included many of the former mine workers as shareholders and is the largest contributor to the Christmas Island economy. [73]

With the support of the government, the $34 million Christmas Island Casino and Resort opened in 1993 but was closed in 1998. As of 2011, the resort has re-opened without the casino. [74]

The Australian government in 2001 agreed to support the creation of a commercial spaceport on the island; however, this has not yet been constructed and appears that it will not proceed. The Howard government built a temporary immigration detention centre on the island in 2001 and planned to replace it with a larger, modern facility at North West Point until Howard's defeat in the 2007 elections.



Historically, the majority of Christmas Islanders were those of Chinese, Malay and Indian origins, the initial permanent settlers. [4] Today, the majority of residents are Chinese, with significant numbers of European Australians and Malays as well as smaller Indian and Eurasian communities too. Since the turn of the 21st century and right up to the present, Europeans have mainly confined themselves to the Settlement, where there is a small supermarket and several restaurants; the Malays live in the Flying Fish Cove, also known as Kampong; and the Chinese reside in Poon San (Cantonese for "in the middle of the hill"). [75]


The main languages spoken at home on Christmas Island, according to respondents, are English (28%), Mandarin (17%), Malay (17%), with smaller numbers of speakers of Cantonese (4%) and Hokkien (2%). 27% did not specify a language. If the survey results are representative, then approximately 38% speak English, 24% Mandarin, 23% Malay, and 5% Cantonese. [76]

Religion in Christmas Island [1]
Not stated48.4%38.4%
Islam 14.8%19.4%
No religion9.2%15.2%
Buddhism 16.8%18.1%
Catholic 10.8%8.9%


A Taoist temple Christmas Island (5774564505).jpg
A Taoist temple

Religion in Christmas Island (est.2016) [77]

  Unspecified and none (43.6%)
   Islam (19.4%)
   Buddhism (18.3%)
   Roman Catholic (8.8%)
   Protestant (6.5%)
  Other Christian (3.3%)
  Other religion (0.6%)

In 2016, the population was estimated to be Unspecified 27.7%, Muslim 19.4%, Buddhist 18.3%, None 15.3%, Roman Catholic 8.8%, Anglican 3.6%, Uniting Church 1.2%, Other Protestant 1.7%, Other Christian 3.3% and other religions 0.6%

Religious beliefs are diverse and include Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Confucianism. There is a mosque, a Christian church, a Baháʼí centre and around twenty Chinese temples and shrines, which include seven Buddhist temples (like Guan Yin Monastery (观音寺) at Gaze Road), ten Taoist temples (like Soon Tian Kong (顺天宫) in South Point and Grants Well Guan Di Temple) and shrines dedicated to Na Tuk Kong or Datuk Keramat on the island. [78] There are many religious festivals, such as Spring Festival, Chap goh meh, Qingming Festival, Zhong Yuan Festival, Hari Raya, Christmas and Easter. [1] [79]

Women's issues

The main local organisation that "promotes and supports" the "status and interests" of female Christmas Islanders is the Christmas Island Women's Association which was established in 1989 and is a member organisation of the Associated Country Women of the World. [80] [81]


Toyota RAV4 moving across the backroads of Christmas Island Christmas Island (5775114458).jpg
Toyota RAV4 moving across the backroads of Christmas Island

Christmas Island is well known for its biological diversity. There are many rare species of animals and plants on the island, making nature-walking a popular activity. Along with the diversity of species, many different types of caves exist, such as plateau caves, coastal caves, raised coastal caves and alcoves, sea caves, fissure caves, collapse caves, and basalt caves; most of these are near the sea and have been formed by the action of water. Altogether, there are approximately 30 caves on the island, [82] with Lost Lake Cave, Daniel Roux Cave, and Full Frontal Cave being the most well-known. The many freshwater springs include Hosnies Spring Ramsar, which also has a mangrove stand.[ citation needed ]

The Dales is a rainforest in the western part of the island and consists of seven deep valleys, all of which were formed by spring streams. Hugh's Dale waterfall is part of this area and is a popular attraction. The annual breeding migration of the Christmas Island red crabs is a popular event.[ citation needed ]

Fishing is another common activity. There are many distinct species of fish in the oceans surrounding Christmas Island. Snorkelling and swimming in the ocean are two other activities that are extremely popular. Walking trails are also very popular, for there are many beautiful trails surrounded by extravagant flora and fauna. 63% of the island is covered by the Christmas Island National Park. [83]

Marine Park

Reefs near the islands have healthy coral and are home to several rare species of marine life. The region, along with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands reefs, have been described as "Australia's Galapagos Islands". [84]

In the 2021 budget the Australian Government committed $A39.1M to create two new marine parks off Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The parks will cover up to 740,000 square kilometres (290,000 sq mi) of Australian waters. [85] After months of consultation with local people, both parks were approved in March 2022, with a total coverage of 744,000 square kilometres (287,000 sq mi). The park will help to protect spawning of bluefin tuna from illegal international fishers, but local people will be allowed to practise fishing sustainably inshore in order to source food. [84]

Flora and fauna

Robber crab (coconut crab) Cococrb2.jpg
Robber crab (coconut crab)
Christmas Island red crab Christmas Island (5775069028).jpg
Christmas Island red crab
Red-footed boobies Red-footed booby.jpg
Red-footed boobies
Common noddy Anous stolidus nesting cropped.JPG
Common noddy
Brown booby Brown booby.jpg
Brown booby

Christmas Island was uninhabited until the late 19th century, allowing many species to evolve without human interference. Two-thirds of the island has been declared a National Park, which is managed by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage through Parks Australia. Christmas Island contains unique species, both of flora and fauna, some of which are threatened with, or have become, extinct.


The dense rainforest has grown in the deep soils of the plateau and on the terraces. The forests are dominated by 25 tree species. Ferns, orchids and vines grow on the branches in the humid atmosphere beneath the canopy. The 135 plant species include at least 18 that are found nowhere else. The rainforest is in great condition despite the mining activities over the last 100 years. Areas that have been damaged by mining are now a part of an ongoing rehabilitation project. The island is small and covers 135 square kilometres of land which 63% of that land has been declared National park. [86]

Christmas Island's endemic plants include the trees Arenga listeri , Pandanus elatus and Dendrocnide peltata var. murrayana; the shrubs Abutilon listeri , Colubrina pedunculata , Grewia insularis and Pandanus christmatensis ; the vines Hoya aldrichii and Zehneria alba ; the herbs Asystasia alba , Dicliptera maclearii and Peperomia rossii ; the grass Ischaemum nativitatis ; the fern Asplenium listeri ; and the orchids Brachypeza archytas , Flickingeria nativitatis , Phreatia listeri and Zeuxine exilis . [87]


Two species of native rats, the Maclear's and bulldog rats, have become extinct since the island was settled, while the Javan rusa deer has been introduced. The endemic Christmas Island shrew has not been seen since the mid-1980s and may be already extinct, while the Christmas Island pipistrelle (a small bat) is presumed to be extinct. [88]

The fruit bat (flying fox) species Pteropus natalis is only found on Christmas Island; its epithet natalis is a reference to that name. The species is probably the last native mammal, and an important pollinator and rainforest seed-disperser; the population is also in decline and under increasing pressure from land clearing and introduced pest species. The flying fox's low rate of reproduction (one pup each year) and high infant mortality rate makes it especially vulnerable and the conservation status is as critically endangered. [89] Flying foxes are an 'umbrella' species helping forests regenerate and other species survive in stressed environments.

The land crabs and seabirds are the most noticeable fauna on the island. Christmas Island has been identified by BirdLife International as both an Endemic Bird Area and an Important Bird Area because it supports five endemic species and five subspecies as well as over one per cent of the world populations of five other seabirds. [90]

Twenty terrestrial and intertidal species of crab have been described here, of which thirteen are regarded as true land crabs, being dependent on the ocean only for larval development. Robber crabs, known elsewhere as coconut crabs, also exist in large numbers on the island. The annual red crab mass migration (around 100 million animals) to the sea to spawn has been called one of the wonders of the natural world. [91] This takes place each year around November – after the start of the wet season and in synchronisation with the cycle of the moon. Once at the ocean, the mothers release the embryos where they can survive and grow until they are able to live on land.

The island is a focal point for seabirds of various species. Eight species or subspecies of seabirds nest on it. The most numerous is the red-footed booby, which nests in colonies, using trees on many parts of the shore terrace. The widespread brown booby nests on the ground near the edge of the seacliff and inland cliffs. Abbott's booby (listed as endangered) nests on tall emergent trees of the western, northern and southern plateau rainforest, the only remaining nesting habitat for this bird in the world.

Another endangered and endemic bird, the Christmas frigatebird, has nesting areas on the northeastern shore terraces. The more widespread great frigatebirds nest in semi-deciduous trees on the shore terrace, with the greatest concentrations being in the North West and South Point areas. The common noddy and two species of bosun or tropicbirds also nest on the island, including the golden bosun (P. l. fulvus), a subspecies of the white-tailed tropicbird that is endemic to the island. [92]

Of the ten native land birds and shorebirds, seven are endemic species or subspecies. This includes the Christmas thrush and the Christmas imperial pigeon. Some 86 migrant bird species have been recorded as visitors to the island.

Six species of butterfly are known to occur on Christmas Island. These are the Christmas swallowtail ( Papilio memnon ), striped albatross ( Appias olferna ), Christmas emperor ( Polyura andrewsi ), king cerulean ( Jamides bochus ), lesser grass-blue ( Zizina otis ), and Papuan grass-yellow ( Eurema blanda ). [93]

Insect species include the yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), introduced to the island and since subjected to attempts to destroy the supercolonies that emerged with aerial spraying of the insecticide Fipronil. [94]


Christmas Island has access to a range of modern communication services.

Radio broadcasts from Australia include ABC Radio National, ABC Kimberley, Triple J and Red FM. All services are provided by satellite links from the mainland. Broadband internet became available to subscribers in urban areas in mid-2005 through the local internet service provider, CIIA (formerly dotCX).

Christmas Island, due to its close proximity to Australia's northern neighbours, falls within many of the satellite footprints throughout the region. This results in ideal conditions for receiving various Asian broadcasts, which locals sometimes prefer to those emanating from Western Australia. Additionally, ionospheric conditions are conducive to terrestrial radio transmissions, from HF through VHF and sometimes into UHF. The island plays home to a small array of radio equipment that spans a good chunk of the usable spectrum. A variety of government-owned and operated antenna systems are employed on the island to take advantage of this.


Free-to-air digital television stations from Australia are broadcast in the same time zone as Perth, and are broadcast from three separate locations: [95]

BroadcasterDrumsitePhosphate HillRocky Point

Cable television from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States commenced in January 2013.


Telephone services are provided by Telstra and are a part of the Australian network with the same prefix as Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory (08). A GSM mobile telephone system on the 900 MHz band [96] replaced the old analogue network in February 2005.


The Shire of Christmas Island publishes a fortnightly newsletter, The Islander. [97] There are no independent newspapers. [72]

Postage stamps

Postage stamp with portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1958 Stamp Christmas Island 1958 2c.jpg
Postage stamp with portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1958

A postal agency was opened on the island in 1901 and sold stamps of the Strait Settlements. [98]

After the Japanese occupation (1942–1945), postage stamps of the British Military Administration in Malaya were in use, then stamps of Singapore. [99]

In 1958, the island received its own postage stamps after being put under Australian custody. It had a large philatelic and postal independence, managed first by the Phosphate Commission (1958–1969) and then by the island's administration (1969–1993). [98] This ended on 2 March 1993 when Australia Post became the island's postal operator; Christmas Island stamps may be used in Australia and Australian stamps may be used on the island. [99]


A container port exists at Flying Fish Cove with an uncompleted alternative container-unloading point to the east of the island at Norris Point, intended for use during the December-to-March "swell season" of rough seas.

The standard gauge 18 km (11 mi) Christmas Island Phosphate Co.'s Railway from Flying Fish Cove to the phosphate mine was constructed in 1914. It was closed in December 1987, when the Australian government closed the mine, and since has been recovered as scrap, leaving only earthworks in places.

Virgin Australia Regional Airlines provides two weekly flights to Christmas Island Airport from Perth, Western Australia, Garuda Indonesia conduct weekly open-charter flights from/to Jakarta with bookings done through Christmas Island Travel Exchange and Malindo Air operate fortnightly open-charter flights from/to Kuala Lumpur with bookings done through Evercrown Air Services.

Hire cars are available from the airport however no franchised companies are represented. CI Taxi Service also operates most days. Due to the lack of 3G or 4G, the island's sole taxi operator could not meet the requirement issued by WA Department of Transport to install electronic meters, and the operator was forced to close at the end of June 2019. [100]

The road network covers most of the island and is of generally good quality, although four-wheel drive vehicles are needed to reach some of the more distant parts of the rainforest or the more isolated beaches on the rough dirt roads.


The island-operated crèche is in the Recreation Centre. [101] Christmas Island District High School, catering to students in grades P-12, is run by the Western Australian Education Department. There are no universities on Christmas Island.

The island has one public library. [102]


Cricket and rugby league are the two main organised sports on the island.

The Christmas Island Cricket Club was founded in 1959, and is now known as the Christmas Island Cricket and Sporting Club. In 2019 the club celebrated its 60-year anniversary. The club entered its first representative team into the WACA Country Week in 2020, where they were runners up in the F-division.

Rugby league is growing in the island: the first game was played in 2016, and a local committee, with the support of NRL Western Australia, is willing to organise matches with nearby Cocos Islands and to create a rugby league competition in the Indian Ocean region. [103]

See also


  1. English does not have official status on Christmas Island and in Australia, but it is the de facto language of communication in government.

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Further reading

Coordinates: 10°29′24″S105°37′39″E / 10.49000°S 105.62750°E / -10.49000; 105.62750