How did Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays, end up being celebrated on a remote Australian island?
In 2013, Norfolk Island resident Tom Lloyd told New York Public Radio: “You haven’t got Thanksgiving day to yourselves in the US of A. It’s one of the biggest days on Norfolk Island.”
Lloyd, the ex-editor of the local paper, the Norfolk Islander, was the resident expert on all things Thanksgiving.
Every year, Norfolk Island does indeed celebrate Thanksgiving. The American festival is the highlight of Norfolk Island’s Taste of Norfolk festival, which runs for three days in November.
So how did this happen? Is it just an island embracing Americanisms in the way the mainland has taken on Halloween?
No, it’s all to do with Norfolk Island’s complex history.
Back in the 19th century, Norfolk Island was a British penal colony. It also became the home of the descendants of the H.M.S. Bounty’s mutineers and their Tahitian captives. American whaling ships made it a frequent port of call and they brought with them many American recipes, such as cornbread and pumpkin pies.
American trader Isaac Robinson is credited as the man who brought Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island in the mid-1980s. The whaler settled on Norfolk as an Burns Philp & Co Ltd and later became Norfolk’s Registrar of Lands and the island’s first United States consul.
“In those days American whalers made frequent calls, and Robinson proposed dressing the church up American-style for Thanksgiving,” Robinson told the International Business Times.
Along with three friends, Robinson tied palm leaves and lemons to the pews of the All Saints Church.
The tradition caught now. These days, every church in Norfolk Island is decorated for Thanksgiving – with a few differences. The festival is held on the last Wednesday in November, rather than the last Thursday. Turkeys are not common on Norfolk Island so the feast is usually made from roast pork, chicken and bananas.
“We have a lot of banana dishes,” Lloyd told the radio station. “You know, we have banana pilaf(ph), which is a type of baked bananas in a bread form, and green bananas cooked in cream and dried bananas.”
The Taste of Norfolk Festival runs from 26-30 November.
Want to know what’s happening on Norfolk Island? Here’s a list of the best events coming up this year.
Wearable Art Extravaganza Saturday 22 September
This is a great evening of entertainment organised by the Norfolk Island Community Arts Society. Norfolk Island designers have been asked to create outfits based on the following categories: Natural Fibre, Recycled, Black and White, Made in China, Under the Ocean. Come along to Rawson Hall on Taylors Road and see how craft this community is.
Norfolk Island Royal Agricultural and Horticultural show Monday 8 October
Held in Rawson Hall on Taylors Road, the A&H show is the highlight of the Norfolk Island calendar. Expect cooking, art, floral displays, fresh vegetable and fruit. Students from local schools also display their works of art and craft. Outside the hall there’s a cat show, equestrian events, a merry-go-round and loads of food stalls.
Taste of Norfolk Festival 26 – 30 November
This annual event showcases the best of Norfolk Island’s cooks, chefs, artisans and primary producers. Taste of Norfolk offers a real paddock-to-plate experience, with more than 25 places to experience delicious dishes made from the finest ingredients. Everyone who attends the festival will receive a free goodie bag to take home.
The festival starts with a welcome cocktail evening on Monday 26 November. On Tuesday it’s Bounty Festival night. Dozens of food stalls will pack into the old convict jail offering delicious treats play live music, craft stalls and bar service.
Wednesday is the night the festival really takes off – it’s Thanksgiving. Lunch from 12.30 offers traditional local dishes and sweet desserts. That evening, from 5.30pm dress in white for the secret celebration three-course dinner.
Thanksgiving Day Wednesday 28 November Before you head to the Taste of Norfolk Festival, drop into one of the local churches and you will find they are all decorated with produce. After the church service, the goods are auctioned off.