1615-01-01 to Present
Christmas IslandThe Territory of Christmas Island is an Australian external territory comprising the island of the same name. Christmas Island is located in the Indian Ocean, around 350 kilometres (220 mi) south of Java and Sumatra and around 1,550 kilometres (960 mi) north-west of the closest point on the Australian mainland. It has an area of 135 square kilometres (52 sq mi).
English navigator William Dampier, aboard the English ship Cygnet, made the earliest recorded visit to the sea around the island in March 1688. He found it uninhabited. Dampier gave an account of the visit which can be found in his Voyages. Dampier was trying to reach Cocos from New Holland. His ship was blown off course in an easterly direction, arriving at Christmas Island twenty-eight days later. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the west coast). Two of his crewmen became the first Europeans to set foot on Christmas Island.
From the outbreak of the South-East Asian theatre of World War II, Christmas Island was a target for Japanese occupation because of its rich phosphate deposits. The first attack was carried out on 20 January 1942, by Japanese submarine I-59, which torpedoed a Norwegian freighter, the Eidsvold. The vessel drifted and eventually sank off West White Beach. Most of the European and Asian staff and their families were evacuated to Perth.
In late February and early March 1942, there were two aerial bombing raids. Shelling from a Japanese naval group on 7 March led the district officer to hoist the white flag. But after the Japanese naval group sailed away, the British officer raised the Union Flag once more.
At Australia's request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia, with a $20 million payment from the Australian government to Singapore as compensation for the loss of earnings from the phosphate revenue. The United Kingdom's Christmas Island Act was given royal assent on 14 May 1958, enabling Britain to transfer authority over Christmas Island from Singapore to Australia by an order-in-council.
In a media statement on 5 August 1960, the minister for territories, Paul Hasluck, said, among other things, that, "His extensive knowledge of the Malay language and the customs of the Asian people... has proved invaluable in the inauguration of Australian administration... During his two years on the island he had faced unavoidable difficulties... and constantly sought to advance the island's interests."
In 2001, Christmas Island was the site of the Tampa controversy, in which the Australian government stopped a Norwegian ship, MV Tampa, from disembarking 438 rescued asylum-seekers. The ensuing standoff and the associated political reactions in Australia were a major issue in the 2001 Australian federal election.
The Howard government operated the "Pacific Solution" from 2001 to 2007, excising Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone so that asylum seekers on the island could not apply for refugee status. Asylum seekers were relocated from Christmas Island to Manus Island and Nauru.
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.
In 2006, an immigration detention centre, containing approximately 800 beds, was constructed on the island for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Originally estimated to cost A$276 million, the final cost was over $400 million.
In December 2010, 48 asylum-seekers died just off the coast of the island in what became known as the Christmas Island boat disaster when the boat they were on, hit rocks off Flying Fish Cove, and then smashed against nearby cliffs.
As of 20 June 2013, after the interception of four boats in six days, carrying 350 people, the Immigration Department stated that there were 2,960 "irregular maritime arrivals" being held in the island's five detention facilities, which exceeded not only the "regular operating capacity" of 1,094 people, but also the "contingency capacity" of 2,724.
On 13 February 2019 the Morrison government announced it would re-open the Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre centre, after Australia's parliament passed legislation giving sick asylum seekers easier access to mainland hospitals.