Just six kilometres to the south of Norfolk lies Phillip Island. In the right light, the island appears in its striking colours; rich reds and purples, subtle yellows and greys arched like rainbows through the contours of its imposing form. Some have even dubbed it the 'Uluru of the South Pacific".
The island is difficult to get to and harder still to climb, but for the thousands of sea birds that regularly visit, Phillip Island is nothing short of an oasis. The island is free from feral predators and is home to a number of rare and endangered plants. all of which are thriving under the protection and management of Parks Australia. But this hasn't always been the case and history's scars run deep.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s then Norfolk's penal settlements were in full swing, Phillip Island was overrun with pigs, goats and rabbits. The animals were introduced as 'hunting targets' for the officers of the day and as a food source for all of Norfolk's inhabitants. When the settlement folded, livestock was left behind for the incoming free settles from Pitcairn. Opportunities to visit Phillip island were fairly limited, so the rabbit population increased without restraint.
By 1912, the damage these animals were causing to the island's vegetation was clearly evident. Pigs and goats had earlier destroyed much of the foliage, but the rabbits were undermining the soil structure and preventing regeneration. The island had become all but a wasteland.
The environment continued to degrade until the early 1980's when several attempts were made to eradicate the rabbits. Commonwealth park staff, working co-operatively with the Norfolk community, tried several tactics. They introduced disease, baited, poisoned, trapped and shot the population into oblivious, taking down the last of the unwelcome residents in 1988.
The process of regeneration is a slow one, aided by the protection afforded to the island in 1996, when it became part of the Norfolk Island National Park. Weed eradication is high on the agenda, together with the propagation and replanting of key native species.
There is little doubt that the island is recovering. The rehabilitation work is a credit both to Parks Australia staff and the community. It is a shinning example of what can be achieved when the two work harmoniously together. Miraculously, several reptiles that no longer exist on Norfolk Island maintain a viable population on Phillip. The Phillip Island centipede has also been rediscovered. One day it may even be possible to reintroduce species that occurred here before first settlement.
Species of special interest
Phillip Island hibiscus Hibiscus insularis
While the entire wild populations of this plant is confined to Phillip Island, thanks to widespread plantings it is now well distributed throughout Norfolk Island. Its beautiful flowers are cream to light green with a dark magenta centre when they first open. The flowers then redden as they age.
More plants of interest found in the park can be found on the flora page
Lord Howe Island gecko Christinus guentheri
Fossil evidence suggests this motley olive-green gecko once lived on Norfolk Island, but it is thought to have suffered local extinction due to predation by rodents. Fortunately rodents and cats have never established themselves on Phillip, so the gecko survives there in large numbers.