Taking the shine off a Christmas treasure

As a kid, I collected stamps. I even went to stamp swap meets, interested in the brightest and the most colourful - butterflies, flowers - all those types that actually aren't worth the price of postage. I loved the designs and the names of faraway places. Among them was Christmas Island. What a magical name.

But what Australia has done with Christmas Island since it became ours in 1958 isn't quite so magical.

What does Christmas Island conjure up for you? Until this week, for me it was asylum seekers and disaster. Then along came the coronavirus. One can only imagine that conversation in the halls of power.

"What are we going with anyone coming back from ground zero? Haven't we got an empty camp somewhere? What are they doing at Maralinga these days?" "Hahaha. Hmmm, that's a thought. Mightn't fly well. What did they do in the old days with leprosy and that sort of thing?" "Stick them on an island somewhere." Eyes light up. "Is that detention centre still at Christmas Island? That's bloody near 2000km away."

Poor Christmas Island. I heard an interview with someone from the Christmas Island Tourism Association the other day. Now there's someone who likes a challenge.

They have presumably spent the past couple of decades wondering how to shed the reputation as holding place for the great unwanted while we argue about what to do with them. Reminds me of another episode in history - oh that's right, white Australian settlement. Now the centre has been empty for a little while, it's been seen as the perfect place to pack off all our citizens carrying a potentially deadly virus.

There are close to 2000 everyday residents on Christmas Island, not counting those placed there on their way to freedom or good health. What do these poor souls think? Our tourism lady sounded a little resigned to the whole shebang. But something rang a bell about Christmas Island, so I took a look at their tourism website.

The island is, in a word, magical. Beaches, amazing caves, scuba diving - a whole tourist's backpack worth of attractions. And - this was the thing that was ringing a bell - the red crabs. The spectacular migration of the red crabs happens at Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Tourism Association, you are my ideas of heroes - trying to share the beauty of your home with those who travel of their own accord without fear of guns, starvation or fatal viruses. I wish you all the best as I add you to my own travel bucket list. May you one day just be known as your own piece of paradise.

Marie Low is a freelance journalist based in Gunnedah