Christmas Island: An Anthropological Study

by Simone Dennis


Christmas Island is a small territory of Australia located in the Indian Ocean. It is home to three main ethnic groups, the smallest of which are European Australians. Christmas Island is also where those who arrive “illegally” to seek asylum in Australia are accommodated. Christmas Island has played a key role in Australian security, located as it is at the northern extremity of Australian territory; much closer to Indonesia than to the nation to which it belongs, and from whose territory it has recently been excised for migration purposes.

As a migration exclusion zone, Christmas is both within and without of the nation, and has gone from a place known among nature lovers for its unique red crabs and bird life to the highly politicised subject of national concern and heated debate. But what is it like to be at home on Christmas Island? How do locals make and come to be at home in a place both within and without of the nation?

This anthropological exploration––the very first one ever undertaken of this strategically important island––focuses closely on the sensual engagements people have with place, shows how Christmas Islanders make recourse to the animals, birds and topographic features of the island to create uniquely islandic ways of being at home––and ways of creating “others” who will never belong––under volatile political circumstances.

This original ethnography reveals a complex island society, whose presence at the very edge of the nation reveals important information about a place and a group of people new to ethnographic study. In and through these people and their relationships with their unique island place, this ethnographic exploration reveals a nation caught in the grip of intensive national angst about its borders, its sense of safety, its struggles with multiculturalism, and its identity in a world of unprecedented migratory movement.

As the first book in the discipline of anthropology to study Christmas Island in ethnographic terms, Christmas Island is a critical work for all collections in anthropology and Australian Studies.


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