Population: 1,400 (2007)
Time: GMT plus 7hr
Currency: Australian dollar (A$)
Christmas Island lies in the Indian Ocean, south of Java and 2,600km north-west of Perth.
Area: approx. 135 sq km
Main settlement: Flying Fish Cove
Topography: The island consists of a central plateau rising to 250m in the east and 150m in the west, with several high points 360m above sea level. Much of the coast consists of 10–20m-high sheer cliffs, with a few small sandy beaches. The main anchorage is at Flying Fish Cove. The ground is porous but there is ample fresh water from springs.
Climate: Tropical. South-easterly winds from May to December; the wet season is from December to April when the north-west monsoon blows. Average rainfall is about 2,000mm p.a., and humidity averages 80–90%.
Vegetation: Tropical rainforest covers much of the island; 63% of forest is in the National Park. There are 16 endemic plant species.
Wildlife: Most of the animal species are endemic. The Abbott’s booby and Christmas Island frigatebird are endangered.
Transport/Communications: There are 140km of roads, of which 30km are paved. A ship operates between Singapore, Perth, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and an air service from Perth to Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, with extra flights to allow students to come home for holidays. The international dialling code is 61.
Population: 1,400 (2007); population density 10 per sq km (2007); mostly of Chinese descent, with European and Malay minorities. There is no indigenous population.
Religion: Buddhists 36%, Muslims 25%, Christians 18%.
Language: Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Malay, English.
Media: The Islander is a fortnightly newsletter published by the Shire of Christmas Island.
Radio VLU2, a community station, broadcasts in English, Malay and Mandarin. Mainland Australian radio and TV stations are received via satellite.
Education: Free and compulsory from age six to 15. The Christmas Island District High School follows the Western Australia curriculum. It caters for children from kindergarten to secondary school level. After Year 10, students attend schools on the mainland.
Health: Christmas Island has a modern hospital with a fully equipped operating theatre.
Overview: Mining and exporting some 600,000 tonnes p.a. of phosphate to South-East Asia and the Australian mainland is the main and stable economic activity. The mining company is 40%-owned by Christmas Islanders. It pays royalties, based on exports, to the Commonwealth of Australia, and these are used for rehabilitation of the mined areas. Environmental controls are in force, and rainforest clearing is prohibited.
The island also offers specialist diving and fishing holidays and eco-tourism.
Britain annexed Christmas Island (then uninhabited) in 1888. A 99-year lease was taken out in 1891 by John Murray and George Ross, who transferred it to the Christmas Island Phosphate Company in 1897. In 1900 Christmas Island was incorporated into the Straits Settlements and became subject to the laws of Singapore. It was occupied by the Japanese army from March 1942 until August 1945. In 1947 the Straits Settlements ceased to exist, and Singapore, together with Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island, became the Colony of Singapore. From 1 January to 30 September 1958, Christmas Island was a British Crown colony. Subsequently, it became an Australian territory, administered initially by the minister for external territories.
Under the Migration Act of 1981, Christmas Island residents were entitled to become residents and citizens of Australia. In 1984 the benefits of Australian social security, enfranchisement, health and education were extended to them; and progressively from 1985 to 1989, they became liable for income and other taxes. A proposal to secede from Australia was rejected in an unofficial referendum held in 1994.
Christmas Island is an Australian territory, the administration of which is the responsibility of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government at Canberra. An administrator is appointed by the Governor-General of Australia. Local government services are provided by the Shire of Christmas Island, which is responsible to a council of nine elected representatives.