What are facts about Christmas Island?

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December 19, 2010 2:04AM

Christmas Island is a small, externnal, non self-governing territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean, 2,360 km northwest of Perth in Western Australia and 500 km south of Jakarta, Indonesia. The island covers an area of around 135 sq km. It is used as a detention centre for illegal immigrants.

Christmas Island was named by Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company ship, the Royal Mary, when he arrived on Christmas Day, in December of 1643.

When nearly pure phosphate of lime was discovered in the late 1800s, the island was annexed by the British Crown on 6 June 1888. The first permanent settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G Clunies Ross, the owner of the Keeling Islands, and phosphate mining began in the 1890s using indentured workers from Singapore, China, and Malaysia. The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate Commissioners and District Officers from the UK Colonial Office through the Straits Colony, and later the Colony of Singapore. Japan invaded and occupied the island in 1942, and interned the residents until the end of World War II in 1945.

After WWII, the UK transferred sovereignty of Christmas Island to Australia. In 1957, the Australian government paid the government of Singapore 2.9 million pounds in compensation, the estimated value of the phosphate foregone by Singapore. The first Australian Official Representative arrived in 1958 and was replaced by an Administrator in 1968.

Together, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are known as Australia's Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs). They have both been administered by a single Administrator resident on Christmas Island, since 1997. As of July 2005, there are approximately 1600 Christmas Islanders. The ethnic composition is 70% Chinese, 20% European and 10% Malay. English is the official language, but Chinese and Malay are also spoken.

Christmas Island featured strongly in the media in mid-December 2010 when a boatload of asylum seekers, tossed about by enormous seas, crashed off rocky cliffs near the island's only safe harbour, killing at least thirty people.