[Editor's note: One of the more enjoyable aspects of working on Natural Earth was finding out about the far flung territories of countries. Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia is featured in this dispatch from the New York Times.]
Republished from the New York Times.
By NORIMITSU ONISHI. Christmas Island Journal. November 26, 2009
CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Australia — “The good times are back on Christmas Island,” said Trish O’Donnell, this island’s sole real estate agent. “Three-quarters of Australians probably didn’t know Christmas Island belonged to Australia, but now it’s a speculators’ market. All thanks to the I.D.C.”
That’s short for the Immigration Detention Center, a $370 million facility the Australian government opened less than a year ago to house the increasing number of asylum-seekers coming by boat to Australia. Tucked away in the jungle, at the other end of this island’s one inhabited corner, the center nevertheless has brought the whiff of quick, new money here.
The math was simple enough. Since the start of the year, the number of asylum-seekers has grown steadily, so that it now tops the population of local residents, around 1,100.
As immigration officials, guards, interpreters and others now fly in from mainland Australia for stretches of days or weeks, the island’s limited facilities are enjoying a boom. Hotels are booked weeks in advance. Rents have doubled. Lucky Ho’s and a handful of other restaurants turn away patrons without reservations.
Like many other islanders, Ms. O’Donnell, 53, was out to get her share of the new detention money, in her case by opening the Barracks, a restaurant and inn. “When do we get the opportunity to make good money on Christmas Island?” she said. “We usually just sell to each other.”
If there was urgency in her tone, it was because of the knowledge that busts have usually followed booms on Christmas Island.