AUSTRALIA: King of the Cocos

The Cocos Islands, a glistening coral archipelago, lie midway between Australia and Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. The main island, with a population of 500, has been ruled more or less benevolently like a feudal fiefdom for the past 145 years by descendants of a Scottish sea captain named John Clunies-Ross. He settled in the coconut-growing islands in 1827, imported Malay workers from Java to harvest the copra for export, and in 1886 his grandson obtained a grant in perpetuity to the islands from Queen Victoria.

Now the Cocos Islands have posed a troubling question for Australia: whether or not...

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