Nauru gains independence from Australia.
Nauru was first settled by Micronesian and Polynesian people at least 3,000 years ago. Nauruans subsisted on coconut and pandanus fruit, and engaged in aquaculture by catching juvenile ibija fish, acclimated them to freshwater conditions, and raised them in Buada Lagoon, providing an additional reliable source of food. Traditionally only men were permitted to fish on the reef, and did so from canoes or by using trained man-of-war hawks.
There were traditionally 12 clans or tribes on Nauru, which are represented in the 12-pointed star in the nation’s flag. Nauruans traced their descent on the female side. The first Europeans to encounter the island were on the British whaling ship Hunter, in 1798. When the ship approached, “many canoes ventured out to meet the ship. The Hunter’s crew did not leave the ship nor did Nauruans board, but Captain John Fearn’s positive impression of the island and its people” led to its English name, Pleasant Island. This name was used until Germany annexed the island 90 years later.
From around 1830, Nauruans had contact with Europeans from whaling ships and traders who replenished their supplies at Nauru. The islanders traded food for alcoholic toddy and firearms. The first Europeans to live on the island, starting perhaps in 1830, were Patrick Burke and John Jones, Irish convicts who had escaped from Norfolk Island, according to Paradise for Sale. Jones became “Nauru’s first and last dictator,” who killed or banished several other beachcombers who arrived later, until the Nauruans banished Jones from the island in 1841.
The introduction of firearms and alcohol destroyed the peaceful coexistence of the 12 tribes living on the island. A 10-year internal war began in 1878 and resulted in a reduction of the population from 1,400 to around 900. Ultimately, alcohol was banned and some arms were confiscated.
Nauru became self-governing in January 1966. On 31 January 1968, following a two-year constitutional convention, Nauru became the world’s smallest independent republic. It was led by founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970, control passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Money gained from the exploitation of phosphate was put into the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust and gave Nauruans the second highest GDP Per Capita and one of the highest standards of living in the Third World.
In 1989, Nauru took legal actions against Australia in the International Court of Justice over Australia’s actions during its administration of Nauru. In particular, Nauru made a legal complaint against Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining. Certain Phosphate Lands: Nauru v. Australia led to an out-of-court settlement to rehabilitate the mined-out areas of Nauru.
By the close of the twentieth century, the finite phosphate supplies were fast running out. Nauru finally joined the UN in 1999.