The High Price of Resettlement: the proposed environmental relocation of Nauru to Australia

Jane McAdam
Taylor and Francis
Type of Publication: 
Language of Publication: 
Year of Publication: 

Most Australians today know the hot, rocky island of Nauru as a Pacific country to which Australia sends asylum seekers who have come by boat. Far fewer recall proposals 50 years ago to resettle the population of Nauru on an island off the Queensland coast. Extensive and lucrative phosphate mining on Nauru by Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand throughout the 20th century devastated much of the 21 square kilometre island, and scientists believed it would be rendered uninhabitable by the mid-1990s. With the exorbitant cost of rehabilitating the land, wholesale relocation was considered the only option. But the Nauruans refused to go. They did not want to be assimilated into White Australia and lose their distinctive identity as a people. This episode adds further complexity to the fraught co-dependency of the Australian–Nauruan relationship, and an incongruous twist to the idea that Nauru might be able to resettle refugees today. In particular, it provides a cautionary tale for perennial discussions about the future relocation of Pacific island communities in the face of climate change.

Access the publication