Group of 27 small coral islands in the Indian Ocean, about 2,700 km/1,678 mi northwest of Perth, Australia; area 14 sq km/5.5 sq mi; population (2001 est) 620. An Australian external territory since 1955, the islanders voted to become part of Australia in 1984, and in 1992 they became subject to the laws of Western Australia. The main commercial product is copra (dried kernels of coconut, used to make coconut oil), but fishing is important for subsistence and for local trade, and the islands are a site for ecotourism. West Island and Home Island are the only inhabited islands, the population being mainly of Malay origin.
History The first European to visit the Cocos Islands was Captain William Keeling of the East India Company in 1609, but the islands were uninhabited until 1826, when they were settled by Alexander Hare, an Englishman who brought with him some 200 Malay slaves given to him by the Rajah of Bandjer. John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish seaman, settled on Home Island in 1827. The islands were annexed by Britain in 1857. In 1886 the islands were annexed to the British colony of the Straits Settlements of the Malay peninsula and granted by Queen Victoria to George Clunies-Ross; the Clunie-Ross family ruled them until 1946. In 1955 Britain transferred the islands to Australia as the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Australian government purchased nearly all the Clunies-Ross's interests in the islands in 1978. During World War I the German cruiser Emden destroyed the wireless station of the islands, and it was off the coast of these islands that the Emden was sunk. The Cocos Islands were a British bomber base in the World War II. The airfield is now an important service and air staging post.
The islands have fine beaches and are surrounded by clear waters, making them popular for snorkelling, swimming, and fishing. The islands are covered in coconut palms, and have an equable climate.