TORRES STRAIT

GENERAL

Geography

Torres Strait is today the body of water that separates Papua New Guinea and Australia, and is 305km wide.  There are approximately 150 islands and coral cays, with 18 being inhabited with 19 communities.

During the last ice age the mainland of Papua and Australia were joined, however when this ended approximately 15,000 years ago, the sea rose, wiping away the land bridge.  What was left were the crests of a mountain range, ie the islands of Thursday (Waibene), Muralag (Prince of Wales), Hammond, Moa, Badu, and Dauan islands, while the now extinct volcanoes in the east became the islands of Mer (Murray), Erub (Darnley), and Ugar (Stephen) islands.  Sand cays developed, which became Masig (Yorke), Poruma (Coconut) Iama (Yam) and Warraber (Sue) islands, while the islands to the north, Saibai and Boigu developed due to a river system in Papua.

Australian Quarantine Service

There are quarantine regulations relating to travel into and around Torres Strait. www.aqis.gov.au

Cape York Alcohol.

There are currently alcohol restrictions for some Cape York communities.  Please see this Qld government website for information. www.olgr.qld.gov.au/indigenous/alcoholManagementPlans/index.shtml

People


The population of Torres Strait is approximately 7000 people, scattered amongst 18 islands, though the largest concentration of people is Thursday Island with 3500 and then Badu Island with 1500 people.

The Torres Strait people are one of two indigenous cultures in Australia, originating from the Torres Strait Islands.  They are derived from a Melanesian, South Sea Islander influence and are experts in the maritime industry who had established trade routes with both New Guineans and Australian aboriginals.

A dynamic, vibrant and rich culture who were cultivators, growing crops in established island villages with strong community ties and laws.  The sea provided food in the form of the dugong and turtle, while fish, crayfish, and molluscs were collected.  The hunters provided meat through hunting birds and pigs, using the bow and arrow and spear as principal weapons.

A seafaring people they travelled via outrigger canoes, navigating by stars and reef/rock formations whilst on trade or family voyages.  Historically, the Torres Strait culture is an oral one, with knowledge passed through the generations via dance, myths, legends and stories.

History


See our Historical Timeline Slideshow

Flag

The Torres Strait flag was designed by the late Bernard Namok in 1992 to represent the area.  The white shape in the centre is the dhari or dhoeri, a traditional Torres Strait headdress used by the people of all island clusters, while the star represents the different areas of Torres Strait.  The green represents the islands, the blue the ocean and the black strip, the people.  The dhari and star are situated in the centre of the flag, representing the location of the islands in relation to New Guinea in the north and the mainland of Australia in the south.

Climate

Torres Strait experiences two seasons ; the Wet Season from December – May and the Dry Season from May – December.  Our average annual rainfall is close to 6 feet, while our average temperature is 31 degrees.  Our Wet Season is typified by rainfall most days, though often not all day, and temperatures around 31 degrees, though the humidity is quite high.  Our Dry Season is typified by dry, sunny days with the south-east trade winds blowing 15knots on average.  Average daily temperature is 30 degrees. www.bom.gov.au

Government

The inner islands, incorporating Thursday, Horn, Prince of Wales, Friday, and Goodes Island come under the governance of the Torres Shire Council, based on Thursday Island.  The council comprises a mayor and four councillors, voted in during local government elections held every four years.

All other islands : Hammond, Badu, Moa incorporating the villages of Kubin and St Pauls, Mabuiag, Boigu, Dauan, Saibai, Erub (Darnley)  Warraber,  Poruma (Coconut), Masig (Yorke), Ugar (Stephen), and Mer (Murray Island) come under the governance of the Torres Strait Island Regional Council.  Led by a mayor, each island elects a councillor, for Moa each village elects their own, with regular meetings being held.

Both state and federal governments are represented in the area providing a vast array of services.

Education

Primary education in Torres Strait is governed by the Queensland Department of Education and Catholic Education.  All state schools in Torres Strait come under the heading of Tagai State College, with each school an individual campus.  Eg. Tagai State College, Horn Island campus is the Horn Island state school.  Primary education in Queensland is from Pre prep to year 7.  The Sacred Heart Catholic School on Thursday Island and the Sacred Heart Hammond Island (preschool – year 3)campus are the only Catholic schools in the area.

Tagai State College www.tagaisc.eq.edu.au

Sacred Heart Catholic School www.ceo.cairns.catholic.edu.au/schools

The secondary school on Thursday Island comes under Tagai College with students from the outer islands boarding near the campus.

The Torres Strait TAFE is located on Thursday Island offering many courses; additionally James Cook University has a campus offering teaching and nursing studies.

Research

These are some of the books we have used for our research and while not exhaustive, they provide a foundation for more research.  Not included are the individual unit histories, these books below are more general.  For anyone requiring more information, please contact Torres Strait Heritage for a more complete list.

Other sources of Australian information include the Australian War Memorial, John Oxley Library, and the Australian National Archives in each capital city.  Files can be searched online, some are digitised, others must be ordered.  For overseas record advice contact us for information.

www.naa.gov.au – National Archives – includes service records.

www.awm.gov.au – Australian War Memorial – includes service records.

www.nfsa.gov.au – National Film and Sound Archives.

www.aiatsis.gov.au – Australian Institue ofAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

www.slq.qld.gov.au – State Library of Qld and John Oxley Library.


LANGUAGE

There are five indigenous languages in Torres Strait, relative to the different island clusters.

Eastern Island Language : ‘Meriam Mir’.

Welcome : Maiem (spoken ‘Myem’)

Good  Morning : Debe Idim

Yes : Wau

No : Nole

Thank You : Au Esoau (spoken ‘aw eswa’).

Goodbye : Le Ko Wada Wer

Western Island Language : ‘Mabuiag Dialect’

Welcome : Sew Ngapa (spoken ‘sew napa’)

Good Morning : Kapu Moegi Bathaynga (spoken ‘Kapu Migi Bathinya’)

Yes : Wa

No : Lawnga

Thankyou : Eso

Goodbye : Kapu Yawo

Western Island Language : Kala Kawaw Ya

Welcome : Sew Ngapa

Good Morning : Kapu Boethaynga (spoken Kapu Bathinya)

Yes : Wa

No : Lawnga

Thankyou : Esi

Goodbye : Yawa

Central Island language : Kulkalgal Ya – not many surviving speakers of this language remain.

Torres Strait Creole : Known as ‘Broken’ or ‘Pizin’ (Pidgin English)

This language developed from Pacific Pidgin English spoken in the Pacific area from the early 1800’s and brought to Torres Strait by Pacific islanders and Europeans who came to work or establish maritime businesses in the area.  With a large number of cultures coming to Torres Strait, Torres Strait Creole was used as a common language, also enabling Torres Strait Islanders from different areas to communicate.

Welcome : Mayem

Good Morning : Gud Moning

Yes : Wa

No : No

Thankyou : Eso

Goodbye : Yawo

References

Department of Education.

Anna Shnukal, 1988.  Broken, an introduction to the creole language of Torres Strait, Pacific Linguistics, Canberra ACT.

Sydney Ray, 2001.  Dictionary of Torres Strait Languages, edited by Ron Edwards, The Rams Skull Press, Kuranda, Qld.

ARTICLES

These are a mixture of articles written about Torres Strait Heritage, the Torres Strait and articles written by Vanessa Seekee.  For more, such as academic productions, please contact Torres Strait Heritage.

The Battle for Australia – Island defenders – ANZAC Day …

www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww2/bfa/island_defenders.html

Thursday Island & Torres Strait Islands, Australia – Lonely …

www.lonelyplanet.com/australia/…/thursday-island-and-torres-strait-islan

Torres Strait Heritage is Lonely Planet’s Top Pick in the Torres Strait.

www.brisbanetimes.com.au/…/teens-learn-hard-yakka-restoring-horn-island An article about our WW2 Conservation work on Horn Island.

www.qm.qld.gov.au/~/media/Documents/QM/…/vol-4-1-seekee.pdf – Memoirs of the Qld Museum.  Vanessa’s article entitled ‘Artillery in Torres Strait 1891-1945 : The Silent Forgotten Sentinels of the north.’

www.abc.net.au/site-archive/rural/content/2012/s3507202.htm The Forgotten History of the Far Far North.

www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/anzac…/5410956. An interview with ABC radio Vanessa conducted while in Turkey for Anzac Day at Gallipoli 2014.  Click ‘download interview’ to hear the interview.

Article | 2 February 2015 Episode 5 – History Channel …

h100.tv/article/episode-5-coast-australia-s2 This is the link to the program ‘Coast’ with Neil Oliver where they filmed an episode in Torres Strait  in 2014 for their new series on Australia, available at ABC book shops.

http://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/ An award winning website that lists WW2 places in Queensland. Torres Strait Heritage worked closely with the Qld Government to provide the Torres Strait information.  Search the site under Horn, Thursday, Goodes, Wednesday or Entrance Islands for information.

Horn Island Veterans Memorial | Monument Australia

monumentaustralia.org.au › Themes › Conflict › World War Two

Information on the Horn Island WW2 Memorial at the airport.

The Torres Strait Islands – Great South East

www.greatsoutheast.com.au/gsec2cqw/story.asp?weekID=946…4313

Celebrity chef Alistair Mcleod visits Horn Island and Torres Strait with the ‘Great South East’.

www.abc.net.au/speakingout/stories/s2261711.htm. – ‘Speaking Out’ a radio program with a Torres Strait Anzac Day 2008 special.

http://www.outbackmag.com.au/stories/article-view?201

‘Star of the Strait’- Outback Magazine, a travel article on the Horn Island WW2 tours and published in ‘Outback’ Magazine.

‘Roy & Nancy’ Wartime: Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 31 – An article written by Vanessa Seekee

https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/12/article.asp ‘One Ilan Man’ (about the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion ) Wartime: Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 12 – An article written by Vanessa Seekee

http://www.tropicalaustralia.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/572314/6_Brisbane_Sunday_Mail_26_October.PDF – ‘Island Base Draws in Military Buffs’ – Sunday Mail travel feature.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


Military

Babbage, Ross. The Strategic Significance of Torres Strait, Australian National University, Canberra, 1990.

Ball, Reg.  Torres Strait Force: Cape York, Thursday Island, Merauke 1942-1945  Australian Military Publications, Loftus NSW, 1995.

Bradley, Vera.  I Didn’t Know That Cairns and Districts Tully to Cape York, 1939-1946, Service Personnel and Civilians, Boolarong Press, Moorooka, 1995.

Earle, Sandie.  A Question of Defence: The Story of the Green Hill Fort, Thursday Island.  Torres Strait Historical Society, Thursday Island, 1993.

Hall, Robert.  Fighters from the Fringe , Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1995.

Hall, Robert. The Black Diggers, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1989.

Johnson, D.H. Torres Strait to Coral Sea: the Defence of North Queensland, D.H Johnson, Charters Towers, 1992.

Nielsen, Peter.  Diary of WW2 North Queensland, Nielson Publishing, Smithfield, 1993.

Nielsen, Peter.  North Queensland at War, Vol. 1 Naval and Merchant Shipping Movements 1939-1942, Nielsen Publishing, Townsville, 2004.

Nielsen, Peter.  North Queensland at War, Vol. 2 Naval and Merchant Shipping Movements 1943, Nielsen Publishing, Townsville, 2007.

Osbourne, Elizabeth.  Torres Strait Islander Women and the Pacific War, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1997.

*Seekee, Vanessa.  Horn Island, In Their Steps 1939-1945, Australian Military Publications, Loftus NSW, 2005.  Available from Torres Strait Heritage.

Thursday Island State School.  Torres Strait at War, Thursday Island State School, Thursday Island 1995.

Tunney, Noel.  Fight Back From the North, Noel Tunney, Brisbane, 1992.

Wilson, Peter.  North Queensland, WW2 1942-1945, Department of Geographic Information, Brisbane, 1988.

Woodward, Jack.  Under It Down Under, Jack Woodward, Sydney, 1996.

Vanessa Seekee is one of the directors of Torres Strait Heritage.

General

Beckett, Jeremy.  Torres Strait Islanders: custom and colonialism, Cambridge University Press, Sydney, 1987.

Burchill, Elizabeth.  Thursday Island Nurse, Rigby Books, Sydney, 1972.

Deere, Fr. Tyrone.  Stone on Stone, Story of the Hammond Island Mission, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Thursday Island, 1994.

Done, Rev. John E.  Wings Across the Sea, Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 1987.

Foley, Capt. John, Reef Pilots, the History of the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilot Service, Banks Bros & Street, Sydney, 1982.

Foley, John.  The Quetta, Queensland’s worst disaster, Nairana Publications, Aspley Qld, 1990.

Foley, John.  Timeless Isle, Torres Strait Historical Society, Thursday Island, 1982.

Gafney, Ellie.  Somebody Now, A Woman of Torres Strait, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1989.

Ganter, Regina.  The Pearl Shellers of Torres Strait, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994.

* Grimwade, G, and Seekee, V.  Discover Thursday and Horn Islands, Pictorial Press, Corinda, Qld, 2004.

Hilder, Brett.  The Voyage of Torres, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1980.

Hofer, Hubert.  The Wreck of the SS Quetta, Cape York 1890, Hubert Hofer, Horn Island, 2004.

Lawrie, Margaret.  Tales of Torres Strait, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1972.

Lawrie, Margaret.  Myths and Legends of Torres Strait, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1970.

Loney, Jack.  Wrecks on Queensland’s Coast, vol.2 1901-1986, includes Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, Torres Strait, and Gulf of Carpentaria.

Magowan, Fiona & Nuendfeldt, Karl.  Landscapes of Indignous Performance : Music, song and dance of Torres Strait and Arnhem Land, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2005.

Moore, David R.  Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York: An ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848-1850 ‘Rattlesnake’ Journals of O.W Brierly and information he obtained from Barbara Thompson, Australian Institute o Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1978.

Mullins, Steve.  Torres Strait, A History of Colonial Occupation and Culture Contact 1864-1897, Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton, 1995.

Nakata, Martin.  Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2007.

Nicholson, Ian.  Via Torres Strait, Ian Nicholson, Nambour, 1996.

Paterson, Lance.  Wreck-ollections, Ships and Shipwrecks in Queensland Waters, vol.1, Lance Paterson, Caloundra, 2003.

Peel, Gerald.  Isles of the Torres Straits, Current Book Distributors, Sydney, 1947.

Ray, Sydney.  Dictionary of Torres Strait Languages, ed. By Ron Edwards, The Rams Skull Press, Caloundra Qld, 2001.

Sharp, Nonie.  Footprints Along Cape York Sandbeaches, Aboriginal Studies Press, ACT 1992.

Sharp, Nonie.  Stars of Tagai: The Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1993.

Shnukal, Anna.  Broken, an introduction to the Creole language of Torres Strait, Australian National University, Canberra, 1988.

Singe, John.  The Torres Strait, People and History, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1979.

Singe, John.  Among Islands, Hillside Securities, Thursday Island, 1993.

Toohey, Edwina.  Before the Aeroplane Dance, the Torres Strait and Cape York: Islanders, Aborigines and Adventurers from 1860s to 1914, Central University Press, Rockhampton, 2000.

Walker, D. Bridge and Barrier : The Natural and Cultural History of Torres Strait, Australian National Univerisity, Canberra, 1972.

Warren, Raymond J.  Wildflower, the Barbara Crawford Thompson Story, Raymond Warren, Red Hill Qld, 2003.

*Vanessa Seekee is one of the directors of Torres Strait Heritage.

Novels (Some of these books are based on true events and people)

Barret, Charles.  The Secret of Coconut Island – a Treasure Quest in Torres Strait,  1946.

Benham, Clarence.  Diver’s Luck, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1949.

Boothby, Guy.  The Marriage of Ester, A Torres Strait Sketch, Ward Lock, London, 1915.

Drummond, A, Faulkner S.  Life B’long Ali Drummond, A Life in the Torres Strait, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2007.

Ion Idriess OBE was a prolific Australian writer, writing over 50 books between 1927-1969.  These are the ones relating to Torres Strait.

Idriess, Ion. Drums of Mer, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1933.

Idriess, Ion.  Headhunters of the Coral Sea, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1940.

Idriess, Ion.  The Great Trek, Anugs and Robertson, Sydney, 1940.

Idriess, Ion.  The Wild White Man of Badu, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1950.

Idriess, Ion.  Isles of Despair, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1947.

Idriess, Ion.  The Opium Smugglers, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1947.

Irvine, Lucy.  Castaway, Book Club Associates, Suffolk UK, 1984.

Janke, Terri.  Butterfly Song, Penguin Books, Sydney, 2005.

Singe, John.  My Island Home,  University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 2003.

THE ARTS


The Torres Strait has a plethora of talented artists that work with a wide variety of mediums.  These include : carving with both wood and pearl shell, painting, lino prints, fabric print, making the dhari, and sculpture.

Some artists have had enjoyed international, national and local exhibitions, and while this site cannot possibly list all the talented artists and the varied mediums they use.  Artists include Alick Tipoti, Denis Nona, Maui Gibuma, Rosie Barkus, George Nona, Joey Laifoo and Stanley Laifoo.  The Gab Titui Culture Centre (www.tsra.gov.au)  on Thursday Island has a great array of artwork for sale, in addition to artwork being available online – www.aboriginalartprints.com.au.  Alick Tipoti will soon have his own website, while  Rosie Barkus, award winning textile artist, is available on email: rosie.barkus@bigpond.com.

Music

Music has always been pivitol to Torres Strait culture, however it was the Mills Sisters who brought Torres Strait  music to the world with their harmonies.  Twins Cessa Nakata and Ina Titasey with their younger sister the late Rita Fell – Tyrell won many accolades, including a Red Ochre award, and performed at events around the world.  Henry ‘Seaman’ Dan, ex pearl diver, has won two Aria awards for his music, writing and singing of Torres Strait and its people, with the maritime industry a strong theme.   His music is a blend of Hula, Blues, and slow Jazz.   Cygnet Repu music is a blend of indigenous and contemporary, while Patrick Levi sings contemporary selections.

Christine Anu is world famous for her pop style music winning five Arias and producing five albums, the first two of which went Platinum and Gold.   She performs on stage and screen as a singer and actress and remains an excellent role model for young people. www.christineanu.com.au

An example of the hip hop style of music is Patrick Mau’s band ‘One Blood, Hidden Image’.   Patrick is Seaman Dan’s grandson and continues his grandfather’s musical legacy.

CDs can be purchased on Horn and Thursday Island’s souvenir outlets (see links) and at the following website, www.theplanetcompany.com

MEDIA

Archival Films

The following films are archival and available through the National Film and Sound Archives for research purposes.

‘Darnley Islanders Pay Tribute’ – #430477

‘The Islanders’ – #32752

‘The Voyage of HMAS Airspray around Cape York’ – #316156

‘Thursday Island 1940’ – #54088.

‘Thursday Island 1955’ – #6911

‘Thursday Island’ – #40166

‘Torres Strait Trek’ – #299051.

‘Islands of the Light’ – #299021

‘The Spirit of Uncle Edward’ – #63889

‘Torres Strait Islanders’ – #8879 – 1898 Alfred Hadden footage, 4min.

‘Dr. Miller and the Islanders’ – BBC production.

Movies / Television

‘The Straits’ – a crime drama filmed in Torres Strait starring Brian Cox, Rena Owen, Firass Dirani, and Aaron Fa’aoso. Available at ABC bookstores and online.

‘Hound of the Deep’ (Australian title) / ‘Pearl of the South Seas’ (British title).

This 1926 silent film is the renowned filmmaker/ adventurer Frank Hurley’s first narrative film, filmed in Torres Strait around the pearling industry.  Starring Eric Bransby Williams, Lilian Douglas and Jameson Thomas, the film is an adventure comedy set around the character John Strong, who must fulfil the obligations of a Will, leaving him a vast pearling fortune on Thursday Island.

The highlight is Hurley’s cinematography of Thursday Island, pearling vessels, the harbour and underwater scenes.  See www.nfsa.gov.au – National Film Sound Archives.

‘Lovers and Luggers’

A film made in 1938 in a variety of locations, including Thursday Island.   Directed by Ken G. Hall, a premier Australian film maker of the 1930’s, and starring Hollywood star Lloyd Hughes, with James Raglan and Shirley Ann Richards.  A famed concert pianist (Hughes) gives up his music to become a pearl diver at the behest of his love, Lorna (Richards). www.nfsa.gov.au – National Film Sound Archives.

‘King of the Coral Sea’.

A film made in 1953 in Torres Strait, directed by Lee Robinson and starring Chips Rafferty, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, Rod Taylor and Ilma Adey.   This film utilisd the talents of Torres Strait actors : Frances Chin Soon as ‘Serena’,  Jack Assan, Salapata Sagigi, Charlie Bin Juda and many extras.

Ted King (Rafferty) and Jack Janerio (Taylor) run a pearling company based on Thursday Island for owner Peter Merriman (Tingwell).  Merriman decides to see the operation and once on Thursday Island falls for Rusty, King’s daughter, played by Ilma Adey.  However King discovers a body at sea which starts a police investigation into illegal people smuggling.  Merriman shows the advantages of new pearling techniques, however the smugglers have found at King is on their trail.  The smugglers kidnap Rusty and thus King, Janerio and Merriman go to her rescue with Merriman’s new aqua-lungs, rescuing her, and capturing the smugglers.

This film is a good way of seeing Thursday Island in the 1950’s and the pearling operations of the area.  See National Sound Archives, www.nfsa.gov.au

‘Remote Area Nurse – RAN’ :

A mini series produced by Chapman Pictures in 2005, and set on Masig (Yorke Island) in Torres Strait.  Starring Susie Porter, Billy Mitchell and Charles Passi with many others from Yorke Island.  Available from ABC bookshops. www.shop.abc.net.au

Documentaries

There have been many documentaries filmed about Torres Strait that have aired nationally and internationally, under the genres of travel, heritage, fishing and culture.  The BBC, Channel 7, SBS, National Geographic, and ABC have all made films in the area, as well as film makers such as Ben Cropp, Mike Leyland, and adventurers Charlie Boorman, and Ray Mears. Torres Strait Heritage provides assistance for film makers and writers.   For a complete list, please contact Torres Strait Heritage.  Recent ones include :

Adventurer Bear Grylls filmed an episode in Torres Strait entitled ‘Western Pacific’, as part of his Man v Wild series.  Available in ABC bookstores or online.

Archaeologist Neil Oliver filmed an episode in Torres Strait for his ‘Coast’ series.  Episode 5 in ‘Coast Australia, Series 2’ sees Neil and presenters exploring Torres Strait. Available at ABC bookstores or online.

Ben Southall’s travel blog – www.islandreefjob.com.au/?s=Horn+Island.                              Ben was the winner of ‘The Best Job in the World’ and travelled the state with Tourism Queensland.

BBC’ ‘Ray Mears Walkabout Australia’ – available at ABC bookshops. www.shop.abc.net.au

SBS ‘Who Do You Think You Are – Christine Anu’ – ABC bookshops or www.sbs.com.au.whodoyouthinkyouare

Charlie Boorman ‘By Any Means: Sydney to Tokyo’ – ABC bookshops www.shop.abc.net.au

Benn Cropps ‘Warriors of the Deep’ and ‘Strait of Terror’ – www.bencropp.com.au

‘Places We Go – Far North Queensland’ – www.placeswego.com.au