Torres Strait Islanders have always remained on our homelands and our culture and traditions have continued relatively intact. We have not experienced the same dislocation from our traditional lands as that suffered by Aboriginal people…Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board, Strategic Plan, 1998. How did governments treat Torres Strait Islander people between 1900 and 1960 and what were some of the results of this treatment as compared to Aboriginal people?

This essay is designed for students to reflect on the treatment of key cultural and political issues in Australia. In that regard, this assessment is primarily about critical thinking, the articulation of one ideas and the development of respect for people of other cultures. Topics are drawn from the general themes of the subject and issues discussed in the contemporary media.

A secondary objective is to encourage students to formulate an argument and reach a set conclusion. The writing process therefore gives you practice in developing independent research skills such as accessing and using the library to locate material, evaluating opinions, making decisions, reflecting on academic arguments and familiarising yourself with referencing procedures.

Demonstrates astute understanding of the topic and clearly articulates how the text works to create cross- cultural possibilities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people
Clearly identifies and justifies own view or position, drawing support from textual examples and extra module readings as required
Reflective, and independent synthesis and critical evaluation of key points from the literature

This piece of literature needs to be one of the sources
Beckett, J. (1987). Pearlers, pastors and Protectors In Torres Strait-Custom and Colonialism, Cambridge University Press

General idea to what I know! – these are just subject notes tho so cant be used as a source


History of the Torres Strait


The aim of this topic is to introduce students to the history and culture of the Torres Strait. It seeks to analyze the extent to which historical, social, and political factors have acted to preserve the cultural ethos and identity of Islander people.




The Torres Strait Islands are located between the Northern tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. There are 17 inhabited islands and 20 communities (including the Northern Peninsula). There are 5 main island groupings including the Northern Peninsula.


Inner Islands – (Thursday Island – Waiben, Horn Island – Ngurapai, Prince of Wales Island – POW/Muralug, Hammond Isalnd – Kerriri).


Near Western – (Badu, Moa Islands – St. Paul’s Mission/Kubin & Mabuiag).


Top Western – (Boigu, Dauan & Sabai).


Central – (Yam Island – Iama, Yorke Island – Masig, Coconut Island – Poruma, Sue Island – Warraber).


Eastern – (Stephen Island – Ugar, Darnley Island – Erub, Murray Island – Mer).


According to the last census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2001, the Torres Strait’s population was 8,089 and 6,214 of the population are of either Islander or Aboriginal origin. Approximately 37,360 Torres Strait Island people live outside the region, many living in Townsville or Cairns in Queensland.

The governmental centre of the Torres Strait is Thursday Island (known by the locals as TI).

The Torres Strait Island flag was designed by Bernard Namok. It was officially adopted as a regional flag by the government on the 14th of July, 1995 but it has been in use since 1992. The green is for the land, the Black is for the people, the Blue is for the Sea, the White Dhari is a symbol of the Torres Strait Islands and the White 5 pointed star represents the 5 main island groups and the navigational importance of stars to us a seafaring people.




The first navigator credited for coming across the islands is the Spaniard Luis Vaez de Torres who sailed through the strait in 1606. The first inhabitants of the Torres Strait are believed to have migrated from the Indonesian archipelago when New Guinea was still attached to the Australian continent. The migration process took place over hundreds of years.

The subsistence of the societies varied depending on which island group they were living. Hunting and fishing was common but some islands could substantiate cultivation of crops where others were devoid of earth adequate for growing crops. Trade in artifacts made of pearl shell, turtle shell, feathers, canoes and tools were and are still very important in the day to day lives of the Torres Strait Island people. The discovery of pearl shell in the 1860’s led to an influx of people from all over the region (Japanese, Malays, Filipinos, Micronesians and Europeans). Thursday Island became the centre of activity, therefore over time, it became the centre of government.

The missionaries (London Missionary Society – known as the LMS) came to Erub island on July 1, 1871. Unlike the missionaries of the mainland of Australia, these missionaries were soft and more lenient towards the Indigenous people. Religion was generally embraced by the local people and to this day, there is an annual celebration called ‘The Coming of the Light’.

Queensland officially annexed the islands in 1879. The Torres Strait Islanders became citizens of Australia in 1967 with full access to government services.


During World War II, the Torres Strait Islanders were formed into a fighting group called The Torres Strait Island Infantry Battalion. This is the only time an Indigenous battalion was formed in Australia. The men were promised citizenship for joining the army but someone forgot to tell the politicians and at wars end, the soldiers were give nothing.




There are four main languages in the Torres Strait. These are Torres Strait Creole or Broken English, Kalaw Kawa Ya, Kalaw Lagaw Ya and Meriam Mir. There are different dialects of these languages spoken in different parts of the Strait.

The lifestyle is laid back and traditional. Fishing, swimming, hunting, crayfishing hunting for traditional food are just some of the pastimes practiced by the local people.

The beliefs of the Torres Strait vary. Religion has become a big part of most of the islands. Included with this is the Mythe, black/white magic, good and bad sprits. There is a mixture of Christianity and traditional beliefs. Family is the biggest part of ones life. Traditional Adoption is common in the islands. The reasons are many and you will read why adoption is important.

Many of our traditional songs and dances have some influences from South Sea Islands (Western Samoa, Vanuatu and New Caledonia). World War II, the Pearling industry and the Coming of the Light have made an impact on the traditional dances and songs.

Arts and crafts are very much part of the Torres Straits. The fantastic headdresses, bowls, hats and a wide variety of traditional clothing is wonderful to behold.

Marriage customs varied across the islands, though some general rules applied. A man was not permitted to marry a woman from his own or his mother’s or father’s family village. It was not uncommon that marriage partners came from two different islands. In some cases, a marriage was arranged for a girl at the time of her birth, common around the world at thew time.


Cultural identity is highly important to the Torres Strait Islanders. A part of this was their music and dancing. Certain dances were performed to portray particular aspects of their lives, such as fishing and hunting. Sacred chants were used with the beating of drums during religious ceremonies.

In the 1800’s when the pearl shell was found to be profitable, there was introduced another economic variable, beche de mer (a type of sea-slug eaten as a delicacy). These two industries changed the lifestyle of the traditional people forever. The influx of new technologies, different cultures and foods, a new economy and a faster lifestyle has had it’s impact on the people.

Today, the Torres Strait people are fighting for the right to look after their own country and islands. They want more say in the way the economy is being formed, such as minerals rights, shipping lanes which destroy their traditional hunting and jobs for locals over imported labour.


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