Torrest Strait Islands

The baton visits 3 of the Torres Islands today. A bit of history about the Torres Strait:

Long before missionaries came in 1870’s this land and Islands of the Torres Strait were occupied by unique Indigenous Tribes and Torres Strait Island people. Torres Strait is one of the smallest but most strategically important regions of the Australian coastline. It is the only part of Australia that shares a border with a neighbouring country. With Saibai Island only 3.73 km from PNG mainland at its northern most point and situated 73.5 km from Indonesia at its north-western most edge.
Murray Island in the Torres Strait was the first place in Australia where Native title was recognised  through the historic High Court decision on Mer Island in 1992.

There are special traditional trade routes in the Torres strait.  Islanders within the villages along the PNG southern coastline continue to conduct traditional trade and cross border  visits.   The traditional people of Torres Strait Island are of Melanesian origin and speak two distinct languages.

On 1 July each year the ‘Coming of the Light’ is celebrated by the Torres Strait people recognising the arrival of the Lindon Missionary Society to Dainley Island in 1871.  The Northern Penninsula Area ( NPA) also falls under the region and is located at the northern most tip of the Cape York Peninsula. NPA is made up of two predominately Island communities and three aboriginal communities. ACC churches in the region include 3 registered churches and 13 unregistered.

Horn Island

Horn Island is known as Nœrupai (colloquially Nurupai) to the Kaurareg people and was given its English name by Matthew Flinders in 1802. After the 1871 massacre on Prince of Wales Island (Muralag), remnants of the people settled here for a short while, until the government relocated the Kaurareg to Hammond Island (Kœriri), where they remained until 1922.

Gold was mined on Horn Island in the 1890s. In the early 20th century, a town flourished as a result of the pearling industry, but declined when non-islander residents were evacuated to southern Queensland during World War II. A major Allied airbase, known as Horn Island Aerodrome, was constructed on the island and this was attacked several times by Japanese planes.

Church influence:  The London Missionary Society established a congregation here and stayed up until 1915 when the Anglican Church assumed responsibility.

Post War History: In 1946, some of the Kaurareg (Nœrupai) people moved back from (Kubin) on Moa Island to Horn and settled here in present-day Wasaga Village at the western end of the island. In the late 1980s, gold was mined again and Horn saw the rapid expansion of its population and building activity, as land on neighbouring Thursday Island became scarce.

Horn Island Airport, which also serves Thursday Island is a gateway for travellers to the mainland and outer islands. The present-day population consists of islanders drawn from all islands of the Torres Strait, as well as non-islanders.

Residents travel daily by ferry across the Ellis Channel to Thursday Island for work and school. The Horn Island State School opened 1st February 1993. It became a campus of Tagai State College on 1 January 2007.

Thursday Island

Thursday Island is situated approximately 40km from the mainland of Australia and is part of the ‘Prince of Wales’ island group or ‘inner Islands’ of the Torres Strait. Historical records indicate that the Kaurareg Aboriginal people are the Traditional Owners for this area however there are no active Native Title claims over Thursday Island.

Thursday Island acts as the commercial, transport and administrative hub for 20 communities. Australian and state government agencies and other services to the region are primarily based on Thursday Island.

With a population of 2,500 it is by far the largest one in the area – there is no other town of its size between Weipa and Papua New Guinea. Following the decision to open Thursday Island to private settlement,  thousands of immigrants from Asia, the South Pacific and Europe moved to Thursday Island to work in the pearling industry. Though it declined in the 1950’s -1960’s. Today only a few farms still operate.

The island has maintained its varied retail and commercial sectors, along with a TAFE, high school (1966), State primary school, the Patrician Brothers school and the Sacred Heart school. Victoria Memorial Institute Hall (1901) was demolished in the 1990s to make way for new council chambers. Most of the main public buildings on the island have been built or rebuilt in the last two decades to withstand cyclones, including the Gab Titui Cultural Centre (2004) and the Court House (2005). The Thursday Island hospital provides vital medical care for the whole Torres Strait island group, as the nearest Base Hospital is at Cairns, 850 km away.

Hammond Island

Hammond Island is a 15 minute ferry ride from Thursday Island and is a hilly island, with mounds of basaltic rocks.

A reserve was established here in 1881 and Parry-Okeden and Roth were appointed trustees of the reserve in February 1900.

Hammond is also known as Keriri by the traditional people of the Kaurareg and belongs to the Thursday Island Group. Members of the Kaurareg people were forcibly removed to the village of Poid on Moa Island in 1921 and 1922.

Hammond became the pearling station headquarters for a short time until its relocation to Thursday Island, and earlier in the 20th century gold was mined here. A cattle industry was then set up to supply the population of Thursday Island.

In 1929 a Catholic Mission was established for the children of the Filipinos and Malays, whose forefathers were brought to the Torres Straits as indentured labour.

Today the population is just 250 residents.  A school, a local shop and a few other facilities exist. The Catholic Church still operates here and there is a catholic primary school.