About the Torres Strait
The term ‘Torres Strait Islander’ is used to describe people who come from the islands of the Torres Strait – a section of ocean that stretches from the tip of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland across to Papua New Guinea. There are almost 300 islands in the Torres Strait, but only 17 of those are populated. Between 8000 and 10000 years ago, there was a land bridge between Australia and New Guinea that allowed ancient peoples to travel south from Asia and settle. Rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age flooded the area, leaving only the highest peaks above water. These peaks became the islands we know today.
The Torres Strait is divided into five major island clusters:
- Top Western Group (Boigu, Dauan and Saibai),
- Near Western Group (Badu, Mabuiag and Moa),
- Central Group (Yam, Warraber, Coconut and Masig),
- Eastern Group (Murray, Darnley and Stephen);
- Inner Island Group (Thursday, Horn, Hammond, Prince of Wales and Friday).
The Northern Pennisnula Area (NPA) of Cape York Peninsula is often included which includes 3 aboriginal communtiies (Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon) and 2 Torres Strait Islander communities (Bamaga and Seisia).
Three major dialects are spoken in the Torres Strait; Kala Kawa Ya (Top Western and Western), Kala Lagau Ya (Central) and Meriam (Eastern) predominate with the ‘Creole’ language that emerged after the arrival of the missionaries. The Torres Strait is the body of water between Australia and Papua New Guinea where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet and where there are 133 islands, sandy cays and rocky outcrops of which 38 are inhabited. The population of the Torres Strait at the last Census (2011) totalled 7490 people.
The fishery of the Torres Strait with the exception of trochus shell continues today and Waibene (Thursday Island) exemplifies the multiculturalism of the Torres Strait where people of many races and nationalities live and work harmoniously.
As the only part of Australia with an active international border and where the neighbouring country is visible from the shoreline, the Torres Strait has gained a strategic focus from Commonwealth and State governments. The issues of customs, quarantine, immigration and defence are administered daily from Waibene within a treaty that also maintains traditional cultural and trade ties between Papua New Guinea and the people of the Torres Strait.