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Useful Notes / Torres Strait Islanders

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There are two main indigenous ethnicities of Australia - Aboriginal Australians, and Torres Strait Islanders. Sadly, the latter are relatively unknown outside of Australia, and often forgotten even in the nation itself.

Before the British settled Australia, the Torres Strait Islanders were seafaring and trading peoples, and traded amongst themselves, as well as with Aboriginals and Papuans. Unlike Aboriginals, Torres Strait Islanders are Melanesians, meaning they are from the same broader ethnic group as the ni-Vanuatu, Solomon Islanders, Papua New Guineans, indigenous Fijiansnote , and Kanaks (the indigenous people of the French possession of New Caledonia). In fact, when Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australian governance in 1975, there was serious debate about whether the Torres Strait, the Islanders' traditional home, should be lumped in with the new PNG nation, or stay part of Australia. In the end, all of it did (bar a few miniscule islands hugging PNG's coast).


The Torres Strait is part of the State of Queensland (seen on the map as Cape York, the tip of the Australian continent). There are a little over 50,000 Torres Strait Islanders, and despite this small number, they have multiple languages, including an English-influenced creole. Most actually live on mainland Queensland. A celebration of their culture takes place in that state's capital, Brisbane, every year.

For over a decade now, those living in the Torres Strait itself have campaigned for more autonomy. Note that Torres Strait Islanders were among the most vocal of those who wanted the Torres Strait to remain part of Australia in 1975. This movement towards autonomy is not a desire for complete, independent nationhood. Australia has various territories with autonomous governance within the wider framework of Australia, such as Norfolk Island. If the Torres Strait's leaders get their way, the Torres Strait will become Australia's newest territory. The Torres Strait is populated by a little over 10 thousand people. This may seem small, but Norfolk Island has a population of only around two thousand. Queensland's former premier, Anna Bligh, has voiced support for a Torres Strait Territory.


Thursday Island is the Torres Strait's administrative centre. There's a very small Friday Island too, but sadly the other days of the week go unrepresented.

Torres Strait Islanders in media

  • The most famous Torres Strait Islander celebrity (outside of politics) is likely the singer/actor Christine Anu. She is particularly famous for her rendition of one of the most famous songs ever written and sung about Australia, My Island Home.
  • For those who follow sports, it may instead be Pattynote  Mills, currently playing in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs. His father is a Torres Strait Islander and his mother is Aboriginal. He was born and raised on the mainland, but in Canberra instead of Queensland.
  • The Straits, an action-packed, gruesome drama about a drug-dealing crime family in the Torres Strait, began airing on The ABC in February 2012. A preview can be seen here.
  • Mabo, a brilliant and moving film about one man's fight to overturn Australia's imperialistic Terra Nullius laws, also aired in 2012.
  • RAN, a 2006 SBS series set in the Torres Strait about a Remote Area Nurse working on Yorke Island. The series was filmed on location and Torres Strait Islanders made up much of the cast.


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