Category Archives: Torres Strait
Meet the woman preserving Horn Island’s most significant Word War II sites – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
My last blog post was all about the sea journey from Cairns, through the Coral Sea to the Torres Strait islands and northern Cape York Peninsula. The MV Trinity Bay is the only working cargo ship in Australia that also carries passengers, and it takes about 40 hours from Cairns to Horn Island. After almost two very gentle days at sea, it was time to find my land legs and go wandering on Horn and Thursday islands.
There’s plenty to see on both, and the ferry ride between the two takes you across water so blue you’ll need to come up with a new adjective to describe it. On Horn Island, my guides were Liberty and Vanessa See Kee – who run the Torres Strait Heritage Museum and some very enjoyable tours of the island
Horn Island was a very active military base during World War Two. Vanessa and Liberty will show you the aircraft wrecks and tell you the stories – they know their stuff and they’re lovely people. Highly recommended! I also enjoyed our tour of Thursday Island, including the improbable military fort that sits on one of its highest points. Green Hill Fort was built in the 1890s amid fears that Russia might invade Australia, a prospect now regarded as having been very remote.
I hope you enjoy the pictures.
Everyone should see Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait islands at least once. I’ve been lucky – I’ve been to both several times. I’ve been by road and air, but last week I did the journey by sea. Wow! I’d run out of adjectives within a couple of hours of leaving Cairns. Far north Queensland is a stunning place, but looking at it from a ship doing a steady 11 knots on the Coral Sea gives you time to take it in, to marvel, to get inspired.
I travelled on the MV Trinity Bay, the only working cargo vessel in Australia that also carries passengers. Its main job is to be a lifeline for remote communities on Cape York, and in Torres Strait. It carries food supplies in refrigerated or freezer containers, general freight, cars – the vast bulk of freight going north from Cairns goes on the Trinity Bay. It stops offshore of Lockhart River, and at Horn Island & Thursday Island, and then at Seisia, near the tip of the Cape. A fleet of smaller vessels take freight on to island communities around Torres Strait.
Trinity Bay can take up to 48 passengers – we had 30 – in 15 cabins. It travels inside the Great Barrier Reef, so the sea is usually calm. It’s within sight of the coast for most of the 1000 kilometre journey, but you do get to see offshore islands, sand cays, and you get a real understanding of how big the reef is, and of its environmental importance.
It’s not the best way to get to the top of the Cape – nothing can compare to the sense of adventure and accomplishment that goes with the long, dusty road trip. But the sea journey is a very close second. And you could always have the best of both – drive one way, and send you & your car back by boat. The view from the passenger deck of the Trinity Bay is always special. I hope you enjoy the pictures.
BUT WAIT – THERE’S MORE
If you ask people to talk about Australian indigenous art, most will think immediately of dot paintings – a style that comes from the deserts of central Australia and is instantly recognisable all over the world as Australian and indigenous. It’s by far the most commercially successful branch of our indigenous arts scene. But it’s not the only style. Indigenous art varies widely in style and choice of medium across the country, but it can be hard for artists to compete with the universally popular dot paintings.
Many visitors are drawn to far north Queensland by indigenous art. We have many indigenous art centres around FNQ, and indigenous art is available in Cairns. For some years our city has put on CIAF – the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair, bringing many thousands of visitors and many economic benefits to artists and the region. CIAF was held in a scaled down form this year, and it remains to be seen how viable an event it will be in the future with significantly less State Government funding.
Around our region, indigenous arts centres encourage the cultural and spiritual expression which is central to indigenous art. But in many communities, the practice of art is also a valuable source of income, maybe the only viable way for people to remain in their country and make a living. So it’s crucial that their work can gain wider exposure – as it’s a very long journey to some of those arts centres.
The newly formed Indigenous Art Centre Alliance Inc hopes to address these challenges. It represents 13 arts centres in FNQ, Cape York Peninsula & Torres Strait. It’s members met in Cairns this week to consider the way forward. LISTEN to my interview with manager Pam Bigelow & Treasurer Dev Lengjel here
Over the past few weeks, some fairly big bits of New Zealand have been washing up along the coast of far north Queensland. They’ve travelled more than 4,000 kilometres over the past year or so, and come from a major volcano eruption that might never have been noticed but for a passenger who looked out of an aeroplane window at just the right moment.
We’re talking about lumps of pumice, one about 600 square metres, that began washing up around the Low Isles last month. We’ve also had reports of pumice being found along the Cairns coast, and at Prince of Wales Island in the Torres Strait.
The rocks were created by an underwater volcanic eruption near New Zealand in July last year. The Havre Seamount, in the Kermadec Islands, went off, ejecting a huge amount of pumice that formed a “raft” measuring 20,000 square kilometres. We might never have known of the eruption, but two weeks later a keen-eyed tourist flying back to New Zealand from Samoa spotted the pumice raft from a plane window.
Dr Scott Bryan specialises in pumice rafts at the Queensland University of Technology. He says rafts of porous volcanic rock are a remarkable, but poorly understood, natural phenomenon that play a unique role in transporting marine species across oceans. If you find some of the pumice around FNQ Scott would love to hear about it.
LISTEN to my interview with Scott here
I’ve just finished reading a really enjoyable novel by Thursday Island author Catherine Titasey. It’s about to be released, but even before it was published, it won a Queensland Literary Award for Catherine – as best emerging author 2012.
It’s called My Island Homicide – billed as “crime and court room drama meets island humour and romance”. It’s all that and more. Catherine’s first novel tells the engaging story of Thea Dari-Jones, a 40-something police officer posted to the Torres Strait, in far north Queensland. Her mum is a TI woman, her father of European ancestry. Thea thinks it’s a sea change posting and a chance to explore her mother’s heritage. But it quickly becomes much more – she finds love, and an intriguing missing person case that explores the challenging ground between Western style law enforcement & deeply entrenched Islander ways of doing things and seeing the world.
It’s fascinating territory, which Catherine has explored in real life as a lawyer working in Torres Strait, where she’s worked in community justice projects and seen the varied results of policing strategies in indigenous communities. Catherine went to Thursday Island 20 years ago for a short holiday, and stayed, having fallen in love with the place, and a local fisherman.
My Island Homicide is a really good read, and gives real insight into life in the beautiful Torres Strait. Catherine has previously written Ina’s Story – a biography of Ina Titasey, one of the legendary musical Mills Sisters.
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear Catherine talk about My Island Homicide and life in the Torres Strait
If you ever visit Torres Strait (and you really should) you’ll hear people use the expression “steady steady”. It might be in response to a “how you going” or advice on how to proceed. It’s a term from the old pearl diving days, describing a way the boat might be handled to give the diver a smoother time down deep, searching for pearl shells.
And Steady Steady is the name of the just published biography of a man who spent a fair amount of his life underwater diving for pearls – Henry Gibson Dan, better known these days as Seaman Dan, the ARIA award winning singer songwriter who released his first album in 1999 at the age of 70.
Uncle Seaman was born on Thursday Island in 1929. He lived at Coen, on Cape York Peninsula, as a young lad, and then in Cairns during World War Two. Just after the war, he began diving for trochus shell on the Great Barrier Reef, and later became a pearl diver in Torres Strait and the seas of northern Australia. Seaman Dan had loved music since his youngest days, and started to perform with bands during the 1950s in Darwin. He’s had many jobs over the years, diver, drover, ice man, gold prospector, taxi driver – but he always made time to enjoy and perform music.
In January 1999, a chance meeting with music producer and academic Karl Neuenfeldt on Thursday Island led to an offer for Uncle Seaman to go to Cairns to record some songs. He had some original compositions and some traditional Torres Strait songs – the result was the award-winning album Follow The Sun. Over the next decade, Uncle Seaman made five albums, won two ARIA awards, and he’s performed for audiences all over Australia and overseas.
At age 83, Seaman Dan is one of Australia’s oldest active recording artists and performers. He still plays two gigs a week at home in the Torres Strait. He told me today music is the reason he gets up in the morning.
Steady Steady tells the story of a remarkable and adventurous life – and there are many Torres Strait folk of his generation who lived similarly adventurous lives. But there is only one Seaman Dan, a master of island style music and a true gentleman.
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear my interview with Uncle Seaman and some of his songs
Steady Steady – the Life and Music of Seaman Dan is published by Aboriginal Studies Press http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/asp/aspbooks/steadysteady.html