Last week I was up on Thursday Island doing research and community consultation for the upcoming Torres Strait Island exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. This was my first time in the area after spending almost six months studying it.
Thursday Island did not disappoint. T.I. isn’t large, about seven kilometers to walk the whole way around, but it has to be one of the more interesting towns in Australia. From Melanesian settlement 8000 years ago to first contact with Europeans in the 17th century and the ground shaking changes since the realization of its worth as a bech de mer and pearl shell harvesting zone, the TSI has more dynamic history in its waters than just about anywhere on the continent. It’s been a huge pleasure to dig into that history and hopefully some if comes across in the show opening in May. I must give out some huge thanks right away to Vic MacGrath, Ned David, Milton Savage, Diat Alferink, Leitha Assan and Frank David for their assistance while I was up on the islands.
One of the most amazing aspects of Thursday Island is the graveyard. It stretches the length of a peaceful valley down the north side of the island and functions as a physical timeline of the island since the arrival of Europeans in the 1860s and the practice of the burying bodies began. Anglo, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Japanese, Pacific Islander, the list goes on. T.I. was a multicultural community decades before the white Australia policy was implemented. One of the most amazing facts is that over 700 Japanese pearl divers lost their lives working in the Straits and so there’s a broad spread of Buddhist graves in the midst of the T.I.’s colourful Christianity.