‘Men fear time and Time fears the Pyramids,’ Arab proverb.
Time, however, has nothing to worry about it in the Strait.
From the erosion of the mudflat island of Siabai near PNG, eaten away by rising sea levels, to any sign of civilization left momentarily in neglect, time is not kind here. The constant salt-laden sea-breeze eats away at cars, houses, signposts and even the grill of my barbecue and locks on my doors, leaving nothing but nubs of oxide relics. What the sea, salt and rain does not dissolve or the sun turn to powder, the white ants devour. There is no man-made permanence in the Strait, at best a persistent transience.
Its heartening really, something nice in knowing, no matter how enduring our efforts are, nature will crack, erode, weather and crumble it the moment we neglect it.
Just look at Detroit
These residues of past human endeavor are never more poignant than the relics of war scattered around the Strait, bunkers, trenches and crashed planes that are really consumed by vegetation and worn away by the elements.
Just after midday on 14 March 1942, Japanese Zeros bombed Horn Island. For the next seventeen months the islands and airfields of the region were subject to sporadic attack. In total nine people were killed, and at least 22 people injured.
But the Strait was ready, having dug in and erected antiaircraft guns, bunkers and formed Australia’s first all indigenous battalion, The Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, build upon comradeship and a long tradition of warriors. Even though it was all ‘ilan men’, that is below the rank of sergeant, these able and willing troops were paid less than half of the white diggers. Also the Australian Government did not intitally approve of the battalion as they were not of ‘European Origin.’
It took over 40 years for the Australian Government to pay these old diggers the discrepancy in their wages compared to the whitefellas, and it was not until 2001 that the few remaining were recognized for their unique efforts with the awarding of the Torres Strait Star Medal.
Considering the population of the Strait back then was only around 4,000 people, the 800 plus Indigenous troops represented virtually all of the ‘men of age’, in the region, quite a commitment, from people of ‘non-European origin’ in a county hell-bent on a White Australia.
Its only now in 2013 are voices talking of erecting an Indigenous War Memorial to commemorate the efforts that all indigenous service men and women have contributed to their very ‘Lucky’ country.