Steady steady…

There is never a shortage of characters up here in the Strait, nor is the a sparsity of tall stories. However some of the true ones seem the most fanciful.
Seaman Dan, or ‘Uncle Seaman Dan’ is the stuff of living legend, his trademark expression is “Steady, steady,” followed by a ‘whoopee’ sound of glee, a smile and a wink.
In his mid eighties, he still has a spark and zest for life that is enviable.
Catching the ferry back to Horn Island last year, I sat next to Uncle Dan and had a yarn. He squeezed my knee, winked and said, “Arhhh, it’s a beautiful day to be alive, whoopee.”


Born on TI in 1929, His grandfather was a boat captain from Jamaica and his great grand mother a chief’s daughter from New Caledonia.

By 11 he told me he was on horseback mustering cattle in Far North Queensland, then as a young man he worked on the pearl luggers as both a diver and a captain. I asked if he ever met Mr Crocodile.

“Oooh, sometimes working around the mouth of the Jardine River, it was very cloudy, the water so dirty you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I never saw a crocodile, but it was pretty scary. But if you didn’t come up with a bagful of pearl the skipper would just send you down again,” he said chuckling.

Uncle Dan always chuckles.


Oh did I mention, he’s also a two time Aria winning musician, with five albums under his belt, who last year received a Hall of Fame Award at the National Indigenous Music Awards? He didn’t start his music career until he was 69.


His fusion style blends Polynesian, Melanesian, with Nat King Cole and a dash of Sinatra, and TI ‘Hula’ tunes. He is a bonafide charismatic croner that has toured the country from Australia’s most northerly pub, to Tassie’s Ten Days on the Island, and everywhere in between.

Welcome to the Torres Strait

Until a recent health scare, he played two gigs a week in the Torres Strait, now recuperating, he still strums his guitar at home enjoying his ‘semi’ retirement.

His grandson Patrick Mau is now carrying the gauntlet, carving a name for himself as an emerging Hip Hop artist, who after doing several underground mix tapes, has just completed his first studio recorded album, the aptly titled, “The Show Must Go on,” which he has just toured nationally.


 Here’s the single off the album

As we berthed at Horn Island, Uncle Seaman Dan hobbled off on his zimmer frame, but not before he showed me his favourite fishing spot. He then he disappeared into the afternoon haze heartily humming a tune.

Steady Steady…

The Wet

Sultry, dark and brooding, water hangs in the air like a loaded gun. Mildew and moisture permeates everything, laundry never completely dries, flour and sugar cement in clumps and the horizon disappears daily into grey, which at times even swallowing up the midday sun.The wet season, or the ‘Wet’ is upon us.


When the monsoonal trough forms over Indonesia around December / January, the south easterly winds turn into the northerly’s and bring thick, black columns of strato-cumulus clouds. They rumble and crackle lighting then dump three quarters of the region’s annual rainfall in weeks, in deluge after deluge. It’s truly biblical.


It also brings with it cyclone season, and although the Strait usually dodges the typhoons that batter Asia or the cyclones that buffet the east coast of Northern Australia, there have been a couple to hit the region.

One of the worst, Cyclone Mahina in 1899,  ripped through the area, devastating much of the regions pearling fleets. In the days before Bureau of Meteorology they had no idea they lay in the eye of the storm, some 300 lives were lost.

Aladdin, one of the ships lost.

Aladdin, one of the ships lost.

Also with these seasonal low pressure weather systems come the King Tides, where the ocean reaches up to it’s highest mark each year, lapping at the back doors of islanders’ homes, sometimes submerging them as sea level rise is current reality rather than a possible future scenario disputed by climate-change skeptic flat earthers.

Warraber Island Jan 2014

Warraber Island Jan 2014

Before the first large globules of rain splatter down, the land is dusty, dry, desiccated and damn thirsty. Then it comes in sheets, cascading over guttering as waterfalls, turbulently foaming up out of storm water drains, swallowing roads, footpaths, transforming parks into swamps and creeping in under door sills. Everything that was dead comes to life, that landscape painted in palette of greens.



Tiny red ants, invade houses, swarming around circuit boards of light switches and power points drawn to their electric warmth. The White Ants chew deeper into the wood work and the Green Ants retreat to their silky clumps of leaves in the now barren mango trees. Rats that live in the foreshore rocks claw into wall cavities, escaping the king tides that inundate their homes. The particularly aggressive “Tiger Mozzie’ or ‘BBQ Stopper’ swam, spawning in the many pockets of rainwater trapped in the refuse, neglected garden paraphernalia and kids toys scattered around backyards.  Translucent geckos dart across the walls and green tree frogs cling to the windows, both gorging on the smorgasbord of insect life.


While the Rest of Australia steps outside to enjoy blue skies and the hot, long days of summer, in the north we retreat indoors into a sort of humid hibernation to await the return of our endless summer.