The Rock

As an allegory for the planet, Thursday Island, also known to those too long on it as ‘The Rock’, is like a microcosm of our third rock from the sun.

On this microcosm, like the world, if you sit in the one place for long enough everyone in it will walk past you. It has certainly felt like that over the last couple of weeks. From dawn service on ANZAC Day till last week, it felt more like Canberra than Australia’s remote northern border. The rhetoric flowed as thick as molasses.


First there was the Chief of the Australian Army, the highest ranking officer to visit the region, his lip service acknowledging the largely ignored contribution of Indigenous diggers was long overdue.



Here in the Strait we have a regiment known as Sarpeye, creole slang for Sharp Eyes, as they are known as the eyes of the north. They represent a tradition of Islander soldiers than goes back to WWII when the Torres Strait Light Infantry represented the only all Indigenous regiment at a time when they were not even recognized as having the rights of humans let alone citizens.



A week later I had to wade through a turbid three hour committee meeting with nine federal MPs and senators from all the major parties trying to get their head around what the region needs to develop economically. They met with various community leaders and groups. An Indigenous member of the traditional owners, the Kaurareg people, provided a novel insight in between the requests for cheaper freight costs and eliminating communication and IT blackspots.

He said: “It’s like the coke bottle syndrome, from the movie the Gods Must be Crazy,where a coke bottle falls from the sky from a passing plane and an African tribesman picks it up. Until that point his community had everything they ever needed, provided by God, and also no knowledge of the outside world. But when the coke bottle arrived, it divided the community who all wanted to own it. Until that moment they did not know they ‘needed’ anything than what they already had.”


Later that same day I had to meet with Olympic Marathon runner and Aussie icon Rob de Castella, who was holding trials for the Indigenous Marathon Project on the foreshore. At the same time I was keeping a lookout for Minister for Border Protection Scott Morrison, whose PA had refused to return my repeated emails and phone calls to schedule an interview during his ‘cloak and dagger’ PR trip to the Strait.


But with my ‘Island intell’ I knew when the Minister arrived, so I ‘intercepted’ his boat at the dock and the only way he could step onto dry land was through me, my camera and curly questions. He came up with a cock and bull story about the new border threat was not stopping the boats but stopping bikies in boats, who were apparently colluding with West African gangs in PNG, running drugs and guns. The gutter press hand picked by the Minister splashed headlines equating it to something like the Colombian coke cartels or the Malacca Strait pirates,while the Minister used it as an excuse to buy shiny new boats. Sounds like another coke bottle to me…

I hope they wheel Don Johnston out of retirement with his dinner jacket to be at the helm.


Subsequent inquires  from police inspectors on both sides of the border had no knowledge of this ‘new international syndicate,’nor did the annual national crime audit report. It just seemed like an excuse for a boys on adventure, cruising around in Customs boats and choppers to the Outer Islands (where he was not allowed to land as his PA forgot to get permission from Traditional Owners) – all at the expense of his tax paying wage slaves.


It never ceases to amaze me how politicians can talk so much without actually saying anything of worth.

It was Rob de Castella or ‘Deeks’ that had the more poignant message to say, “This is will be one of the most fulfilling journey you will ever take, in fact it is all about the journey.”


He was referring to the gruelling six months of training and competing in the New York Marathon, but as allegories go and as another yarn on the rock, I couldn’t help but think ain’t that the truth.



When the wind turns

Living where the wind turns is a Brazilian expression for living somewhere that’s far away from everywhere, apt really for the Torres Strait and our home on Thursday Island. Recently an Islander friend, Nino, who lives on the neighboring Island of Kiriri (Hammond Island) explained the four winds to us on a day trip to his Island. We were belting across a small channel of the Strait that separates the two islands in his open dinghy.



“There are four winds in the Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait), which are the seasons. Kuki is the Northwest that brings the monsoons (January to April) and Sager which is the South East wind of the Dry season (May until December). Then there is the southerly Zay, which comes at any time and the Northerly Nay Gay which blows hot and humid (October to December),” Nino said.

In minutes Kuki whipped up the waves and a monsoonal front hit us with sheets of rain as the dinghy dashed for the sheltered bay of his community on Kiriri. We were drenched in seconds, but not cold as the warm rain stuck our clothes to our bodies. IMG_4804 We had been generously invited by Nino to his island to attend an art workshop he ran, where he showed people how to sculpt turtles out of ghost nets, the many abandoned fish nets that plague the world’s oceans. IMG_4748 “We used to make traditional masks out of turtle shell, then the other day when I was fishing I found a ghost net floating with a trapped turtle, and I now make turtles out of ghost nets,” Nino explained. Meanwhile Kuki brought the rain beating down on the community centre where he ran his workshop.

Nino’s innovative use of this scourge of the sea has seen him be awarded the National Museum of Australia History through Art Award at the 7th Gab Titui Indigenous Art Awards this year, for his piece clinging to life.

photo by George Serras, National Museum of Australian History.

photo by George Serras, National Museum of Australian History.

On the way back after the workshop, we got a break in the weather, and got to soak up the ambiance rather than the rain. 1959468_10151858191222493_494628009_n

Now a few weeks later, I have noticed Sager blowing again as of a couple of days ago, sending a sea breeze through our house that we haven’t felt for months, it will blow away the mozzies and blow flies that have been tormenting us when Kuki blew and buffeted the other side of the island, leaving us in a lull on the southeastern lee side. But now Sager is blowing again, so we can open the windows, turn off the aircon and hang the hammock in the backyard. I better tie down my tomato plants, as seasons evolve and life goes on. We truly do live where the wind turns…