Flotsam and Jetsam, the lot of us.

The detritus the winds and currents deposit on this island fills me with both wonder and consternation. The endless pieces of plastic that we now ingest in the food chain, bottle tops, plastic water bottles, shopping bags, tooth brushes, throngs, take away food containers is now what makes up the flotsam and jetsam of our era.


Over its ‘settled’ history to coin a Tony Abottism, TI has seen that detritus fall layer upon layer into the sand, as many of the beaches were slipways servicing the hundreds of pearling luggers the proliferated in the late 19th Century, right up until the 1970’s.


A pearling lugger on the a Thursday Island slip in 1958, quite possibly on my backyard beach.

A pearling lugger on the a Thursday Island slip in 1958, quite possibly on my backyard beach.


Shards of Japanese rice bowls are still occasionally revealed by the shifting sands, from the many Japanese pearlers that inhabited the Island, many of whom now lie in the cemetery.


Today all that remains of the slipways are calcified twists of rusty rail tracks, cogs and skeletons of old motors  and the middens of broken beer bottles. So much shards of glass is shattered through the beaches, it is often referred as ‘TI Coral.’


But today’s flotsam swirls into the five oceanic gyres as perpetual islands of suspended plastic particles or scattered across every beach on the planet, serving as a reminder of our pandemic of consumer insanity.


But ultimately we are all flotsam and jetsam, star dust scattered by the cosmic winds, temporarily manifested into a group of atoms bouncing around making up the ‘here and now’ we all get so lost in. Mass extinctions, climate change, meteorites smashing into us and annihilating everything, all just grains of sand – dust particles the lot of us.

TI, AKA The Rock, an allegory for the planet, is always making apparent the transience of everything. What the seaspray doesn’t corrode or the isolation and remoteness drive insane, everything comes, and goes here – buildings, dreams and people.

One of these transience friends, a fellow itinerant worker, lovingly but wearily described life on TI as ‘living in a caravan park.’

A dream within a dream, a manifestation appeared in an abandoned field recently, smoke and mirrors – the Carnies came to town. Gilmore’s Travelling Tropical Amusements to be more precise, an intergenerational family the endlessly traipse the country towns of outback Australia. An apparition of wonder for my two year old, complete with ectoplasmic fairy floss, forbidden fruits of dagwood dogs, jumping castles, dodge’em cars and shooting galleries, all under the incandescent gloss of coloured lights.



Matt Gilmore proprietor of this season’s show said it was a hard life, “Holus Bolus, I’ve lost everything I own on the road, three times, caravans, boats, trucks, just smashed to pieces before my eyes. But I love coming to a new town and giving the kiddies this entertainment – but I could never stay somewhere for more than two weeks, I’d go crazy.” And with a puff of diesel smoke they were gone.


Again illuminating the allegory of life on the rock, which is a metaphor of the transience of existence on the whole.

So now when I go to the beach that is my backyard, I try to resist my bleeding heart liberal, urbane sensibilities and take in my time here as a complete whole, the good, the bad, the corrosion, the erosion and the detritus of my mind as it washes up against the flotsam and jetsam of the world at my backdoor.

Out of this detritus I have built a little Zen garden, all found objects donated by the tides. I rake the sand, subjugate the weeds and absorb the particles into an expression of fleeting existence here and now.


I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


The Wild White Man of Badu


Two men – such men. Repulsive in repose. Implacable. Blood-shot eyes simmering to blaze into animal fury – now veiled by a cold wariness pretending utter lack of interest in the other. Grim, deep-lined faces shadowing brutal mouths, beards matted with salt spray. Protruding bones made wretched the near-naked bodies seared with wounds from the cat-o-nine-tails, wounds festering under sunburn, wounds hellfire torture from salt spray.

One man would – must kill the other.

The is an extract from the 1950 publication The Wild White Man of Badu, by the prolific, part boys-own-adventure, part pulp author, Ion L. Idriess.


Ion Llewellyn Idriess, OBE (20 September 1889 – 6 June 1979), or ‘Jack’ as he was known was a prolific and influential Australian author. Publishing his first book at 38, he went on to publish 53 books over his life. A soldier at Gallipoli, prospector and a drover, he represented the quintessential Aussie bloke. Largely shunned by the Australian literati, his punctuated hard-boiled tone apparently leaved much to be desired.



A Patrick White he was not. Despite the hints of empire and language that would be deemed slightly course by today’s standards, referring to Indigenous people as ‘blacks’ and ‘savages’, it’s obvious Jack had an affection for the Strait. He spent time sailing around the islands and even lived the homestead of the infamous Frank Jardine on the Cape York Peninsular.



Frank Jardine (28 August 1841 – 1919), a pioneer pastoralist who shot his way across Cape York, bragging to have personally killed 47 Aborigines. He has been venerated as the man that opened up the Cape, he built a homestead in Somerset, married a Samoan Princess Sana Solia and was appointed the police magistrate before dying of leprosy. Pubs, streets and rivers have been named after him.

Princess Sana

Princess Sana

Jack’s Wild White Man of Badu is part fiction part fact, cobbled together from tales whispered in the pubs of TI by old-time pioneer pearlers and notes in Jardine’s journals of Wani, Wild White Man of Badu”, one of “the most fiendish renegades that ever terrorised the seas.”

It is the story of two convicts, Weasel and Wani, who escape from Norfolk Island in 1849 in an open dinghy with a sail and at the mercy of the winds cover some 1700 nautical miles to the Torres Strait. Wani then kills and eats his motley companion, Weasel and sails into mythology.

I like the cut of Jack’s jib, blending truth and fable, as an old journo hack myself, I too never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn…

Where fact blends with fable, take this passage from the book:

The ‘Skull Chief’ Kebisu of Tutu.

…a commanding figure, a tall, bearded, dark-brown warrior with massive shoulder muscles. Coal-black ringlets fell upon those shoulders, but neither they nor the beard could hide the grim jaw and broad savage cheeks. On his chest gleamed the pearl shell “mai”, insignia of Mamoose, the chief of chiefs.

Today the great, great (?) grandson of the Skull Chief Kebisu is the cultural liaison officer at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre. He is a quiet, modest man of slight build and a coy smile – yet his eyes have a burning intensity and he carries a pride of his lineage that is neither inflated or bashful.

The people of Badu or the Badulgal had a reputation as being both fierce warriors and highly competent head hunters, the decapitated heads of warrior foes being the currency of the day.


Jack’s tale of Badu and the eternal feud with the neighbouring island of Moa, each taking out head-hunting raiding parties on each other, sparked a boys-own-adventure, intrigue within me, reminiscent of an age-of-empire innocence, that belongs to my father’s generation rather than my own. Separated by a channel of sea, narrow enough to be mistaken for the mouth of a river.

Today, although the currency of severed heads is no longer legal tender, the people of Badu have a very strong culture and they flex their fierceness on the sports field and in their dance.

Badu Island Dance Team

Badu Island Dance Team


The destiny that drove this man on was uncanny. Seas, tides, winds, storms, thirst, hunger; not man-controlled happenings but even the forces of nature drew him on inexorably over great distances and through many perils to the one spot, in the right time, and under almost magical circumstances to where he could take his island.

Wani then washes up on Badu Island in the midst of a thunder storm and rather unbelievably slays the island chief and proclaims himself king, naming himself Wongai, which he mistakenly understands means warrior. Its actually the name of a revered indigenous plum. He inadvertently named himself after a piece of fruit. Jack obviously had a sense of humour.

Wongai Plum

Wongai Plum

Now jump 165 years into the future.

Under the jurisdiction of Australian territory, the people of Badu finally realised an intergenerational battle to gain the sovereignty of their island, and on February 1, 2014, the Queensland Government officially handed the title of land back to the traditional owners. Cadging a lift with Assistant Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, member for Cook, David Kempton, I was able to be there for the historic occasion. Flying in on a chopper instead of at the whim’s of the wind in the Wild White Man’s small boat a century and a half earlier, I wondered which wild white man I was and which was David. Hmmm, an old fruit and a weasel, I’ll leave that one hanging…

Notice we both have our 'Top Gun' sunnies on.

Notice we both have our ‘Top Gun’ sunnies on.


Luckily neither of us would have to cannibalise the other to survive the trip, as there would be plenty of island kai kai, of crayfish and kupmurrie to go round at the celebrations.

David, part of Queensland’s Newman Government is not particularly popular in this Labor stronghold and many find his laissez-faire nonplussed attitude arrogant. David lamented in conversation about a recent engagement where Indigenous Elders were protesting where he tried to talk to them and was told, “I’d rather speak to the horse’s mouth than the horse’s arse.”

David sighs: “When I look in the mirror at night I ask myself, am I really all those things they said I was?”

A solicitor in his previous life, wearing fine Italian leather shoes, David declined a photo of him in front of the chopper: “The Courier Mail crucifies me in the press for government exorbitance, with other photos in me getting around in choppers.”

I had graciously offered to whore myself as his photographer for the lift.

On finding out our bird only has a solitary engine, he again laments dryly: “I’m not allowed to fly in a single engine chopper, I’m sure my number must be coming up soon, spent so much time flying around the electorate in one these things.”

Despite this he still darts for the front seat like an anxious school kid: “You can have the front on the way back.”

An idyllic island our pilots says is infested with Death Adders.

An idyllic island our pilots says is infested with Death Adders.

a couple of the 4,000 ships that pass thru the Strait annually.

a couple of the 4,000 ships that pass thru the Strait annually.


After a series of impassioned speeches by indigenous leaders, David took the podium to share a few words before officially handing over the deed title to an Island Elder.


The three flags behind me (Torres Strait, Australian and Aboriginal) are symbols of three nations and a symbol of separation. Two hundred years ago when the British flag, which appears on today’s flag, was stuck into the ground and raised, it swept away the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It wasn’t until Eddie Mabo came along and addressed how Terra Nullius was wrong, that he swept that away.”

Today we are trying to fix that wrong here on Badu and respect your rights and self governance.

I am absolutely confident when your community will make decisions from now on, it will be the right one, as it has not been imposed upon you.”

Deed title and a slouch hat...

Deed title and a slouch hat…


With our unseasonally good weather hole in the Wet closing up, after a flurry of handshakes and wolfing down a couple of cray tails, we had to dash back to the chopper before the black clouds again swallowed up the sky. David had to be back in Cairns for the opening of the Chinese year of the Horse, hopefully he would be regarded as the mouth this time and not the posterior.

He also graciously let me ride in the front on the way back, to complete my boy’s-own-adventure fantasy.

IMG_1505 IMG_1518

reading Strait between the lines

Editing a newspaper (that’s not owned by Murdoch), I never thought I would need to be censored, but in a strange way it happens often up here in the Torres Strait.

Now the media cherry-picking quotes to suit a particular end is common knowledge. Most people have a certain disdain for media hacks who subvert the truth to suit the flavour of the day.

Take this interview Dire Straits our ‘Aunty’, ABC, did with me just before the Federal election in 2013, when all the hyperbole was around “stopping the boats” in order to win the votes of a xenophobic, bogan sub-class in marginal seats of Westie Sydney. It’s about an expected flow of asylum seekers coming to Australia via PNG.

730 report

Although Auntie gave a reasonable review of the situation, some of my comments were ‘not included’, in particular where I mentioned that the numbers of asylum seekers that year were no worse than last year, and that number being less than a dozen, it hardly constituted a big problem. But it didn’t suit the sensationalist angle they were pursuing.

There are other forms of censorship up here though. For one , it’s company policy not to mention the names of people involved in criminal activity, if they live here. Why? Well personal safety of me the editor, my boss warns me. With family and the family name of such significance here, the public shaming (and the fact we all live on a small island), may have nasty outcomes. (I do have a Louisville Slugger by the front door – company issued!).


When prominent Torres Strait artist Dennis Nona was charged with raping an underage girl, a story splashed across National media, my story was pulled by my boss. I was muzzled only for my own protection.

One of the weirder forms of media muzzling I have not succumbed to up here is stories about the many stray dogs that cause havoc in the community. I wrote an article about how a 14 yr old fox terrier was torn apart by a neighbor’s dog, and although i did not mention the neighbor’s name, I sure felt the heat from the community. People (mainly middle age white women), would confront me hostilely about how I had divided the community and that the little terrier deserved the mauling.

As an Islander mate explained to me, there are layers of bitter bickering and politics on the island, but on the surface everyone is nice to each other because we all go to the same social gatherings and bump into each other at the only supermarket, bank and post office daily.

It make my job tougher than getting blood out of a stone at times.

Even the disenchanted youth can not express themselves like their more urbane counterparts, tagging toilet walls with graffiti is rarely anonymous. A recent youth AKA Squid, lasted only a couple of weeks before he was brought undone and busted.


It’s part of maintaining that polite exterior under which lies the seething anger off isolation, racial vilification, domestic violence and the ‘gap’ between indigenous and non-indigenous, not to mention family feuds that may date back generations. But overall ‘Ailan’ folk are a happy, yet conservative bunch.





On Goods island which is uninhabited since the second world war, where a scattering of deserted bunkers and artillery batteries are all that remains, I discovered this ‘tag’.

Is that a Banksy???

Is that a Banksy???

But when it’s something important to Islanders, the information flows. The QLD government, on its continued campaign of penny pinching decided to not publish the annual Tide Times Book, something regarded as a bible for Islanders. As the minister’s office said to me, “it is available fro free online to be printed or downloaded to your phone.”

However not everybody has access to the internet or a printer and there are black spots in mobile phone coverage, not great when the sea if their only form of transport. However, a couple of weeks of front page stories have seen the government break under community pressure and they are now preparing hard copies to be gived out to those who need – too bad if all 6,500 Torres Strait Islander decide to ask for a couple, could mean the government bean counters banked on a false economy not offering the book people previously happily paid for.

One happy reader even dropped me off a gift for my efforts a bottle of ‘Muralag Moonshine’ a homebrew of coconut milk, brandy and rum. The bottle has a quote by Oliver Goldsmith: “Let schoolmasters puzzle their brain with grammar, and nonsense, and learning. Good liquor I stoutly maintain, gives genius a better discerning.”


Attached was a note that read: “may your automatic bilge pump or self-draining floor do you justice in the weather.” (its the wet season up here). I guess that’s a compliment…

Getting priorities Strait

The Islanders have really got their priorities Strait up here. Some times the regional Councillors go missing for days, weeks sometimes. They may just drop everything to fishing, even though it’s annoying for me trying to get that quote I need, the ever grinding quest for the front page pic and the front page story, I can’t blame them. In the greater scheme of things, they may have their priorities right.

Let me illustrate island priorities with an anecdote.

I recently attended the 40th anniversary  lunch of the Aboriginal Hostel Association, and organisation that provides temporary shelter to transients, homeless, or people travelling fro remote communities on the outer islands.


There were passionate speeches, dancing and feasting on kupmurrie wild pig, crayfish, prawns, sop sop and all the other amazing array of island food.

IMG_8491In comparison, a few days later Australia’s Governor General Quinton Bryce arrived up at the Strait, to grace us common folk with her ‘excellency-ness’ (at the expense of tax payers).

Now its not like the GG didn’t get a a genuine, warm welcome, she did, but…


Let me put it this way, the canapes before lunch were spring rolls and deep-fried dim sims (Ok there was also smattering of California rolls and some curry puffs too).


And the Kaurareg Elder who gave the ‘Welcome to Country’ did manage to still stick a knife in,

“We were driven from this land by gunpoint, but our connection to this land is through our blood and our culture survives through song lines and dance. Since then we have been put in the too hard basket.

“From human being to another, I appeal to you to help our struggle for equality as it still seems to fall on deaf ears.

“Due to the short notice of your arrival I could not organise the Kaurareg Elders to be present, nor did I dress up for this occasion as I thought it important for you to accept me the way I am,” he said.

Hmmm, need I say anymore…

After the speeches and dimmy canapes, GG ended up up at the army barracks for a late lunch with Defense and emergency services.



Now here’s the kicker…

The Australian Defense force laid on a lavish lunch of corned beef and pickle sangers on a platter with a centerpiece to die for.


YES That’s an orange speared with toothpicks of cocktail onions and artificial cherries. A far cry from Hostel banquet of crayfish and kupmurries roasted wild pig…

On the lighter side of things

July 1, 1871 is the day that God came to the Torres Strait, that is as delivered by the Missionaries. It’s a date that has since been celebrated every year by Torres Strait Islanders as “The Coming of the Light.”

Now raised a strict atheist, where the ‘G’ word was a dirty one, I squirm a little when I hear of the work of missionaries ‘saving the savages’. That said, it is largely accepted in the region that by converting to Christianity, and the syncretism of their previous belief systems, allowed for a peace to endure, end inter-island raiding, head-hunting and unified the region, that is, to bring them out of the ‘darkness’ of heathenism.

I guess learning of the original sin, guilt and the shame of their nudity are a small price to pay for peace, especially considering it would have had to been paid in human heads, the best form of currency prior to the Missionary’s arrival.


Before God


After God

Now I am not out to bash the Bible Bashers. The London Missionary Society (LMS), that arrived on this auspicious date, in their boat aptly named the “Surprise”, did have some heady if not misguided ideals, such as abolishing slavery for one. They also made an effort to assimilate into the culture and learn the lingo.


It should also be noted that the LMS are also a different mob to those Missionaries involved in that abomination that assisted in the Stolen Generation. They were the missionaries in the Northern Territory who were members of the Lutheran Church from Germany.

The LMS  was a non-denominational missionary society formed in 1795 by evangelical Anglicans who sent missionaries all over the world, notably to India, China, Australia, Madagascar and Africa. The LMS missionaries had a huge influence on the spread of their largely non-denominational approach to Christianity throughout the world. However there have been some claims of a Papua New Guinean Stolen Generation, instigated by the some members of the LMS.

In 2012 PNG’s oldest newspaper journalist Biga Lebasi asked the Queen, the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the premier of Queensland to apologise to him and other descendants of the 100’s of South Pacific islanders black-birded in the 1880’s to help establish Australia’s sugar industry in colonial Queensland.

The LMS had been busying themselves throughout the early 1800’s in the Southwest Pacific trying to convert Islanders to Christianity. By the time they arrived at Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait they had some thirty years experience ‘spreading the the word.’  They played a significant role in encounters between the West and peoples of the Pacific islands.

However, it wasn’t all beer and skittles for the LMS. Their vessels were raided by French Privateers, the government condoned pirates, they suffered funding issues and not all the ‘savages’ were as welcoming as they had hoped.


John Williams (depicted above), had been working in the Pacific for more than 20 years when he visited the island of  Erromanga (later part of Vanuatu) in 1839. The islanders had recently been cruelly treated by traders looking for sandalwood. They killed Williams and his companion James Harris. This 1841 painting shows other LMS missionaries escaping by boat in the background.


LMS missionary James Chalmers and his missionary colleague Oliver Tomkins, met a similar grizzly fate at Risk Point on Goaribari Island, on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1901. Lured ashore, the villagers were rejoicing their arrival, not to share the good book, but to be the ceremonial dinner. Their newly constructed dubu, a communal house for fighting men  could not be used without consecration by a human sacrifice. It must have been an awful moment of realization for Chalmers and Tomkins when the knives came out and the smiles fell away.

One would expect then that LMS Reverend Samuel MacFarlane must have been on edge when they anchored at Erub, accompanied by converts from the Loyalty Islands. When they landed at Kemus Beach, a bare-chested and fearsome warrior, Dabad, who at first approached them aggressively, finally allowed them on the island and broke tribal convention. Praise the lord…

Federal MP Warren Entsch and Leo Akee re-act the landing on TI 2013

Federal MP Warren Entsch and Leo Akee re-act the landing on TI 2013



A research paper by David Salisbury at the 7th International Small Islands Conference in 2011 looked into what this celebration means to Torres Strait Islanders. He interviewed Father Elemo Tapim a Torres Strait Islander Anglican Priest from Townsville about the significance of the celebration.

“For us the celebration of the Coming of the Light is just like celebrating Christmas Day. On Christmas Day God came to us in the form of a baby and on July 1 God came to the Torres Strait in the form of a book,” Father Tapim said.

Father Tapim described the importance of the celebration  as representing the beginning of new era or the beginning of a new life.


However I share the views expressed by Paul Newbury: 

“Islanders identify strongly with the missionary metaphor of the darkness of ‘heathenism’ and the light of ‘salvation’. Islanders refer to the time before 1871 as ‘Darkness Time’. It is a sad fact throughout Melanesia that a devalued past is the legacy of missionary endeavour.

The late Ephraim Bani is a well-known Torres Strait Islander academic and commentator on Torres Strait Islander culture. He attempted to combat missionary influence on his people’s culture by initiating the Torres Strait Cultural Festival. He dedicated his writing to his elders who taught him: ‘the ancient ways of survival, spirituality and affiliation with nature’.”

Ephraim Bani

Ephraim Bani

The Torres Strait Cultural Festival is held every two years on Thursday Island and attracts around 4,000 people, the week includes entertainment, cultural activities, sporting events and Islander art exhibition as well as novelty competitions such as coconut husking contest.

Ephraim Bani was also instrumental in establishing the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, a name The name, Gab Titui, represents both Eastern and Western language dialects of the Torres Strait.  ‘Gab’, interpreted as journey in the eastern island group language and ‘Titui’ from the western islands group language meaning stars. The combined name, Gab Titui, is translated as ‘Journey of the Stars’. 

When I look outside each night up here in the Strait and look at those stars, I know that’s all the God I need…

Cooking up a storm

With sound of knives on chopping blocks as a group of young men dice a mountain of garlic and ginger, the air is rich and sweet with its bouquet.


Walking back from a tombstone unveiling ceremony, I inadvertently pass the preparation of not one but five Kupmurries, the Strait’s version of a Hungi or ground oven.




I watched as the men (who traditionally prepare the meats and tend to the fires) prepared a combination of bush food, including deer, wild pig, dugong and turtle.

With the turtle, everything is used, the flesh, the organs, the blood. One of the delicacies is the freshly butchered liver slapped straight on the BBQ, which the men ate for lunch to sustain them during their preparations (which actually goes on for days).

I watched the young kids play with the turtle eggs, rubbery ping-pong-ball-like things.

The meats are marinated with the garlic and ginger, malt vinegar and soy sauce, the latter I’m guessing is the influence of the Malay and Japanese ancestors who came to the region as part of the pearling trade


  Pearling lifestyle, by: Joey Liafoo, 2004. 

Three of the kupmurries were dedicated to cooking meat, while the other two were for damper bread and Sop Sop, which is yams, red and orange sweet potatoes doused in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves and foil. These dishes were prepared by the women.


The science of the Kupmurrie is simple but elegant:

  • dig a shallow hole in the ground
  • layer it with kindling and stones
  • set fire to it and let it burn down


The hot rocks are then spread out


A layer of split banana tree trunks are laid on the rocks and the food placed on top.IMG_7122

The food is then covered with leaves which both help trap the heat and provide a source of steam.


This is all covered with a blanket.


And then plastic and sand…


Then leave for an hour and 45 minutes…


Bush foods such as turtle and dugong have been hot beds of contention, as both animals are endangered, many environmental groups are outraged at this traditional hunting practice.

And with the onset of social media, where young hunters have posted photos and videos of their kills, has further aghast the latte-sipping metrosexual middleclasses…

Tensions are high on the islands too. An elder told me in no uncertain times “That all eyes are on you.” I was forbidden to take photos of the turtle being slaughtered and told I would be run out of town if I posted anything negative about their hunting practices. But that is not why I have written what I have below…

Well peeps, Aboriginal hunting rights allow traditional and not commercial hunting, for their own consumption. Us whities have done a damn good job of fucking up the majority of the planet, so it’s hardly surprising they get more than a little miffed at their traditional practices being under threat.

The fine print here in Qld:

In Queensland, Aborigines living on trust lands are exempt from hunting and fishing legislation under the Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984 (Qld) s 77 and its Torres Strait equivalent. This exemption allows for traditional hunting for consumption. 

There is actually no solid evidence their hunting these tasty, yet endangered sea morsels is to blame for their dwindling numbers. Read this conversation, and this one too.

Now I am, have always been, an avid conservationist, with political leanings to, libertarianism. a dash of anarchy and enviro-terrorism, but getting emotional over saving the cutesy animals based solely on emotional responses is not on. Stop the Japanese killing thousands of whales commercially under the farcical banner of ‘scientific research’ yes – harpoon the fuckers and feed them to the sharks,  same with the Chinese shark fin industry, fur pelt industry and the  ivory peddling industry. Kill ’em all and let God sort them out. But the key word here is industry – Indigenous hunting practices are a tradition, not an industry, that’s the difference.

Hell, who knows, if we let them carry on as they have for millennia, maybe they we look after their resources sustainably.  

And remember, if you think you are doing the world a favour eating your soya-based meat supplement, think again.

Rest in Peace

As the editor of the local paper, I get to step into worlds many of the whitefellas up here don’t get to experience, or at least not with the frequency that I do.

One of the more interesting cultural insights I have experienced a few times in the last five weeks is the tombstone unveiling celebration. This is the ‘Christianization’  of older Islander customs.

In earlier times when an Islander died, the family would place the body on a platform and allow the elements to reduce the remains to bones. When the skull naturally disconnected from the body it was considered the sign when the family was to collect the remains and place them in a sacred place. The skull was given to the  spouse or next of kin of the deceased.

An Elder told me that Human heads were once used as a form of currency throughout the Strait as well as once considered to have magical powers. Often tribes would conduct raiding parties on enemy tribes to collect heads. They were often used in ceremonial dances as a show of a tribe’s strength or traded for permission to marry an Elder’s daughter.

By Dennis Nona.  Headhunter consults his ancestors

By Dennis Nona.
Headhunter consults his ancestors

Badu Island (Mulgrave Island), 60 km north of TI, in particular once had a feared reputation as an island of headhunters until the 1870s with the adoption of Christianity.

July 1 1871 is today the symbolic date Christianity was accepted as the dominant paradigm for religious faith in the Strait when the London Missionary Society landed on Erub island and ‘gave them the light.’ It’s celebrated every year as the ‘Coming of the Light Festival.’

So with the acceptance of the Christianity, Islanders began to bury there dead. But in true Islander style, they managed to merge elements of their older culture. The inlaws of the deceased would organise the funeral, as the family was busy in mourning.


Traditionally, some years later, when the coffin collapsed in the grave, the grave stone would be erected and the family would have a ceremonial unveiling of the tombstone and throw a big party, with singing, dancing and feasting.



Much preparation go into these events and family are expected to travel from all over the country to attend.



The grave sight is condoned off with palm fronds and a ribbon, to be cut by the priest after his blessings.


Inside the grave is covered with material and gifts, which are divvied up between the inlaws – it’s the family’s formal presentation of gratitude for their help while they were mourning. Some of the gifts included Dugong and turtle harpoons, cloth, clothes and toys. An Elder told me in earlier days money was also pinned to the cloth and the hall where the subsequent feast was held was decorated with more gifts for everyone who attended the feast.


It’s quite a heart-warming spectacle to watch. I do wonder though of the financial hardship they must create on the family, the granite tombstone, feeding 300 people, transport costs from all around the country, it must be a serious financial burden. I have heard of it creating tensions in some families for this reason.

One Islander told me, “In these modern times some people just want their cultural obligations to be over with quicker, its like everyone is in more of a hurry these days.”

It’s seems the ‘hurry disease’ that affects so much of the world is also permeating ‘Island Time.’