Strait Facts

  • Of the 274 something islands distributed across an area of some 48 000 km², only 18 are inhabited by some 8,000 people.
  • The Strait experiences two seasons ; the Wet, from December to May and the Dry  from May – December.  The average annual rainfall is close to 6 feet and the average temperature is 31 degrees.
  • It’s northern most point (Saibai Island) is less than 4kms kilometres from the Papua New Guinea mainland and it’s less than 74 kms from Indonesia at its north-western most edge.
  • The distance across the Strait from Cape York to New Guinea is approximately 150km
  • Many of the western Torres Strait Islands are actually the remaining peaks of  land bridge between Papua New Guinea and Australia that was only submerged some  12,000 years ago.
  • It is believed 70,000 years ago, the first inhabitants of the Torres Strait migrated from the Indonesian archipelago along this land bridge.
  • The traditional people of Torres Strait are of Melanesian origin and speak two distinct languages.
  • The first European navigator credited with coming across the islands was Spaniard Luis Vaez de Torres who sailed through the strait in 1606. But it was James Cook who first stuck a flag in it in 1770 at Possession Island. He went on to uninspiringly name Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Islands after the days of the week he arrived.
  • In 1860 the shimmer of pearls drew people from all over the region (Japanese, Malays, Filipinos, Micronesians and Europeans), whose descendants are still present (with broad Australian accents).
  • On July 1, 1871 the London Missionary Society led by Rev. Samuel Macfarlane arrived on Erub (Darnley Island). This is referred to by the Islanders as “The Coming of the Light” and is celebrated annually by all Island communities on this date.
  • In 1904, the Torres Strait Islanders become subject to the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Acta nasty humiliating, dehumanizing piece of legislation
  • When Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia in 1975, They made a claim on the Strait, but the Islanders protested and were allowed to become Aussie.
  • In 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders from Mer (Murray Island) started legal proceedings to establish their traditional land ownership. Because Mabo was the first-named plaintiff, it became known as the Mabo Case. This ruling overturned the century-old legal doctrine of terra nullius (“no-one’s land”).
  • Eddie Mabo was a keen supporter for the Strait to gain independence, something that is again in the political arena



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