Torres Strait Island Influences

The CYPLUS study area includes the continental islands of the Muralug Archipelago (Prince of Wales Group) north of Cape York Peninsula. A history of the study area therefore includes some of the history of the people of the Torres Strait and their contact with European explorers, sailors, fishermen and settlers since the 1600s. This contact has had both peaceful and violent aspects.

The Muralug Archipelago is the home of the Kaurareg people who identify as an Aboriginal tribe. Their traditional country included the islands and the surrounding sea. Frequent visits were made to this area by people from other continental islands to the north including Badu, Nagir and Moa as well as Aboriginal people from the mainland. In 1921 the Kaurareg people who were then living on Kiriri (Hammond Island) were forcibly moved to Moa Island to the north. Some Kaurareg continued to inhabit Ngarupai (Horn Island) and plans to remove them to Moa Island in the 1930s were resisted

The main Kaurareg settlements presently in the region are Kubin Village on Moa Island and Wasaga Village on Ngarupai. Following the Second World War, many of the indigenous people of Saibai (a low swampy island near the Papuan coast at the northern-most part of Queensland) voluntarily relocated to the mainland, and a settlement was established at Bamaga near Cape York.

Some Saibai Islanders chose to live on the coast and established the village of Seisia near where a wharf had been built during the War. Although these settlements are physically located on the traditional country of mainland Aboriginal people, they are administratively regarded as being part of the Torres Strait. The residents of Seisia and Bamaga retain strong links with the people and culture of Saibai Island.

In summary, the history of Torres Strait Islander land use has involved:

  • A period of more than one thousand years of subsistence based on the islands and waters of the Torres Strait. Torres Strait Islanders managed and used the resources of the area in accordance with a complex set of cultural practices. Resource management included fishing, hunting, food gathering and agriculture.
  • A period of at least 390 years since the first contact with European explorers. From the early nineteenth century sporadic and continuing contact was made by passing European ships. Crews of these ships traded with Torres Strait Islanders for water and food.
  • Recent (post World War II) establishment of Torres Strait Islander communities on northern Cape York Peninsula.
  • Extensive involvement in the maritime industry including commercial fishing, pearl and trochus shelling and gathering of bêche-de-mer.


Extract from: Cape York Regional Advisory Group (1997). “Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy – Our Land Our Future – A Strategy for Sustainable Land Use and Economic and Social Development”. (CYPLUS, DLGP Cairns, DEST Canberra).