Margaret Lawrie

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Portrait of Margaret Lawrie

Margaret Lawrie was famous for capturing and retelling many of the myths and Legends of the Torres Strait Islander people. She was born in Victoria in 1917 and died in 2003.

She studied English and music and later became a music teacher. Margaret married Alexander Lawrie who was a senator for Queensland. Margaret Lawrie became interested in a range of social issues in the course of assisting her husband. She was invited by the Queensland Government to travel with Oodgeroo Noonuccal and a Queensland Health worker to Cape York and Torres Strait Island communities to report on children’s health and other issues in these communities.

As a result of her work, Margaret developed an interest and association with the Torres Strait Islands and its people. She first visited the area in the early 1960s and spent significant periods of time with each of the different island communities, gathering information and material about the myths, legends, languages, history, art and culture of the regions up until 1973.

During her various visits to the area she formed many friendships with the Torres Strait community. Because of her connections to the people she was approached to record some of the local myths and legends before they became lost. At this time she had a close relationship with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and she undertook extensive recording of various oral histories under the sponsorship of the Institute. She also undertook detailed research into the history and culture of the Torres Strait Islands and people.

The State Library of Queensland now holds this collection of information. Contained within the collection are the manuscripts of the two works she published, Myths and legends of the Torres Strait [1] and Tales from Torres Strait.[2] The former work was published in both Australia and the United States and although out of print, is still widely considered an iconic work.

The Margaret Lawrie Collection complements the earlier work done by Alfred Haddon. His expedition team from Cambridge University visited the Torres Strait in 1898 publishing the results of their regional ethnography in six volumes between 1901 and 1935.[3]

The Margaret Lawrie Collection has been included on UNESCO's Australian Memory of the World Register.


  1. ^ Myths and legends of Torres Strait - Digitised version, Lawrie, Margaret. 1970. University of Queensland Press.
  2. ^ Tales from Torres Strait. Digitised version, Lawrie, Margaret. 1972. University of Queensland Press.
  3. ^ Margaret Lawrie Collection Of Torres Strait Islands Material. State Library of Queensland. Accessed on 31 January 2011.
  • TR 1791 Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islands, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
  • OM89-02 Margaret Lawrie Collection, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
  • TR 2098 Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islands Material, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
  • M 339 Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Island Material audiotapes, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

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