Saibai Island

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Saibai Island
Saibai (Landsat).png
Landsat image of Saibai Island
A map of the Torres Strait Islands showing Saibai in the north central waters of Torres Strait
A map of the Torres Strait Islands showing Saibai in the north central waters of Torres Strait
Coordinates 9°24′S 142°41′E / 9.400°S 142.683°E / -9.400; 142.683Coordinates: 9°24′S 142°41′E / 9.400°S 142.683°E / -9.400; 142.683
Archipelago Torres Strait Islands
Adjacent bodies of water Torres Strait
Major islands Saibai, Kauamag
Area 107.9 km2 (41.7 sq mi)
Length 21.8 km (13.55 mi)
Width 5.2 km (3.23 mi)
Highest elevation 1.7 m (5.6 ft)
Highest point unnamed
State Queensland
Local government area Shire of Torres
Island Region Top Western
Largest settlement Saibai (pop. 171)
Population 337 (2006 census)
Pop. density 3.1 /km2 (8 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Torres Strait Islanders

Saibai Island is an island of the Torres Strait Islands archipelago, located in the Torres Strait of Queensland, Australia. The island is situated north of the Australian mainland and south of the island of New Guinea.

Most of the island is held under native title, apart from some government infrastructure and historic buildings.[1]


The island was formed by alluvial deposits from Papua New Guinean rivers.[2]

Saibai Island is a fairly large low-lying island located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of the Papua New Guinea mainland.[3] Close to the north of Saibai is the uninhabited Kauamag Island, separated from Saibai by a channel that is 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long, between 180 and 650 metres (590 and 2,130 ft) wide, and nearly blocked at its east end.

The island is about 21.8 kilometres (13.5 mi) in length by 5.2 kilometres (3.2 mi) in width,[3] and is flat, predominantly mangrove swamplands, with the highest point being 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) above mean sea level, and prone to flooding during the wet season, which coincides with king tides. A bitumen airstrip allows year-round access.

The main village of Saibai, in the northwest, has a population of 171. The second village, Churum [Surum White Sand], in the southwest, numbers 128.


Only a small proportion of the island is inhabited. The population is transient and was recorded as 337 people at the 2006 census census. The population is 70% indigenous, Torres Strait Islander people, with 25% Papuan and 5% White Australian.[citation needed]

The language spoken on Saibai is Kalaw Kawaw Ya (KKY). Saibai Islanders have always traded and had good relations with neighbouring Papuans.[citation needed] The Saibai Islanders converted to Christianity in 1871 with the arrival of the London Missionary Society.[citation needed]


After Saibai Island was devastated by abnormally high tides wave after World War Two, a group of Saibai islanders, led by Bamaga Ginau, accepted Government assistance to resettle on Cape York. The village of Saibai was totally flooded by 10 metres (33 ft) of water. Erosion and a lack of freshwater were concerns.[3] Once a site was chosen inland of Red Island, the new town was named Bamaga. Later some moved to a new settlement at Red Island Point on the coast and named it Seisia.[4]

In January 2012, very high tides inundated the island's cemetery and damaged sacred gravesites.[5]

Heritage listings[edit]

Saibai Island has a number of heritage-listed sites, including the Holy Trinity Church.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Saibai People v Queensland, 1999 FCA 158 (Federal Court of Australia 12 February 1999).
  2. ^ Kaye, Stuart B. (1997). The Torres Strait. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 8. ISBN 90-411-0506-9. 
  3. ^ a b c Fraser, Lynn and Yvonne (2009). Cape York: A 4WD experience. Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong Press. p. 77. ISBN 1-921555-17-3. Retrieved 18 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "Seisia Holiday Park - History - Saibai Island, Bamaga, Seisia". Seisia Holiday Park, Koraba Road SEISIA QLD 4876. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  5. ^ "High tides prompt Torres Strait malaria fears". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 January 2012. Retrieved 18 January 2012. 
  6. ^ "Holy Trinity Church (entry 600874)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 

External links[edit]