Thursday Island

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Thursday Island
View of the township of Thursday Island
Thursday Island is located in Queensland
Thursday Island
Thursday Island
Coordinates10°34′44″S 142°13′12″E / 10.57889°S 142.22000°E / -10.57889; 142.22000Coordinates: 10°34′44″S 142°13′12″E / 10.57889°S 142.22000°E / -10.57889; 142.22000
Population2,610 (2011 census)[1]
 • Density746/km2 (1,931/sq mi)
Elevation8.0 m (26 ft)
Area3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi)
LGA(s)Shire of Torres
State electorate(s)Cook
Federal Division(s)Leichhardt
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
30.5 °C
87 °F
24.7 °C
76 °F
1,791.6 mm
70.5 in
Localities around Thursday Island:
Keriri Island Keriri Island Torres Strait
Torres Strait Thursday Island Horn
Prince of Wales Prince of Wales Horn
Thursday Island
Native name:

Nickname: TI
A map of the Torres Strait Islands showing 'Waiben' in the south-western waters of Torres Strait
LocationNorthern Australia
ArchipelagoTorres Strait Islands
Adjacent bodies of waterTorres Strait
Area3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi)
Highest elevation104 m (341 ft)

Thursday Island, colloquially known as TI, or in the indigenous language, Waiben, is an island of the Torres Strait Islands archipelago located approximately 39 kilometres (24 miles) north of Cape York Peninsula in the Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia. It has an area of about 3.5 square kilometres (1.4 square miles). The Muralag peoples are the traditional owners of the land and seas surrounding Thursday Island. The highest point on Thursday Island, standing at 104 metres (341 feet) above sea level, is Milman Hill, a World War II defence facility. At the 2011 census, Thursday Island had a population of 2,610.[1]

Thursday Island is within the Shire of Torres, but is the administrative and commercial centre of the Torres Strait Island Region despite not being part of that local government area.


The island has been populated for thousands of years by the Torres Strait Islanders, though archeological evidence on Badu, further north in Torres Strait, suggests that the area has been inhabited from before the end of the last Ice Age. The archeology from Badhu, Pulu, Saibai and Mer shows that Melanesian occupation started around 2,600 years ago (see Kalau Lagau Ya).

The original place of permanent European settlement in Torres Strait was Somerset, south-east of the tip of Cape York Peninsula, established in 1864. However, the channel between Albany Island and Somerset proved to be hazardous for a port and in 1875 it was jointly decided by the Queensland and British governments to transfer the port to the deep anchorage on the south side of Thursday Island. The new port was called Port Kennedy, after Edmund Kennedy, the explorer of Cape York Peninsula, was established in 1867.[2][3]

In 1877, an administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands was set up on the island by the Queensland Government and by 1883 over 200 pearling vessels were based on the island.[4]

Pearl trade[edit]

A lucrative pearling industry was founded on the island in 1884, attracting workers from around Asia, including Japan, Malaya and India, seeking their fortune.[5] The Japanese community was in part indentured divers and boat hands who returned to Japan after a period of service and some longer term residents who were active in boat building and in the ownership of luggers for hire - which was illegal but bypassed by leases through third parties back to other Japanese, a practice called "dummying."[6] Additionally, many south Pacific Islanders worked in the industry, some originally imported against their will (see Blackbirding). While the pearling industry has declined in importance, the mix of cultures is evident to this day. The pearling industry centred on the harvesting of pearl shell, which was used mainly to make shirt buttons. The local pearl oyster is Golden Lip Oyster, Pinctada maxima.

Shell trade[edit]

Trochus shell was also gathered using specialized boats. Most shell was exported as the raw material - to a London-based market. Pearls themselves were rare and a bonus for the owner or crew.[7] The boats used were very graceful two-masted luggers. In shallow water free diving was used while in deeper water diver's dress, or an abbreviated form of it, with a surface air supply was used. In good times there were three divers to a lugger, a stern diver, one midships, and one diver off the bow. A manual air compressor was used. It looked like a yard-wide cube with two large wheels mounted one on each side.

For part of the fleet that operated further from Thursday Island, larger vessels, typically schooners were used as mother ships to the luggers.[8] Shell was usually opened on the mother vessels rather than on the luggers, in order to secure any pearls found. The waters of the Straits are murky and visibility was generally very poor. Even though dive depths were not great, except at the Darnley Deep (near Darnley or Erub Island), which was 40 fathoms (240 feet), attacks of the bends were common and deaths frequent.

Telegraph, trade, and cyclone[edit]

On 25 August 1887, The Paterson (Cape York) Telegraph Station on the West Coast of Cape York was opened. It connected the Cape York Telegraph Line[9] with Thursday Island, via an undersea cable.

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries Thursday Island was a regular stop for vessels trading between the east coast of Australia and Southeast Asia. A shipping disaster to a vessel in this service occurred in 1890 when RMS Quetta struck an uncharted reef in the Strait and sank in five minutes with the loss of over 130 lives. The Anglican Church on Thursday Island built shortly afterwards was named the Quetta All Souls Memorial Cathedral in memory of the event.[10] Today the church is called All Souls and St Bartholomew Church.

Cyclone Mahina, which hit Bathurst Bay, southeast of Thursday Island in 1899, wrecked the pearling fleet sheltering there, with huge losses of vessels and lives.[8]


The fear of Russian invasion as a result of the deterioration of relations between the Russian Empire and the British Empire led to a fort on Battery Point being built in 1892 to protect the island.[4][10] The fort has not been in operation since 1927, but is today a heritage feature of the island.[11]

Twentieth century[edit]

Customs House on Thursday Island.

Local pearling declined steadily up to the World War II, partly through competition from a Japanese-based fleet which did not use local resources or personnel. In the 1950s plastic buttons imitating pearl supplanted much of the demand for shell.[10] Before the decline, pearl fishing was taken by the island-based fleet to the Aru Islands in what was then the Dutch East Indies.[12]

During World War II, Thursday Island became the military headquarters for the Torres Strait and was a base for Australian and United States forces. January 1942 saw the evacuation of civilians from the island.[10] Residents of Japanese origin or descent were interned. The residents did not return until after the end of the war and many ethnic Japanese were forcibly repatriated. The island was spared from bombing in World War II, due, it was thought, to it being the burial place of many Japanese pearl shell divers, or possibly the Japanese thinking there were still Japanese residents on the island. However, neighboring Horn Island was extensively bombed. There was an airbase there, used by the Allies to attack parts of New Guinea. At the end of the war, the island tradition of a no-footwear policy was reinstated in respect for the ancient spirits believed to reside on the island. After the war, an airline service was set up by Ansett Airlines from Cairns to TI twice a week, using de Havilland Dragon Rapides and later DC3s.[citation needed] Passengers disembarked on Horn Island and caught a ferry-boat over to TI, as they still do. The island was also served by a ship, the Elsana, which made the journey once a month. For a short period after the war Okinawan divers were used on the luggers but this was not a great success.[citation needed]

In the 1950s, the CSIRO attempted to establish cultured pearl farms, but many were devastated by disease in the 1970s. The trigger is considered by some to be the use of dispersants on the 1970 oil spill from the tanker Oceanic Grandeur. This industry still exists around the island today. In the 1970s, there was also an attempt to farm green turtles.[4]

The Melanesian background of the Thursday Islanders became an issue in the 1970s, when Papua New Guinea sought to include some of the Torres Strait Islands within its borders. The Torres Strait Islanders insisted that they were Australians, however, and after considerable diplomatic discussion and political disputation between the Queensland and the Federal Governments, all of the Torres Strait islands, including Thursday Island, remained part of Australia.[13]

From 1900 to 1996 the Quetta Memorial Church on the island was the cathedral church of the large Diocese of Carpentaria which included North Queensland, the Islands of the Torres Strait and, to 1968, Northern Territory.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, TI.

Heritage listings[edit]

Thursday Island has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:

The Gab Titui Cultural Centre (2004) on Thursday Island showcases both heritage and contemporary Islander artworks.[18]


The Island is one of the two bases for the Torres Straits Pilots, a cooperative owned and run by qualified Master Mariners who pilot ships through the Straits and down to Cairns. This is a necessary service because navigation through the area is tricky due to the extensive reef systems.[19]

The island has the area hospital and courts, is the regional centre for higher education, a centre for some research organisations and is the administrative base for the local, state and federal governments. Banking and phones are available.

Thursday Island is only in part self-sufficient for water, some being piped from the adjacent island. It has two wind turbines which generate some of its electricity requirement.

The economy of the island is dependent on its role as an administrative centre and is supported by pearling and fishing, as well as a fast-developing tourism industry, with perhaps the most famous tourists being novelist Somerset Maugham and Banjo Paterson, and the most numerous being day-trippers from the cruise ships that call into the island each year.[20]


Thursday Island has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification: Aw).

Climate data for Thursday Island (1995-Present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 36.7
Average high °C (°F) 30.9
Daily mean °C (°F) 28.1
Average low °C (°F) 25.2
Record low °C (°F) 21.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 404.8
Source: Bureau of Meteorology (NB: Temperature data from the period 1995-present, Rainfall data from the period 1995-present)[21]


Torres Strait Creole is the dominant language spoken on Thursday Island by the Islanders, followed by Kalau Lagau Ya, commonly called Mabuiag (pronounced Mobyag) by many, although English is also spoken.[22][23] The indigenous language is Kaiwaligau Ya, a dialect of Kalau Lagau Ya (otherwise known as Kowrareg [more correctly Kauraraigau Ya], the name used by the people in the mid to late 1800s).


The Thursday Island township is noteworthy for being the most northerly town in Australia. It is the administrative centre of the Shire of Torres. The Torres Strait Campus of the Tropical North Queensland TAFE Institute is located on the island next to the high school is the leader in education for the Torres Strait. Thursday Island has number of services open to the community, including a sporting complex, gym, public library as well as ANZAC park and Ken Brown Oval.

There is a community pharmacy, general store, butcher, bank and many other essential services.

The Shire of Torres operates Ngulaig Meta Municipal public library at 121 Douglas Street.[24] The current library facility opened in 2015.[25]

Notable people[edit]

Notable people who are from or who have lived on Thursday Island include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). "Thursday Island (State Suburb)". 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 26 July 2013. Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ "Thursday Island". Queensland Places. Centre for the Government of Queensland, University of Queensland. Archived from the original on 19 March 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ "Port Kennedy (entry 27349)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Thursday Island - Culture and History". Archived from the original on 7 May 2014. Retrieved 5 May 2017 – via Traveller. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ Anna Shnukal (ed.), Guy Ramsay (ed.), Yuriko Nagata (ed.), 2004: Navigating Boundaries: The Asian Diaspora in Torres Strait. Pandanus Books, Canberra.
  6. ^ Regina Ganter 1994 The Pearl-Shellers of Torres Strait; Resource Use, Development and Decline, 1860s-1960s. Melbourne University Press
  7. ^ Farwell, George, Cape York to the Kimberleys, Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1962, chapter 8
  8. ^ a b Pixley, N. S. (1972). "Pearlers of North Australia: the romantic story of the diving fleets" (PDF). Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. 9 (3): 9–29. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  9. ^ "John Richard Bradford's Expedition into the Cape". Archived from the original on 7 February 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  10. ^ a b c d Foley, J C H, 1982: Timeless Isle. Torres Strait Historical Society, Thursday Island.
  11. ^ Grimwade, Gordon; Ginn, Geoff (2002). "Strange bedfellows: Green Hill Fort, archaeology, and tourism" (PDF). Australian Historical Archaeology. 20: 83–91. Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 July 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  12. ^ Wood, C.M. 1972 Pearling off the Aru Islands by Captain C.M Cowling as told to his daughter. The Dog Watch 29:47-58.
  13. ^ "Mabo/The Border Problem". Archived from the original on 11 February 2016. Retrieved 5 May 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  14. ^ "Quetta Memorial Precinct (entry 602168)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  15. ^ "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church (entry 601287)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  16. ^ "Thursday Island Cemetery (incorporating the Japanese Cemetery & the Grave of the Hon. John Douglas) (entry 600875)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  17. ^ "Thursday Island Customs House (entry 601527)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  18. ^ see "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 February 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Accessed 15 February 2014
  19. ^ Craik, Wendy. "Protecting The Great Barrier Reef From an Oil Spill" (PDF). 1995 Oil Spill Conference. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  20. ^ Search under "Ports visited" on Archived 12 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine to see cruise ships which call at Thursday Island.
  21. ^ "Climate statistics for Australian locations". Retrieved 27 July 2019. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  22. ^ Shnukal, Anna (2001). Brändle, M (ed.). Multicultural Queensland 2001: 100 years, 100 communities, A century of contributions (PDF). Brisbane. p. 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  23. ^ Beckett, Jeremy (1987). Torres Strait Islanders : custom and colonialism (1. paperback ed.). Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052133361X.
  24. ^ "Torres Shire Library". Public Libraries Connect. 13 November 2017. Archived from the original on 29 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  25. ^ "Queensland Public Library Statistical Bulletin" (PDF). November 2017. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  26. ^ Tommy Fujii monument Archived 16 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved May 6, 2017
  27. ^ Pryor, Cathy (8 September 2001). "Northern Delights". The Australian.
  28. ^ "Australian Olympic Committee: Danny Morseu". Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  29. ^ "ABC Online Indigenous - Local Heroes - Jesse Williams". Archived from the original on 12 May 2017. Retrieved 5 May 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  30. ^ Lawrie, Margaret (1990). "Zahel, Ethel May Eliza (1877–1951)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Archived from the original on 22 December 2018. Retrieved 22 December 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  31. ^ "Bernard Namok". Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. 3 June 2015. Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2019. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  32. ^ Nimmo, Julie. "NAIDOC 2019: Elma Gada Kris is the Artist of the Year". NITV. Retrieved 9 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Foley, Captain John C. H. (2003). Timeless Isle - An Illustrated History of Thursday Island (4th ed.). Torres Strait Historical Society. ISBN 0959266003.

External links[edit]