The Torres Strait

Urab Dancers performing at UNSW

The Torres Strait Islands are a group of over 100 islands that are scattered over 40, 000 km2 of shallow, open seas stretching from Cape York, the northern tip of Australia, to the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. The 17 permanently inhabited islands are home to approximately 8,000 people, the majority of whom are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent.

The map below shows the Torres Strait region, with stars indicating the 17 islands inhabited on a permanent basis.

(image credit: Rey-Lescure 2010)

The region is separated into five geographically distinct island clusters: the Top Western Islands, the Western Islands, the Central Islands, the Eastern Islands and the Inner Islands.

Gudamalugal: Top Western Islands

There are three islands in the top western group: Boigu, Dauan and Saibai. Boigu and Saibai are extremely low-lying, composed of alluvial sediments deposited on a coral platform over thousands of years. Dauan is a small volcanic island. Situated only a few kilometres away from the coast of Papua New Guinea, communities on these islands have particularly strong cultural ties with neighbouring communities across the border.

Maluilgul: Western Islands

The western islands of Mabuiag, Badu and Moa are situated approximately sixty kilometres south of the top western islands. A high, rocky group of islands, the western islands are the remnants of a land bridge that spanned between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea during the last ice age when sea levels were much lower than they are today.

Kulkalgal: the Central Islands

The central islands are comprised of Iama, Warraber, Poruma and Masig. Most of the central islands are low-lying coral cays (with the exception of Iama), with sandy soils and limited supplies of fresh water.

Meriam Le: the Eastern Islands

The eastern islands of Mer, Erub and Ugar are located in the north-east of the Torres Strait. These islands are the remnants of Pleistocene volcanoes and are thus fertile islands with plenty of high ground.

Kaiwalagal: the Inner Islands

The inner islands are made up of Kiriri (Hammond Island), Waiben (Thursday Island), Muralug (Prince of Wales Island) and Ngurapai (Horn Island). As the administrative centre for the region, most government organisations are located here. The Kaiwalagal group of islands are the traditional lands of the Kaurareg (an Aboriginal clan).

Community profiles for individual islands can be found on the TSRA website.

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