A short ferry ride from Seisia, near the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula, takes you to a totally unique and fascinating multicultural world.
Thursday Island, or ‘TI’ to the locals, provides an intimate showcase for the culture and colonial heritage of an exceptional race of people called the Torres Strait Islanders. They live on some of the 138 islands scattered across the turquoise waters of the Strait, some within two kilometres of New Guinea.
When pearl shell was discovered in the strait in 1865, an invasion of entrepreneurs occurred with murder and ‘blackbirding’ – kidnapping for sale into slavery, common methods of exploitation. The islanders strived to keep their culture intact and responded positively to the missionaries in the 1870’s and now remain the most avid churchgoers in Australia.
The pearling industry was the lifeblood of the island in the 20th Century. Japanese divers were reputed to be the best in the world but they paid a high price for their success. Around 700 are buried in the Thursday Island cemetery. The island was not bombed during WWII, probably due to the Japanese presence, although neighbouring Horn Island airport was attacked eight times.
Today, cultured pearls are grown at five sites on the island and revenue also comes from prawns, crayfish and tourism. The island has a laid-back South Sea atmosphere and is home to 2300 people. The town of Thursday Island boasts six churches, two hotels and three hostels, a supermarket, cafe, bank and hospital.
Thursday Island has a cosmopolitan feel to it and visitors are given a warm, friendly welcome. Descendents of people from Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Europe, China, Australia and the South Sea Islands live in harmony.
Visitor attractions include the Quetta Memorial Church and Cemetery. Green Hill Fort and Museum. Cjab Titui Cultural Centre, the WWII Fortifications and Torres Strait Heritage Museum.
Stay a few days and experience this unique blend of peoples, history, culture and a wonderfully relaxed way of life.