About Thursday Island

Thursday Island, colloquially known as TI, or in the native language, Waiben, is an island of the Torres Strait Islands archipelago located approximately 39 kilometers (24 mi) north of Cape York Peninsula in the Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia. Thursday Island is the administrative and commercial center of the Torres Strait Island Region. and has an area of about 3.5 square kilometers (1.4 sq mi). The highest point on Thursday Island, standing at 104 meters (341 ft) above sea level, is Milman Hill, a World War II defense facility. At the 2011 census, Thursday Island had a population of 2,610.

The island has been populated for thousands of years by the Melanesian Torres Strait Islanders, Waibe, the traditional name given by the traditional land owners the Kaurareg people. 'Waibe' means 'Cat Fish', in the local history been surrounded by 'Cat Fish'. In 1877, an administrative center 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.[2]

A lucrative pearling industry was founded on the island in 1885, attracting workers from around Asia, including Japan, Malaya and India, seeking their fortune.[3] 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"[4] Additionally, many south Pacific Islanders worked in the industry, many of whose ancestors were 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. Trochus shell was also gathered by boats that specialized in this. 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.

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.[7] 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.[6]

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.[2][7] The fort has not been in operation since 1927, but is today a heritage feature of the island.