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Where we operate

GEOGRAPHY

The Torres Strait is part of Australia’s north-eastern state, Queensland. The area is approximately

60 150 kilometres wide at its narrowest point and is situated between the tip of Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea.

The Torres Strait links the Coral Sea in the east to the Arafura Sea in the west. The two main navigation passages are the Prince of Wales Channel, north of Keriri (Hammond Island), and the Endeavour Strait, between Cape York and Muralag (Prince of Wales Island).

The picturesque region consists of over 270 islands and reefs with a variety of topographies, ecosystems and formations. Several islands close to the Papua New Guinea coastline are low lying and are regularly inundated by sea water. Many of the western islands are hilly and steep. The central islands are predominantly coral cays and the islands in the east are volcanic.

LOGISTICS

The TSRA delivers services across the entire Torres Strait region, including 17 inhabited islands and the communities of Bamaga and Seisia in the Northern Peninsula Area of mainland Australia.

The TSRA relies on air and sea links and limited phone and internet communications for the delivery of its services. Most travel within the region is restricted to small watercraft, helicopters and light aircraft.

The main gateway to the Torres Strait is the airport located on Ngurapai (Horn Island), a 20-minute ferry ride from Thursday Island (Waiben) where the administrative hubs of the Australian Government, Queensland Government, TSC and TSIRC are located.

The bulk of goods and materials required by the region are shipped by container vessel from Cairns and redistributed by barge from transhipment points on Thursday Island and Ngurapai.

Map of the Torres Strait Region
FIGURE 3-1: THE TORRES STRAIT

CULTURE

The Torres Strait region is predominantly inhabited by Torres Strait Islanders and Kaurareg Aboriginal people. In 2016, the year of the most recent ABS census, the total population of the region was 9,548, of whom 7,784 were Torres Strait Islander or Aboriginal people.

The Torres Strait’s unique Ailan Kastom (island custom) is a central part of life in the region. Ailan Kastom is kept alive through the arts, rituals and performances, and the preservation of languages and traditional knowledge, which are passed from one generation to the next. Cultural values are strongly intertwined with traditional ancestral ties and respect for the waterways, land and sea and the resources that they provide.

HISTORY

The Torres Strait is named after Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres, who sailed through the area in 1606. Queensland Government administration of the Torres Strait was established on Thursday Island in 1877, following the arrival of missionaries on Cape York Peninsula. Early settlers were involved in pearling, bêche-de-mer collection, and mining.

NATIVE TITLE

Torres Strait Islander people first achieved recognition of their land rights in 1992 following the High Court’s landmark Mabo decision, which granted the Meriam people Native Title rights over Mer (Murray Island). It was the first time that Native Title had been recognised under the common law of Australia. It set a precedent for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people throughout Australia to assert their Native Title rights through the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

Native Title has been granted for 13 inhabited islands and most of the uninhabited islands in the Torres Strait region. In addition, the Kaurareg Aboriginal people have achieved recognition of their Native Title rights over seven inner islands: Ngurapai (Horn Island), Muralag (Prince of Wales Island), Zuna (Entrance Island), Yeta (Port Lihou Island), Mipa (Turtle Island), Tarilag (Packe Island) and Damaralag.

In total, 22 Native Title determinations have been made in the Torres Strait. No new determinations were made in 2019-2020. Native Title claims are being pursued over two land claims and three sea claims.

REGIONAL STATISTICS

The TSRA uses the latest data available from the ABS to benchmark the progress of the TSRA’s programmes. The data used in this section was taken from the ABS QuickStats website and was current at 30 June 2020.

The figures are for the Torres Strait and the two communities in the Northern Peninsula Area 61 (Bamaga and Seisia) which are included in the TSRA’s area of responsibility.

POPULATION

Population changes that occurred between the ABS censuses of 2011 and 2016 are shown in tables 3-1 to 3-4.

In 2016, the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal population of the Torres Shire Local Government Area represented 68.6 per cent of the total population. For the TSIRC Local Government Area, the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal population represented 91.8 per cent of the total population. This shows a slight increase in the proportion of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in those two areas compared to 2011.

The Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal population represented 74.4 per cent of the total population in Seisia and 82.4 per cent in Bamaga in 2016.

TABLE 3-1: TOTAL POPULATION OF THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Total)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

3,256

3,610

4,248

4,514

1,046

1,164

203

260

8,753

9,548

TABLE 3-2: TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AND ABORIGINAL POPULATION OF THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Total)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2,063

2,482

3,856

4,144

845

957

135

201

6,899

7,784

On average, the gender balance changed only slightly between 2011 and 2016, showing a total increase of 1.2 per cent in the proportion of males.

The population age across the region also remained more or less consistent between 2011 and 2016, except in Seisia, where the statistics show a 19.4 per cent decrease in the average age. The age profile in Seisia is believed to be skewed by the number of non-resident visitors in the community at the time of the 2011 Census.

TABLE 3-3: GENDER BALANCE OF THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Average)

Gender

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

Male (%)

49.8

49.5

51.3

50.8

49.4

47.9

49.1

51.1

49.5

50.1

Female (%)

50.2

50.5

48.7

49.2

50.6

52.1

50.9

48.9

50.5

49.9

TABLE 3-4: AVERAGE AGE OF POPULATION OF THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Average)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

28

28

23

24

23

24

31

25

23

25

EMPLOYMENT

Table 3-5 shows that people in full-time work made up more than half of those eligible for employment in both 2011 and 2016.

TABLE 3-5: EMPLOYMENT IN THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Employment Type

Torres Strait

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Total)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

Full time

1,039

915

277

311

76

65

1,392

1,291

Part time

837

547

84

93

17

12

938

652

Away from work

226

159

14

20

6

3

246

182

Unemployed

173

287

29

42

0

15

202

344

Total

2,275

1,908

404

466

99

95

2,778

2,469

Note: The figures for the Torres Strait relate only to Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people, while the figures for Bamaga and Seisia include Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

EDUCATION

The number of Torres Strait residents undertaking some form of education in 2016 was 3,641. The education categories are shown in Table 3-6.

The Tagai State College average school attendance rate in 2016, across years 1 to 12, was 89 per cent. This is slightly below the whole-of-Queensland average attendance rate of 90 per cent.

TABLE 3-6: EDUCATION IN THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Education Level

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Total)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

Pre-school

68

85

91

89

14

25

0

3

173

202

Primary

333

378

780

783

175

198

22

29

1,310

1,388

Secondary

253

318

176

221

89

92

8

20

526

651

Technical or further

43

59

97

72

24

19

3

5

167

155

University

71

74

25

20

10

11

3

4

109

109

Other

11

8

47

17

7

11

0

6

65

42

Not stated

504

594

247

412

54

60

17

28

822

1,094

Total

1,283

1,516

1,463

1,614

373

416

53

95

3,172

3,641

INCOME

The 2016 Census data indicates an improvement in the average household incomes of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people. This is reflected in Table 3-7.

The Queensland averages for household weekly income were $660 in 2011 and $1,402 in 2016. The Australian averages for the same periods were $662 and $1,438.

TABLE 3-7: MEDIAN WEALTH IN THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016 ($/WEEK)

Income Type

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Average)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

Personal

682

740

314

373

577

568

506

592

411

484

Household

1,579

1,837

849

929

1,117

1,402

785

1,261

971

1,357

HOUSING TENURE

The 2016 Census reported that there were 2,267 dwellings in the region; the tenure arrangements are shown in Table 3-8.

The figures indicate that the number of houses owned in the region decreased between 2011 and 2016, while the number of properties being rented increased. Complex land tenure arrangements in the region and a lack of freehold land and long-tenure leasehold land remain challenges to increasing home ownership.

TABLE 3-8: TENURE OF PRIVATE DWELLINGS IN THE TORRES STRAIT INCLUDING BAMAGA AND SEISIA, 2011 AND 2016

Tenure Type

Torres Shire Local Government Area

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Local Government Area

Bamaga

Seisia

Region (Total)

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

2011

2016

Owned

65

76

49

31

0

3

5

5

119

115

Mortgaged

48

35

0

0

0

0

4

0

52

35

Rented

632

646

856

907

245

273

53

59

1,786

1,885

Other

17

6

9

18

3

0

0

0

29

24

Not stated

53

147

28

33

8

18

0

10

89

208

Total

815

910

942

989

256

294

62

74

2,075

2,267

HEALTH

A synthesis of data from the ABS Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey 2012-2013 shows:

  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were more than three times as likely as non-Indigenous people to have diabetes.
  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to have signs of chronic kidney disease.
  • Obesity rates for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal females and males were higher than the comparable rates for non-Indigenous people in every age group.
  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people’s rates of heart disease were significantly higher than the comparable rates for non-Indigenous people in all age groups from 15 years to 54 years.

The mortality rates for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal males in the 35-44 age group were over four times higher than rates for non-Indigenous males. The mortality rates for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal females in the 25-29 age group and the 35-39 age group were five times higher than rates for non-Indigenous females.