In December 2019, the Board of the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) was honoured to host a visit from the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon. Ken Wyatt AM, MP, and the Queensland Minister for Employment and Small Business, Minister for Training and Skills Development and Queensland Government Champion for the Torres Strait, the Hon. Shannon Fentiman MP.
The ministers joined the TSRA Chairperson, Mr Napau Pedro Stephen AM, to announce the Wapil initiative. The Wapil initiative will deliver fisheries infrastructure with employment, training and enterprise development, supported by $4.75 million from the Australian Government under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and a further $1.8 million from the Queensland Government under Skilling Queenslanders for Work. The TSRA is working closely with its government and private sector partners to develop up to 120 employment pathways across the region in the fisheries industry.
This was Minister Wyatt’s first visit to the Torres Strait region and the TSRA Board was grateful for the opportunity to meet and discuss some of the key issues for the region, including development of the Indigenous fishing industry, the Indigenous ranger programme, regional governance, and youth suicide prevention.
While on Thursday Island, Minister Wyatt also took time to meet with a group of the region’s emerging leaders – alumni of the TSRA’s leadership programmes – as well as representatives of the Torres Shire Council (TSC) and the Torres Strait Island Regional Council (TSIRC) and other key community stakeholders.
A regional interagency forum was held in September 2019 to consider strategic issues facing the Torres Strait and options that would assist the region to build resilience and improve delivery against the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009-2029 through adaptive planning.
The TSRA has developed a draft regional resilience framework to help build greater local and regional resilience to the impacts of climate change. The draft framework was informed by discussions with community representatives from Masig and Mer, where a pilot resilient communities initiative has been conducted under the Torres Strait Regional Adaptation and Resilience Plan 2016-2021, combined with concepts taken from resilience and adaptation science.
Following a successful trial in Masig and Mer, digital notice boards were deployed to 17 communities. The notice boards are managed by the TSRA in partnership with Community Enterprise Queensland to help ensure timely delivery of information to communities.
High-resolution coastal mapping capabilities were trialled at Iama, Warraber and Poruma. This will form the basis of a monitoring programme to map changes in erosion-prone beach areas to inform coastal works and coastal adaptation planning.
Access to Fresh, Healthy Food
The TSRA continued to work with Torres Strait individuals, families, schools and communities to expand sustainable horticulture activities leading to greater access to local, affordable and fresh food.
The communities of Boigu, Muralag (Prince of Wales), Poruma, Iama and Warraber worked with TSRA rangers and Meriba Ged Ngalpun Mab participants to bring gardening projects to schools and local communities. This included the delivery of educational resources, technical advice, practical demonstrations, and workshops incorporating traditional ecological knowledge.
TSRA support for aquaponics systems, coastal revegetation and the planting of beach shade trees also continued to provide indirect benefits for community health and wellbeing.
The TSRA coordinates the collection of baseline terrestrial flora and fauna inventories, assessment of ecological conditions, and identification of processes that threaten the terrestrial health and biodiversity of the Torres Strait region.
Biocultural surveys have been conducted for Saibai, Muralag and Warul Kawa, using culturally appropriate methodologies to monitor and record biodiversity and cultural values across those unique islands. The results of the surveys have been recorded through both technical and community reports, so that data can be used for community-driven biodiversity management and decision-making.
Standard survey procedures for regional and island-based monitoring of seabirds were designed and adopted in 2019-2020. This is a big leap forward in the ongoing development of programmes to record and manage seabirds across the Torres Strait.
Invasive species management has progressed through the TSRA’s collaboration with other agencies through the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Biosecurity Working Group and the Torres Strait Invasive Species Advisory Group. Training in biosecurity fundamentals and biosecurity rapid response/emergency management has been completed by TSRA rangers and staff members, Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (NPARC) rangers and other local government agency staff, strengthening on-ground capacity.
Dugong and Turtle Management
A funded partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment has assisted the TSRA to complete community consultations to review dugong and turtle management plans, as well as to expand mapping and monitoring of critical habitat areas for those species across the Torres Strait.
Ongoing habitat monitoring of seagrass has also expanded, to include the eastern cluster of islands, where an emerging biodiversity hotspot for Great Barrier Reef green and hawksbill turtles is being explored as a significant area in relation to the Australian Government’s Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia 2017-2027.
The area between Maizub Kaur (Bramble Cay) and Raine Island in the Great Barrier Reef (where 90 per cent of Great Barrier Reef green turtles are hatched) has long been recognised as an area of significance in the connectivity of turtle habitats. Both Maizub Kaur and Raine Island are seeing increasing erosion issues, high sand temperatures resulting in feminisation of hatchlings, and other drivers of change.
Initial temperature data logged on Dauar and Mer beaches suggests cooler temperatures. A larger collaborative project to confirm the initial results, led by Dauar and Mer communities, with researchers, commenced in 2020 with funding to 2023.
Torres Strait Dance Teams
The Torres Strait Dance Strategy supports local traditional dance teams to gain experience performing professionally on national and international platforms and at key industry events.
Eip Karem Beizam – Meriam Cultural Group embarked on the Meriba Tonar Cultural Tour in Canberra, which saw the group perform at one of the year’s premier Indigenous events, the National NAIDOC Awards. The cultural tour was a partnership of cultural infusion with Canberra-based Torres Strait dance team Kara Buai Dance Troupe. The dancers showcased their proud Meriam culture through dance and interactive workshops at various stakeholder events.
The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair are annual showcases of the vibrant art and culture of Australia’s First Peoples. Since 2013, the TSRA has sponsored dance teams to promote Torres Strait traditional practices through extraordinary storytelling dance performances at the events. Muyngu Koekaper Dance Team from Saibai was one of the showstopper highlights in Cairns in 2019, entertaining the crowds with high-performance dance moves.
Arpaka Dance Company, from the St Pauls community on Moa, toured to Darwin in 2019 to participate in the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and the Darwin Festival. A seasoned dance team that has been performing internationally and nationally for more than 15 years, Arpaka once again celebrated its rich oral histories through dance before an enthusiastic and interactive audience from around the world.
Gab Titui Cultural Centre Shop
The Gallery Shop at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre had a stellar year in 2019, showing increases in sales, product range and social media presence. The shop’s commitment to offering a wide range of high-quality products and delivering high standards of service, including in the sourcing of products, contributed to the success.
The Gab Titui Cultural Centre’s support for artists includes product development, licensing and promotion, helping to raise the profile of the Torres Strait region’s arts and craft industry.
In 2019, the centre engaged several new artists and suppliers from across the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area, including artists Barry Maitie from Boigu and Supia Bowie from Injinoo, and supplier Conrad Ahwang, owner of the popular Strait Clothing brand.
Regular visits to outer island communities resulted in increased production of Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts for the centre’s excellent supply chain. Preliminary discussions commenced to explore the potential for leading tourism industry stakeholders to commission artworks and distribute them to their national and international audiences.
Social media presence proved to be an effective marketing tool in March 2020, when a single post of a retail product reached 23,000 people, the centre’s highest reach ever.
The point of sale system migrated to a new platform, which proved to be more flexible and secure through initial trials at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. The centre’s combined sales at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair contributed to the $6 million total of the Indigenous arts industry.