10°S 142°E Western Strait Islands – Queensland by Degrees

10°S 142°E Western Strait Islands – Queensland by Degrees

AT THE POINT

Degree Confluence 10°S 142°E (Google Earth Image)

Location: This confluence point is located on the shallow waters of Torres Strait 15 km north-west of the coast of Badu Island. It falls within the Torres Strait Islands Regional council area and the nearest settlement is St Pauls on Moa Island, 42.5 km to the south-east. The administrative centre of the council area is Thursday Island, 67 km to the south-south-east. The site has not been visited.

The Landscape: At sea.

Point information and photos: Ken Granger and Google Earth, 2008.

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: The extended (and irregular) degree square is mostly covered by the waters of the western Torres Strait extending from the international border with Papua New Guinea to just north of Hammond Island. It contains six larger and numerous small islands and cays. The most northerly islands are Boigu and the neighbouring and much smaller Aubussi and Moimi Islands. These are low mangrove-fringed islands of alluvium from the rivers of PNG. In the middle of the area is the sand island of Turnagain (Buru) Island which is surrounded by sand cays and sea grass beds. To the south are three larger continental islands of Mabuiag, Badu and Moa. Mabuiag has an elevation of 152 m ASL and Badu has an elevation of 198 m (Mulgrave Peak) with Moa, the largest of the three, having an elevation of 374 m (Banks Peak) ASL. The southern section has numerous reefs and shoals.

The three continental islands are composed largely of Carboniferous age (354 to 298 million years) granites and volcanics and represent the peaks of a mountain range that formed the land bridge between Australia and New Guinea during the last Ice Age. Sea levels rose by around 100 m at the end of the Ice Age some 6000 to 8000 years ago. Three islands carry a vegetation of open eucalypt-dominated forest with a grassy ground cover. There are fringing mangroves in places, whilst some beaches are backed by groves of coconuts and beach calophyllum.

There are several channels suitable for smaller vessels through the area. These include (from north to south) Napoleon Passage (just south of Mabuiag), Bligh Channel (to the north of Badu), Banks Channel (south of Moa) and Yule Channel (south of Hawkesbury Island).

The Climate: The climate of the area is tropical maritime with a markedly dry winter. The nearest climate station with good records is Horn Island, about 70 km south-east of the confluence point.

Horn Island (site 027058) 1995-2008 (elevation 4 m ASL)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

30.8

30.4

30.4

30.3

29.8

29.2

28.6

28.8

30.0

30.9

31.8

31.7

30.2

Mean min
(ºC)

25.2

24.9

25.0

25.2

24.7

23.9

22.9

22.8

23.6

24.8

25.5

25.7

24.5

Mean rain
(mm)

359.6

497.2

353.5

244.0

67.9

16.8

8.9

5.2

2.7

9.3

50.0

197.6

1757.2

The highest temperature ever recorded on Horn Island in the 13 years or record was 37.9°C in December 2002 while the lowest temperature was 15.3°C in August 2004. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2 683.8 mm was recorded in 2000 and the lowest total of 1 244.2 mm in 2002. These and other climate statistics for Horn Island can be found at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_027058_All.shtml.

Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 17 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Amongst these storms were: an unnamed storm in December 1920, another unnamed storm in March 1923, TC Audrey in January 1964, an unnamed storm in January 1965, TC Bronwyn in January 1972, TC Faith in April 1972, TC Stan in April 1979, TC Kelvin in February 1991 and TC Ingrid in March 2005.

These storms bring potentially destructive winds and high seas. Some have caused erosion to the low-lying islands such as Boigu and fears have been expressed about the viability of communities on those islands in the face of climate change sea level rise and possible increase in storm frequency and intensity.

The area averages between 30 and 40 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can also bring destructive winds and produce high seas. They can come up very quickly posing a serious threat to people travelling through the area in small boats.

There are no earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. The nearest events to the confluence point were a ML 3.5 event of 8 November 1907 and several events of ML 3.0 during 1908 and 1909. These were located around 80 km south-east of the confluence point. No damage was recorded.

Cyclone tracks within 200 km of point 1906 to 2006 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)

The Indigenous Story: Torres Strait Islanders are of Melanesian ethnicity with close links to the indigenous people of PNG rather than the Aboriginal people of the Australian mainland. Two language groups exist within the degree square. In the north are the Kalaw Kawaw Ya people of Boigu and neighbouring islands and in the south the Murulag people of the Torres Strait. There is archaeological evidence that these Melanesian people have occupied the islands for at least 2500 years, and it is likely that they have been living there for much longer than that.

The islanders are sea faring people and their material culture is akin to that of the Papuan people immediately to their north, for example they use bow and arrow, a technology not found among Aboriginal groups. They had established a fearsome reputation as head hunters by the time the first Europeans attempted to settle the area.

The bulk of both Moa and Badu Islands are now held under native title.

MORE INFORMATION NEEDED

European Exploration and Settlement: The islanders had certainly had contact with outside peoples before the first Europeans ventured through the area. Fishermen from the Macassar area of Indonesia made annual visits to the area collecting trepang and trochus shell since the late 17th Century.

The first Europeans to sight the area were with the Spaniard Luis de Torres in 1606, when they sailed through the strait that now carries their leader's name. It took de Torres' crew over two months to thread their way through the reefs and shoals from east to west before reaching open water and turning for the Philippines. It was not until 1770 that the British first ventured into the area. Cook made a transit of the strait passing to the south of this degree square. Bligh and his men in their seven metre launch passed through the area in their epic voyage following the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. The first detailed survey of the Strait was undertaken by Flinders in the Investigator in 1802.

With the passages through the 'sieve for ships', as the waters of the Strait became known, charted shipping between Sydney and Brisbane and Asian ports began to increase and with that trade, so did the increase in the number of shipwrecks. Few ships stopped in the Torres Strait until the start of the pearling trade around 1869.

Queensland annexed the islands of Torres Strait within 60 miles (96.6 km) of Cape York by Letters Patent in1872 and in 1879 the remaining island in Torres Strait were annexed.

Today: The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 1463. This population has been growing steadily over the preceding decade. Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginals make up the bulk of the population.

Measure

1996

2001

2006

  2011                  

Total Population

1 426

1 568

1 792

1463

Total Males

747

841

912

738

Total Females

679

727

880

725

Under 5

240

222

270

211

65 Years and over

66

61

73

78

Indigenous

1 324

1 311

1 617

1345

The population is spread across several islands. The populations of those islands at the 2011 census were: Mabuiag 259; Badu 783 and Moa 421. The only settlement of any significant size is St Pauls on the east coast of Moa Island. The 2011 census does not show a population for Boigu Island which, in 2006 had a population of 285.

It is possible that the population numbers in the 2006 census were inflated, perhaps by an influx of people attending a special ceremony such as a funeral.

 Site Summary:

Location

At sea, 15 km north-west of Badu Island

Access

Point not visited

Nearest town

St Pauls (Moa Island)

Terrain

Shallow seas with sandy sea grass bottom

Catchment

--

Geology & soils

Recent sand and alluvium over Carboniferous age igneous rocks

Vegetation

Sea grass

Land use

Fishing

Climate

Tropical maritime with distinct winter drought

Population in degree square

1792 at the 2006 census

Infrastructure

Airfields on several islands

National Parks

Nil

Sources: Notes on the history of the area were based on a brief history on the Torres Strait Regional Authority web site www.tsra.gov.au.

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

Compilers: Ken Granger 2008.

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