10°S 144°E Eastern Strait Islands – Queensland by Degrees
Degree Confluence 10°S 144°E (Google Earth Image)
Location: The point is close to Tobag Reef, about 9.6 km south-west of Murray (Mer) Island in the eastern islands of Torres Strait to the west of the Great Barrier Reef. The point lies within the Torres Strait Island Regional council area. The administrative centre for the council is in Thursday Island some 210 km to the west-south-west. The site has not been visited.
The Landscape: At sea.
Point information and photos: Ken Granger 2008
WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE
The vast majority of the degree square is occupied by the waters and reefs of eastern Torres Strait. There are three occupied islands, Stephens (Hogar) Island, Darnley (Erub) Island and Murray (Mer) Island. Stephens Island is a coral island with an elevation of less than 20 m. Darnley and Murray, by contrast are continental islands. Darnley has a peak elevation of 181 m ASL while Murray has a maximum elevation of 210 m ASL. These larger islands, together with the smaller Dowar Islet off Murray Island, are volcanic in origin.
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)
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 2683.8 mm was recorded in 2000 and the lowest total of 1244.2 mm in 2002.
Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 16 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.
Cyclone tracks within 200 km of confluence point (BoM web site)
These storms bring potentially destructive winds and high seas. Some have caused erosion to the low-lying islands such as Stephens Island and fears have been expressed about the viability of communities on those islands in the face of coastal subsidence, climate change-induced 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 event to the confluence point was a ML 4.0 event of 29 April 1968 located 84 km north-east of the confluence point. No damage was recorded.
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. The people of the eastern Torres trait are of the Meriam Mir language group. There is archaeological evidence that 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.
MORE INFORMATION NEEDED
European Exploration and Settlement: The Islanders had probably 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 probably those 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. Within the degree square the first detailed survey of was undertaken by Flinders in the Investigator in 1802.
The trepang and pearling industries that became established in the Central Torres Strait area in the 1860s brought the people of the eastern islands into contact with Europeans and people from the distant Pacific Islands. Men from the Eastern Torres Strait islands were recruited to work on the trepang and pearling luggers. Some Islanders accompanied the ships to centres as far away as Sydney, thus exposing them to the wider world.
The London Missionary Society established a mission on Darnley Island on 1 July 1871, a date now celebrated throughout the Torres Strait area as 'The Coming of the Light'.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 islands in Torres Strait, including those in the degree square, were annexed.
The population of the degree square at the 2011 national census was 344 however this total only includes the population of Murray Island and does not include the population of Darnley Island which in 2006 had a population of 319. This population, made up predominantly of Islanders.
In 2006 Murray and neighbouring Dowar had a population of 486 people so the 2011 census figures suggest that there has been a significant decline in that population. It is possible that the census was conducted at a time when many people were away from the islands to attend school, work or ceremonies.
Undoubtedly the most significant development in the past few decades to have originated from this area was the claim by the Miriam people (led by the late Eddy Koiki Mabo) to the lands and sea areas that they had traditionally occupied. The High Court decision of 3 June 1992 recognised that the colonial view that the land was unoccupied at the time of first contact (terra nullius) was invalid and that native title still existed under certain circumstances. The so-called ‘Mabo decision’ led to the passage of the Native Title Act through the Commonwealth Parliament in December 1993.
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