AT THE POINT
Degree Confluence 11°S 142°E (Google Earth Image)
The Location: This confluence point is located on the edge of the Inskip Banks at the western end of the Endeavour Strait about 10 km off Crab Island. The point is 53 km south-west of Thursday Island, the administrative centre for the Torres Shire and 45 km west-south-west of Bamaga on the Cape York mainland. The point 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 area covered by the degree square covers the waters of the western Torres Strait, including Endeavour Strait, the most southerly of islands of the Western Torres Strait and the north-west tip of Cape York. Most of the islands within the square are continental islands of Carboniferous age volcanic rocks (354 to 298 million years). The larger islands include Prince of Wales (Muralag), Horn (Narupai), Hammond (Keriri), Wednesday (Maururra), Thursday (Wai-ben), Friday (Gealug), Goods (Paliliug), Zuna and Possession (Bedenug). The greatest elevation in the islands is Mt Scott (247 m ASL) at the northern end of Prince of Wales Island.
The mainland section is mostly low-lying and swampy in places. The highest country is near the northern end behind Punsand Bay just west of 'The Tip'. The highest elevation in that area is 157 m ASL. The core of the Cape is Jurassic-Cretaceous age (205 to 65 million years) sandstone and mudstone. The western coast and its backing country is composed of recent (less than 1 million years) outwash sand, soil and gravel.
Vegetation across the area ranges from low open eucalypt woodland to patches of monsoon forest. In areas of poor drainage Melaleuca forests tend to dominate. Mangroves fringe the west coast.
Horn Scrub (Ken Granger, 2008)
Melaleuca Wetland (Ken Granger , 2008)
Ant House Plant (Ken Granger, 2008)
Kapok Pod and Flower (Ken Granger, 2008)
The area is home to some most unusual plants including the Ant House Plant (Myrmecodia tuberosa). This rare epiphytic plant grows mainly on Melaleucas and is home to a colony of guardian ants that defend the plant from being eaten. The Apollo Jewel butterfly forms the final link in an unusual three-way symbiotic relationship. The butterfly lays a single egg on the plant and when hatched the ants take the caterpillar into the chambers in the pithy interior of the plant. The caterpillar eats out more chambers inside the plant giving the ants more space. The caterpillar's droppings also provide nourishment for the ants and the ants defend the caterpillar. The plant gains nutrients from the wastes of both the ants and the caterpillar.
The deciduous native kapok (Cochlospermum gillivraei) is a striking tree in the dry season landscape. Its mass of bright yellow flowers stand out on its bare branches and its seed pods, when dry, split to release a mass of downy kapok. The roots of the young plant are used as bush tucker and the kapok is used by both Torres Strait islanders and Aborigines for body decoration in dances.
The fauna of the area ranges from marine animals including the Dugong, turtles and sea snakes. Crocodiles (both estuarine and fresh water) are common along the coast and rivers. Terrestrial mammals include the Spotted Cuscus, the Striped Possum and Sugar Glider as well as Swamp and Agile Wallabies. Reptiles include the very dangerous Taipan, King Brown and Eastern Brown Snakes as well as a range of non-venous snakes such as the diamond python and the common tree snake and numerous species of monitors and skinks. There is also a prolific bird life, including the Palm Cockatoo, frequently used as a regional emblem, and the elusive Magnificent Riflebird. A large number of bird species are migratory, crossing from PNG during the summer. They include the spectacular Red-bellied Pitta and the Papuan Frogmouth.
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 55 km north-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 27 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 Pierre in February 1985, TC Kelvin in February 1991, TC Ingrid in March 2005 and TC Monica in April 2006.
Cyclone track within 200 km of the confluence point (Bureau of Meteorology web site)
These storms bring potentially destructive winds and high seas. Some have caused erosion to the low-lying islands and coastal areas. They have also been the cause of many shipwrecks in earlier days.
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. During the winter dry season thunder storms may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread.
There are 14 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 series of 12 earthquakes of ML 3 to 3.5 during 1908 and 1909. These were located at roughly the same point around 55 km north-east of the confluence point. A ML 4.0 event of 5 August 1932 was centred 70 km to the north-east and a ML 3.5 around 78 km to the south-east. No damage was recorded from any of these earthquakes.
The Indigenous Story: The area within the degree square contains populations of both Torres Strait Islanders of Melanesian ethnicity and the Aboriginal peoples of the mainland. The Islanders are from the Muralag language group and the Aboriginals are from the Yadhaigana group (in the east) and Anggamundi group (along the west coast).
Horn, Prince of Wales and Hammond Islands have the largest populations of Islanders on their traditional lands, while Thursday Island has the largest population of Islanders overall.
On the mainland the indigenous populations are located in four settlements. Seisia (the port for the northern Cape York area) and Bamaga are populated by Islanders who are descended from the group that migrated from Saibai Island in 1947 after their home place was devastated by a series of big storms. Injinoo was originally settled by Aboriginal people, however, following WW II many Islanders moved into the Injinoo area. New Mapoon is an Aboriginal settlement that was created in the 1960s to take people relocated from Mapoon (to the north or Weipa) to make way for the bauxite mining operation. Umagico, known locally as Alau, was established in 1963 to house Aboriginal people relocated from Lockhart River Mission. In 1970 Islanders from Moa Island were also relocated to this centre.
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 had 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 that now bears the name of his ship Endeavour. On 22 August 1770 Cook landed on Possession Island to claim all of the lands to the south for England. Bligh and his two whale boats passed through the area in their epic voyage following the Bounty mutiny in 1789. They landed on Booby Island to replenish supplies. The first detailed survey of the Strait was undertaken by Flinders in the Investigator in 1802. Captain Hobson on HMS Rattlesnake set up a form of post office for passing ships on Booby Island during his cruise of botanical observations in 1835.
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.
With the charting of passages through the 'sieve for ships', as the waters of the Strait became known, shipping between the ports of 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, though the 'post box' and emergency supplies established on Booby Island were frequently visited. A lighthouse was eventually built on Booby Island in 1890.
The first European settlements on the Cape were at Somerset on the east coast of Cape York (see square 11-143) in 1864. This settlement was proposed as the 'Singapore of the Pacific' and was established by John Jardine as Government Resident. Jardine's son Frank established Lockerbie Station to the south of Punsand Bay on the eastern edge of the degree square. Frank Jardine and his Samoan wife established a wonderful garden at Lockerbie and experimented with crops including Ficus rubber, coffee, sugar, tea and various tropical fruits including more than 20 different varieties of mangoes. Jardine went into partnership with 'Ginger Dick' Holland in 1913 to run cattle on Lockerbie. The station remains in the Holland family today.
100 Year mangoes at Lockerbie (Ken Granger, 2008)
Lockerbie Homestead (Ken Granger, 2008)
Coastal artillery in Greenhill Fort Thursday Island (Ken Granger, 2008)
The first European settlement in the degree square was established on Thursday Island in 1877. 'TI' as it is widely known, became the administrative centre for the whole Torres Strait area, taking over that role from Somerset which had been established. TI had only a small Islander population because it lacked a good supply of fresh water (its name Wai-ben is thought to mean 'dry place'). This lack of a good water supply remained a limiting factor to growth of the centre until an undersea pipeline from Horn Island was finally constructed in the 1990s.
In 1877 the growing power of Russia in the Pacific drew attention to the area's strategic significance and the construction of the Greenhill Fort was commenced in 1891 to protect the important shipping lanes through the Strait. TI was finally linked to the rest of Australia by telegraph in 1887 via the Cape York telegraph line to Cooktown.
Alluvial gold was discovered on Horn Island in 1894 and reef mining began in the following year. Some 20 kg of alluvial gold was won up until 1896 and 161 kg of reef gold was won up until 1900 by which time the field was largely abandoned. Gold was also found on Hammond Island. The pearling industry had also become well established in the Torres Strait by 1884 and TI became a very cosmopolitan community with people from the Pacific Islands, Japan, Malaya, Philippines ('Manillamen') and India using the town as a base. The historic TI cemetery contains the remains of many Japanese divers and others involved in the pearling industry.
The Darnley Island woman Mohara, heroine of the 1899 TC Mahina tragedy (see 14S° 144°E), is also buried in the Thursday Island cemetery. Local historian Jim McJannett, with the assistance of his friend Omar Bin Awel, uncovered her grave in 2009 after a long search. As with the story of her heroism during the cyclone, there are several inaccuracies perpetuated on her tomb. Apart from the spelling 'Muara', the name 'Lifu' is derived from the name of Lifu Island, the ancestral home of many Darnley (Erub) Islanders. She was married to a pearl diver William Wackando (or Wacando).
Omar Bin Awel at Mohara's grave (Jim McJannett 2009)
Inscription on Mohara's grave (Jim McJannett 2009)
Fighter on Horn Island (Ken Granger, 2008)
Gun Emplacement Horn Island (Ken Granger, 2008)
DC-3 Wreck at Bamaga (Ken Granger, 2008)
War-Time radar at Bamaga (Tony Hillier, 2008)
WW II saw considerable change in the area. Airstrips on Horn Island and at Bamaga (known as Jacky Jacky) became Australia's most northern air bases. Horn Island was bombed by the Japanese eight times during 1942 but TI itself was not attacked. TI locals suggest that the reason that it was not bombed was because of the many Japanese from the pearling days who are buried in the island's cemetery. Many roads and other infrastructure were built by Australian and US forces in the area. At one stage there were as many as 5000 troops posted to the TI and Bamaga area. Many Islanders were recruited to the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion to provide a defence force for the local area.
Cultured pear farming was established on Friday Island in 1960 by a Japanese group. This operation continues to produce quality pearls.
In 1973, with self government granted to PNG, negotiations on the location of the border between Australia and PNG greatly involved the Islander community. Given their Melanesian ethnic origin it was argued by PNG negotiators that the Torres Strait islands should be part of PNG - the Islands argued successfully to remain part of Australia.
Today: The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 5268, a slight decline since the 2006 census.
Under 5 years
65 years and over
Half of the population within the square live on Thursday Island (2607 people in 2011). The 2011 populations of the remaining settlements are: Horn Island 539; Bamaga 1044; Seisia 203; New Mapoon 274; and Injinoo 280.
Much of the area within the square comes under the Torres Shire, with TI the Shire headquarters. TI is also headquarters for the Torres Strait Islands Regional Council that covers all of the inhabited islands except Thursday, Horn and Prince of Wales. TI is also headquarters to a very large number of Commonwealth Government and State Government agencies ranging from Customs, Quarantine and Defence to Health and Education - it is said that representatives of some 52 government agencies are based on TI.
The base hospital that services the whole Torres Strait and Northern Cape York region is located on TI as is the only high school covering the region. TI is also headquarters to many of the churches that serve the islands. All Souls and St Bartholomew Anglican Cathedral, for example, is the most northerly cathedral in Australia. This historic church is a memorial to those who lost their lives in the SS Quetta shipwreck in February 1890.
Thursday Island Township (Ken Granger, 2008)
Quetta Memorial Church (Ken Granger, 2008)
Bamaga main Stree (Ken Granger, 2008)
Bamaga supermarket (Ken Granger, 2008)
The largest settlement on the Cape is Bamaga. This has a hospital, shops, a Centrelink office and services such as mechanical repairs and fuel supplies. It is the key re-supply place for tourists travelling up the Cape. It also has a small museum dedicated to the Islanders who served in the Torres Strait Light Infantry.
Horn Island airfield provided year-round facilities for scheduled passenger services from Cairns as well as for general aviation and charter flights to some of the Torres Strait Islands. It is also base for Coastwatch surveillance flights to support Customs, quarantine and fisheries patrols in the Straits and northern Great Barrier Reef area. There are port facilities at TI, Horn Island and Seisia to accommodate coastal vessels that provide a weekly service to the area from Cairns. These vessels provide a logistic lifeline for the area bringing fuel, food, equipment and bulky cargo such as building materials. The ports are also used by a range of other vessels including Customs patrol craft, fishing boats and landing barges that serve the more remote islands.
Thursday Island Jetty (Ken Granger, 2008)
Custom Boats at Horn Island (Ken Granger, 2008)
Unloading Cargo at Horn Island (Ken Granger, 2008)
Landing barges at Horn Island (Ken Granger, 2008)
Road access to the area is available only during the dry seasons - typically from May to November. Many river crossings on the road up Cape York can be flooded and the road surface can be very boggy. Within the degree square the Jardine River is the main barrier. It is crossed by barge operated by the Injinoo Council. Apart from the roads within TI and Bamaga the roads throughout the area are all unsealed. They can become very rough and corrugated and four wheel drive vehicles or trucks are the only suitable vehicles to use. Apart from the main road down the Cape there is an extensive network of both public and private roads within the degree square. One of the most frequently travelled is the road east to the tip of Cape York. This passes through Lockerbie Station to the east of Bamaga.
At times during the dry season road traffic in the area can be surprisingly heavy given the area's remoteness. This indicates the increasing popularity of tourism in the area. Camping areas have been established at several locations including Punsand Bay, Bamaga and Seisia. There is also tourist accommodation on TI and Horn Island.
Jardine River barge (Ken Granger, 2008)
Roads at Lockerbie Junction (Ken Granger, 2008)
Punsand Bay camping area (Ken Granger, 2008)
Lockerbie tourist shop (Ken Granger, 2008)
Power supply is provided by diesel generators at most settlements. TI has two wind turbines to augment the diesel generators. Telecommunications are provided through a variety of microwave links and an optical fibre link that has replaced the old telegraph line to Cooktown.
The Jardine River National Park occupies a large proportion of the eastern portion of the Cape York section of the degree square. Possession Island is also a National Park.
On the edge of the Inskip Banks at the western end of the Endeavour Strait
about 10 km off Crab Island
By boat but site not visited
Jardine River is the largest stream in the square
Geology & soils
Volcanic islands; sandstone and mudstone on higher areas of the Cape;
poorly drained sand, gravel and clays on the rest of the Cape section
Includes coastal mangroves, Melaleuca wetlands, open eucalypt woodland and
Limited cattle grazing; fishing; some mining
Tropical maritime with a markedly dry winter
Population in degree square
5391 at 2006 census
Horn Island airport; port facilities at TI, Horn Island and Seisia;
dirt road network on the Cape; power supply and water supply facilities
for each settlement
Possession Island NP, Jardine River NP
Compliler: Ken Granger, 2008
Edited by: Hayley Freemantle
References: various web sites including EPA, Torres Strait Regional Authority, local governments and Bureau of Meteorology.
Mining history taken from Colin Hooper, 2006: Angor to Zillmanton - stories of North Queensland's deserted towns, Bolton Print, Townsville.
Details of the grave of Mohara were provided by Mr Jim McJannett. His assistance and that of his friend Omar Bin Awel in recovering the location of her grave and passing the information to us is greatly appreciated.