Thursday Island, also known as TI or Waiben, is the administrative
and commercial centre of the Torres Strait Islands. Lying 39 kilometres
north of Cape York Peninsula in the Torres Strait, Thursday Island has
an area of about 3.5 square kilometres and an estimated population of
3,500. The highest point on Thursday Island, standing at 104 metres
above sea level, is Milman Hill, a World War II defence facility.
Visitors to Thursday Island can experience one of Australia's
Indigenous cultures, local art, community markets, relics of the
pearling industry, colonial architecture and tours of significant sites
from World War II.
Thursday Island Cemetery
The cemetery reflects the history of occupation since the settlement
of T.I in the late 1800's. Muslims, Buddists, Japanese, Pacific
Islanders and Torres Strait Islanders rest peacefully within the 3
There are over 700 Japanese graves on Thursday Island, many of Japanese
pearl divers who began arriving in the 1890s when the pearling industry
began. In 1979, a memorial commemorating the fallen was erected at the
Thursday Island Cemetery by the Japanese Consulate.
Green Hill Fort
Built between 1891-1893 as part of Australia's defence against a
possible Russian invasion. It was eventually decommissioned some time
in 1927 and the buildings were demolished and the guns were spiked.
Green Hill is a small grassy hill about 58 metres above sea level at
the western end of Thursday Island. The Fort was reactivated during
WWII and was used as a Signals and Wireless Station The main change to
the fort was the filling of the doorway to the Artillery Store by the
Royal Australian Engineers with reinforced concrete in 1942. There is
evidence of some small Seaward defence emplacements on the grassy
slopes for machine gun emplacements.
About Thursday Island
The Thursday Island township is noteworthy for being the most
northerly town in Australia. It is the administrative centre of the
Shire of Torres. The Torres Strait Campus of the Tropical North
Queensland TAFE Institute located on the island next to the high school
is the leader in education for the Torres Strait. The economy of the
island is supported by pearling and fishing, as well as a
fast-developing tourism industry, with perhaps the most famous tourists
being novelist Somerset Maugham and Banjo Paterson.
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The island has been populated for thousands of years by the
Melanesian Torres Strait Islanders, who named the island Waiben,
thought to mean 'no water or place of no water', owing to the scarcity
of fresh water on the island. In 1877, an administrative centre for the
Torres Strait Islands was set up on the island by the Queensland
Government and by 1883 over 200 pearling vessels were based on the
A lucrative pearling industry was founded on the island in 1885,
attracting workers from around Asia, including Japan, Malaya and India,
seeking their fortune. Additionally, many south Pacific Islanders were
also imported to work in the industry, many against their will. While
the pearling industry has declined in importance, the mix of cultures
is evident to this day. The pearling industry centred on the harvesting
of pearl shell, which was used to make shirt buttons. Pearls themselves
were rare and a bonus for the owner or crew. The boats used were a very
graceful two-masted lugger with, in good times, a stern diver, one
midships, and one diver off the bow.
The fear of Russian invasion lead to a fort on Battery Point being
built in 1892 to protect the island. During World War II, Thursday
Island became the military headquarters for the Torres Strait and was a
base for Australian and United States forces. As a result, the island
was bombed by the Japanese in 1942, which saw the evacuation of
civilians from the island. They did not return until after the end of
The island was mostly spared from bombing in World War II, due, it was
thought, to it being the burial place of many Japanese pearl shell
divers. However, neighbouring Horn Island was extensively bombed. It
had an air base there, used by the Allies to attack parts of New
Guinea. Following the conclusion of the war the island tradition of a
no footwear policy was reinstated in respect for the ancient spirits
believed to reside on the island.
In the 1950s the CSIRO attempted to establish a cultured pearl industry
and in the 1970s there was an attempt to farm green turtles.
The Melanesian background of the Thursday Islanders became an issue in
the 1970s, when Papua New Guinea sought to include the Torres Strait
Islands within its borders. The Torres Strait Islanders insisted that
they were Australians, however, and after considerable diplomatic
discussion all of the Torres Strait, including Thursday Island,
remained part of Australia.