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Thursday Island, colloquially known as TI, or in the native language, Waiben, is an island of the Torres Strait Islands archipelago located approximately 39 kms north of Cape York Peninsula in the Torres Strait.
It has an area of about 3.5 square kilometres – the highest point standing at 104 metres above sea level (Milman Hill, a World War II defence facility).
The Muralag peoples are the traditional owners of the land and seas surrounding Thursday Island.
Local Government Information
The Shire of Torres is the northernmost Queensland local authority, and it comprises all of the State lying north of latitude 11 degrees south. This includes the northernmost part of Cape York Peninsula, together with the islands of Torres Strait. The Shire's administrative centre is located on Thursday Island, which provides the primary service centre for the region. Torres Shire is the only Australian local government which abuts an international border (Australia and Papua New Guinea) and is in close proximity to the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. This alone places the people of the Shire in a unique part of the country.
The island has been populated for hundreds of years by the Torres Strait Islanders, through archeological evidence on Badu, further north in Torres Strait, suggest that the area has been inhabited from before the end of the last Ice Age. The archeology from Badhu, Pulu, Saibai and Mer shows that Melanesian occupation started around 2,600 years ago.
The original place of permanent European settlement in Torres Strait was Somerset, south-east of the tip of Cape York Penisula, established in 1864. However, the channel between Albany Island and Somerset proved to be hazardous for a port and in 1875 it was jointly decided by the Queensland and British governments to transfer the port to the deep anchorage on the south side of Thursday Island. The new port was called Port Kennedy, after Edmund Kennedy, the explorer of Cape York Peninsula – established in 1867.
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 island.
A lucrative pearling industry was founded on the island in 1885, attracting workers from around Asia, including Japan, Malaya and India, seeking fortune.
Local pearling declined steadily up to the second World War, partly through competition from a Japanese-based fleet which did not use local resources for personnel.
During World War II, Thursday Island became the military headquarters for the Torres Strait and was a base for Australian and United States forces. The island was spared from bombing in World War II, due, it was thought, to it being the burial place of many Japanese pearl shell divers.
In the 1950’s, the CSIRO attempted to establish cultured pearl farms, but many were devastated by disease in the 1970s. This industry still exists around the island today.