Torres Strait Islanders

Torres Island Aboriginals

The Torres Strait Islands are a group of 274 small island which lie between Australia's Cape York Peninsuls and New Guinea. They were once a land bridge that connected New Guinea with Australia. However, water levels rose and they took on their current form in islands. In 1770, Liertenant James Cook claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of the Australia, including the islands (TSRA, 2007). Until 1975, problems existed between Australia and Papua New Guinea regarding who owned the islands.

In 1982, legal proceedings began to allow the Torres to gain control and ownership of their own lands. After a ten-year legal battle, it was finally determined that the Torres had the right to own their own land. This ruling overturned an old legal doctrine of British colonialism that declared land occupied by natives to be considered no one's land. This gave them the right to claim it for the crown. The political structure of the Islands consists of local governmental entities that must answer to a central government (TSRA, 2007).

Family ties are close and include an extended family. Family ties can last a lifetime among the Torres. The people of the Torres Islands speak two distinct languages and are considered to be divided into two distinct cultural groups according to language. West Central Torres Strait Language is called Kala Lagaw Ya (TSRA, 2007). Torres Strait Creole is the other language group, often referred to as Brokan (TSRA, 2007). There are other minor dialects, but these languages represent the main language categories and social divisions.

The Torres islands were named for a Spanish captain who sailed through them in 1606 (TSRA, 2007). In the 1800s British colonialists forced the Torres to adopt the Christina faith. Now most of the island practices Christianity, as opposed to their traditional faith (TSRA, 2007). Throughout the 1800, trade in the area was promoted with the British. The Torres made up a dance about the sailors where they performed for the Kaurareg wearing shirts obtained in trade from the sailors, reddened cheeks and false wooden noses, which were supposed to resemble the noses of the sailors (TSRA, 2007).

In the 1840s, missionaries arrived to convert the population to Christianity. This was referred to as the "Coming of the Light," an event that is still celebrated on a yearly basis today (TSRA, 2007). British colonialism and contact with the missionaries changed many traditional aspects of Torres culture and tradition. In some cases, these aspects can never be recovered, as they have been lost to the generations forever.

The Torres Islanders are a black skinned people. The British were already biased towards dark skinned people as being inferior when they arrived. Therefore, the native culture and knowledge was not considered to be important to the colonialists. Many aspects of traditional Torres culture were destroyed during the British occupation of the Islands.

Social Issues

Not much is known of the condition of the Torres people prior to the arrival of the British. The British did not see a need to keep extensive records of a culture that they wished to extinguish. Therefore, we know little about how the health and conditions of the Islanders were prior to the arrival of the British. Today, some of the key issues remain provision of adequate healthcare and housing to all areas of the islands.

There is a vast difference in the ability to access services by those non-rural areas and those in rural areas. Provision of services to those in rural areas remains one of the biggest challenges to the Torres today. Environmental health and housing are at the top of the list for major improvements (TSRA, 2007). Proposals for major infrastructure improvements were placed before the Queensland governments. Infrastructure must be improved in order to allow islanders the ability to access necessary services. This is a first step in the provision of health care and housing for many in rural areas that currently do not have access. The Australian and Queensland governments have decided to provide partial resources for the completion of these projects.

Not much is known about the health and conditions that existed on the Islands prior to the arrival of the British. Much of the information on Islander conditions stems from studies conducted from 1997 to present, after the infrastructure funding issues began. However, it can be surmised from other areas that because they lacked proper water, waste water disposal, sewage, and other important necessities, conditions could not have been that great for the citizens. These areas represented the first stages of the infrastructure improvement.

Current reports differ as to the health of the Torres Islanders. Some claim that disease and health problems are similar to those in the non-indigenous population, while others claim the there are few differences in them. The needs of the islands differ. In some populations, the terrain poses a major problem in infrastructure development. In others, water may be scarce. The needs of each individual island must be determined, so that programs must be developed to address site specific conditions. The provision of basic necessities will be a long and arduous project, as one must address the same issues in every tower that they build.

Article Analysis

Health - Specific Issues

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2006). The 2004-05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS). Retrieved February 27, 2008 at

This government report analyzed the health status of aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders in terms of disease control and general health issues. This article is a credible source of information regarding the health status of the Torres Strait Islands and other aboriginal groups in Australia. The article is not biased, as it simply presents the results of the survey with little interpretation of their meanings. This is a factual article based on a sample size of 10,439 persons.

The article presents a graphic picture of demographic information of the Torres Island aboriginals. Seventy-eight percent of the Torres Islanders in the survey reported their health as good to excellent. Only 22% reported their health as poor. However, it may be noted that a majority of the sample population was in their early twenties, which could account for these statistics. Older segments of the population had higher incidences of disease than younger segments of the population. This study compared the health of aboriginals to an earlier study. The results did not demonstrate significant increases or decreases in the overall health of the Torres Islanders.

My reaction to the article was not one of surprise. Most of the statistics presented in the article were what could be expected in any population. There was a difference between rural and non-rural indigenous peoples. Much of the health information matched that of the non-indigenous population.

2. Health - Specific Issues

Taylor and Francis, Ltd. (2007). Intellectual Disability in Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, EJ775736. 32 (3), 222-225. Abstract. Retrieved February 27, 2008 at

This study investigated several issues regarding the Torres Strait Island people on a variety of issues, including health risk factors, and the actual onset of chronic disease. This article derives its data source from the Bureau of Statistics, but utilizes an earlier set of data than the report examined earlier. This article drew different conclusions than the above mentioned report. One of the reasons may be that it drew from a different data set. However, this does not account for the disparities in the interpretation of the data.

This report appears to be decidedly more biased towards presenting the Torres Strait Island people as being in desperate conditions. This study concluded that Torres Strait Inslanders have a higher risk of the development of chronic diseases than the normal public. Taken alone, this article paints a bleak picture of the Torres Strait Island people. It has completely different tone than a similar report presented in 2006. This article paints the Torres Island people as in need to salvation. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study is when one compares it to the previous article by the same organization. This study paints the indigenous people of the Torres Strait islands as have a lower education, lower socioeconomic status, and higher incidence of chronic disease than the general population. It is not known whether this study presents a better representation of the Torres Strait Islanders than the first one in this study. This study is more interpretive than the above mentioned article. It presents the Torres Strait Islanders as an impoverished people.

3. Health - Provision of Services and Funding

Commonwealth of Australia (2007). National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health 2003-2013. Department of Health and Aging. Publication Number: P3-2106., Retrieved February 27, 2008 at$File/nsfatsihimp2.pdf.

This government publication outlines the plan for improving Torres Strait Islander health and services for the ageing. It is an unbiased presentation of the actual plan that will be utilized during this time period. This plan is…