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Paipa explored at a conceptual level, the four directions of the wind (north, south, east and west) that drew people to and from the Torres Strait. Paipa, meaning windward, comes from the Western Torres Strait Islands language, Kala Lagaw Ya.

About the exhibition

Paipa was on show at the National Museum of Australia from July 2002 to July 2006 in the Gallery of First Australians.

It demonstrated the different waves of migration of Torres Strait Islanders to mainland Australia from the nineteenth century to contemporary issues today.

The essence of the exhibition was to demonstrate that although Islanders migrated to different mainland communities, they remain closely affiliated with their culture and kin relations in the Torres Strait.

Paipa contained five modules that represented a flow in migration. The modules explored how the many beliefs, traditions and customs responded to the many influences migration and industry have brought. The modules examined the historical and contemporary forms of Torres Strait Islander culture and people.

The Coming of the Light

The Torres Strait Islanders faced significant historical, cultural and social change when Reverend Samuel MacFarlane of the London Missionary Society brought Christianity to the Torres Strait on 1 July 1871. This is referred to by the Islanders as 'Coming of the Light' and is celebrated annually on 1 July by all Torres Strait Islander communities throughout the Torres Strait and mainland Australia.

This module focused on the impact of Christianity beginning with the landing on Darnley Island of the British missionaries in 1871 together with their teachers from Lifou Island, New Caledonia. The visitor was exposed to the story of one of the first Torres Strait Islander ordained priests, Reverend Joseph Lui in the early twentieth century. He had direct family links to the first missionary teachers from Lifou Island.

The visitor was able to discover how church services are conducted today through the impact of the missionaries and the re-enactment of the landing of the missionaries as part of the annual Coming of the Light celebrations. This was highlighted through photographs from the National Museum of Australia's collection focusing on the re-enactment ceremony with the Torres Strait Islander community in Cairns. The re-enactment was told through the eyes of Ken Thaiday Snr, a Torres Strait Islander who moved from Erub (Darnley Island) to Cairns and is the person who organises the re-enactments in Cairns annually.

Pearling/Fishing Industry

In this module, the Torres Strait Islander community in Broome presented a number of migration stories. Many Islanders came from the Torres Straits to the Pilbara Region aboard pearl luggers. The pearling and fishing industry in this region provided Islanders with the opportunities for adventure and a better life.

Islander stories were explored through those who migrated to Western Australia by working in the pearling industry, establishing with Islander communities. The people's stories centred around the movement from Torres Strait to Kuri Bay, where a majority of the Islanders came to work on the pearl luggers and to work on the pearl station. They talked about the aspects of employment on the pearling station, including the working conditions, links to homeland Torres Strait, diving techniques, relationships with the Japanese and Australian workers and their own cultural identity.

A key feature was the pearl diver's helmet and half suit. This was a personal loan from Peter Ahloy on Thursday Island.

The visitor was able to follow the migration of Torres Strait Islanders to Western Australia, their experiences with the pearling and fishing industries, and their continuing links with home.

Cane Cutting Industry

From 1947 the cane cutting industry in Queensland experienced a surge in Islander labour. Torres Strait Islanders were seen to fill the gap and a readily attainable labour source. Many Islanders were recruited directly from the Islands to work on the mainland. Today, there are Torres Strait Islander communities along much of the east coast of Queensland.

This module focused on the Torres Strait Islander community in Mackay. It centred around the story of how Islanders moved south and the hardships encountered in the sugar industry such as the working conditions. When the demand for pearl shell ceased, Islanders then went into cane cutting as another form of employment. However, although Islanders moved away from the Torres Strait, they remained closely bonded to kinship ties.

The visitor was able to follow the migration trend from Torres Strait to east Queensland through the cane cutting industry. The visitor was able to gain an understanding of the transition from pearling to cane cutting, as well as some of the hardships faced by Torres Strait Islanders when they settled along the Queensland coast.

World War II

During the 1940s, the Torres Strait Islands were viewed as a strategic location for defence purposes. Torres Strait Islanders were able to enlist in the armed forces. Many Torres Strait Islander civilians were evacuated to mainland communities and remained on the mainland after the War ended, forming new Torres Strait Islander communities. They brought with them different forms of music and dance, including the Polynesian Hula dance. The Malaysians also influenced Torres Strait Islander music and songs.

This module explored the experience of Torres Strait Islanders during the War, including enlistment and evacuation. The visitor was exposed to the impact of the War on Torres Strait Islander dance and culture evidenced through the hand held war plane ornaments and the flow of wartime migration to the mainland.

Young People's Perspective on the Environment 

The final module investigated how young Torres Strait Islanders perceive environmental issues and how they maintain the traditional relationship of their people with the sea. Young people are specifically concerned about the impact of commercial fishing on the local supply of seafood and the health problems resulting from poisoned waters. Young people from the Torres Strait and the mainland have contrasting perspectives. The module looks at Western influences on Torres Strait Islander culture and how that culture is being maintained.

The visitor was able to engage with the stories of young Torres Strait Islanders about the impact of Westernisation on the Torres Strait and on the mainland. Young people interpret the influence of the sea and sea creatures and how their relationship with the sea is so much a part of their cultural identity.