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Erub (Darnley Island), Torres Strait, Queensland

Erub (Darnley Island)

Sea people

Tell the stories about the older times so that [people] can respect the way we lived in the past, all the way to today.

Bully Saylor, Erub Elder, 2014

A photo of a coconut tree lined beach with sunsetting in the background and thick clouds growing in the distance. There is a large log lying on the sandy beach and a small collection of buildings hiding behind the coconut trees. The most obvious is the light blue coloured building closest to the beach.
Erub (Darnley) Island, Torres Strait. Photo: Jeremy Lucas.

Salt water runs in the veins of Islanders like Bully Saylor, who has an intimate knowledge of the reefs and waters around Erub (Darnley Island), in the Eastern Islands of the Torres Strait. He was one of the people who worked to achieve the 2010 Federal Court decision to recognise native title in the seas of the Torres Strait.

Located on one of the sea routes used by European ships to reach new colonies in eastern Australia, Erub was a frequent port of call for supplies. In the seas around Erub, these crews encountered people long accustomed to trading with visitors.

Mask, made from turtle-shell plates which have been moulded and sewn into the form of an elaborate human face; hair and beard made from human hair and shell eyes.
Le-op (turtle-shell mask), collected on Erub (Darnley Island) by Joseph Beete Jukes in March 1845, 40 cm long. British Museum Oc1846,0731.3.

The sea continues to inspire artists on Erub today. It is the centre of a flourishing artistic style using ‘ghost’ nets (discarded fishing nets).

The ghost net is a recycled thing … It’s a spoil of the marine life here – kill fish or turtle or dugong. But there’s still more coming, so we decided to use the net to do artwork. As soon as we run out of the nets and rope, they [the rangers] send more, lots and lots of it, they wanna get rid of.

Racy Oui-Pitt, Erub, 2014

Old objects

This mask was among the ‘curiosities’ collected on Erub by the crew of HMS Fly and later given to the British Museum. They are some of the earliest examples of Torres Strait Islander material known to exist.

The Fly’s visit to the island was part of a British naval project to chart sea routes through the Torres Strait. Scientists and artists, including Joseph Beete Jukes, the Fly’s naturalist, were among the ship’s company.

New objects

A sculpture of a dinghy made from ghost nets (nylon monofilament fishing lines).
‘Loyalty’ Dinghy, 2014, ghost-net sculpture by Ellarose Savage, Jimmy Thaiday, Racy Oui-Pitt, Emma Gela, Florence Mabel Gutchen, Nancy Naawi, Nancy Kiwat, Lavinia Ketchell and Miller Anson, Erub (Darnley Island), 311 x 60 x 149 cm. National Museum of Australia.

The Coming of the Light is a festival celebrating the anniversary of the arrival of missionaries from the Loyalty Islands on Erub. This was the beginning of Christianity in the Torres Strait. The name of this boat is a reference to this foundational event.

If I don’t have my culture and the stories and the cultural objects and everything behind it, I am going to be nobody. And if I’m going to be nobody, my sons and my generation after me will be nobody too.

Joshua Thaiday, 2014

Joshua Thaiday
Joshua Thaiday, Erub. National Museum of Australia.
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