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Mer (Murray Island), Torres Strait

Encounters. Indigenous contact and culture: a classroom resource

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Explore Mer (Murray Island)

Torres Strait, Queensland

The Mabo decision recognising native title is one of the most significant court cases in Australia's history. Explore the way cultural knowledge was at the heart of this case, and the encounters that were important in its determination.

  • A map of Australia indicating the location of Mer in the Torres Strait.
    Mer, Torres Strait, Queensland
  • A colour photo of a section of the coastline around Mer (Murray Island), Torres Strait.
    Setting the scene
  • Mask made of turtle-shell plates which have been bent to form a mask and sewn into place with fibre. The eyes are made of sea shells.
    Pop le-op (turtle-shell mask)
  • Triangular ornament made of turtle-shell with an inscribed design across the top.
    Turtle-shell ornament
  • A tool made from a segment of large white shell mounted on a rough wooden handle.
    Panigob (hoe)
  • A three colour etching on cream coloured paper depicting a collection of artefacts, some with labels attached.
    Etching by Brian Robinson


Match the event to the year

What do you know about Mer?

Video story

Learn about revitalising culture

Watch this video where Komet Clansman and Meriam Elder Aven Noah says: ‘If those artefacts can’t come to our homeland, to Mer, then somehow we’ve gotta take our master craftspeople overseas.’

Activity: Discuss with a friend why is it important to Aven that the master craftspeople go overseas?

More activities

Mabo case

Visitors to the Torres Strait were struck by the richness of the culture there. Alfred Cort Haddon, who first visited the Torres Strait in 1888, wrote to British Museum Keeper Charles Hercules Read: ‘I had definitely decided to take up anthropology seriously … Out of this year I shall spend quite ¾ of my time on anthropology.’

Haddon’s published records consequently became an essential part of the evidence used in the native title legal case fought by Edie Koiki Mabo and others in the 1980s and 1990s.

Find out more about the Mabo case and land rights in Australia. See the Torres Strait Island Regional Council website. You could also visit the National Museum's Mabo Defining Moments page or the AIATSIS website. Why do you think Haddon’s records became important to the Mabo land rights case?

Etching by Brian Robinson

Activity: Take a look at Brian Robinson’s artwork below. Identify the elements that reflect the past and the elements that reflect the present. Create your own artwork that represents your family, past and present. You could draw, paint or make a digital collage. You can find ideas for creating your artwork on the Museum's My story collage page.

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