TORRES STRAIT

A Saylor’s life

Bully Saylor and Peter Hylands are on Erub in the Torres Strait close to the corner of Australia’s north eastern boundary and near the Great Barrier Reef and New Guinea.

“What is on the land, what is below the land, what is in the sea and what is under the sea, belongs to my people”

Erub is also known as Darnley Island. Here they discuss some of the island’s history and Bully recalls his memories of the battle of the Coral Sea so long ago in May 1942 and many more adventures of his seafaring life.

Peter says:

"Erub with its population of around 400 people is a joy to visit. This must be one of the remotest communities in Australia (and the windiest!), we arrive on our chartered plane from Horn Island, Horn is close to the tip of Cape York, the Australian mainland. From there we fly east for about an hour to reach Erub".

Torres Strait islanders have played a significant role in the land rights movement in Australia. Activist and hero Eddie Koiki Mabo leaves us with this quote:

“What is on the land, what is below the land, what is in the sea and what is under the sea, belongs to my people”

In the film clip Bully discusses his role in the land rights movement. With a long history Erub’s residents have been at the forefront of the movement for recognition of Torres Strait Islanders' rights, with George Mye among the most prominent advocates of Islander interests from the 1960s to the 90s and Carlemo Wacando among the first to challenge the idea of terra nullius. These efforts were to be successful, on August 7, 2013, Australia’s High Court handed down a decision recognising Torres Strait Islander native title rights to the sea.

During this visit Bully had been complaining that his axe had gone missing. Bully and Nora’s house is always very busy with jetty building and various other construction projects going on, often using flotsam and jetsam. Back in Cairns a few days later Andrea and I purchased a new axe for Bully. With the help of Ken Thaiday Snr and in his workshop we drilled a hole through the axe handle through which we threaded a chain complete with padlock. The axe was then sent to Erub on the barge and to Bully. We hope this is where it remains!

Music: Purple Spider

Subject: Torres Strait / Land and sea rights / Island histories / Language English