TORRES STRAIT

The man who reminded me of the sea

Sitting on his bed by the sea, BULLY spends his resting time looking out across the changing colours of the ocean, recognising every pattern in the water and knowing what lies beneath. He knows Queensland’s ocean waters, its reefs and the stars that guide him in a way that only a lifetime of connection with the sea can bring.

'There were shipwrecks and shark attacks, rescues and commerce to be done in a long life with the sea'

I want to take you to the Village of Seim. Torres Strait Islander, long time skipper in Queensland waters BULLY SAYLOR has spent his life with the sea. In Seim, I said to BULLY,

“every time I see you, you remind me of the sea”.

Among other things BULLY and his wife NORAH run a guest house in the village.

Now 80 years old and as fit as ever, BULLY works hard every day shifting rocks to construct his pier and when time and materials allow, adding yet another room or shady area to his house on the beach.  Another of BULLY’s tasks is to keep the numerous village children in order as they play nearby. A shout from BULLY, in his deep gruff voice, is enough to make the naughtiest child stop whatever it was they should not have been doing. I should say that it scared the living daylights out of us too, so much for cowboys.

In this long life there are many adventures, the sea can be a very unforgiving place, the waters of the Torres Strait with all their reefs and currents are ever dangerous. There were shipwrecks and shark attacks, rescues and commerce to be done in a long life with the sea.

In his discussions with PETER HYLANDS, BULLY recalls the impact on his childhood on Erub Island from nearby fighting, particularly the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. The Japanese coming ever closer to BULLY’s island paradise. The Australian War Memorial describes the situation leading up to the battle as follows:

“By April 1942 the Japanese had formed a defensive perimeter which stretched from the Kuriles southward through the Marshall Islands to New Britain, then westwards to Java, Sumatra, the Andaman Islands and Burma. Within that perimeter Japanese authority was, or soon would be, unchallenged and every strategic position occupied. In the South-West Pacific Area outposts were held at Lae and Salamaua in northern New Guinea”.

BULLY also reflects on what it was like to live in Queensland as a Torres Strait Islander and as a young man, long before his own and his people’s battles to regain control over their world by gaining the land and sea rights following EDDIE KOIKI MABO’s (SAMBO) initial victory on Murray Island.