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Torres Strait Islander

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Torres Strait Islanders are Indigenous Australians who inhabit or originate from the Torres Strait Islands, which are situated between the northern tip of Cape York in Queensland and the south-west coast of Papua New Guinea. Although they are indigenous to Australia, the Torres Strait Islanders' culture has much in common with those of the peoples of Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

Legal definition

To be considered a Torres Strait Islander, an individual must have descended from or be a traditional inhabitant of the island group. Although Torres Strait Islanders are as indigenous to Australia as Aborigines, they were not mentioned in the Constitution. Legislatively, the definition of a Torres Strait Islander has been problematic, but in 1972 representations from Islanders saw the Commonwealth Definition of Indigenous extended to include Torres Strait Islanders.

The people

The traditional people of Torres Strait, who have lived on the islands for thousands of years, are Melanesian in origin. They speak two distinct languages: Meriam Mir in the Eastern Islands (Erub, Mer and Ugar), and Kala Lagaw Ya or Kala Kawa Ya (dialects of the same language) in the Western and Central Island groups. After European contact a Torres Strait creole, Broken, evolved from the 19th-century south-west Pacific pidgin English, and is now commonly spoken throughout the islands.

Around 6,000 Torres Strait Islanders live within the Torres Strait region, with another 37,000 living outside. Of those living away, the majority live in towns along the north Queensland coast, particularly Townsville and Cairns. A strong sense of attachment to their homeland sees Torres Strait Islanders who live on the mainland make regular visits to the islands for family and social events.