A Torres Strait Collection
Unpacking the 'Old TI' research guide
3 February 2016
As the 2015 Indigenous graduate for the Library, it is an enormous privilege and equally humbling experience to share material held in the Library that depicts my homeland, the Torres Strait. As Torres Strait Islanders, we are proud of our homeland and the culture we have been taught passed down from older generations, to how we adapted culture, to the current situation we find ourselves or wherever we reside in Australia, and of course in true Island custom, sharing with others a taste of our worldview. Very few outsiders understand the social fabric that is the Torres Strait region, and people, where ironically, outsiders have authorized cultural shifts with great influence and lasting legacy with their descendants. Those lasting legacies today provide us with the contemporary Torres Strait culture and identity that is widely known and accepted.
The recent development of the ‘Old TI’ research guide at the Library provides both Torres Strait Islanders—and others whom have once lived in the region or are fascinated by our Island lifestyle—an opportunity to explore, reminisce on old times and share well-kept family stories with younger generations. The phrase, ‘Old TI’, is familiar in Torres Strait communities as is a time roughly 1890–1980’s that is romanticised about the Pearling Era, Second World War, and the introduction of Christianity to the region. This being a period of great social change—families began to move outside the Torres Strait for work opportunities, namely in railway establishing Torres Strait communities on the mainland. This time laid the foundation for Torres Strait Islander contemporary identity. Knowing this gives us an opportunity to deconstruct pre-colonial traditional Islander practices from influences outside the region, further permitting a self-critique for both Islanders living in the straits and mainland Islanders on how they have adapted outside influences historically, and again in their current communities seperate from pre-colonial lifestyles.
The ‘Old TI’ guide enables Torres Strait Islander people and interested persons to view digitised collections and other catalogued material that I have found during my journey as a graduate at the Library. This guide will be updated as new material is acquired or rediscovered in the Library's collection. The image below shows how the guide has been divided up into Island clusters, as Islander families' history usually is reflected in one or only a few islands within an island cluster—it is appropriate that the guide reflects this clearly. Islanders are extremely proud of their Island heritage. Islander names in the guide are in English and their traditional names are included as well—a deliberate modification to respect traditional custodians. Though both English and traditional names are used frequently with Islanders, I wanted to share the traditional names as a gesture for building greater understanding of the region. It is also important to group the island clusters as each has distinct language and cultural characteristics—further for each individual island and to a greater extent, particular families have distinct practices and characteristics and this is important to acknowledge. In all cases relating to Torres Strait Islanders, this is a person’s identity and holistic relationship with the Torres Strait.
The guide also connects the Torres Strait Islander community to the unpublished material that is located at the Library. The unpublished material includes: letters, photos, newspaper clippings and oral history recordings. I believe it will enable Torres Strait Islanders to begin dialogue about material held in other cultural institutions. In this guide I included links to resources at AIATSIS and also the State Libraries, as each have material relating to the Torres Strait. There has always been a strong emphasis on the international holdings of Torres Strait cultural material, however this guide focuses on the material we have in Australia. My hope is that this guide enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities an understanding of what is kept in the Library. It offers us an opportunity to revitalise and enhance our understanding of the cultural and social identity through what has been kept and preserved within this institution.
Overall the guide is from a colonial perspective—capturing a period of social change in the Torres Strait. Images of island life enable Islanders to look back at what the islands looked like before the western-style homes were introduced. The guide is a first for specifically Torres Strait Islander material—a one stop place for Islanders to look at material in the Library. I am extremely excited to share this material, but more so that the Torres Strait Islander community can benefit through greater access and can contribute to understanding the material of the Torres Strait Island region.