[-0-] CELEBRATING BLAK HISTORY MONTH

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised this article may contain images and references to the deceased. 

#3 July 2011

Torres Strait Islander Railway Workers

The modernization of Australia and its foundation of vital mining and economic pathways, owes a significant debt to the blood, sweat and song Torres Strait Islander community. Officially permitted to travel to mainland Australia in 1947 Torres Strait Islander workers were primarily sought to fill the labour shortage in the agricultural industry. In the 1960s, many men, moved to the mainland to support their families. It was here they found employment building railways to mines in Mount Isa and Weipa in Queensland, and in the Pilbara and Port Hedland regions of Western Australia. 

The work was tough and so was being away from family and country. Some Torres Strait Islanders would never return to their homelands. One of the noted rail gangs was led by Father Elemo Tapim. Comprised mostly of Eastern Torres Strait Islanders, they began work constructing the massive Queensland and Western Australian inland rail system. In doing this they documented every mile in a remarkable collection of songs in the Meriam language. The songs created by the Eastern Torres Strait Islanders also act as a roadmap for future generations – figuratively and literally inadvertently mapping the tracklines from outback Queensland and remote Western Australia in song.

To this day, one Torres Strait Islander railroad gang holds the world record for laying track by hand. On the 8 May 1968 they laid 7¼ miles of track in 12 hours. This took 910 tons of rail and 13,000 sleepers. 

Would you like to read more about this Great Moment in Blakistory …
· http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2007/05/23/1930521.htm
· http://railwaysongs.blogspot.com/2009/02/torres.html
· http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/island-fettlers/clip2/?nojs

Source: Sam Cook

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