The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands which lie in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern continental Australia's Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea.
The islands are mostly part of Queensland, a constituent State of the Commonwealth of Australia, with a special status fitting the native (Melanesian) land rights, administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority. A few islands very close to the coast of mainland New Guinea belong to the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, most importantly Daru Island with the provincial capital, Daru.
Only 14 of the islands are inhabited, with many of the islands threatened by rising sea levels.
European involvement: Lieutenant James Cook first claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia at Possession Island in 1770. The London Missionary Society led by Rev. Samuel Macfarlane arrived on Erub (Darnley Island) on 1 July 1871. This is referred to by the Islanders as "The Coming of the Light" and is celebrated annually by all Island communities on 1 July. The Torres Strait Islands were annexed in 1879 by Queensland. They thus became part of the British colony of Queensland and after 1901 of the Australian state of Queensland although some of them lie just off the coast of New Guinea.
The proximity to Papua New Guinea became an issue when it was moving towards independence from Australia, which it gained in 1975. The Torres Strait Islanders insisted that they were Australians, but the Papua New Guinea government objected to complete Australian control over the waters of the strait. Eventually an agreement was struck whereby the islands and their inhabitants remain Australian, but the maritime boundary between Australia and Papua New Guinea runs through the centre of the strait. In practice the two countries co-
In 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders from Mer (Murray Island) started legal proceedings to establish their traditional land ownership. Because Mabo was the first-
This ruling overturned the century-
On 1 July 1994 the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) was created. The TSRA has an elected board comprising 20 representatives from the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities resident in the Torres Strait region. There is one representative per established local community. These board members are elected under the Queensland Community Services (Torres Strait) Act 1984 and Division 5 of the ATSIC Act 1989. The TSRA itself falls under the portfolio responsibilities of the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (previously under the Department of Immigration and Citizenship). The administrative centre of the islands is Thursday Island.
The TSRA now represents the local communities at both Commonwealth and State levels – previously State representation was via a (closed since March 2008) Queensland statutory authority called the Island Coordinating Council (ICC). The ICC was superseded by the Torres Strait Island Region local government area.
At the local level there are two authorities, the Shire of Torres which governs several islands and portions of Cape York Peninsula and operates as a Queensland local government area. The Torres Strait Island Region, created in 2008, is the embodiment of 15 former island councils, these areas have been relinquished by the Government of Queensland to specific Islander and Aboriginal Councils under the provisions of the Community Services (Torres Strait) Act 1984 and the Community Services (Aboriginal) Act 1984.