The Torres Strait Islander Flag

Torres Strait Islanders have a very distinctive culture and set of traditions, which varies slightly within each Island or community. They were traditionally sea-faring peoples who once engaged in trade with Papua New Guinea (AIATSIS, 2017). As such, they are renowned for their abilities to navigate by the stars.
“We are the mariners, the people who can navigate by the stars to small dots of islands beyond the horizon, ‘reading’ the wind and tides, the reefs and skies.” - G. Mye (Courtesy of Kroff, 2020)

Through these travels, Torres Strait Islanders have developed a complex culture made up of Australian elements, Papuan elements and Austronesian elements (TSIRC, 2020). This can also be seen through the languages spoken.

Torres Strait Islander Flag. Image sourced from Plato Puzzles, 2020.

It is this diverse array of cultural influences and the Torres Strait Islanders peoples connection to land, sea and sky that form the key elements of Torres Strait Islander flag. The flag was created as a symbol of unity and identity for the Torres Strait Islander peoples. It was designed by Bernard Namok in 1992. The design was a winning entry from a competition that was held as a part of a cultural revival workshop organised by the Islands Coordinating Council. The flag was officially recognised and presented to the people of Torres Strait in May 1992 at the sixth “Torres Strait Cultural Festival.” In July 1995, the Torres Strait Islander flag was recognised by the Australian Government as an official flag of Australia (AIATSIS, 2017).

Dhari (1999). Image sourced from National Gallery of Victoria, 2000.

The symbolic meaning of the flag can be broken down into elements through the colours and symbols. The two green lines represent the mainlands of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the blue is the Torres Strait waters between these two continents and the black symbolises the people of the Torres Straits. The central symbol on the flag is a traditional Dhari or headdress; a cultural symbol that all Islanders can identify with. Dhari is the Meriam Mir word for ‘headdress’ and is used in the eastern Islands of the Torres Strait. Traditionally these headdresses are made and worn by men for specific dances and ceremonies (Queensland Museum, 2020). The final element of the flag is the five pointed star, which represents the five distinct languages and cultural groups of the region. The star also connects the Torres Strait Islander peoples use of the stars for navigation purposes (AIATSIS, 2017).

As part of our NAIDOC 2020 range we have recently released our popular “Always Was, Will Be” screen printed tees in the Torres Strait Islander flag colours of green and blue. The bold design acknowledges the importance of the Torres Straits distinct culture and peoples. It represents their connection to the land, sea and sky and recognises that they have occupied and cared for their country.