Torres Strait Pearl Divers Print Page Print this page

Torres Strait Pearl Divers Rotunda : 22-07-2013
Torres Strait Pearl Divers Rotunda : 22-07-2013

Photographs supplied by John Huth

Rotunda donated by Mrs Mogi in recognition of Divers involved in the Torres Strait Pearling Industry.

In the 1860s the pearling industry began in the Torres Strait and marked the entry of the Torres Strait into the global economy. Pearl and Trochus shells were gathered in large numbers to make buttons. Pearl shells obtained from the Torres Strait found a ready market in the clothing industry in the United States and England especially for buttons and buckles. The Torres Strait supplied over half the world demand for pearl shell in the 1890s.

In 1917 some 550 Torres Strait Islanders worked on pearling boats, about half of them on community-owned ‘company boats’, typically employed as swimming divers. The community lugger scheme had been started by philanthropic effort in 1897 to free indigenous people from dependence on large and exploitative companies. For many years it was jointly conducted by the Papuan Industries Limited and the Queensland Government’s Department of Native Affairs, and became very popular among Torres Strait Islanders, who used the luggers which they were able to purchase through this scheme for transport, visiting, and various kinds of subsistence fishing. It was for this very reason that the Department considered it an economic failure and continued to tighten its grip over the scheme, until it could no longer be said that the communities were owning the luggers. This led to a ‘lugger strike’ against the paternalism of the Department in 1936, and to separate legislation for Torres Strait in 1939 (separate from mainland Aborigines) with some limited self-government.

The development of plastic buttons and buckles in the 1950s devastated the pearling industry in the Torres Strait by the 1960s. With the decline of the pearling industry in the Torres Strait, many Islanders were forced to move to the mainland in search of work.



Address:Victoria Parade , Thursday Island, 4875
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -10.585433
Long: 142.219284
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
View Google Map


Monument Type:Structure
Monument Theme:Technology


Inscription in Proximity

This rotunda was donated by
            Mrs Mogi
       in recognition for
the Divers involved in the
Torres Strait Pearling Industry

Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
Proudly sponsored by UBC Web Design