INTRODUCTION The islanders of the Torres Straits, which lie beyond the northern coast of Australia, between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, have found themselves in the middle of a border dispute between their two big neighbours.
CU Branch of hibiscus bush PAN UP TO palm tree on Torres Straits Boigu Island, Australia.
GV PAN Palm trees on deserted beach.
SV AND CU Charlie Gibuma making a whap - a form of harpoon. (2 shots)
CU PAN Harpoon and decorations (Sound of harpoon dance music starts at 19 ft) with Gibuma making new harpoon.
GV AND CU Villagers performing harpoon dance (sound of music and singing continues) (4 shots)
GVS AND CU (music continues) Jerry Assai looking for and catching a turtle from motor launch. (5 shots)
CU AND GVS Turtles being bred in turtle hatchery. (3 shots)
AERIAL VIEW AND CU OF Oil tanker Oceanic Grandeur on reef and spilling oil.
GVS AND CU Oil being dispersed by detergent sprayed from launch. (3 shots)
GVS AND CU School children seated on beach singing. (2 shots)
GVS AND AERIAL VIEWS of island (children's singing continues over) (5 shots)
Initials VS 18.00 OS
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: INTRODUCTION The islanders of the Torres Straits, which lie beyond the northern coast of Australia, between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, have found themselves in the middle of a border dispute between their two big neighbours. The islands themselves are a paradise of swaying palms, white sand, hibiscus, and the exotic frangipani tree. An Australian film crew went to the islands recently to record the day-to-day life of the islanders, which has changed little over the centuries.
SYNOPSIS: The beauty of the Torres Straits islands mask an unpleasant history. A hundred years ago the people were headhunters and cannibals, who terrified their enemies and killed shipwrecked white sailors because they thought they were ghosts. But now the people are peaceful, living an idyllic, ordered life. Charlie Gibuma, for instance, is Chairman of the Community Council on Boigu. He's making a whap - a kind of harpoon.
It's used for hunting turtle and dugong. The dugong, or sea-cow, almost became extinct, but which is now back in large numbers. Hunting is the most important part of life on the islands, and the people have many songs and dances to celebrate their successes.
They are fiercely proud of their reputation as seamen, and of the living they still get from the sea. Several islanders - such as Jerry Assai, who is looking for a dugong - own outboard motorboats, a modern inventions that has made sea-hunting much easier. This particular day, there were no dugong around, so Jerry speared a turtle instead.
Despite the availability of tinned bully-beef from the islands' general store, dugong and turtle still provide a great deal of the meat in the islanders' diet. But it was white hunters who hunted the dugong nearly to extinction.
Throughout the Torres Straits, the sea provides the island people with a living. The establishment of this turtle farm project caused a good deal of controversy in the early days of Australia's Labour Government because of the high cost.
The islanders lay sole claim to the surrounding sea and seabed, and they are wary of suggestions that offshore oil drilling should be allowed. In March 1970 the tanker Oceanic Grandeur ran aground, spilling oil into the sea and over reefs and beaches. Then detergent was used to dissolve the oil, but the islanders say that did more damage than if the oil had remained on the surface.
In many ways the Torres Straits islanders are a conservative people, but that is probably because they have a great deal to conserve. They are not against progress, but they see little in it for them. The last things they need are modern industries, smokey cities, or even noisy tourists. Why change paradise when you already call it home!