Waiben, also known as Thursday Island, is awash with green, blue, black and white as the local community off the tip of Cape York Peninsula celebrates Torres Strait Islander Flag Day.
- The Torres Strait Islands flag, designed by Bernard Namok, was the winning entry in a design competition in 1992
- The colours of the flag represent the Torres Strait Islander people’s connection to the land, sea and sky
- In 1995, the flag was officially adopted as one of the three national flags of Australia
Today marks 29 years since the flag, designed by the late Bernard Namok, was officially presented to the people of the Torres Strait. Weeks later it was formally recognised as a symbol of unity and identity and given equal prominence with the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag as one of the three flags of the nation.
About 200 community members marched down Waiben’s main street today to mark the milestone before a flag-raising ceremony and cultural celebration in a local park.
Among them was Bernard Namok Junior, son of the flag’s creator, who said he was moved to see the flag flown so proudly by so many.
“I was seven when dad did all the sketches and, from a little kid watching him doing all that to now, it’s really special,” he said.
“It makes my hair stand up. I get goosebumps seeing a lot of family members, how proud they are.
“And seeing both flags, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait, side by side — the community spirit is pretty strong.”
Today was only the third time the Darwin-based radio broadcaster and media trainer has celebrated Flag Day in the Torres Strait.
“I thought I’d come back this year, after COVID, to be around family after all the restrictions,” he said.
“To be a part of the community and community events, it means a lot.”
‘We all come under one banner’
The flag’s elements of green and blue are representative of Torres Strait Islanders’ connection to the land, sea and sky, the black lines are the people, and the white dhari (headdress) and five-pointed star symbolise culture, navigation of the sea and the five island groups.
Mer Islander Nellington Barsa says the flag is significant because of the sense of unity it brought to all Torres Strait Islanders.
The 54-year-old remembers the emotions he felt the day the flag was first unfurled almost three decades ago.
“It was uplifting, it was a relief that we finally all came under one banner,” he said.
“And on that very year the Mabo (land rights) decision was handed down.
“I’m from Mado country, the island of Mer, so that was significant for me too. That’s what the flag represents to me.”
In 1995, the Torres Strait Islander flag was formally proclaimed ‘Flags of Australia’ under the Flags Act of 1953 and has since held special legal and political status worldwide.
Now 26, Florria Mosby was born under the flag of her people which has always given her a sense of belonging.
“It’s nice to know that I have an identity and that a lot of people know where we come from [because] we are the First Nations people,” she said.
“It represents what we stand for and how we live and where we come from.
“I actually feel quite emotional, we all feel emotional when we feel like we belong somewhere.”