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Modern culture & Education

  • In modern day many Torres Straight Islanders have taken the opportunity to undertake education that their parents and grandparents did not have access to. As Shnukal (2001, p. 29) mentions “there are increasingly numbers of Torres straight Islanders that are undertaking undergraduate and even post graduate degrees to gain valuable skills that are contributing to the management of their local communities.”

  • There have been some massive achievements from Torres Straight Islanders who

  • have taken the opportunity to gain an education. Some famous Islanders include:

  • Mary Garnier was the first Torres strait Islander to gain a university degree in 1965.

  • Nartin Nakata was the first Torres Strait islander to gain a PhD in education in 1997.

  • Roy Whittaker was the first Torres Strait Islander to become a doctor.

  • Catherine Anne Pirie became the first Torres strait islander to become a magistrate in 2000.

  • Dulcie, Sophie and Heather Pitt, the first Torres Strait Islanders to attend the Parramatta

  • Primary School in Cairns, formed a singing group, the Harmony Sisters

  • (Shnukal , 2001, p.29)


Cultural aspects
Cultural Aspects

From the spiritual aspect music and dance are a fundamental part of their spirituality for it is how the Torres Strait connects to a notion or a place. As Resture (2011) explains “In a ceremonial context old songs, evoking powerful Dreaming stories, are said to be created by the Dreaming beings themselves as they created the country in its present form.” With these songs dances are usually accompanied to provide visual meaning and also allow for a powerful experience to connect with the story.

  • There are two traditional languages spoken in the Torres Strait:

  • KalawLagaw Ya- This is similar to Aboriginal languages and is spoken on western, central and northern islands. Individual dialects are also found on each of the islands.

  • MeriamMir - This is the language of the eastern islands and is derived from Papuan languages. Individual dialects are also found on each of the islands.

(Charles Stuart university, 2011)

Torres Strait Islander Culture

Torres Strait islanders have spirituality, beliefs and traditions that are based on nature and how the world functions in a natural world. The dreaming is a part of their belief system that involve ceremonies, using scared sites, using song and dance, body painting to relay stories of creation, morals, culture and law. (Resture, 2011). These stories have been passed down for thousands of years from their ancestors.

The culture and community of the Torres Strait islander people as stated by Charles Stuart University (2011) are “overshadowed by Aboriginal Australians and their culture and history is often lumped in with Aboriginal culture and history.” Despite this the Torres strait Islanders do have similarities to mainland Aboriginals but they also have their own cultural aspects and stories dependant of their location and experiences.


Teaching Torres strait islanders

  • Quality Educators of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have:

  • • Cultural and cross-cultural understandings, • High level communication skills • The ability to work in and within a community • The ability to work as a member of a team and a broader collegial network

  • A high level of professionalism and integrity

  • A high level of self and professional awareness

(Moyle, 2004))

  • General Strategies in teaching TS Students

  • Encourage cultural identity and pride.

  • Integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into curriculum programs.

  • Implementation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

  • Implementation of localised cultural/language programs.

  • Development of school-community based VET programs.

  • Incorporate use of ESL/ESD teaching methodologies and practices.

  • .

  • Elements of Successful Strategies

  • Intensive use of effective practices.

  • Strong personal/professional commitment to improved outcomes;

  • Holistic approaches;

  • Genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and

  • Cultural acknowledgement, recognition and support. .

(What Works)

(What Works)


Martin_N (2008). {Image]. Retrieved from http://www1.aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/conference/speakers.htm.

Department of Education , employment and Workplace relations (2011). Dr Roy Whittaker. Retrieved from http://www.deewr.gov.au/Indigenous/Schooling/Programs/Documents/IEAP/DrRoyWhittaker.pdf.

2.Jpeg (2010). [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/awaye/galleries/2010/2846318/2.htm.

Charles Stuart University (2011). Social Justice and Human Rights Issues:A Global Perspective. Retrieved from http://hsc.csu.edu.au/ab_studies/rights/global/social_justice_global/sjwelcome.responsenew2.html.

Ogilvie, F. (1994). Education to Empower: The role of the primary teacher in Aboriginal education. Issues in Educational Research 4, (1), 27-30.

Dhinawun Consultancy (2011). What works: 101 Effective Teaching Strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students . Retrieved fromhttp://www.ascqld.org.au/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=9eTRh%2FNRbbs%3D&tabid=187.

Moyle, D. (2004). Quality Educators Produce Quality Outcomes – Some thoughts on what this means in the context of teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Southbank, Victoria: Australian education Union. retrieved from http://www.aeufederal.org.au/Atsi/2004SemOut.pdf

Shnukal , A. (2001). Torres Strait IslandersFrom: Brandle, Maximilian (ed.) Multilcutlural Queensland 2001: 100 years, 100

communities, A century of contributions, Brisbane, The State of Queensland

(Department of Premier and Cabinet). Retrieved from http://www.multiculturalaustralia.edu.au/doc/shnukal_torres_strait.pdf.


  • Slide 3

  • Due to the painful history of the Torres Straight Islanders few saw any relevance or even had access to education or further education. In modern day many Torres Straight Islanders have taken the opportunity to undertake education that their parents and grandparents did not have access to. As Shnukal (2001, p. 29) mentions “there are increasingly numbers of Torres straight Islanders that are undertaking undergraduate and even post graduate degrees to gain valuable skills that are contributing to the management of their local communities.” Thus Torres strait Islanders are gaining an education that utilises their culture and in turn their achievements help develop their society and preserve their culture.There have been some massive achievements from Torres Straight Islanders who have taken the opportunity to gain an education. Some famous Islanders include:

  • Mary Garnier was the first Torres strait Islander to gain a university degree in 1965.

  • Nartin Nakata was the first Torres Strait islander to gain a PhD in education in 1997.

  • Roy Whittaker was the first Torres Strait Islander to become a doctor.

  • Catherine Anne Pirie became the first Torres strait islander to become a magistrate in 2000.

  • Dulcie, Sophie and Heather Pitt, the first Torres Strait Islanders to attend the Parramatta Primary School in Cairns, formed a singing group, the Harmony Sisters.

  • (Shnukal , 2001, p.29)

  • Slide 4

  • The culture and community of the Torres Strait islander people as stated by Charles Stuart University (2011) are “overshadowed by Aboriginal Australians and their culture and history is often lumped in with Aboriginal culture and history.” Despite this the Torres strait Islanders do have similarities to mainland Aboriginals but they also have their own cultural aspects and stories dependant of their location and experiences.

  • The people of the Torres Strait have a plethora of cultural aspect that make up their community. The Torres Strait islander people have two traditional languages spoken in the Torres Strait, these include:

  • Kalaw Lagaw Ya - This is similar to Aboriginal languages and is spoken on western, central and northern islands. Individual dialects are also found on each of the islands.

  • Meriam Mir - This is the language of the eastern islands (including Mer) and is derived from Papuan languages. Individual dialects are also found on each of the islands. (Charles Stuart University, 2011)

  • They use these languages as a fundamental part of their culture to share stories and songs that contain their spiritual beliefs or their common cultural law.

  • Torres Strait islanders have spirituality, beliefs and traditions that are based on nature and how the world functions in a natural world. The dreaming is a part of their belief system that involve ceremonies, using scared sites, using song and dance, body painting to relay stories of creation, morals, culture and law. (Resture, 2011). These stories have been passed down for thousands of years from their ancestors and are known to originate from the spirits and is their spiritual truth.

  • From the spiritual aspect music and dance are a fundamental part of their spirituality for it is how the Torres Strait connects to a notion or a place. As Resture (2011) explains “In a ceremonial context old songs, evoking powerful Dreaming stories, are said to be created by the Dreaming beings themselves as they created the country in its present form.” With these songs dances are usually accompanied to provide visual meaning and also allow for a powerful experience to connect with the story.


  • Slide 5

  • In educating Torres Strait Islander children one must consider many cultural aspects in their approach. As an educator one needs to analyse their factors contributing to quality education, as Moyle (2004) states “quality Educators of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have”: • Cultural and cross-cultural understandings, • High level communication skills• The ability to work in and within a community• The ability to work as a member of a team and a broader collegial network

  • A high level of professionalism and integrity

  • A high level of self and professional awareness

  • In addition to quality teaching successful strategies are a imperative in teaching students who identify as Torres Strait Islander. What Works (2011) identifies several elements that contribute to a successful strategy that can be used with these students. Elements of successful strategies include:

  • Intensive use of effective practices.

  • Strong personal/professional commitment to improved outcomes;

  • Holistic approaches;

  • Genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and

  • Cultural acknowledgement, recognition and support.

  • Thus when implementing a strategy in the classroom there are general rules that are essential when implementing a strategy. General Strategies in teaching Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Students include:

  • Encourage cultural identity and pride.

  • Integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into curriculum programs.

  • Implementation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

  • Implementation of localised cultural/language programs.

  • Development of school-community based VET programs.

  • Incorporate use of ESL/ESD teaching methodologies and practices.

    (What works)

  • Overall one must take into consideration how they teach a student who identifies as Torres strait Islander as the way the students views the world, behaves and interacts in the classroom is different to that of Anglo Saxon students. By considering the notion that every student responds in different ways and have different abilities . Thus As Ogilvie (1994, p.2) states “it is the teacher who can promote a sense of pride in self, community interests, ethnic and cultural identity and must have a duty of care for the students. As educators it is our duty to implement effective strategies in teaching Torres strait Islanders as well as developing our own quality teaching methods.


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