Thursday Island’s journey to becoming a renowned location for the pearl trade began in 1877, when it was chosen as the capital of the Torres Strait islands. The shells of the gold-lipped oysters found here are a natural wonder, with their metallic shells appearing to have been dipped into a pot of liquid gold. These decorative shells drew pearlers from across Asia to Thursday Island, establishing the diverse population seen here today. Curiously, Thursday Island escaped bombing during World War II – presumably because of the large number of Japanese pearlers interred in its soil. Things to See and Attractions
Whether you want to fish for electric blue spotted coral trout off the end of Horn Island Jetty, or learn about the Torres Strait’s key role in Australian World War II history, the short journey across the turquoise water to neighbouring Horn Island is essential. The Torres Strait Heritage Museum and Art Gallery is a fantastic, family-run resource, and you’ll learn how this small island was pummelled as the Japanese repeatedly attempted to invade. Only the mainland’s Darwin, sustained a higher number of bomb attacks than Horn Island’s pocked surface.
The pretty, pearl-coloured Quetta Memorial Cathedral was built to honour the 130 people lost at sea when the RMS Quetta sank in 1890, after striking unchartered rocks on a journey from Brisbane to London. Visit to see the inscription to the dead of one of Australia’s biggest marine disasters as well as to step inside what claims to be the world’s smallest cathedral.
Rusting cannons peer out over the tropical waters that stretch below Green Fort Hill, which was constructed in 1893, in response to rising tensions between the British and Russians. The views down over the depths of the harbour, and across the island, are just as impressive as the fort’s exhibits, which cover everything from the pearling industry, to the region’s World War II role. If the weather’s on your side, you can sometimes make out the hazy shimmer of the Australian mainland in the distance.
Hotels and Restaurants
Stay among the tropical, lush greenery of Wongai Beach Hotel, or enjoy Jardine Motel’s sea-views and popular restaurant. The Federal Hotel serves up fail-safe pub grub, or you can crack open locally caught lobster claws, and tuck into metallic-skinned Spanish mackerel at other restaurants sprinkled across the islands.
Learn a little about the culture of the Melanesian people who inhabit these islands, at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre. Elaborate exhibitions display everything from beautiful feathered masks and headdresses, to carved wooden artworks. Be sure to pop into the souvenir shop before you leave – 70% of the unique, hand-woven jewellery, decorative books and colourful artworks are made by locals from the Torres Strait, providing an ethical way to support them.