Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Company Boats, Sailing Dinghies and Passenger Fish: Fathoming Torres Strait Islander Participation in the Maritime Economy

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2012), 103, (1), 39–58.

Abstract

While research has been conducted into Torres Strait’s Queensland government controlled lugger-based company boat system, which operated from about 1904 until the late 1960s, another significant Torres Strait Islander mode of production, the gathering of marine product using shore-based sailing dinghies, has been largely overlooked. This article traces the emergence of this small-scale, yet substantial, pervasive and persistent form of enterprise and makes some preliminary observations about the patterns of activity. It suggests that a more detailed analysis of sailing dinghy work might offer fresh insights into Torres Strait Islander engagement with colonialism and further complicate the social control interpretive model.

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Endnotes

4.Although the Papuan Industries Ltd headquarters was at Badu in Torres Strait, its initial emphasis was on New Guinea, establishing plantations there and promoting trade in handcrafts etc. SeeF.W. Walker, A New Departure in Missionary Enterprise: ‘Papuan Industries, Limited’,Hazell, Watson and Viney,, 1909. Google Scholar

5.In 1948, the Islands Industries Board purchased 16 pump outfits and, by the end of that year, 11 were in use.‘Native Affairs: Information Contained in Report for the Year Ended December, 1948’, Queensland Parliamentary Papers(QPP), vol.3, 1949, p.26. Google Scholar

6.The following authors provide analysis of the company boat system:J.P.S. Bach, The Pearling Industry of Australia: An Account of its Social and Economic Development,Department of Commerce and Agriculture,, 1956, pp.171-79, 263-70;J.R. Beckett, ‘The Torres Strait Islanders and the Pearling Industry: A Case of Internal Colonialism’, Aboriginal History, vol.1, no.1, 1977, pp.77-104[reprinted inM. Howard(ed.), Aboriginal Power in Australian Society,University of Hawaii Press,, 1982, pp.131-58];J.R. Beckett, Torres Strait Islanders: Custom and Colonialism,Cambridge University Press,, 1987;N. Sharp, ‘Culture Clash in the Torres Strait Islands: The Maritime Strike of 1936’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol.11, no.3, 1981-82, pp.107-26;R.J. Ganter The Pearl-Shellers of Torres Strait: Resource Use, Development and Decline, 1860s-1960s,Melbourne University Press,, 1994, pp.61-98. Google Scholar

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9.Beckett, Torres Strait Islanders, p.8. Google Scholar

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38.White teachers were not formally appointed superintendents, were under the fairly close supervision of the Thursday Island Protector and, in practice, had to balance their authority against that of theMamooseand his council, white missionaries and their Islander churchwardens, and the more successful and therefore influential company boat skippers. Google Scholar

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50.Initially it was 7.5 percent of net earnings, but this proved too difficult to calculate so it became ade facto7.5 percent on gross earnings until 1921 when it was adjusted to 5 percent of gross earnings.‘Aboriginals Department: Information Contained in Report for the Year Ended December, 1921’, QPP, vol.2, 1922, p.6. Based on a letter written by the missionary T.O. Harries, Beckett concluded that initially Island Fund deductions were 20 percent; seeBeckett, Torres Strait Islanders, p.49. Harries was new to Torres Strait and might have been referring to a combination of all the deductions to which company boat owners were subject, or simply overstating his case, a habit for which he was known. SeeDavid Wetherell, Charles Abel and the Kwato Mission of Papua New Guinea 1891-1975,Melbourne University Press,, 1996, pp.118-20. Google Scholar

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84.The author worked as a crayfish diver on a converted Torres Strait lugger (Manahiki) in the early 1970s and knew some of the men mentioned in Marine Produce Dinghy Shell No. 2. Google Scholar

85.‘Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1915’, QPP, vol.3, 1915-16, p.11. Google Scholar

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93.The Fish Supply Act of 1917 gave the government considerable power over fish prices and marketing. SeeD.J. Murphy, ‘The Establishment of State Enterprises in Queensland 1915-1918, Labour History, no.14, 1968, pp.13-22. The Fish Supply Management Act of 1935 required that all fish products landed in Queensland had to be marketed through the Queensland Fish Board (QFB). QFB was not wound up until 1987.Noel Haysom, Trawlers, Trollers and Trepangers: The Storyof the Queensland Commercial Fishing Industry Pre-1988,Department of Primary Industries,, 2001, pp.124-25. Google Scholar

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Mullins, Steve