I rise here today as the member for Leichhardt and the member for the wet tropics in the real tropical capital of Tropical North Queensland-Cairns, of course. I am here to talk about somewhere even further north.
The island of Erub is one of the easternmost islands in the Torres Strait and has a population today of around 300. It is a lush, hilly island, and it is quite beautiful. Fish traps made of stone form striking patterns on the surrounding reefs where the waters are every shade of turquoise. Coconut palms fringe the sandy beaches, colourful fishing boats line the foreshore and schools of sardines blacken the shallows. Islanders have lived there for generations. It is a simple life where traditional customs and beliefs are strong.
Like many remote communities, it suffers today from welfare dependence, the departure of its young people to the cities, the high cost of living and low employment. There is, however, an active arts centre where intricate works are created from recycled ghost nets and exhibited in places like Singapore and Monaco, and Erub boasts the Torres Strait's only community-based commercial fishing operation.
Visiting the island in February to catch up with local leaders, I was struck by the worn beauty of one particular building-the All Saints Anglican Church. The building represents a significant period in Torres Strait heritage-when Christianity was brought to the region.
The London Missionary Society arrived in the Torres Strait on the vessel HMS Surprise and were led by two Englishmen: Reverends MacFarlane and Murray. They landed on Erub on 1 July 1871. This was the first contact between islanders and missionaries, and it has come to be known as the Coming of the Light.
Dabad, one of the tribal elders of the island, befriended the missionaries and introduced them to the rest of the islanders. His role in bringing Christianity to the Torres Strait is recognised by a monument that reads, 'In loving memory of Dabad 1871: a man who denied his tribal laws and accepted the good news of salvation.'
In 1872 the London Missionary Society revisited the islands, reporting that weekly services were being held at Erub conducted in a pidgin form of the local language. By 1890 the London Missionary Society was beginning to slow its operations in the Torres Strait. By 1914 the Anglican Church had assumed responsibility for the mission. They initiated the annual Coming of the Light celebrations-a tradition which continues today.
The All Saints Anglican Church was built in 1919 using locally produced lime from burnt coral and basalt under the direction of an Erub Islander by the name of Manai and a South Sea Islander named Albert Ware. It was remodelled in 1963 with limestone from surrounding reefs, but since then it has slowly declined from erosion and lack of upkeep. Nevertheless, there is still a grandeur about the Romanesque-style building and the surrounding lawns that are still neatly mown.
The church is full of character, from the baptismal font, which is made from a giant sea clam shell and dedicated to Albert Ware, to a beautiful stained glass window installed in 1964 in memory of the first priest, Father Joseph Lui. The base of the altar is inlaid with local pearl shells, while faded icons adorn the walls and the pulpit is made from the bow of a wooden fishing boat.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the construction of the church, the community is coming together and seeing the value of restoring the building to its former glory. During my visit, I met with Councillor Patrick Thaiday, the Torres Strait Island Regional Council representative, and senior church elders Walter Lui and Dick Pilot. They have certainly got a desire to see the building refurbished, but they need a little bit of help.
I have spoken to My Pathway, which runs the CDP activities on the island, and they are very keen to train up the local jobseekers with the skills they need to carry out the work. There is a very early interest from the arts centre in repairing and repainting the icons, and I have pledged to work with the community to rally support among the significant metropolitan Anglican community and to investigate possible funding streams.
At the end of the day, though, the local community must drive this. They had the skills in the 1920s to build a church; they had the skills in the 1960s to restore it. I hope those skills are lying dormant, and I am sure they are, ready to be reawakened. On 15 February 2019, let us celebrate the church's centenary and its full refurbishment thanks to the Erub islanders regaining their practical skills of the past.
Of course, I hope, with the very strong support from those outside the community, to be able to get them trained and to give them the opportunity not only to do the refurbishment but also to be able to maintain this beautiful building into the future. Thank you.