Viewers are advised this blog contains culturally sensitive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material and images of deceased persons.
In 1871 on 1 July representatives from the London Missionary Society arrived on Erub Island (Darnley Island) accompanied by South Sea Islander evangelists and teachers.
Clan Elder and Warrior, Dabad greeted them on their arrival. Ready to defend his land and people Dabad walked to the water’s edge when the Rev Samuel McFarlane dropped to his knees and presented The Bible to Dabad. Dabad accepted the gift, interpreted as the ‘Light’, introducing Christianity to the Torres Strait Islands.
The people of the Torres Strait Islands adopted the Christian rituals and ceremonies and continued to uphold their connection to the land, sea and sky, practicing their traditional customs, and cultural identity referred to as ‘Ailan Kastom.’
Each year on 1 July, ‘The Coming of the Light’ or ‘Keriba Lagaw Buiya’ in traditional language is a day of celebration, performance, oral tradition and reverence.
Coming of the Light celebrations 2011 – 2016
In 2011, a group of Lifou islanders from New Caledonia travelled to Erub Island to join in the celebrations and re-enactment of the 'Coming of the Light'. The visit enabled Lifou islanders to reconnect with their descendants who had settled on Erub more than a century earlier.
The 27 images by photographer Sarah Scragg record the visit, the church service, the interior and exterior views of the All Saints Church, and the people in worship, receiving communion and cultural exchange. You can see more of them on State Library’s catalogue One Search.
In 2016 Townsville photographer Alf Wilson travelled to Erub, photographing the celebrations and traditions observed for the ‘Coming of the Light’. The 10 images in the collection captured the community assembling for the event, performers in traditional costume, and members of the clergy preparing for the service. View more of the Alf Wilson digitised images relating to the ‘Coming of the Light” on State Library's catalogue One Search.
Badu Island 1977-78
In 1977 schoolteacher Wayne Torrens and his wife Gayle were posted to Badu Island. Both were very involved in community events and during the two years they were resident on the island Wayne photographed local events and filmed special occasions involving the community.
Among his photos is a small group of images capturing the ‘Coming of the Light’ preparations and ceremony involving the people of Badu Island.
The Torrens family collection of photograph albums featuring Badu Islanders and the Wujal Wujal community in north Queensland number in the hundreds. The 17 images relating to the ‘Coming of the Light’ on Badu Island are digitised and can be accessed on State Library's catalogue OneSearch.
Anglican Ministry in the Torres Strait 1949 - 1973
Dr Wilhelm Rechnitz, a German Jew who was deported to Australia from England early during WWII spent most of his time living and working in the Torres Strait. He converted to the Anglican faith and was ordained a Minister in 1953. Considered a language expert, he recorded the Indigenous languages of the Torres Strait and translated church texts into local language. He lived in various parts of the Torres Strait including Weiben (Thursday Island), Erub (Darnley Island), Badu (Mulgrave Island) and Saibai.
His collection of more than 200 black and white photos are digitised and include images of local events and gatherings, island scenes and people going about their traditional customs. You can view the images on State Library's catalogue One Search.
All Saints Anglican Church on Erub dates from 1919. It was constructed below the site of the original London Missionary Society Mission, house, and school.
Builders used local materials---basalt, as well as lime produced from burnt coral. The proximity of the church to the early mission buildings ensured that it had a close link to the island’s history.
It has evolved and changed over the years. Originally built under the guidance and direction of local island man, Manai, assisted by Albert Ware, a South Sea Islander man, it underwent significant remodelling in 1963. The roofline was raised and the internal walls extended. Limestone from surrounding reefs was used to complete this work.
Erub: The coming of the Light, 2018
In 2018, State Library of Queensland hosted the exhibition Islands: hidden histories from Queensland Islands. A digital story was commissioned as part of the exhibition featuring the close personal connection of Erub Islanders to the ‘Coming of the Light’ and the artists interpretation. Listen to Erub artists Ellarose Savage, Jimmy Thaiday, and Racy Oui-Pitt share their experience.
You can watch the artists talk about their personal experiences and their interpretation of the ‘Coming of the Light’ through art. Prints of the linocuts are held in the John Oxley Library collection.
- 32197 Church service at All Saints Anglican Church, Erub Island / Sarah Scragg photographer
- 31450 Alf Wilson photographs of Palm Island and area events 2004 - 2017
- 31661 Torrens family photographs, photographic slides and film footage of Badu Island and Wujal Wujal (selection digitised)
- 29018 Reverend James Tait Scott Torres Strait Islands Papers 1870s-1890s. The album and journal are part of the rare and restricted collections of the John Oxley Library due to their fragile state. Both are receiving conservation treatment for an extended period. You can view a digitised version of the journal through the Collection Guide.
- Torrens home movie film footage on Badu Island (selection digitised)
- Coming of the Light – curated album of photographs featured on Flickr Commons, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
This material contains Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander content, and has been made available in accordance with State Library of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections Commitments.
Previously titled - ‘The Coming of the Light’ Celebrating 150 years of Christianity in the Torres Strait 1 July 2021