Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islands 1964-1998: treasure collection of the John Oxley Library

The Margaret Lawrie Collection of the Torres Strait is the life's work of Margaret Lawrie, a teacher who had a strong interest in child health. She travelled to the Torres Strait Islands with Aboriginal poet, Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal) at the request of the Queensland Government and was interested in the history, culture, and languages of the Torres Strait Islander people.

Margaret Lawrie presenting sports awards to champion boy athlete and schoolgirl athlete on Boigu Island, Queensland, 1968. Acc TR 1791/173 Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islander Material 1964 – 1998. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

A description supplied with the images of Margaret Lawrie state this was the first north-west islands (Saibai, Boigu and Dauan) sports meet held in the community.

Margaret spent time in the communities during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.  A strength of the collection is the many Torres Strait Islander genealogies she documented of families living across the seventeen communities in the Torres Strait which she visited. They are used extensively for family history research and Native Title claims.

Between 1964 and 1973, she often stayed for months at a time and developed strong relationships with the people. Many approached her to record and write down their personal stories and family histories. This resulted in Margaret conducting research into the cultural history of the Torres Strait and collecting transcripts, audio recordings, photographs, slides, works of art and oral stories. Collectively they formed the basis of the publication Myths and Legends of Torres Strait (1970) and Tales from Torres Strait (1972).

Dugong hunter, [watercolour], creator Waia, Kala, 570 x 310 mm. Reproduced and published in Myths and legends of Torres Strait (1970), page 16.

The collection also includes a typescript on the history of Somerset and Thursday Island as the administrative centre of the Torres Strait, as well as correspondence with government departments and other researchers.

The Margaret Lawrie Collection was donated to the State Library of Queensland in 1996.  State Library digitised the genealogy charts and created an online index of the names that appear in the genealogies. Anyone can search the Margaret Lawrie Collection index records, but restrictions are placed on the digitised genealogy charts due to the private and sensitive nature of the material. Copies are provided to individuals and families researching their family history and to Land Councils for the purpose of Native Title claims upon the provision of a request on official letterhead showing the claim and claims number.

The Margaret Lawrie Collection was added to UNESCO's Australian Memory of the World Register in 2008.

Members of Margaret Lawrie’s family attended the official launch of the exhibition Meriba Gidhal: Torres Strait Island treasures of the Margaret Lawrie Collection, October 2009.

Source: Blog account of the launch of the Meriba Gidhal exhibition.

In 2009 the exhibition Meriba Gidhal: Torres Strait Island treasures of the Margaret Lawrie Collection was opened by Her Excellency, Ms Penelope Wensley AO, Governor of Queensland, 21 October, 2009 as part of the state’s Q150 celebrations and the John Oxley Library 75th anniversary. Members of the Margaret Lawrie family attended the opening.

Lynn Meyers, Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland

Collection: TR 1791/173 Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islander Material 1964 – 1998

Retold digital stories: 27464 ReTold : a retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait by Margaret Lawrie 2010. A collection of 11 digital stories by Torres Strait Islander communities in North Queensland retelling stories and songs from Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait by Margaret Lawrie. Some of the digital stories have access restrictions. The ReTold project was run by the State Library of Queensland with Federal Government funding.

Genealogies: Between 1964 and 1973, Margaret Lawrie recorded many Torres Strait Islander genealogies (family trees).

Commitment statement

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.

Cultural Care statement (disclaimer)

Users are advised that this Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander material may contain culturally sensitive imagery and descriptions which may not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. Annotation and terminology which reflects the creator's attitude or that of the era in which the item was created may be considered inappropriate today. This material may also contain images, voices or names of deceased persons.

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