Queensland Places - Prince of Wales Island - Muralag
Prince of Wales Island – Muralag, as with other islands and places across the Torres Strait, has a long and varied history. Muralag is the largest of the Torres Strait Islands, covering some 204 kilometres in area and measuring more than twenty kilometres across at its widest point.
As it is so large, the island has a wide range of natural vistas and environments, and has long been a popular place to visit for recreational purposes, especially for those from nearby Thursday Island. As well, Thursday Island’s close proximity has been a strong influence on the island’s culture and history. A particularly popular spot for visitors to the island is Pandanus Falls, also known locally as Kai Irrki Nguki, so called by islanders who tell the story of a warrior named Irrki who died close by and turned to stone.
This photograph, taken in 1901, shows a typical group of visitors, resting at the base of the falls, no doubt enjoying the coolness of the water and surrounds.
As with other places in the Torres Strait and elsewhere throughout Australia, there has been conflict with Europeans at various times, as the newcomers first moved through the area or sought to trade with local communities. Misunderstandings were common and unfortunately these misunderstandings occasionally led to trouble, or even bloodshed. One particular example within the island’s history took place in 1869 when the cutter Sperwer, on route from Melbourne to New Guinea, called in to Prince of Wales Island to trade for pearl and tortoise shell. Whether through misunderstanding or the crew’s own inappropriate actions, the islanders took offence and attacked, killing all members of the crew and destroying the ship. Later investigations into what had actually taken place were inconclusive, but many of those interviewed or expressing a view were surprised at the events, saying they had always been treated well by the islanders and that, in their memory or experience, there had been no similar conflict previously.
Muralag today remains a popular destination in the Torres Strait as well as continuing to be an important and vibrant community.
Brian Randall - Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland