Huge celebrations are planned in the Torres Strait this Reconciliation Week as locals mark three decades since the creation of the Torres Strait Island flag and the landmark Mabo decision.

The festivities will kick off this Sunday on Waiben (Thursday Island), 30 years after a customised flag was presented to and accepted by the people of the Torres Strait. 

Designed by the late Bernard Namok in 1992, it soon became an official flag flying alongside the Aboriginal and Australian flags.

Mr Namok’s son, Bernard Namok Junior, has told Tropic Now his father's creation had won a competition held by the flag committee of the then Island Coordinating Council.

Mr Namok Junior has vivid memories of the nights his father dedicated to working on the design.


“I was eight and we lived in a two-bedroom house with my grandma so me, my two younger sisters and younger brother slept in the lounge room with Grandma,” he recalls.

“We couldn’t sleep some nights because Dad was sitting at our dining room table doing his sketches.

“My mum recalls him using all my colouring pencils we’d bought for school.”

The colours and symbols were carefully selected and integrated.

The green represents the land, blue represents the waters, while the black as well as the dhari – the Torres Strait headdress - represent the people.

It also acknowledges the five major island groups, symbolised by the five-pointed star.

Today, the flag is flown not just across Australia but the world.

“My father died the following year so he didn’t get to see how far the flag has been flown," Bernard Namok Junior said.

“He was working as a storeman at the local supermarket at the time and drew as a hobby.


Mr Namok Junior has set up a facebook page in the lead-up to the anniversary, to collect photos of people carrying the flag.

Now living in Darwin, he will return to his home island this weekend as the community commemorates the occasion.

“Every year my family has a little sunrise flag-raising and a breakfast,” he said.

“This year we will do the same thing, then we’ll join the community with island dancing, feasting, and a big fireworks display.”

Less than a week later, the Islanders - and the nation - will celebrate 30 years since the Mabo decision rejected the notion of Terra Nullius (land belonging to no-one) and paved the way for native title claims.

The momentous High Court case, brought about and won by the late Mer (Murray) Islander Dr Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo, will be marked on Friday June 3 - Mabo Day.

Three decades on, Torres Strait Islanders are still bidding for their land and have come together for the first time with their mainland neighbours to resolve remaining native title claims in the offshore areas north, east and west of Cape York.

The area of more than 30,000 square kilometres of land and sea stretches from Captain Billy Landing on Cape York, east to the Great Barrier Reef, north west to the sea surrounding Warral (Hawkesbury) and Ului (West) Islands, and west to Skardon River north of Mapoon.

More information can be found on the Cape York Land Council and Torres Strait Regional Authority websites and facebook pages.


Main points

  • This Sunday marks the 30th anniverary since the design for the Torres Strait Island flag was presented to the people
  • The emblem was created by the late Bernard Namok, who sketched the design at his dining room table in 1992
  • Reconciliation celebrations will again peak the following Friday to mark 30 years since the historic Mabo decision
When I see the flag, it takes me back to all those late nights and growing up in that little two bedroom house, it takes me back to my childhood.