Native canoe and Possession Island, 1855

In Townsville in the 1980s activists in the Torres Strait Independence Movement, launched their protest at the intransigent misperception of Torres Strait as TI by mobilising the new phrase ‘Magani Malu Kes’. This term conceptualises the region as a whole, comprised of distinct languages and societies which are also united. The words speak to the interconnections between the current, Magan, in the central region, the deep waters of eastern Torres Strait, and her people. Then at the turn of the twentieth century, while the secession and Torres Strait autonomy movements gained momentum, a new term for Torres Strait was born: ‘Zenadh Kes’. This acronym incorporates parts of several names given to specific winds. It was proposed in Torres Strait itself and has been touted as the name to be adopted should Torres Strait become an autonomous territory of the Commonwealth of Australia. However, just as with the earlier ‘Magani Malu Kes’, this new name for Torres Strait has its roots in particular political movements and there remains a significant proportion of the Torres Strait Island population who do not approve of the acronym. They continue to refer to their region as ‘Torres Strait’. Native canoe which came alongside from Prince of Wales Island, N[orth] Australia, Aug 27th 1855; Tom Tough and Monarch, Possession Island, Aug 27th 1855. Watercolour by Thomas Baines. Collection National Library of Australia