Talei Elu reflects on her time on Masig for ANZAC Day as a newly enlisted Sarpeye.
Masig holds a special place in my heart. It has left an indelible mark on me and will forever be a place and people I have a deep respect and admiration for.
This was only my second trip to this island, the first being in August of 2022. I had only ever heard about this teardrop-shaped island from family members who had personal connections to it and had visited it before. But to me, it was still an unknown place.
I remember seeing it appear on the horizon as I flew in on a 5-seater caravan. I was asked by Torres Strait Island Regional Council Mayor Phillemon Mosby to speak to youth in a forum that would take place as a part of the anniversary celebrations of the First Councillors Meeting in the Torres Strait. The Meeting was a historic milestone for the region and one that solidified Torres Strait Islander political leadership and regionalism. Leaders from across the Torres Strait and northern Cape York converged on the island for the anniversary celebrations.
I never got the opportunity to speak, thankfully fate intervened and instead, and quite fortuitously, I was asked to document the speeches, discussions and celebrations for SBS. It gave me an opportunity to observe what was happening before me, to listen to the leaders who had played a part in defining the region I call home, to learn from them, and to watch them in the action of leadership. The two-day event would culminate in the signing of the Masig Statement from the island’s political leadership.
After the event, I was credited with co-producing my first-ever TV and digital news story for SBS. I could hear my summary of the event reflected in the words of their Chief Political Correspondent on SBS World News. The footage and photographs that were shared and the ideas and conversations that were featured were as you would expect from a news story.
This time I had returned to the island for the story that you can read here, and also as a newly enlisted Sarpeye. This trip and the development of this story were not without their challenges, but equally, they gave me a deeper resolve to protect the region I call home.
While each visit to this island has been to document an event, I wanted to take the time to shine a light on the moments that are rarely featured in news coverage, and the moments that are too small to create any one written piece about. The sometimes imperceptible moments. The moments that aren’t tied to the obvious and outward displays of culture like dance, and the moments that aren’t as audible as a chorus of people singing island songs. It is in these moments that collectively show the way of life and way of being on Masig and it is in these moments where many elements of our culture rise from the depths to the surface.
It is in the request for a new visitor to plant a coconut on their family’s plot to serve as a reminder of who has visited, and to protect their shelter from wind and tides in future. A moment that showed the dutiful care for the island and consideration for its future, and the generosity to bring in others to care for it also.
It is in the sitting at the dining table and beside the bed of an old man who has truly lived, and who is generous in telling the story of his life. A man who has a sharp wit, set ways, and likes his tea strong. Moments that showed the importance of our way of storytelling and how it holds personal histories and the power of deep listening.
It is in the husking of green coconuts to take back to a friend on the main island. A moment that showed the care and consideration to bring something back for others who could not be present.
It is in the bringing of the wife’s best catch and the baking of hot scones to feed fellow companions. A moment that showed the importance we place on hospitality and caring for our guests.
It is in the power of one elderly feminine voice carrying a hymn to fill the hall, encouraging others to sing along and to sing louder. A moment that showed a defiance against time, and determination to hold on to songs that would have been sung with many more friends decades earlier.
It is in the noticing of a growing collection of sea shells and bringing more impressive ones from the other side of the island to take home as a memento. A moment that showed attentiveness, and generosity to share a piece of the island with someone new.
It is in the time taken to source flowers and leaves to weave wreaths for placement at the monument that honours their fallen. A moment that shows the deep respect held for those who fought for their freedoms.
It is in the laughter from deep in the belly and jubilant exclamations of joy. Moments that show a sincere appreciation for the gift of life.
It is in the request to pass on love and regards to those who could not make it to the island. Moments that show the care we have for loved ones separated by sea.
It is in the sharing of old photos of parents and relatives. A moment that shows the importance of history, lineage and drawing connections from the past to establish new and strong bonds.
In these moments I see our culture rise from the depths.