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Saibai Island QLD

Saibai Island

Postcode: 4875

Saibai Island is one of the Torres Strait Islands in Australia, between the Australian mainland and the island of New Guinea. Saibai is a fairly large low-lying island only 4 km from the Papua New Guinea mainland. The language spoken is KKY (Kalaw Kawaw Ya). Saibai Islanders have always traded with PNG, although their great enemies were traditionally the Kiwai of the Fly River. The Saibai Islanders accepted Christianity in 1871 with the arrival of the London Missionary Society. The missionaries removed the sacred adtihibuia stone, which was venerated because it protected locals from the Kiwai.

During World War 1, the German Wislin cult flourished in Saibai, but soon diminished. After Saibai Island was devastated by a tidal wave, a group of Saibai Islanders, led by a man named Bamaga Ginau, eventually accepted Government assistance to resettle on Cape York. The reserve that was established was named Bamaga.

The Saibai Islanders were adamant that, after Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975, their islands would remain Australian and they succeeded in that respect. There is however, regular trade between Saibai and Papuan villages; the locals, carrying a permit, may cross the border, something outsiders may not do. Strict quarantine regulations are in force.

The Island is flat, predominantly a mangrove island, with the highest point being 1.7 m asl, and prone flooding during the wet season and with king tides. A bitumen airstrip allows year-round access. The Island is about 20km by 15km, but only a small proportion is inhabited. The population is transient, but is recorded between 350 & 400 people. The population is 70% Indigenous, Torres Strait Islander people, with 25% of Papuan descent and 5% of Anglo-Saxon descent.