Thursday Island, Queensland, is the administrative centre of the Torres Straits Islands, and is the northernmost point in Australia. Its first sighting by Europeans is unknown. However, popular history points to Captain William Bligh as the discoverer. It is indeed along the route taken in his well-known journey from Tahiti to Batavia after he and those loyal to him were set afloat by mutineers.
An office of the Queensland Government was established on Thursday Island in 1877, and shortly thereafter, a township grew up, eventually becoming the Thursday Island Township which the current economic and political centre of the region.
Between 1883 and 1885, pearling had developed to the point that over two hundred vessels -- both Australian and foreign, including Japanese, Malay, and Indian -- regularly worked waters surrounding the island. While pearling gradually became less lucrative, many former pearl divers and seamen had settled on Thursday Island. Racial tension and even racial identity was rarely an issue of political importance.
However, in the 1970s, Papua New Guinea (PNG) claimed that the Melanesian background of both indigenous and some immigrant-descended inhabitants of the Torres Straits Islands gave PNG sovereign claim on the islands. After suitable diplomatic interchange -- coupled with the fact that the Torres Straits islanders considered themselves Australian, and did not want their healthy economy used simply to support the impecunious PNG government -- PNGs claims were dismissed and the Torres Straits Islands remained Australian.
The major components in the island's economy are pearling and fishing. Tourism is developing, but Thursday Island has yet to become truly overrun by tourists.
A major service provided by Thursday Island -- though it hardly qualifies as a major component of the economy -- is in basing the Torres Straits Pilots. A Master Mariners' cooperative, the Torres Straits Pilots pilots ships through the straits to the port at Cairns. While the Pilots know their home waters intimately, the reefs of the Torres Straits can be difficult to impossible (depending on the weather and time of year) for most transport ship pilots to navigate safely.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the island's pearl industry was still the stuff of romance and adventure, though it had been in decline for some time. In a time when the undiscovered and unexplored were rapidly lost to modernity, Thursday Island remained a last holdout in the Western consciousness, as evidenced by the following poem, published anonymously around 1900.
Up in regions equatorial
Blessed with scenery piscatorial
Is an island known to fame
Pearlers live and pearling thrives there,
Coloured races live in hives there,
White men only risk there lives there,
Thursday Island is its name.