Movies

Blue Water Empire

Synopsis

A 3-part dramatised-documentary series giving a unique insight into the compelling history of the Torres Strait Islands, told through key stories by the men and women of the region.

With additional stories woven together through artwork, animation and archive material, the series explores how Torres Strait Islanders have sustained their cultural heritage throughout the impact of 200 years of European settlement.

The breathtaking beauty of the land and sea country of the Torres Straits features in the series. Stunning aerial cinematography, and magnificent CGI maps, navigate the audience through this vast and remote corner of northern Australia.

The series documents and reveals the impact of past and present government policies and gives insight to the social and economic paternalism that affected the lives of Torres Strait Islanders – leading them to fight back or unite in strike action. It reveals contemporary Torres Strait Islander life, along with great Torres Strait Island characters such as the legendary George Mye and Eddie Mabo.

The series conclusion celebrates the resilience and resistance of the Torres Strait Islander people, despite their profound struggle to regain their land and sea country, their Blue Water Empire.

Series 1 episode guide

Episode 1

The series opens with fearsome warriors in a powerful trading empire, and an exploration of the spiritual life that pervaded all aspects of traditional custom. The episode journeys through stories of first contact, giving a fascinating counter-point to the colonial experience. Language, culture and the trading empire come under threat when Captain William Banner negotiates with the highly regarded King Kebisu to harvest pearl shells from the waters of the Torres Strait.

Episode 2

The second episode opens with elder and performer Seaman Dan, recounting the excitement and danger of the deep-sea pearl diving days of his youth. The pearl rush in the 1870’s brought thousands of men and women from many parts of the world to the Torres Strait Islands. While the boom brought great economic wealth and freedom for some, the realities for Islanders under the oppressive colonial powers meant their lives were highly regulated. This dynamic was challenged with the first major collective action in the Torres Strait since white settlement – the great Maritime Strike of 1936.

The episode continues on with stories of missionaries arriving in the Torres Straits, known as the ‘Coming of the Light’, and the lasting impact of Christianity on Islander language and culture. By the end of the second episode, World War II has come to the region. It brings devastating and permanent changes to the Torres Straits.

Episode 3

The third episode opens with collective action by the Torres Strait Islander Light Infantry Battalion soldiers, who were receiving only half the pay of white soldiers. After the war, we learn about the migration from Saibai Island to the Australian mainland, led by Chief Bamaga.

The episode continues on with the collapse of the pearling industry that forced many Islanders to seek work on the mainland, on the cane fields and railways. Torres Strait elders John Kennell Senior and Charlie Loban recall their days laying the Mt Newman railway track in the 1960s, which set a world-wide record for the longest track laid in a single day. That world record has never been broken – it still stands today.

With the Whitlam era came a new wave of hope and optimism for Indigenous Australians, but the promise of land rights did not extend to the Torres Straits – instead they were faced with the prospect of dividing the Torres Straits between Australia and Papua New Guinea during the negotiations for PNG’s 1975 independence. “Border No Change” was a campaign won with an unlikely ally – then
Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Later, while local leader and politician George Mye was increasing government infrastructure and 
Torres Strait, Eddie Koiki Mabo and his co-plaintiffs were forging ahead with their native title claim, ultimately won in the High Court of Australia.

Details

Cast
Ryan Corr - Captain Banner
Roy Billing - Superintendent John McLean
Aaron Fa'Aoso - narrator, John Joseph, Gerry Stephens and Tanu Nona
Damian Walshe-Howling - Wing Commander Donald Thomson
Jimi Bani - Kebisu, Dupa and Wilfred Baira
Peter Phelps - Commanding Officer
Geoff Morrell - Government Official
Jeremy Lindsay Taylor - Captain Lewis
Merwez Whaleboat - Pamoy and Flora Enosa
Robert Mammone - Major
Damian de Montemas - Lieutenant
Arama Tabuai - Kebisu, Dupa and Wilfred Baira
Olivier Vergari - Government Assistant
Barry Lea - Dabad and Kebisu's Warrior
Abraham Mantey - Musu
Matthew Predny - John Ireland
Nancy Nona - Valerie Saub and Warrior Woman
Lilah Billy - Pasia, Moara and Warrior Daughter
Caro Carrelli - Missionary and Soldier
Caleb Cohen - Soldier and Warrior
Release dates
25 June 2019 - Australia
Rating
M - Mature
Distributor
Dark Matter Distribution
Soundtrack
Will Kepa

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Harvard citation

Korff, J 2019, Blue Water Empire, <https://www.creativespirits.info/resources/movies/blue-water-empire>, retrieved 24 July 2019

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