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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Pearling in the Torres Strait

Regina Ganter.

Regina Ganter describes the start of the pearling industry in Queensland and both the mix of peoples who worked in it, and the exploitation of these labourers.



Date Added:

15 February 2006


Regina Ganter interviewed by Andrew Jakubowicz for MMA


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

3.4 MB


2 min 01 s


This is how the pearling industry started in that area. Somebody discovered pearl shells, the news spread very quickly, within a few years there was a huge fleet in the Torres Strait. Because trading news like that, when there's a great opportunity, spread very quickly, and changed a region very quickly. So we could have had a completely different beginning for Australian history…

Torres Strait Islanders were very quickly tied into the new, dynamic, modern industry that was established, which was the pearling industry…

The Japanese who came into the industry got paid according to their effort. And of course they could put in a big effort for a short period, save up money and then go home and change their lives forever – buy a boat, buy a piece of forest, something that would change their fortune forever. If Torres Strait Islanders or Aborigines had done the same, they would not have been in a position in Australia to realise any of the benefits of their labours…

What developed in all the pearling ports in north Australia were poly-ethnic communities, communities where you had lots of different ethnic groups living in close proximity with each other, long before anyone thought of multiculturalism, and in a period where in the south there was the idea that the future of Australia needed to be a white future…

The pearling masters were too dependent on the cheap labour that these indentured workers from Japan and the South Seas and elsewhere offered them. They could not have conducted a successful industry if they had to pay union rates for their labour. And they continued to defend this industry against the federal government and its idea of a white Australia.