What Does the Torres Strait Islander Flag Represent?

The Torres Strait Islander flag represents the unity and identity of the Torres Strait Islander people. It stands for their connections with the sea, sky, and islands of the Torres Strait. Knowing about the history and meaning of the flag can help strengthen your connection with the rich Indigenous background and culture of the nation–and you can learn more through cultural awareness training in Australia with Evolve Communities.

History of the Torres Strait Islander Flag

The Torres Strait Islander flag was designed by the late Bernard Namok. His design was chosen from more than one hundred entries in a design competition organised by The Islands Coordinating Council in 1992. It was officially presented to the people of the Torres Strait at the sixth Torres Strait Cultural Festival on 29 May. In the same year, the flag was recognised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and given equal prominence with the Australian Aboriginal flag.

In 1995, the Australian government proclaimed the Torres Strait Island flag as a ‘Flag of Australia’ under the Flags Act of 1953.

The Torres Strait Islander community owns the copyright of the flag. While you don’t need permission to use it, you must get authorisation to reproduce it for commercial purposes. The community permits the reproduction of the flag subject to the following conditions:

  • Where appropriate, recognition is given to the original designer, the late Mr Bernard Namok.
  • Original PMS colours are used.
  • Permission must be received in writing before its use.

About Bernard Namok

Bernard Namok, a resident of Thursday Island, was the designer of the Torres Strait Islander flag. A year after the formal recognition of his design, Namok died at the young age of thirty-one. His son, Bernard Namok Jr, has shared fond memories of watching his dad sketch designs that would later go on to become a significant emblem of his and his people’s identity and unity.

What the Torres Strait Islander Flag Represents

The Torres Strait Island flag represents the unity and identity of the Torres Strait Island people. It features three horizontal coloured panels divided by thin black lines, a white Dhari, and a five-pointed star. Here’s a breakdown of what each of these elements means:

Green Panels

The two horizontal green bands on the top and bottom portions of the flag represent the land. It particularly stands for the mainlands of Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Blue Panel

The central blue panel symbolises the waters surrounding the Torres Strait Islands.

Black Lines

The black lines dividing the panels represent the Torres Strait Islander people and allude to their connection to the land and the sea.

White Dhari

A Dhari is a traditional ceremonial headdress used by the Torres Strait Islander people. It’s used in the flag to symbolise the community.

White Five-Pointed Star

The white five-pointed star underneath the Dhari represents peace, the navigational importance of stars to Torres Strait seafarers, and the five major island groups:

  • Northern division (Boigu, Dauan, Saibai)
  • Eastern islands (Erub, Mer, Ugar)
  • Western division (St. Pauls, Kubin, Badu, Mabuiag)
  • Central division (Masig, Poruma, Warraber, Iama)
  • Southern division (Thursday, Horn, Prince of Wales and Hammond Islands, NPA and Mainland Australia).

The Australian Aboriginal Flag

Along with the Torres Strait Islander flag, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia are also represented by the Australian Aboriginal flag. This flag, which displays a horizontal box divided into two coloured blocks with a yellow circle at the centre, speaks about the community’s spiritual connection to the land. 

The top half of the flag is black, symbolising the Aboriginal people; the bottom half is red, representing the earth and the people’s relationship to the land, as well as the colour ochre used in Aboriginal ceremonies. The yellow circle emphasises the sun and represents its role as the constant renewer of life.

If you’re wondering who designed the Australian Aboriginal flag, it was artist Harold Thomas, a member of the Stolen Generations, who recently transferred the copyright of the design to the Commonwealth, allowing free use of the flag for all Australians (though he retains moral rights, including being attributed as the flag’s creator).

Help Build a Stronger and More Inclusive Australia

Learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is an important step towards building a more united Australia. Become an ally by enrolling in one of Evolve Communities’ cultural competency and ally training programs.

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