As a Boigu man I have specific responsibility to protect cultural sites that are sacred to all Guda Maluyligal people. But the rising sea is making it impossible.
Boigu, Torres Strait
My name is Wadhuam (maternal uncle) Pabai Pabai. I’m a Guda Maluyligal man from the island of Boigu, which is located in the Torres Strait. Boigu is about 5km from the Papuan mainland.
I’ve lived on Boigu my whole life. I am a Native Title rightsholder and a Traditional Owner. I’m also a Director of the Prescribed Body Corporate that represents the 6 clans on the island. My totem is the crocodile – Koedal – and my wind is an easterly wind, which we call Sagerr Gub.
I was born to this island. It is my mother, my identity, who I am. This island supported my ancestors for generations. We had a system that was learned from our elders and passed on to younger generations. The seasons, the tides and the stars used to be the same year after year. But that is not the case anymore: everything is changing.
Boigu is very low-lying. Every year the seas take a bit more of our islands. During storms and king tides the sea water floods our roads, buildings, gardens – even the airstrips are being flooded. The flooding is getting worse because of climate change. We can no longer grow vegetables to feed our families because our gardens have been poisoned by salt water.
Our ancestors lived off the food they grew and the fish and animals they hunted. But climate change is affecting the seas around us. The seas are warmer, so the reefs are less healthy and there are fewer fish to catch. During storms, sand from the islands is dragged out to sea, covering the seagrass that dugong and turtles eat. So there are fewer dugong and turtles to hunt.
As a Boigu man I have specific responsibility to protect cultural sites that are sacred to all Guda Maluyligal people. But the rising sea is making it impossible and could mean those sites disappear forever. Loss of these places would be devastating for Guda Maluyligal communities now and for the generations to come.
We don’t want to move the generations from our community and settle somewhere else in Australia. There are 65,000 years of wealth and experience here. Losing Boigu will mean losing that.
If you take us away from this island then we’re nothing. If my island is lost, where will I come from? I won’t be able to say “I’m from Boigu” if Boigu is under the water. It’s like the Stolen Generation, you take people away from their tribal land, they become nobodies.
This is why me and Wadhuam Paul Kabai, from the neighbouring island of Saibai, are taking the government to court. We’re asking the court to order the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop climate change before our islands are taken from us.
We are bringing this case on behalf of the generations to come. We want our grandchildren to grow up on our islands, to live the same lives that we did.
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