Weather patterns have changed, seasons have changed. It’s affecting everything – our homes, our gardens, our sacred sites, our reefs.
Saibai, Torres Strait
My name is Wadhuam (maternal uncle) Paul Kabai. I’m taking the Australian government to court to protect my community from climate change.
I was born on Saibai Island and I am from the Guda Maluyligal nation. I am a Traditional Owner, a father to eight kids and a grandfather to four. My clan is the dog clan and my wind is kuki (westerly wind). I’m a Director of the Prescribed Body Corporate that represents the dog clan on Saibai island.
Saibai is about 4km off the coast of Papua New Guinea. It is an alluvial island covered with mangroves and swamps. Our village has sea on one side and swamp on the other, and we are living on a very narrow strip of land. During storms and high tides, water comes through the drainage system and fills the swamps up, so we get flooded from both sides.
Weather patterns have changed, seasons have changed. It’s affecting everything – our homes, our gardens, our sacred sites, our reefs. There are garden and camping places that are gone completely, and we can’t go there anymore because it feels too sad. If the water level keeps rising, we might lose everything. Then we’ll be climate change refugees forced to leave our islands.
Every year the seas take a bit more of our island. Our cultural sites and cemeteries are being eroded. We have a cultural responsibility to look after these places but the rising sea is making it impossible and could mean they disappear forever. Losing them would be devastating for our communities now and for generations to come.
Our gardens now get flooded with salt water. The salt has poisoned the soil, so we cannot grow healthy food anymore. In the old days they’d plant cassava or taro, and grow really big ones. But nowadays because of the salt they only get small ones. People stopped gardening and we have to eat imported food, which is expensive and not healthy for us. People get diabetes and other illnesses that we never used to get.
We had really bad floods about ten years ago. The roads were all underwater, people’s houses were flooded and the cemeteries and other important places got badly damaged. We’ve got a new seawall now. You might think that we’re ok with the seawall, but if the water keeps rising it will not be enough to save our islands.
Lots of people have already left Saibai because of flooding and so on. They’ve moved to Bamaga and Seisia on the mainland. Our culture has been affected, it’s changed as people leave.
If we become climate refugees we will lose everything: our homes, community, culture, stories, and identity. We can keep our stories and tell our stories but we won’t be connected to Country because Country will disappear. That’s why I am taking the government to court, because I want to protect my community and all Australians before it’s too late.
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