A glimpse at life in the Torres Strait


Hell Stirs in Heaven
By Anita Caratelli
self-published, Melbourne, 2001
$25, order at <acspecials@yahoo.com>


Most Australians are only vaguely aware of the Torres Straits islands. Most have heard of Eddie Mabo, the plaintiff in the now famous native title case, who did not live to see the success of his claim for land rights on Murray (Mer) Island. There are occasional reports of disputes over fishing rights between the islanders and outsiders.

This book is a personal account of life on Thursday Island, the main population centre of the Torres Strait, by a woman who spent three years there. While it mainly deals with the author's personal experiences and relationships, it gives some insight into social and political issues, and the culture of the island people.

Caratelli experienced the deep racial divisions on the island. "Everything is seen in black and white here", she writes. She did not fit into the white world or the islanders' world. Nevertheless, she learnt to speak the local creole and had friends and lovers, as well as enemies, among the local people.

Caratelli believes that part of the antagonism she encountered from many islanders was a result of seeing all whites as invaders. The islanders had been dispossessed, they are poor, unemployment is high and people live in overcrowded conditions.

Hell Stirs in Heaven touches on a wide range of social problems — from violence between the islanders to the exploitation of bar staff (many of whom are transient non-islanders) in the hotels. But Caratelli also appreciates the traditional culture (as exemplified by the annual festival).

The book is not a continuous narrative, but is a collection of "episodes" describing particular events in Caratelli's life on Thursday Island, as well as poems and letters which she wrote to friends, to the Torres News and to Green Left Weekly.

From Green Left Weekly, July 17, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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