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Coming together to remember Islander evacuation to Cherbourg

RETURN TO CHERBOURG: Mayor Vonda Malone, Aunty Sandra Morgan, Aunty Betty and Kevin Foster, Aunty Selina Dorner and Cathy Foster at 75th anniversary of Torres Strait Islander evacuation in 1942.
RETURN TO CHERBOURG: Mayor Vonda Malone, Aunty Sandra Morgan, Aunty Betty and Kevin Foster, Aunty Selina Dorner and Cathy Foster at 75th anniversary of Torres Strait Islander evacuation in 1942. Katherine Morris

CULTURES came together again to remember the evacuation of Torres Strait Islanders to Cherbourg 75 years ago.

It was a moving day at the Ration Shed on Wednesday to commemorate and remember history and the friendships forged decades ago.

In 1942 about 200 Torres Strait Islanders left the Torres Straits and were moved to Cherbourg when the threat of Japanese invasion loomed in the Second World War.

The Islanders were first told they were going to Cairns, but were then sent to Townsville and then on a train to Cherbourg - a land they knew nothing about with a different language, culture, food and landscape.

Some never returned to their home, but many finally returned to the islands that had been all but abandoned for the rest of the war and started their lives over again.

Men who were not evacuated joined the only indigenous Australian battalion.

Two Torres Strait Island elders Aunty Betty Foster and Aunty Selina Dorner, who were evacuated to Cherbourg, returned to the town on Wednesday for the event.

Aunty Betty Foster said she was eight years old when she was evacuated.

"We didn't know what we were heading for," she said.

"And we were grateful to be welcomed here."

Aunty Ruth Hegarty from Cherbourg approached the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships for the event and it was her research of the history that made it happen.

"Cherbourg has been a place of so much history," Aunty Ruth said.

She wants young people from the next generation to keep discovering and telling the history of Cherbourg.

 

Torres Strait Island Shire Mayor Vonda Malone said Torres Strait Islanders lived in Cherbourg for five to seven years, leaving the islands abandoned.

"They had to go back and bring life back with them," she said.

Director general of the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Clare O'Connor said the Torres Strait Islanders had left everything they knew behind.

"Unless we talk to the evacuees we will never truly know what it was like to be picked up and put into another community," she said.

"There was a different environment. Where was the sea?

"They had left their men who were heading off to war. It would have been heart-wrenching and difficult, and they ended up in a community where there was acceptance."

 

Topics:  cherbourg torres strait islanders

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