close navigation menu

Thursday Island Cruises

About Thursday Island, Australia

Just off the northernmost tip of Australia’s Cape York in the Torres Strait, picturesque Thursday Island has been home to the Torres Strait Islanders for centuries, though Melanesian people may have settled here as long as 2,600 years ago. Captain James Cook landed here in 1770, on a Thursday. Nearby, Cook came upon Wednesday Island and Friday Island on the days preceding and following. On that Saturday, he claimed for King George III of England the entire east coast of Australia, making his proclamation from what he came to call Possession Island.

It wasn’t until 1877 that Thursday Island was established as the administrative center of the Crown’s Torres Strait Islands. In the late 19th century, pearl divers came from Japan, Malaysia and India to harvest the precious stone of the gold-lipped oyster. The diving has declined, but hints of Asia’s rich cultures remain. The island’s Green Hill Fort was built in the 1890s as concerns about a Russian invasion grew. It was shut down just 30 years later and reactivated during World War II as a wireless station.

Thursday Island Lifestyle and Culture

Known affectionately among locals as “T.I.,” Thursday Island is among the smallest of the Torres Strait Islands. Some residents own automobiles, but they are largely unnecessary, setting a relaxed and unhurried tone in day-to-day living. Some of the island’s residents choose to be carless, and to walk without footwear, out of respect for the spirits that they believe live amid the natural world.

The pearl diving industry has all but disappeared, but descendants of those who harvested the oysters remain and still shape the local culture. Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Indian and Malay people contribute to the small island’s traditions and cuisine, as do residents of European descent, many of whom are government workers. The primary language on the island is Torres Strait Creole, an English-based creole.

Thursday Island Sights and Landmarks

Perhaps the island’s most imposing site is Green Hill Fort, built by the Aussies in 1892 out of concerns that the Russians might invade. One of the most intact 19th-century forts in Australia, it was closed in 1927, but acted as a communications center during World War II.

Several sites on Thursday Island are protected by Australian heritage organizations. The Quetta Memorial Precinct encompasses the All Souls and St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral Church, the Bishop’s House and the Church Hall. The area was built to commemorate the 134 lives lost in 1890 when the RMS Quetta sank among offshore reefs. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, built by French and Italian missionaries, is believed to be the oldest building on the island. The cemetery dates to 1887 and inters hundreds of notable and unsung figures who helped shape Thursday Island. And the butter-hued Customs House played a central role in the island as it collected duties that funded development.

Thursday Island Entertainment and Activities

The small size of Thursday Island allows it to be explored easily. Learn about local heritage at the Gab Titui Cultural Center, where a modern gallery chronicles island history and exhibits local aboriginal arts and crafts. Ascend to the small grassy hill that is home to Green Hill Fort, where you can browse what remains of the late 19th-century edifice and admire stirring views of the surrounding islands of Horn, Prince of Wales, Hammond and Friday. The fort’s underground tunnels host the Torres Strait Historical Museum.

You might also walk from the main town to the Japanese Pearl Divers Memorial, situated among the gravestones of the island’s cemetery. Stretch your legs a little further by following elevated walking paths to Sadies Beach or Quarantine Wharf.

Thursday Island Restaurants and Shopping

With close ties to the sea and strong influence from Asian nations, Thursday Island offers varied cuisine. And because you’re in Australia, a traditional pub rolls out a warm welcome.

Laying claim as Australia’s northernmost pub, the restaurant at the Torres Strait Hotel serves local fare such as crayfish pie. The Island Rooster, an island favorite, serves fresh sushi and Asian-inspired dishes. Or you can mingle with the locals by grabbing a sandwich at the ibis café, attached to the ibis supermarket.

Traditional arts and crafts inspired by indigenous tribes can be found at the Gab Titui Cultural Center and shops along Douglas Street. Head to the Saranealis House, a large pink building, for a good value on high-quality pearls harvested off of Friday Island.