Many young Torres Strait Islanders are leaving their island homes for mainland Australia in their late teens or early 20s, but returning in later life, data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has suggested.
The ABS data released this month showed Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 24 were the most likely group to have left the islands in the five years to 2016. Those aged 25 to 34 years were the most likely to have returned.
“More than 2 in 10, or 246 young Torres Strait Islander people left for the mainland between the 2011 and 2016 Census,” ABS Indigenous and social information branch program manager Dean Bowley said.
“In comparison, Torres Strait Islander people aged 25 to 34 years were returning to the Islands, with more than 1 in 10, or 103 of those living on the islands in 2016 having moved there during that period.
“They were most likely to have moved from Cairns.”
The ABS report said young people were most likely to have left the islands for education and training on the mainland, but family and cultural commitments were likely to have taken them back.
A big percentage of all people living in the Torres Strait in 2016 — one in seven or 14 percent — had migrated from mainland Australia since 2011 with 25 to 34-year-old Torres Strait Islander people accounting for 11 percent of those moving to the island, the report said.
“While there may be many factors driving these movements, a potential explanation for this pattern is that young people are moving to the mainland for education and training and returning later for family/cultural obligations and commitments,” the report said.
Overall, the number of Torres Strait Islanders increased in every island group in the five years to 2016, except for the Western Islands, with the Inner Islands having the biggest increase.
Muralag, or Prince of Wales, Island had the biggest growth, almost doubling from 41 to 80 people. Mabuiag Island had the biggest decrease, falling from 246 to 206 people, followed by Erub, or Darnley Island, 342 to 304 people.
By Wendy Caccetta