Awakening: Stories from the Torres Strait

"Awakening" seeks to reconnect the spirit between people and their objects.

Dance machines & headdresses

Cultural Advice: Visitors should be aware that the exhibition and website may include names, images and voices of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is our intention to tell these stories and use imagery with good faith and with respect.

"The lesson is learnt in the process, the reward knowing how you got to the end product."

Uncle Thomas Sebasio, Erub Island Elder

Island dance is a major form of creative and competitive expression.

Dance machines (hand held mechanical moving objects), 'clappers' and headdresses vividly enhance Torres Strait Islander dance performances with colour, movement and sound.

They create striking visual representations of land, water, and celestial environments. Some are used in spectacular night dances, by firelight and moonlight, dancers moving together in unison.

Traditional stories, as well as contemporary lifestyles are reflected in dance equipment, such as pearl luggers representing the pearling industry and World War II planes recalling the experience of watching planes take off for war.

Bomber headdress

James Eseli, the maker of this headdress, was born on Badu Island in 1929 and grew up in a traditional island society. Eseli drew on his experiences in the Torres Strait during the Second World War. Eseli choreographed an aeroplane dance, which features distinctive headdresses of bombers and fighter planes taking off from Nurupai (Horn Island) on their way to Japanese targets in New Guinea. 

These headdresses continue to be used by contemporary Badu dance troupes. The bomber dance is performed on Anzac Day.

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