TO some people’s minds climate change is a myth. To others, it’s something we’ll have to face in the coming years. But for 15-year-old Sabai Islander Wilorni Waia, who has been boarding at St Teresa’s College, Abergowrie, since the age of 11, it is what his community is dealing with on a daily basis.
‘We can see the water is rising,’ he says. ‘We can see the land being washed away.
‘We’ve built a sea wall made of cement as a protective barrier.
‘We know the ice caps are melting – our fear is that our island will go under water.’
Sabai is the flattest of the Torres Strait Islands, and its inhabitants – who have lived there for thousands of years – are watching the beaches be consumed by a rising sea level.
The island is 20 km long and 6 km wide.
It is just five kilometres off the Papua New Guinean coast and is made up largely of mud flats.
Wilorni’s first-hand experience of climate change drives his environmental conscience.
He is leading the charge in a school campaign to start recycling cans and bottles to raise money for the late Torres’ Weka’s unborn child.
Popular musician Torres worked as a residential parent at St Teresa’s until he lost his life in an accident on the Abergowrie Road on 5 June, aged 27.
His partner Amy Barbi is due with their son in October – and the money raised from cans and bottles will be donated to their child, who will be named Torres junior.
Wilorni named the campaign.
‘We can for Baby Weka,’ he says with a mournful smile.Abergowrie student Wilorni Waia (15) named the recycling campaign that will raise money for Amy Barbi and Torres Weka’s unborn child.
Amy said: ‘I am so humbled and grateful that they would do something like this. I can’t find the words to say how I feel.’
A ‘Go fund me’ page launched by the school raised $2,600 for Amy, who now has to pay a mortgage on a single income.
Meanwhile, a claim being led by eight Torres Strait Islanders is being taken to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, demanding Australia rapidly reduce its emissions and adopt resource adaptation measures.
One of those people is Warraber Islander Kabay Tamu.
He said: ‘We have a right to practice our culture in our traditional homeland, where we belong.
‘Our culture has a value that no money could ever compensate for. Our culture starts here on the land.
‘It is how we are connected with the land and the sea. You wash away the land and it is like a piece of us you are taking away.’
The campaigns coincide with ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’ week, which runs from 17 to 23 August and aims to prevent the spread of litter.
St Teresa’s College is a Catholic boarding school in North Queensland that educates young First Nations men from communities across Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Australia’s Indigenous peoples are the world’s oldest living cultures.