Island Culture

Bai Tapau believes the Great Barrier Reef is dying. Bai is not the only person around the Torres Straight making this frightening prediction, but unlike many, Bai is doing something about it. As a respected art’s graduate and established Torres Strait Island artist Bai Tapau is using her skills as a painter to do her bit to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Bai is passionate about the Reef and last week told Tania Major and the GenerationOne Team about her artistic campaign to warn people about the devastating effect pollution is having on the Great Barrier Reef, “my paintings are based on the reef that we live and survive from. When you look at the reef, it is a paradise that God created for us here on earth. Sadly these reefs are dying because of pollution. We all need to put in an effort to save these reefs before the beautiful colours are destroyed forever.”

Tania and the GenerationOne Team met Bai on Thursday Island last week and heard her great story jam packed with passion for art and a determination to help educate people about the need to do what we can to protect the reef.

Tania and the GenerationOne Team were on Thursday Island for the Winds of Zenadth Cultural Festival, which is held in the Torres Strait Islands. The festival is a four-day celebration of the culture of the Torres Strait. It’s also a great chance for people from all the islands, and visitors from across the country and the world, to get together to share in the colourful culture of dance, song, art and costumes that are the cultural lifeblood of the Torres Strait Islanders.

The Torres Strait Islands are situated between the Northern tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. There are 200 islands that make up the Torres Strait Islands with 17 of them inhabited.
2 distinct languages exist; in the eastern islands is Meriam Mir, while the western and central islanders speak either Kala Laguawya or Kala Kawa Ya.

Torres Strait Island dance is one of the major forms of creative expression. Costumes, songs, the use of handheld instruments, headdresses and masks are unique to island dancing and Torres Strait culture. Over the four days of the festival many of the community dance teams performed including, Bamaga Berlibal Dance Team, Injinoo Dance Team, Torres Strait Regional Authority Dance team and others. Each dance tells a story and the dances are passed down through the generations.

However, it is painting that is Bai’s passion. It was her paintings and her passion for the reef that bought Bai back to the winds of Zenadth Cultural Festival. Wareed Bai Nazerath Tapau is from Murray Island and is a member of the Komet tribe; her totem is the gecko, sardine and banana. It was her upbringing and her family in the Torres Strait Islands that has given Bai such a love of the reef, and her passion for art developed at a very young age.

Her passion for painting started at primary school when she first drew on the walls of her family house on Murray Island. That was 30 years ago. It is a testament to the emerging talent of a young artist that the 30-year-old drawing is still there today!

Bai is the eldest of 9 children. She grew up on Murray Island, attending primary school on the island and then headed to Townsville for secondary school to Townsville State High. Born with a physical disability, Bai has not let this get in the way of her passion. Her disability has only made her appreciate what she has got and to use her abilities to the best of her advantage.

Bai was married for 12 years to a Papua New Guinean man. Their relationship was not working; she kept having dreams about being on her own. He did not support her passion for painting so one day she went and sought the advice of her wise grandmother. After returning from her visit, she understood that it was not meant to be. Eight years ago she filed for a divorce to pursue her dream, painting. The day she left her husband, Bai signed up to TAFE and after 7 years has recently received her Diploma in Visual Arts from Pimlico TAFE, Townsville. Throughout TAFE she was supported by her teachers, in particular her close friend and mentor, Noel Mason. Noel was interested in her work from their first introduction. He has helped her through her ups and downs with her personal life, and continues to encourage and inspire her.

Throughout TAFE she was supported by her teachers, in particular her close friend and mentor, Noel Mason. Noel was interested in her work from their first introduction. He has helped her through her ups and downs with her personal life, and continues to encourage and inspire her.

Bai paints about the reef. Bai mainly uses oil and acrylic on canvas to create her colourful, vibrant works. There is strong message in all of Bai’s works warning and educating people about threats to the coral and the reef. Harsh, black outlines are used in her abstract paintings to represent the pollution.

I love the reef; us here in the Torres Strait, we survive off the reef, we live off it. The reef helps our families survive from one generation to the next.

To Bai, the reef is a paradise that should be protected. Over the years, Bai has witnessed the way the coral and the reef are being destroyed by the pollution and she is concerned about the effect this will have on the future survival of her family.

Bai is currently based in Townsville. She has been asked by her teacher to go to university to become an art teacher so she is considering this option. The Winds of Zenadth Festival brought her back to her home where she is selling her artworks. She will return to Townsville after visiting her family.

Bai values the opportunities and the education she has received throughout her life. She encourages the young people of Australia to further their education, to not let a disability affect you achieving your goal, to respect yourself and others and to respect your culture as our elders have in the generations before us. According to Bai, “We owe it to our elders to respect our culture and pass it down to the future generations.” She believes “we are one people, we are all human beings,” respecting each other is crucial for our cultures to continue to

GenerationOne celebrates inspiring stories like Bai’s and encourages all Australians to share them with their friends, family and work colleagues. For more inspiring stories and to sign up to the GenerationOne movement for change, go to and help end Indigenous disparity in one generation – this generation.